All The Books I Can Read

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Review: Elsa’s Stand by Cathryn Hein

Elsa’s Stand (Outback Brides #3)
Cathryn Hein
Tule Publishing
2018, 260p
Free on Amazon for kindle

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

When the sudden death of his mother forces outback opal miner Jack Hargreaves home to Wirralong, his plan is simple: mourn his mother, sort out the family farm, and get the hell out of the town that has always hated him. But Elsa O’Donoghue, the beautiful hairdresser with a big heart and even brighter smile, has other plans.

From the moment Jack strides into her salon and helps himself to her clippers, Elsa is in lust. He might be a poster boy for the strong silent type, but she senses there’s a good man behind that stoic facade. With her business taking off, Elsa is finally ready for a relationship and Jack is just her kind of man. Not to mention, she’s never said no to a challenge.

Worried their association will harm Elsa’s business, Jack tries to avoid her, but Elsa is irresistible. Soon, she has him believing and hoping for a future with her in Wirralong, but another family tragedy shatters Jack’s fragile dream. Jack knows he must leave Elsa to protect her, no matter the cost to himself. 

Recently I read Serenity’s Song which was Cathryn Hein’s contribution to the most recent quartet surrounding Wirralong, a town in country Australia. In that book, the main character runs her beauty business out of Elsa O’Donoghue’s hair salon, so Elsa is a steady presence throughout the book. Through reading that, I picked up on enough of Elsa’s story to know that hers was a book I really wanted to read. Before the quartet I read, there’d been two previous quartets and I intend to catch up on all of them but this one was free on all Amazon platforms, so it was like a sign.

Elsa grew up local – her mother was a teacher at the primary school and it seems like she’s firmly entrenched in the community. She runs the hair salon and thanks to a friend turning her property into a boutique wedding venue, Elsa has plenty of brides and bridesmaids to keep her busy as well as the locals. She’s well liked and respected, the locals don’t raise an eyebrow at her family, which is different to what Jack Hargreaves has experienced. His parents had an unusual situation and his father is a rather notorious figure often connected to the shady Melbourne underworld. Jack has always been closer to his mother, the two of them bonded over a shared passion for prospecting. Kate, Jack’s mother always believed in the truth of the “Strathmore sapphires” and she has searched tirelessly for them on her family property. On the day she died, she called Jack when he was on his Lightning Ridge opal mining claim and left a message telling him she’d found them. Unfortunately she passed away the same day, leaving their location a mystery. It was some weeks before Jack picked up the message, not having service on the claim and he has to drive non-stop to make it back to Wirralong for her funeral.

Jack and Elsa have such an interesting first meeting and I really enjoyed all of their interactions. Elsa is a fun personality, she’s really friendly and forthright and she’s happy to chatter away to Jack and draw him out when he visits the salon. Jack is definitely a very quiet person, he doesn’t talk much and he’s well aware that people look at him suspiciously in Wirralong, sure he’s tarred with the same dubious brush as his notorious father. Jack has never liked the scrutiny and even though he’s inherited his mother’s property, he’s not sure he can see himself making his life in the area, not with the way that people look at him and what they’re thinking but don’t have the courage to say.

Elsa takes Jack exactly as she finds him – she’s not interested in rumours about his father, about his family or people’s opinions on him or them. She likes Jack. She likes the look of him and she even likes his rather silent manner and enjoys pampering him a little by offering him the full luxury shave package, which definitely helps to advance the simmering attraction between them. Elsa and her mother are movie buffs who enjoy a lot of classic movies, movies that Jack hasn’t seen and she uses that as an opportunity to get to know him more by inviting him to watch movies with her in the name of broadening his education. Elsa enjoys gently teasing Jack, who is quite serious and she’s one of the few people it seems, who can definitely get a strong positive reaction out of Jack.

