All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: A Nanny Called Alice by Barbara Hannay

A Nanny Called Alice (Outback Brides Return to Wirralong #4)
Barbara Hannay
Tule Publishing
2020, eBook
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

She’s thousands of miles from home and intent on proving her independence…

When Alice Trembath is mugged in the stark Australian outback, she has two choices: return to the US with an ‘I told you so’ from her conservative parents and join the family business, or take a job as a nanny on a nearby cattle station. Despite being wildly unqualified, she accepts the position. She’s a fast learner and besides, she needs the money.

Hotshot businessman Tom Braydon is juggling huge responsibilities. After the death of his brother, Tom took in his orphaned nieces and managed his brother’s cattle station, while simultaneously running his own thriving business in Sydney. Tom desperately needs Alice’s help, even though she has zero experience looking after children or living in the outback. He has plenty on his plate, he doesn’t need the distraction of a romance.

But while Alice and Tom strive to ignore the chemistry sizzling between them and focus on their separate goals, love clearly has other plans.

This is the fourth book in this quartet centering around the small country Victorian town or Wirralong. I have enjoyed reading them all so much, they’ve just been so perfect for the sort of reads I feel like at the moment. They are very feel good, low angst and drama.

In this one, Alice is a young American woman who has undertaken the trip of a lifetime to explore Australia, a place her grandfather visited many years ago. Unfortunately for her though, when her rental gets a flat tyre, the people that stop to ‘help’ her actually steal the car and leave her unconscious. She’s rescued by Tom Braydon and his two nieces and they take her to get seen by a doctor and to report her crime with the police in Wirralong. As Alice is currently minus money, clothes, her passport and basically everything else with no where to stay and Tom is busy caring for his orphaned nieces who are 5 and 8, juggling his engineering business that he runs out of Sydney and also, taking care of his late brother’s farm. He’s in desperate need to some help so it makes sense for Alice to stay at the farm and help him take care of Freda and Ivy, and free up time for Tom to devote to the other things he is juggling.

This one was a quick read but still felt really well fleshed out and quite in depth. Alice is naturally distrustful of Tom when he stops to help her after she’s already been assaulted but it’s the girls that convince her she won’t be in any danger. When she moves in to help them whilst awaiting her new paperwork, Alice does manage to bond quite quickly with the girls, who are both still in shock and grieving after the loss of both their parents. Tom lived in Sydney before his brother and his brother’s wife passed away so he’s had to uproot his whole life and come and accept responsibility for two children that he probably only saw occasionally, given he had left the family farm and had an entirely different career. He’s doing his utmost best to keep the farm running, to keep his business going and to provide love, support and stability for his two young nieces but it’s really more than one person can comfortably achieve. He’s very grateful for Alice’s help in things like meals, getting the girls to school, grocery shopping, picking them up, supervising homework and doing bedtime routines.

Alice and Tom both know the grief of losing someone. They also understand duty as well. Alice came to Australia to have an adventure, despite her parents not really wanting her to come, she had to do it. She had barely gotten started when she was mugged and had her rental stolen and now she finds herself becoming very comfortable on the farm – too comfortable. Not only does she love the two girls but there’s a strong attraction between her and Tom. But this isn’t why she came to Australia and she knows that eventually, she’ll have to go home to America. This isn’t her future, no matter how much it feels like she might be able to imagine it.

I loved the way this portrayed Alice’s growing relationship with the young girls. It’s not all smooth sailing – both of them are so young and they’re really struggling with the loss of their parents. Freda, the elder, in particular, has mood swings where she can be very helpful or very not and for both girls, it can be a delicate exercise because sometimes, the most innocent-seeming thing can upset them as it dredges up a memory or feeling that only they know about. But Alice is kind and patient and it becomes obvious soon that what was supposed to just be a temporary thing while she awaited some documents, is going to have some very long-lasting effects – not just because of the two girls, but because of the feelings she’s come to have for Tom as well. Alice needs to figure out what she wants the most…and have the courage to go after it, no matter what.

I’ve really enjoyed my time in Wirralong and I’m definitely going to return to this town as I track down the books that have been previously set here! I have quite a few to catch up on and I think that’s going to be just a fun a journey as this one was!

9/10

Book #168 of 2020

A Nanny Called Alice is book #61 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge 2020

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Review: The Sister’s Gift by Barbara Hannay

The Sister’s Gift 
Barbara Hannay
Penguin Random House AUS
2020, 400p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Two sisters, one baby and the best of intentions…

As a vibrant, young woman with a lifetime of possibilities ahead of her, Freya grants her sister, Pearl, the ultimate gift of motherhood. However, this comes at a hefty price – an unexpected rift in her family and the loss of the man she loves.

Decades later, Freya is divorced, childless and homeless, at rock bottom after losing everything she’s worked for. When her estranged niece, Billie, offers sanctuary, managing the family restaurant on beautiful Magnetic Island, Freya can hardly refuse.

Billie has never understood the tension between her mother and her aunt and now, with a newly broken heart, she is nursing a family secret of her own. All three women come together under the tropical Queensland skies, but can they let go of past regrets, or will old tensions tear them further apart?

