All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Serenity’s Song by Cathryn Hein

Serenity’s Song (Outback Brides Return to Wirralong #3)
Cathryn Hein
Tule Publishing
2020, eBook
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

He’s got a history of bad decisions—is he finally about to make the right one?

Jesse Hargreaves can’t outrun his notorious bad boy reputation. Betrayed by a woman he trusted, he retreats to his hometown, Wirralong, to serve as his brother’s best man and rebuild his life. But change isn’t easy, and it’s even harder when Jesse has to fight his fierce attraction to the maid of honour—a woman well aware of the darkness in his past.

Beautician Serenity Strachan’s flippant one-liners and vibrant hair colours are armour to protect her fragile heart. She’s always crushed on Jesse, but she’s determined to keep him and his sordid past at an arm’s length. That’s easier said than done when Jesse asks Serenity to help renovate an old property. And when they’re trapped underground in a tunnel cave-in, their emotional barriers fall faster than the tunnel walls.

When rescue arrives, they question their new emotional intimacy. Can Serenity trust this new Jesse with her heart? And can Jesse trust that Serenity will ignore the lure of a fortune to keep his secrets safe?

Because I haven’t read the books prior to this quartet, I wasn’t really familiar with Serenity, although I gather she’s appeared several times before. She’s a beautician, working out of the same business as her friend Elsa, who runs Hair Affair, the local hairdresser. Serenity loves dying her hair bright, fun colours – orange, red, blue, candy pink. She’s pretty much impossible to miss, which is one of the reasons why she’s completely incensed when bad boy Jesse Hargreaves almost runs her down in the street. Jesse grew up in Wirralong but left to go and live in the city with his somewhat notorious father when he was about 12. Recently, Jesse hasn’t been having too good a time of it – he’s suffering from heartbreak and betrayal and there’s been a few incidents with the police as well. He’s back in Wirralong now to lay low and try and heal himself. His brother Jack is marrying Elsa soon and Jesse will be the best man and Serenity the maid of honour. It’d be good if they could get along but their first few interactions are filled with cheap shots and bickering. It isn’t until the two are trapped underground after a tunnel exploration goes wrong that they start to find a common ground and Serenity starts to see the man that lurks beneath Jesse’s sullen exterior.

I really liked Serenity, I thought she was loads of fun. Loved the hair and also her affinity for music and how she often uses her phone to queue up a song in her playlist that fits her mood or makes a point – especially towards Jesse and especially early on, when the two are kind of at odds. I also really liked Elsa and the friendship the two of them shared, plus the glimpses of Elsa’s relationship with Jack that was sprinkled throughout the story. For readers who are familiar with Elsa and Jack, it would’ve been really nice to see them getting ready to be married and their book has definitely gone on my TBR pile to read very soon. These books have really made me want to read the previous quartets, get to know the stories that have been told already in this town.

Jesse was a bit of a trial to read at first – he’s been through some quite traumatic life events and he’s really quite bitter about it. Betrayed by someone he trusted, someone he loved that he thought loved him, Jesse now has a lot of trust issues, particularly towards women. He’s quite resentful and sulky and definitely doesn’t really present the best character when he returns to Wirralong. He’s not afraid to tell off local busybodies and he doesn’t endear himself to Serenity by nearly running her over in his car. But when they’re trapped underground, Serenity gets a chance to see another side of Jesse, a more mature and steady side as he’s determined to protect her and ‘save’ her from their predicament. Jesse is quite good in a crisis – he remains pretty calm and levelheaded and manages to keep Serenity calm as well, even when things do look pretty bleak. It definitely changed how I saw Jesse – before that, I wondered why Serenity, even when they were bickering in public, was still mooning over him in private. But afterwards, he seemed like he had a lot of potential – he just had to allow someone like Serenity to see him and also, deal with those trust issues, because they were really quite deep and it almost caused him to really mess things up. Again!

This was really fun. Looking forward to the final book in this 4-part series!