I found this really fun and I loved both Elsa and Jack. They had contrasting personalities that worked really well together and their interactions are really enjoyable. I understood Jack’s reservations about getting involved with someone that the town had such a high opinion of, that he felt that he might ‘taint’ her given the way some people felt about him. But it’s Elsa (despite Jack’s intimidating size) who is the brasher, more aggressive of the two, who makes it super clear that she doesn’t care what other people think and neither should he, she isn’t bothered by rumours and innuendo and she accepts him as he presents himself to her and nothing else matters.

Really need to read the rest of these, they’re such perfect reads for me at the moment.

9/10

Book #178 of 2020

Elsa’s Stand is book #67 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge 2020

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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/Goodreads.com}:

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!

8/10

Book #167 of 2020

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

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Review: Scarlett And The Model Man by Cathryn Hein

Scarlett And The Model Man
Cathryn Hein
Self-published
2020, 178p
Copy courtesy of the author

Blurb {from Goodreads.com}:

He might be the perfect model, but is he the right man for Scarlett?

When up-and-coming artist Scarlett Ash discovers the perfect model in small-town Levenham, she can’t believe her luck. Her creativity abandoned her months ago and with her move to London to take up a prestigious residency fast approaching, she’s desperate for a muse to bring it back.

Surfing dairy farmer Sam Greenwood is delivering milk when a gorgeous girl accosts him. Charmed by her invitation to model for a painting, Sam wants to say no. While Scarlett might be stunning, she’s arty-farty weird, and he’s flat out with his growing dairy business. Somehow, though, he can’t resist.

As Scarlett struggles to find her way with her new work, Sam becomes determined to help. Scarlett is smart, talented and sympathetic to the unremitting toil of dairy farming, and they’re both healing from failed relationships. Soon burgeoning friendship blossoms into so much more.

Knowing that London beckons and her time in Levenham is short, Scarlett resists the lure of love. She has no plans to return to Levenham, and big-hearted Sam deserves more than a brief fling followed by a quick goodbye. Except as their affair deepens, how can she leave the man who’s not only given her back her passion but her heart?

This is the latest in Cathryn Hein’s Levenham series, books loosely linked by the town they revolve around. Characters often appear in various books although most could probably be read stand-a-lone. Scarlett was briefly introduced in the previous novel when she offered a painting of hers to be auctioned. However since then she has struggled in her art. Nothing is working, she’s not satisfied with anything she’s producing and most days are frustrating. She’s due to take up a residency in London soon and she desperately wants to get back on track before she leaves.

She’s struck with an idea….then she just needs the right man to help. That right man might be dairy farmer Sam Greenwood, who isn’t sure what to think when Scarlett accosts him in the street one day. Life-modelling isn’t for everyone but luckily Sam decides he isn’t shy, especially when it comes to spending time with someone like Scarlett.

This is a super cute and sweet story, I always enjoy the books set here. The town is charming and full of life and well populated. I think one of the things I enjoy a lot about rural romance is that it does give authors a lot of scope to set multiple stories in the same location and therefore you can have plenty of characters from past books interacting. It really gives the reader a sense of community, like when they pick up a new book, the town and people are familiar to them. Sometimes, something like that is just what you need. I’d imagine that comfort reads would be pretty big in the world right about now and for me, Cathryn Hein’s books fit that description perfectly.

I really enjoyed the interactions between Scarlett and Sam. Scarlett is fun and feisty and I thought that Cathryn Hein managed to pack quite a lot into her backstory without devoting a lot of page space to it. This isn’t a long book at all but the characters and story are well fleshed out and it helps that the town is already well depicted in quite a few other novels. Sam is a lovely hero, a big strong strapping dairy farmer who also loves a bit of a surf and he just seems like a general all round nice guy who appreciates Scarlett’s hard work and also feels the need to help take care of her when she’s in the midst of creating by bringing her food and checking in on her to make sure she’s doing okay. When Scarlett is heavily into creating, she tends to forget about things like eating, sleeping, etc so I thought that was incredibly adorable of him. Scarlett’s artistic process, as well as her slump and frenzy of creativity felt really authentic and in line with what I’ve experienced in talking to artistic people myself. Scarlett’s work also sounded really amazing.