A new Barbara Hannay book is always cause to celebrate and after the new lockdown restrictions, I decided that it would be one of my first August reads. I already know that August is going to be a month where I turn to books again, to entertain myself in the about 23hrs I am required to basically stay inside!

Many years ago, when Freya was a young woman, she gave her older sister Pearl the greatest of gifts. She sacrificed a lot for this, although she was happy and willing to do it. However Freya also made a choice for herself as well, something that alienated Pearl from her, made Pearl suspicious and nervous. And so although Freya offered up this gift for her sister, the backfire was it ended up destroying the closeness the sisters had once enjoyed, as well as Freya’s relationship. Now Freya is older, close to 50. She’s divorced and then her house burns to the ground. Lost and without anything to hold her to the place she’s made her home, Freya travels north to where she grew up to help her niece Billie, much to Pearl’s concern, who feels that all the secrets from a quarter of a century ago will spill out whilst Freya and Billie are in close proximity.

Whilst Billie’s parents are off enjoying a ‘grey nomad’ tour of Australia, Billie and Freya will run their bistro on beautiful Magnetic Island, off the coast of Townsville in northern Queensland. Freya grew up on the island but has since made her home away from it, helping to enforce the distance that Pearl has seemed to want in order to feel comfortable. Despite this, Freya and Billie share a close relationship, one where Billie feels comfortable opening up to Freya when she finds herself in a situation that she definitely did not expect to be in.

I loved the complex exploration of family relationships in this book and how decisions made can affect people in the long term. Freya and Pearl were once incredibly close, so close that Freya thought nothing of giving her the greatest gift. However despite that, circumstances ended with it driving a wedge between them, mostly due to Pearl’s insecurity. After the one decision she made that Pearl got so upset about, Freya has done the best she can to stay away, give them space and not continue to provide Pearl with other reasons to feel nervous and upset. However the situation suddenly brings Freya home, and Pearl at first, is not happy about it, fearing that the presence of her will topple the narrative she has chosen.

Billie and Freya are at very different places in their lives but there are some similarities. Both have come home after lengthy time away, Freya living her life elsewhere and Billie after travelling overseas. Both are not in relationships, Freya’s marriage having broken down and Billie’s holiday fling having ended. They fit together easily, working in the bistro and smoothing the way through any problems with competence. Both Billie and Freya have had an eventful couple of months leading up to their separate returns to Magnetic Island and it gives them a chance to stop and take a breath, decide what their next steps might be.

I enjoyed the setting here – it’s cold and miserable in Victoria and an escape for an afternoon to a tropical island accessible by ferry was a nice distraction. It gave me an idea of what it’d be like to be remote, in terms of being late term pregnancy and the challenges of that, being on an island where there’s only ferry access to the mainland, etc. Even just life, in terms of living somewhere where a lot of things are not easily accessible. At the moment, given what is going on in the world, it sounds like a wonderful way to be – but I’m aware that it would often be inconvenient also.

The romances were very appealing here as well – one is a second chance type and the other a chance opportunity that leads to something more. Both couples are connected by things they share and drawn to each other. There was a simplicity about most of the interactions between them but that doesn’t mean that there weren’t issues to explore either.

This was just the perfect read for me at this time – relaxing but also wonderfully intimate in its exploration of family relationships, the ups and the downs through life, decisions made and how that can shape things for many years. Freya and Pearl had a lot of settle between them and it didn’t really seem like that was an option until all the secrets between them were brought to light.

9/10

Book #154 of 2020

The Sister’s Gift is the 52nd book read and reviewed for The Australian Women Writers Challenge of 2020

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Review: The Country Wedding by Barbara Hannay

The Country Wedding
Barbara Hannay
Penguin Random House AUS
2017, 417p
Gifted from my Nan

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Two country weddings, fifty years apart … and the miracle of second chances.

In the tiny Tablelands township of Burralea, Flora Drummond is preparing to play in a string quartet for the wedding of a very close friend. The trouble is, she can’t quite forget the embarrassing teenage crush she once had on the handsome groom.

All is as it should be on the big day. The little church is filled with flowers, the expectant guests are arriving, and Mitch is nervously waiting – but his bride has had a sudden change of heart.

Decades earlier, another wedding in the same church led to a similar story of betrayal and devastation. Hattie missed out on marrying her childhood sweetheart the first time around, but now she has returned to the scene of her greatest heartache.

As Flora is drawn into both romantic dramas, she must also confront a relationship crisis of her own. But the past and the present offer promise for the future and there’s a chance for friends, old and new, to help each other to heal.

From the rolling green hills of Far North Queensland to the crowded streets of Shanghai on the eve of the Second World War, this is a beautiful romantic saga that tells of two loves lost and found and asks the questions – do we ever get over our first love, and is it ever too late to make amends?