Book #167 of 2020

Serenity’s Song is book #60 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2020


Review: The Switch by Beth O’Leary

The Switch
Beth O’Leary
Hachette AUS
2020, 400p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Eileen is sick of being 79.
Leena’s tired of life in her twenties.
Maybe it’s time they swapped places…

When overachiever Leena Cotton is ordered to take a two-month sabbatical after blowing a big presentation at work, she escapes to her grandmother Eileen’s house for some overdue rest. Eileen is newly single and about to turn eighty. She’d like a second chance at love, but her tiny Yorkshire village doesn’t offer many eligible gentlemen

Once Leena learns of Eileen’s romantic predicament, she proposes a solution: a two-month swap. Eileen can live in London and look for love. Meanwhile Leena will look after everything in rural Yorkshire. But with gossiping neighbours and difficult family dynamics to navigate up north, and trendy London flatmates and online dating to contend with in the city, stepping into one another’s shoes proves more difficult than either of them expected.

Leena learns that a long-distance relationship isn’t as romantic as she hoped it would be, and then there is the annoyingly perfect – and distractingly handsome – school teacher, who keeps showing up to outdo her efforts to impress the local villagers. Back in London, Eileen is a huge hit with her new neighbours, but is her perfect match nearer home than she first thought?

I really loved The Flatshare when I read it last year, so I was really excited for this. Maybe too excited, as I do sometimes get, because it makes it so hard for a book to live up to your expectations. This didn’t reach the heights of O’Leary’s first book for me, but maybe that is very much because of me, rather than the book.

The premise sounded really good. Leena has been struggling at work – she has a pretty high pressured job and her performance has slowly been sliding. When she suffers a panic attack in a presentation, it’s enough for her boss to enforce a 2 month sabbatical as it seems that Leena has not been taking her standard annual holiday. She decides to visit her grandmother, who, after being left by her husband of some 50+ years, is dipping a toe back into the dating game. But the rural pickings are slim, so Leena suggests a life swap.

The idea is cute. Leena takes over her grandmother’s responsibilities – the local neighbourhood watch, organising the MayDay fete type thing, etc. After her job, it should be a breeze however Leena discovers the complexity of small village life and relationships and the set ways that things are done. And in return, Elaine is exploring the single men that London has to offer and finding some surprising options for a lady of her situation. She’s also getting to know Leena’s flatmates and deciding that the modern way of life and pretending your neighbours don’t exist, isn’t for her.

This book was good – but I didn’t love it. It felt very slow in the beginning, like it took quite a while to get to the swap and then there’s quite a lot of just…..detail, as Leena and Elaine settle into the other’s surroundings. Leena has been dealing with a mind numbing grief for the last year or so, well I suppose Elaine has been as well. They lost someone incredibly important to them in a long, drawn out painful way. Leena has buckets of resentment toward her mother (who also lives in the same place her grandmother does) over it and has been avoiding her ever since, restricting their interaction to brief phone calls where she can escape when the fury threatens to overwhelm her. Her grandmother wants her to take care of her mother, which means that Leena will have to deal with her – and probably confront the horrific elephant in the room that is destroying their relationship.

I felt like a lot of things took too long to come to the point and most of the ‘problems’ were solved really easily. Elaine barely struggles in London really, she has a few moments of being slightly out of sorts and then she just settles in living with 2 thirty year olds and revamping everything about London living. At times it felt like any issues were contrived to add humour, but it didn’t really feel natural – such as Leena being completely overtaken by a dog that her 79yo grandmother manages to walk once a week without incident. I thought there’d be a much stronger romantic element in this but it’s only at the 11th hour that anything really happens. And if felt like I was just reading pages and pages waiting for things and they weren’t happening! This was actually I think, much more serious than I had expected. I think I thought it’d be much funnier but a lot of it is devoted to Leena’s grief, the loss that they all experienced and how that has affected them all in the time since. It’s done a lot of damage to Leena, who clearly buried herself in work to deal until she simply couldn’t anymore. Her body almost refused to allow her to keep shoving it aside and working every hour in the day. The break did her the world of good in a lot of ways, it helped her confront her grief, her feelings for her mother and also reassess her career because she was definitely in a rut, using it as a crutch.

But quite a bit of the time I was just….a bit bored. I think sometimes, too much was packed into this (Leena’s flatmate’s lives, her workmate’s attempts at dating, the various ins and outs and problems of the people in the village, etc). To be honest, most of the circle of the Neighbourhood Watch group became interchangeable to me, apart from Betsy and later on, Arnold. I think a lot of the more interesting stuff is going to happen after the end of the book – and I’d rather have read about some of that.


Book #72 of 2020