My only criticism of this one might be that I wanted more…..more about Scarlett’s career and art, more scenes with her and Sam, more about her overseas stuff, more about Sam’s plans for the dairy farm. It still works as a story with the length that it was but I think it was just the sort of book that I could so easily sink into without having to worry it was going to bring up cancer or some other traumatic thing that I wished it were longer! Although there’s some serious topics in here, including gaslighting and its effects on a relationship, it’s the sort of book that still presents a hopeful and positive tone and the whole thing just felt really uplifting. Which is what I needed.

8/10

Book #47 of 2020

This is the 18th book read for The Australian Women Writers Challenge 2020

 

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Review: Eddie And The Show Queen by Cathryn Hein

Eddie And The Show Queen
Cathryn Hein
Self-published
2019, 268p
Copy courtesy of the author

Blurb {from Goodreads.com}:

Can Levenham’s biggest ladies’ man make good – and recapture the heart of the girl he’s always loved?

When horticulturalist Alice Lindner goads her ex-boyfriend Eddie Argyle into a fundraising contest, she doesn’t expect him to take it seriously. Winning small-town Levenham’s inaugural Wine Show crown will take dedication and hard work, and all Eddie cares about is chasing skirt. Besides, a win will be Alice’s tribute to her late mum. No way is Eddie getting his hands on the crown.

Big-hearted farmer Eddie never understood why love-of-his-life Alice dumped him. Yeah, it’d been a difficult time with her mum’s illness, but he’d loved her the best he could and losing her left him adrift. Now he has the opportunity to prove himself by winning not only the crown but maybe Alice’s heart in the process.

Will Eddie’s enthusiasm ruin Alice’s tribute and with it all hope of a second chance? Or will Alice realise that the real prize isn’t in the past but with the man who wants to be her future?

This is the latest in a loosely linked series revolving around the town of Levenham in South Australia. Though the same characters populate all the books, you can read them in any order without missing anything or feeling lost. And each book seems to introduce someone that you definitely feel will be the focus of a feature book.

Alice and Eddie were an item four years ago until Alice abruptly ended things with Eddie still having no idea why. He may have not reacted in the best way post break-up and he’s earned himself the sort of reputation that means Alice is determined never to go there again. The two rarely interact these days but cross paths in Alice’s father’s nursery where Eddie is amused by the Levenham Show Queen competition. Alice has entered and takes offence at Eddie’s gentle mockery, telling him it’s important because it’s raising money for a good cause. She dares him to enter, to prove himself to her and to her surprise – Eddie does. So the competition is on. Alice is desperate to win this…..and Eddie is desperate to win back Alice.

This was incredibly fun. It’s been a little while since I’ve visited Levenham now but it’s so easy to just slip back into this small town, filled with familiar faces. There’s a lot of humour in this one, the competition to raise the most money and be crowned Show Queen seems a race in two – Alice and the Phillips twins, Willow and Chelsea. Eddie enters well behind but it isn’t long before he has some unusual ideas to help him catch up. I absolutely loved reading about what he was going to do next in order to raise money – I think he definitely thinks outside the box in terms of his fundraising ideas, he’s willing to do pretty much anything so long as his mum doesn’t deem it dangerous/indecent and he’s not about things like raffles or danceathons or the like. He has some truly unique ideas  and some of them provide some rather err….vivid mental images!

Alice and Eddie have a lot of history. They were together barely out of their teens until Alice went through an incredibly difficult time and it all fell apart. I thought this was a really good example of how two people could both make mistakes and misunderstand things and then have those actions have severe consequences. After they broke up it seemed they didn’t interact at all. Alice was angry and grieving, Eddie was hurt and shunned, perhaps too proud to ask what exactly was Alice’s reasoning for ending things. Fast forward four years and they mostly keep their distance, crossing paths only occasionally. But neither have moved on, the more they see each other after Alice dares Eddie to sign up for the Show Queen the more it becomes obvious. The competition of each other spurs them on but for different reasons. Alice really wants to win, she has a personal connection to the competition and a goal she’s set herself. Eddie seems more interested in proving himself to Alice, that he isn’t just a lad, that he can care about things and do good deeds. But mostly, Eddie and Alice just need time and maturity to enable them to sit down and actually talk and air the misconceptions and actually understand each other. They were very young when they were together and Alice was going through something that definitely affected her judgement. Their communication was not the best and it meant that they both ended up letting things go that they should’ve asked about.