I often mention my Nan is one of my greatest reading influences. She bought me tonnes of books as a kid – Enid Blyton, Babysitters Club books, she always made sure I had plenty of books on my shelf. When I got older I started reading the books she bought for herself. She’s not interested in rereading or keeping them, so she buys them, reads them and passes them on to my mother. When my mother is finished with them, I take the ones I’m interested in back to Melbourne with me or my parents bring me a stack on one of their annual visits. This one has been sitting on my shelf for a little while but I’m trying to add in a few books I’ve owned for ages and not read so this one caught my eye.

I really love Barbara Hannay books and I’ve missed a couple over the years. That became obvious when I got a little way into this one and had an inkling that there’d probably been one before this focusing on Flora’s brother so I’m going to have to try and track that one down to read.

I really love dual timelines and this is an excellent example of why. In the current timeline, Flora has returned to near her childhood home to regroup. That means getting reacquainted with Mitch, her teenage crush who was just jilted at the altar. And in the historical timeline, Hattie watched the man she loved marry someone else and then left Australia after finding out the truth of her parentage. She’s never been back to Burralea until bones are found on Flora’s brother Seth’s new farm. Hattie decides that she needs to go back, face the man she lost and help solve the mystery.

Flora is a violinist who used to play for an orchestra in Melbourne and I loved that part of the story. Classical music is something I became interested in last year so I really enjoy seeing it in books and actually knowing some of the pieces when they get mentioned. As a favour she has to oversee the children’s Christmas concert, which provides a lot of community interaction and gives Flora a chance to foster the same love of music in others that she has herself, the way her own teacher did when she was a child. I really got the small community feel as well, it seemed like a lovely place.

There’s quite a bit going on, with several weddings in different timelines, the impact of WWII in Shanghai China (which isn’t something I’ve read about before) involving wealthy British expats and ‘White Russians’, those who have fled Russia but find themselves classed as ‘stateless’ in China. However everything came together really well, the happenings in Shanghai shaped the reasons people found themselves in Australia. And the story of how the bones came to be where they were placed nicely in connecting things together in the present. It gave two characters an opportunity at a ‘second chance’ as well as providing Mitch with the motivation he needed to change things, after he realised he had gotten stuck in a bit of a rut.

Mitch and Flora are a second chance in a way as well. Mitch suffers a jarring humiliation when his fiancee doesn’t show for their wedding, leaving him standing there in front of most of the town. He and Flora knew each other well as teens, when Flora’s father offered a troubled Mitch work and a place to stay. Flora had a big crush on him and there’s a night none of them talk about…..they’ve had little to do with each other since but Flora’s return to the area and Mitch’s newly single status gives them an opportunity to realise that the spark of chemistry is still there and that maybe this time, it can be explored. There are some complications though, namely Flora’s return to the area is only temporary and that soon she’ll be looking further afield for a new orchestra role.

I always know I’m going to get a really enjoyable story when I pick up a Barbara Hannay book and even with knowing that, she always has the ability to also surprise me, with some added details or an element of the story that is unexpected. For me, it was the Shanghai portion in this book, I found it fascinating. Definitely might have to hunt down something set in Shanghai just prior to the Second World War and explore this a little more. Also really liked both the romances, the way in which the story explored abuse and also how extending an olive branch to a lonely neighbour can open up a whole new world of opportunity. Now I also need to find the book that revolves around Flora’s brother Seth and his new partner.

8/10

Book #81 of 2020

The Country Wedding is book #27 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2020

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Review: Meet Me In Venice by Barbara Hannay

Meet Me In Venice
Barbara Hannay
Penguin Random House AUS
2019, 400p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

A year after her husband Leo’s death, widow Daisy invites her three adult children to join her for a holiday in beautiful Venice. It will be wonderful, her chicks under one roof again in their father’s birthplace. But is it possible to recapture the past?

Marc’s marriage is in jeopardy, but for his mother’s sake, he convinces his wife to keep up appearances. Anna’s trying to hide the truth about the dismal state of her London acting career; and Ellie, enjoying a gap year and uncertain about her future choices, wants to avoid family pressure to conform.

Despite the magic of Venice, family ties are tested to the limit, especially when a shocking secret from Leo’s past is revealed. Now everything they value about love, family, commitment and trust must be re-examined.

How can one family holiday require so much courage? Will Daisy’s sentimental journey make or break them?

Barbara Hannay is one of my favourite Australian authors and a new novel from her is always a cause for celebration. In this one we mostly leave Australian shores for Venice. Widow Daisy has decided to undertake the trip that she and her late husband Leo would’ve taken in his retirement and shout her three kids a trip to Venice, the place of Leo’s birth. Given that her family are spread quite far and wide – son Marc in Silicon Valley, middle daughter Anna in London, it gives them a chance not to just catch up but to spend some real quality time together as well. She doesn’t really know that Marc has separated from his wife Bronte and that Anna’s career in London has stalled and neither of the two offspring want to tell her. Daisy has struggled since Leo’s death and they both can tell that this Venice trip is something that excites her enormously, gives her back her spark. Youngest child Ellie has just finished year 12 and doesn’t know what she wants out of life, unlike both her ambitious siblings, which often leaves her feeling a bit the odd one out.

I really enjoyed this book on a lot of levels. I actually connected to more of the characters than I thought I would, surprisingly I found myself being able to identify quite strongly with Ellie, who is half my age but I’ve talked before about how I’ve never really felt like I knew what I wanted to ‘do’ in life. That I’ve never had that drawing towards a career like others have, who immediately know what they want and go after it. Or fall into something they’re excellent at. It’s probably especially harder when there’s siblings who went before you and managed to make successes of themselves, which is what Ellie feels. She is younger by a decent amount than her older siblings and I think sometimes it more feels like they’re distant relatives rather than her brother and sister. After all both live overseas and probably have done for most of her high school years. There’s definitely a little bit of distance and Ellie seems reluctant to talk to them about her lack of ideas, her need to take a break to figure things out.

I found myself really invested in the story of Marc, the oldest child who was pushed to always do his best. He ended up in Silicon Valley working crippling days trying to keep up with everyone else there and it’s about to cost him everything, including his marriage. Marc and Bronte met at university and she moved to America with him although her Visa prevents her from working so she’s been left on her own for long hours day and night while Marc works. Even when he’s there, he’s not really present as he’s checking his emails and squeezing in more work. Bronte has basically had enough and only her fondness for Marc’s mother has her agreeing to go on the trip and pretend everything is still fine so that they can find a way to gently break the news to her in person. The forced proximity is extremely difficult for them both and it makes them really think about what they want, what is important and how much should you be willing to sacrifice for a job. I really liked this because a lot of the time I do read about people just getting together but there’s less about marriages that are going through difficulties and how you make it work when things change, say from the more laid back days of uni to juggling jobs, especially very demanding jobs.

There’s a bit of a mystery running through this book as well – Daisy discovers something puzzling before they arrive in Venice, and then once there, they visit some remaining family of Leo’s who also drop a bit of a bombshell that rocks them all. I really enjoyed the way this played out and how it took an unexpected turn, which I appreciated. I also got a chance to enjoy Venice as a setting…..funnily enough I’ve not read a whole lot set in Venice and a lot of what I’ve read is more historical fiction, so it was good to visit it in a modern way. There was a little about the issue of tourism in Venice as well, which I feel most self-aware tourists and would be tourists should be thinking about.

This was incredibly engaging and a lovely look at family relationships and how grief can also serve as a catalyst to bring people together, to take control of what is left and use it as an opportunity to reshape your life. I loved this! Well I love all of Barbara Hannay’s books so really this is no surprise.

8/10

Book #123 of 2019

Meet Me In Venice is book #56 of the 2019 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Feeling well on my way to my 80 book total for the year!

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Review: The Summer Of Secrets by Barbara Hannay

The Summer Of Secrets 
Barbara Hannay
Penguin Michael Joseph
2018, 384p
Copy courtesy of Michelle from Beauty & Lace

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Sydney journalist Chloe Brown is painfully aware that her biological clock isn’t just ticking, it’s booming. When her long term boyfriend finally admits he never wants children, Chloe is devastated. Impulsively, she moves as far from disappointment as she can – to a job on a small country newspaper in Queensland’s far north.

The little town seems idyllic, a cosy nest, and Chloe plans to regroup and, possibly, to embark on single motherhood via IVF. But she soon realises that no place is free from trouble or heartache. The grouchy news editor, Finn Latimer, is a former foreign correspondent who has retreated after a family tragedy. Emily, the paper’s elegant, sixty-something owner, is battling with her husband’s desertion. Meanwhile, the whole town is worried when their popular young baker disappears.

As lives across generations become more deeply entwined, the lessons are clear. Secrets and silence harbour pain, while honesty and openness bring healing and hope. And love. All that’s needed now is courage…

I’m on a bit of a roll with books read at the moment – this is the third book in a row that I’ve rated 5-stars on Goodreads. I always love Barbara Hannay books, so to be honest it was no surprise how much I ended up enjoying this. Her books are feel good reads for me but always with depth and an intimate look at human relationships.

Chloe is 37 and after devoting the past 7 years of her life to a man who is never going to be on the same page as her, she finds herself leaving Sydney and her job at a girl’s magazine for a post in far North Queensland at a rural newspaper. Before Chloe arrived there was basically a staff of one – former foreign correspondent Finn Latimer, who is used to doing things his way and not having anyone else around. He’s a Serious Journalist and not particularly interested in having someone that he thinks probably wrote quizzes for Dolly magazine helping him out.

Chloe finds herself settling into the small town almost immediately, which is preoccupied by the disappearance of the young man who owns the local bakery. Ben went out for a jog one morning and never came home and the fear is that he stumbled on a meth lab. There’s not much to go on and Chloe befriends his girlfriend Tammy as she gets to know the locals for a series of articles she’s preparing for the local paper. She finds herself accepted into this community, enjoying the change of pace and beauty of the local area. It’s a far cry from inner Sydney and it’s growing on her. As is Finn himself.