This was the perfect blend of humour and seriousness, I liked that a lot of the time was spent in Eddie’s head and that he owned his mistakes and wasn’t exactly as Alice and her friends saw him. It’d be easy to see him as just a bit of a footy boofhead – and I think that’s kind of how Alice has come to see him, or taught herself to see him, so that perhaps their break up doesn’t smart so much. But he’s much more than that and gets a little cut up at their cheap jabs. But he’s clever and sweet and determined…..but also generous. When Eddie puts his mind to something, you can definitely say that he’ll see it through!

This is just a super feel good book that will give you happy feels. I’m already a bit excited about the next one because I find that character very intriguing!

8/10

Book #143 of 2019

 

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Review: The Country Girl by Cathryn Hein

The Country Girl
Cathryn Hein
Harlequin AUS
2017, 352p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Bestselling Australian author Cathryn Hein returns with a moving and uplifting rural romance about facing hard truths and moving on in pursuit of life.

After landing a major cookbook deal, star food blogger Tash Ranger swaps city life for the family farm. But Tash’s homecoming is bittersweet, for now she can no longer avoid seeing her best friend Maddie, who was severely injured in a riding accident and unable to communicate. No one knows that Maddie and Tash had a deep falling out and with every visit Tash must pretend to be the friend everyone believes her to be.

Patrick Lawson, Maddie’s fiancé, battles despair and hope daily as Maddie lies imprisoned in her body, gradually losing his faith in her recovery. When Tash returns to Castlereagh Road with her joy and boundless appetite for life, he realises finally what his loved ones have been trying to tell him for months – that Maddie wouldn’t want him to throw his life away. It’s time to move on. But letting go is no easy feat, especially if moving on means Tash. He’s a country boy and she is a star on the rise with ambitions that could propel her out of reach.

Can these two friends step out of the shadow of Maddie’s tragic life and accept love, or is the past forever destined to dictate their future?

Tash Ranger has made her career as a food vlogger, her good recipes and camera presence building her a steady following. In an attempt to keep her output fresh she’s moving back to her family farm – the Urban Ranger goes (back to the) country! It’s the place Tash grew up and she’s remodelling her grandfather’s old flat for cooking and filming. She has lots of ideas about fresh, local produce but it’s not supposed to be a permanent thing. Her mind is always ticking over, thinking of new ideas, keeping her output new and innovative.

Tash knows Patrick Lawson as first the boyfriend and then later the fiance of her childhood best friend Maddie. A shocking accident means that Maddie is no longer the person she was, but Patrick has remained loyal to her. He still visits her every day and he intends to keep his promises to her. This is severely complicated by Tash’s return and the reactions that Patrick has whilst around her. It starts off as overprotective as he seeks to stop Tash from doing the very thing that injured Maddie and he is very adamant about it. Tash however, is not really into being bossed around by Patrick, nor is she incapable of making her own judgements. Tash challenges Patrick and isn’t afraid to tell him off and despite their rocky start when Tash arrives back in town, they keep crossing paths.