I loved the small town feel. I’ve never been to far North Queensland so I appreciated the descriptions of the local farms and the forests, as well as the brightness of the stars at night and even a little cameo by some of the (perhaps not so palatable) wildlife.  Chloe is at that stage of her life where she has to make a decision – she’s already late-30s, which is considered advanced maternal age, especially for someone who will be undertaking having their first child, even though more and more women are having children later. She has recently ended a long-term relationship and if she wants to have a baby before she’s 40, she’s probably going to have to go it alone. I think being somewhere small and quiet gives her time to think, reassess and gain some clarity. It will also give her more freedom to be a working mother as well. However…..now there’s also Finn in her life and the two of them definitely have a lot of chemistry and I really enjoyed the way she and Finn interacted – it was a bit of a rocky start, with Finn not really buying into her credentials, but Chloe brings a breath of fresh air and colour to the local paper and Finn doesn’t take long to see that she’s really quite valuable. And very helpful when they get a strange clue about Ben, the vanished baker, that leaves Finn free to pursue that line of enquiry. A future together requires both of them taking a strong leap of faith and for Finn, letting go of the past and his guilt over it.

There’s a few other local characters populating this story. Emily is the owner of the paper, who took over from her mother a very formidable woman who is almost 100 and still going strong. Emily and her husband are going through something quite traumatic and they’re both dealing with it in different ways – or trying to. Jess, a young woman Chloe met in the airport after her flight landed, was also leaving to find a new life and I really enjoyed the way her story played out. It was nicely done – I only really started to suspect her true reasons for being in the area shortly before it was revealed. I also liked the inclusion of Emily’s mother’s early life as a pilot in WWII for Britain. This also made me realise that somewhere along the way I’ve missed a book from Barbara Hannay so I’m definitely going to have to rectify that.

Also? I’d kind of like to see Hawk in a future book….

9/10

Book #193 of 2018

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Review: Southern Cross Secrets – Barbara Hannay

Southern Cross SecretsSouthern Cross Secrets
Barbara Hannay
Harlequin Mills & Boon
2013 (originally 2004, 2005 & 2005), 521p
Borrowed from my Nan’s stash

Southern Cross Secrets is a bind-up of three of Barbara Hannay’s Mills & Boon novels all featuring members of the same family, the McKinnons who live and work on a large property in northern Queensland called Southern Cross.

In The Cattleman’s English Rose, Charity Denham has traveled all the way from England to Mirrabrook searching for her brother Tim, who was supposed to have having adventures working in Australia. Charity and her father haven’t heard from him for a long time now after he’d promised to maintain regular contact and Southern Cross, outside of Mirrabrook is the last place they knew he was. When she arrives, Charity finds Kane McKinnon who clearly knows something about where her brother is, but won’t tell her.

In The Blind Date Surprise, Annie McKinnon has left the family property for Brisbane in order to go on a blind date with a man she met on an internet dating site. There are no men that interest her around the family property and days spent cooking and cleaning for her brothers don’t give her much opportunity to get out. Annie has taken some time to go and see if this is the real deal….but she’s in for a very big surprise.

The last story is The Mirrabrook Marriage which features Reid, the third McKinnon sibling. Many years ago, he and the local schoolteacher Sarah Rossiter were an item before Reid abruptly broke things off without giving reason. Since then Sarah has stayed on in Mirrabrook, hoping that Reid would change his mind and come to his senses – there are times when she can clearly still see the feelings he has for her and the torment it causes him to walk away. So many years have passed now and Sarah has decided that things will never change and it’s time to move on. If Reid doesn’t want to lose her he’s going to have to let go of the baggage he carries and go for a big gesture.

It’s been a while since I’ve read a Mills & Boon novel but I forgot how fast and easy they are to read! These three stories are over 500 pages combined but it took me no time at all to read all 3 of them one after the other. I love stories that are linked and I love outback settings so when I rummaged through my Nan’s collection of books she’s read and then passed on (my Nan never re-reads or keeps anything. I take the cream of what I want, the rest get donated or passed onto other friends/family etc) this was one of the first ones I picked out to read. I’ve read three of Barbara Hannay’s rural romances (that are also loosely linked via family members) and loved them so I was keen to read some of her earlier books too.

The first book sets the scene, introducing the reader to the McKinnon property and the local area. Charity and Kane do have great chemistry, somewhat complicated by the fact that Charity is pretty sure that Kane is lying to her about not knowing the whereabouts of her younger brother Tim. Charity adapts to being on Southern Cross, helping out at the homestead whilst she tries to find out exactly where Tim is and why he hasn’t been in contact. Charity’s mother died when she was young and she’s led a somewhat sheltered life looking after her father and helping raise Tim. Now her brother is off on his own adventure and her father appears to be moving on in his life, leaving Charity somewhat directionless. Kane and Charity have some great scenes together and I liked how the reader is given insight into both of their heads, which didn’t happen with previous M&B I’ve read (perhaps because they’re mostly from the Blaze/Sexy/Presents lines which tend to present the hero as an aloof enigma, leaving the reader somewhat clueless as to the hero’s true feelings, like the heroine, apart from intense looks and alpha male actions). Everything happens quickly (and this is true in the second story as well) but this is M&B and an entire story is wrapped up in very specific page count!

I have to admit that in the second book, something did concern me and that was Annie going to stay with Theo about 2 minutes after she’d met him. I loved the character of Theo (who doesn’t like a sexy professor?) but I think it’s not exactly the smartest move by a country girl in a big city, to go and move into the house of a man she just met. And yes, I’m aware that Charity did something somewhat similar in the first book but it seemed less concerning because she took a job. Annie’s friends did know where she was, or at least who she was with and yes this is a romance novel and no one is going to find her dismembered body but it still struck me as a pretty careless thing to do. Despite my irritation with that, I did like this one, especially Theo.

The third story was perhaps my least favourite and I think that’s because Reid’s issue over his ‘secret’ really just seemed like a complete overblown drama. He was so focused on the nature part of life that it’s like he totally refused to recognise the importance of nurture in a person’s upbringing. He was willing to sacrifice his happiness and someone else’s so he could feel sorry for himself and wallow in his misery and the fact that Sarah stayed around for years waiting for him to change his mind made me want to give her a good shake. Not only that but she worked each year helping with the muster on the McKinnon properties, such a glutton for punishment was she! I did enjoy the resolution though – actually that situation would’ve made a great book all on its own!

Overall …..

7/10

Book #s 193, 194 and 195 of 2014 (yes it’s kind of cheating in a way because I read them in one volume but hey, they’re still 3 separate books!)

AWWW2014

Book #s 71, 72 & 73 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014

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Review: Moonlight Plains – Barbara Hannay

Moonlight PlainsMoonlight Plains
Barbara Hannay
Penguin Books AUS
2014, 369p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Sally Piper is working as a freelance journalist, picking up what work she can find. She’s still in mourning for her husband, who died in an accident just over two years ago but her friends are convinced that it’s time for Sally to start living again. They want her to put herself out there a bit more, meet some new people. Against her better judgement she attends a ball in Charters Towers with a war theme and decides that the ball might make a good focus for a story for one of the country life magazines.

At the ball Sally meets Luke Fairburn and learns of his plans to restore his grandmother’s homestead. This is something Sally is interested in herself and she journeys out to Moonlight Plains to see the home and decides that it would also make a great story. Although sparks fly between Sally and Luke, she’s not quite ready yet – she can’t seem to let go of Josh and move on and find happiness.

Moonlight Plains has seen a lot in it’s time, including some war action when some Allied planes crashed on its land during the Second World War. Young Kitty Martin was home alone at the time and although terrified of what she might find, she hears the planes come down and heads out to investigate. What she discovers brings her the experience of the tragedy of war and heartbreak but also the promise of something beautiful.

Years later as Luke plans to unveil the new Moonlight Plains to the entire family, a deep secret looks like being exposed.

In recent years, a story that blends the contemporary with the historical has come to be one of my favourite types to read. I also really enjoyed Barbara Hannay’s two previous books surrounding the Fairburn family, Home Before Sundown and Zoe’s Muster and had been waiting eagerly for Luke’s story. The two stories blend together quite seamlessly here as we visit Townsville in 1942 and the Allied troops that are stationed there, perfectly placed for missions into Asia. Japan was looking towards Australia, keen to expand its territory and all that land sparsely populated must’ve been tempting. They’d already bombed Darwin and there were rumours of “the Brisbane line” where everything north of that city wouldn’t be defended. Kitty Martin was sent inland to Moonlight Plains, her great-uncle’s farm to keep her away from those flirtatious American soldiers….only to meet American soldiers when they crash their small crafts onto the property!

I loved Kitty’s story – in fact I could’ve read a whole book devoted to just her and her life both before and after WWII. She was strong and independent and hadn’t been cowed by her rather strict religious grandfather. There was plenty of romance in her story but also practicality and I found it very believable that it would play out the way in which it did. I also loved learning about the restoration of the old homestead. I watch too much lifestyle television and restoration shows or building projects, are some of my favourites so I was always really interested in everything Luke was doing and how it was all going to come together.

Which brings me to Sally and Luke! I already knew Luke so I had to get to know Sally and it was hard not to empathise with her. She was terribly young to have already lost a husband and the grief she was experiencing was still rather strong but there was also guilt too. Guilt that she could be attracted to Luke and want to act on it as well as I think, guilt that perhaps she and Luke had more in common than she’d had with her late husband Josh. Sally had an interest in old homes, she had wanted to buy a fixer upper herself (and had almost done so with the insurance money, only the guilt stopped her) whereas Josh had preferred a modern apartment for their home. He was a lawyer, so not a handyman type like Luke. Sally was the type of girl who would want to get her hands dirty and help as well, learning how to help brand and ear-tag cattle as well as pitch in with ideas for the homestead. They were so good together, it was obvious they just worked and Luke was definitely ready for something long term. Sally was different though, she definitely still had some things to work through. I was a little surprised at how angsty Luke was, he is quite brooding….but not unattractive!

Moonlight Plains has taken the rural romance genre and then gone one step further adding in a historical romance element as well that deals with the troubles of war and the beauty that can come out of such times. Both the 1942 story and the current day story work well both separately and together and I was equally invested in both. I think Barbara Hannay did a great job balancing them out and making sure that each story had the attention it deserved. I was equally connected to Kitty and Sally and their very different journeys toward happiness.

This one can be read as stand-alone but I would recommend picking up Home Before Sundown and then Zoe’s Muster beforehand just to really get familiar with the Fairburn family.

9/10

Book #166 of 2014

AWWW2014

Midnight Plains is book #63 for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014

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Home Before Sundown – Barbara Hannay

Home Before SundownHome Before Sundown
Barbara Hannay
Penguin Books Aus
2013, 320p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Bella Fairburn has been living it up in Europe and loving it – or so she keeps telling herself. But when she gets the news that her beloved father Peter has had another, more serious heart attack, she wastes no time packing her bags, saying goodbye to her French boyfriend Anton and jetting home with her aunt, Liz.

It’s been two years since Bella returned to her family’s outback northern Queensland cattle property and for Liz, Peter’s sister who is now an acclaimed pianist working all over Europe, it’s been even longer – about thirty. After seeing Peter in Townsville for themselves and making sure he is resting up okay and hopefully on the mend, Bella returns to the family property to run it while her father is in hospital. Her brother Luke was always supposed to take over the running of the property but he’s recently begun carpentry work and has developed a passion for it. Tied up with an important job doing something he loves, Bella is happy to run the farm to save her parents hiring a manager and outsourcing what is a family role- she knows she can do it. She grew up doing it. She will make her father proud and give him back the reins when he’s ready to resume his position.

But running the family farm puts her back in close contact with Gabe Mitchell, her next door neighbour. Growing up, Bella trailed everywhere after Luke and Gabe, honing her tomboy skills. When Bella was at university, Gabe was the man she one day hoped to marry. Luke would have the family farm, but Bella would be right next door with the man she had fallen in love with, helping him run his own farm. However after a family tragedy, Gabe spurned her and broke her heart, sending her overseas to put as much distance between him and herself as she could.

Back at Mullinjim, both Liz and Bella will have to confront painful moments from their past during their time there and make the steps towards healing and moving forward to bright new futures.

Last year I read and loved Zoe’s Muster by Barbara Hannay and was excited to revisit the area for Home Before Sundown. Bella is Zoe’s half sister (they share the same father) and she’s been overseas travelling for several years. However when family brings her home, Bella throws her all into running the family farm – some one hundred thousand acres desperately on its way to being crippled by drought. Bella has grown up on the farm, there’s not much she doesn’t know how to do and when she needs help, she has neighbours. Her half sister Zoe has married Mac, who bought one of the neighbouring farms when Bella was away at Uni and then there’s Gabe Mitchell, with whom Bella has history.

The chemistry between Gabe and Bella is obvious, as is the fact that they both have regrets over what happened during their short lived fling a few years ago. At first Bella maintains a polite distance from Gabe, resisting asking him for help but the more time they spend together, the more she sees that resistance is futile. Their move back towards a relationship is hampered drastically when Bella’s French boyfriend Anton arrives, causing Gabe to lash out at Bella the same way he did several years ago, challenging her to figure out precisely what she wants.

It’s not an unfair charge – Bella ran from what she wanted after what happened with Gabe and tried to make herself happy travelling around Europe but it’s very clear that her heart lies with her home at Mullinjim. She just needs to embrace the courage she needs to go after what she wants and make it hers, rather than trying to run from it. Gabe is of course, a part of that, but a rash promise Bella made before she left France really ends up complicating things for her! I think that Bella did just need a little time to grow up and realise that Gabe wasn’t able to put her first back then, that he was going through something horrible. I understand why she reacted the way she did, and I think it was perfectly reasonable for her to be hurt and feel betrayed, jilted and abandoned. But running away definitely did not help.

The story is greatly enhanced by Liz’s character who has her own reasons for not having returned to her childhood home. I really enjoyed the character of Liz and the role she played in Bella’s life and also the story. Her tragedy had led to her filling her life with relatively meaningless connections and relationships, pouring her energy into her career as one of the world’s most talented pianists. It’s interesting that in a place that she assumes would be a dating dead end, she meets perhaps the first man that has truly interested her in a long time. The two stories worked great alongside of each other and intertwined as they revolved around the homestead and Liz and Bella both witnessed the other’s burgeoning relationships and tried to extract information or offer advice.

Home Before Sundown is a well-rounded story with heartache, loss, love and new beginnings. I have to admit, one event threw me totally – did not see it coming at all but I understand how it helped the story, particularly Bella’s personal growth and her understanding and compassion towards someone else who had experienced the same thing. Once again Barbara Hannay has delivered a fantastic story with beautiful characters and a lovely backdrop of rural Australia. I am so looking forward to her next book, which will feature Bella and Zoe’s brother Luke. In this novel we got a few glimpses of Zoe and Mac and the happiness they had found together (which always satisfies the need in me to know more after a book ends!) and I hope for glimpses of them again and Bella and Gabe too in Luke’s book.

8/10

Book #190 of 2013

AWW2013

Home Before Sundown is the 76th book read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge in 2013.

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Zoe’s Muster – Barbara Hannay

Zoe’s Muster
Barbara Hannay
Penguin AU
2012, 304p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Brisbane girl Zoe is stunned when she finds out quite by accident that the man her mother is married to, the man that has raised her, is not actually her biological father. Zoe’s real father is a north-Queensland cattle station owner and suddenly the insecurities Zoe has always had about not fitting into her family, about not knowing what she wants to do with her life in a family of decision makers, seem like they might go away if she got to know her father. And almost by divine intervention, the cattle station that Peter Fairburn (her biological father) owns is advertising for a stockcamp cook to provide food for the men while they’re mustering all the cattle. Zoe is a chef, currently running a high tea business in Brisbane and feeling restless. Looking for a change. Ignoring the fear her mother has of only bad coming from this, Zoe applies for the job and not long later finds herself arriving in far north QLD. She’s not quite sure what to expect, especially when she discovers that her accomodations are quite some way from the homestead. She’s not sure she’ll even get a chance to glimpse the man that fathered her, especially when she learns that he’s laid up at the moment recovering from a heart attack.

Despite this disappointment, Zoe throws herself into the work, dishing up hearty food for the busy men and scrumptious desserts. Well fed men are grateful men and they’re quite happy to have Zoe around. Awkwardly, the man that is her half brother (although unbeknownst to him) takes a shine to her, flirting with her and making no secret of the fact that he’d like to get to know her…more. He’s her boss though and Zoe is loathe to shut him down too harshly even though with her knowledge, she knows that she should. Besides, she’s more interested in his dark and brooding friend Mac, who owns a nearby property. Mac is helping with the muster as it’s Luke’s first time overseeing one with his father still not quite back on active duty. Mac is suspicious about Zoe’s arrival on the property – in fact he’s suspicious of all city girls he thinks are heading out to try and pick themselves up a station-owner husband. Mac has been burned before, but that doesn’t stop the attraction he feels for Zoe, even though he knows he will hurt Luke.

But it isn’t just Luke that stands to get hurt by Zoe’s secretive employment. If her secret were to come out – and let’s face it, all secrets do eventually- then a whole family stands to be hurt, including the man who raised her as if she were his own. Zoe’s impulsive search to help her understand herself has suddenly become very serious in that now she knows these people. And if they discovered who she truly is, it could change everything.

The rural literature keeps coming as strong as ever and this latest offering, from experienced romance author Barbara Hannay is a really enjoyable book. I really liked Zoe, right away she’s portrayed as a hard worker but perhaps a bit lacking in fulfillment in her job and at a bit of a loss with what she wants to do with her life long-term. She looks different to the other members in her family and she is different, temperament wise. Her father is a federal politician, her younger sister a lawyer. When Zoe discovers that the man she has always thought was her father actually isn’t, she’s naturally devastated, but also curious and things start making a little more sense for her. She’s always passionately loved cooking, but never known where that comes from. She has curly dark hair and she’s curvy whereas her mother and sister are thin with straight, lighter hair. When she googles her newly-found biological father’s name she discovers that the station is hiring a cook for their upcoming muster and that’s all the invitation Zoe needs. She just wants to go there and see for herself. She has a whole other part of her family that she knows nothing about and maybe she can finally understand herself.

I think that if I were in Zoe’s position, I’d want to do exactly the same thing – in fact no one could probably have stopped me from doing that. To find out that a totally strange man was actually her father and that was a whole part of her family she didn’t know about, I don’t blame her at all for taking off up there given the opportunity. She immediately likes the property and she enjoys the work of feeding the hungry working men. She meets Peter’s wife Virginia and bonds with her and she also likes her younger half-brother Luke, although Luke likes her a little too much! That had potential disaster written all over it, especially when Luke’s friend Mac was added in to the mix! What I loved about this was that it wasn’t really a love triangle, because there was only ever one option for Zoe, given she was related to the other one!

Mac has his own issues and this colours his opinion of Zoe from the very beginning. He’s wary of her even before she arrives and given he feels she’s hiding something about her real reasons for coming to the station to work (she is, just not what he thinks) he’s even more suspicious of her and isn’t shy about showing it. However the two actually work really well together, especially once Zoe confesses to him and his understanding was very refreshing. I half expected him to blow up about her deceiving the family but he was actually very supportive of her, although he did urge her to tell them, especially Luke, before he made a fool of himself.

The characterisation in Zoe’s Muster is incredibly strong and it’s not just limited to Zoe and Mac. Zoe’s parents are equally well established, especially her frustrated musician mother Claire. We get Claire’s story in bits and pieces throughout the book and it really helps to flesh out the story and give the reader a real understanding of just how this situation came about. I found every part of the story really engrossing and would love to revisit this world one day! Maybe through a HEA story for Luke…? Just a thought!

8/10

Book #124 of 2012

Zoe’s Muster is the 45th book read and reviewed for the Australian Women Writers Challenge

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