I’m not going to lie – I had some reservations about this pairing before I started the story. Tash knows Patrick as her best friend’s boyfriend. It’s true that Maddie isn’t the same anymore and won’t ever be the same. But I was wary about the whole “best friend’s boyfriend/girlfriend’s best friend’ sort of thing. It’s not an entanglement I usually enjoy although the circumstances in this story were very different. And the way it was handled definitely won me over. Patrick is so obviously such a tortured soul. He’s still so young but he’s stuck by Maddie, even though they will never be able to have that life together that they’d planned anymore. He’s so determined to keep his promises, despite the fact that other people are concerned about him an want him to embrace his life. The way that the attraction between him and Tash unfolds felt really natural and that like Patrick was ready to move on, he just had to make that conscious decision to actually do so, which he was struggling with because he had made promises to Maddie. I have to admit, Patrick didn’t endear himself to me at first – there’s an incident towards the beginning of the story that’s a bit hard to take although I know the logistics of why Patrick wanted to do something but ultimately the fault doesn’t lie where he was trying to place it. He needs something to blame though, and that’s the easiest option. There’s also how bossy and arrogant he was with Tash, but she puts him in his place relatively quickly and once he kind of settled down a bit and realised no one had a death wish, he began to grow on me. I thought that his internal struggle was very well written and I could really feel his pain and indecision. The desire to do what he’d promised versus the possibility of a more fulfilling life with someone who was in a position to love him in return.

I absolutely loved Tash’s job as a food vlogger and the devotion to her creations in this story. There’s lots of amazing meals described – Cathryn Hein is a pretty enthusiastic cook so I wouldn’t be surprised if most are these are some of her favourite dishes! Tash spends quite a bit of time with her grandfather starting up the farm’s vegetable garden too and I loved their chats – her grandfather goes kind of “viral” which was cute. He was a fantastic character, a cheeky older man who in some ways reminded me of my own (sadly gone now) grandfather. Mine could be cheeky as well and enjoyed a story over a veggie garden. I think if I’d asked him to help me revive one he’d have been in on that before you could blink.

The Country Girl definitely won me over, which is no surprise really because Cathryn Hein is one of my favourite authors and her rurals are always sweet with a bit of a sassy twist. I went from my original slight skepticism to fully on board with Patrick and Tash because I think they were bringing out the best in each other as well as showing each other that they had options.

8/10

Book #203 of 2017

The Country Girl is book #59 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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Review: Chrissy And The Burroughs Boy by Cathryn Hein

Chrissy And The Burroughs Boy
Cathryn Hein
Self-published
2017, 164p
Copy courtesy of the author

Blurb {from Goodreads.com}:

No girl forgets her first crush. The least he could do is remember it.

Chrissy James has only been home in small-town Levenham a few weeks when her teenage crush plays hero and saves her from an aggressive drunk. Seven years ago, Nick Burroughs was the school hottie while she was the overweight girl with braces, bad hair, and an unrequited obsession with the sports star every girl in school wanted. Her failed efforts to attract Nick’s attention still burn.

Chrissy sure has his attention now, but she’s older, smarter and focused on settling into her new dream job as wine marketer. No matter how sexy he’s grown, or how keen his interest, Nick will need to do a lot more than see off a drunk if he wants to win her over.

But Chrissy doesn’t count on the determination of a Burroughs boy in love. Nick will do anything to recapture Chrissy’s heart, even if it means acting the romantic fool and embarrassing himself in the process.

Will Nick’s efforts to make amends for the past backfire or will Chrissy’s career thwart everything? Grab this cute small-town romance and find out!

This is a super cute novella set in a familiar world for fans of Cathryn Hein. Chrissy has recently moved back to the area she grew up in and taken a job at a winery working in marketing. She’s very focused and desperately wants to succeed in her career. She also went through a recent break up which makes her wary of men, even when her former high school crush, Nick Burroughs comes around. Chrissy had it bad for Nick in high school but he was a popular sports star and she wasn’t on his radar. Time has changed and now it seems that Nick finds it very hard not to notice Chrissy.

There’s a lot of humour in this – after Chrissy explains the ways in which she believes she humiliated herself attempting to get his attention and failing in high school, Nick realises that the onus is on him to get Chrissy’s attention now and it’s not going to be easy. He’s a pretty down to earth guy, works on his family property, plays footy in the local team and has been best & fairest several seasons but is currently out injured for the present season. It’s obvious he’s popular and probably sought after but he’s single and not afraid to put himself out there once he’s decided that Chrissy is what he wants. I liked that about him – Nick is not the typical aloof hero where the reader nor the heroine can decipher his feelings. He makes them perfectly clear, it’s Chrissy who needs to decide if she can trust in a relationship with Nick.

It can be hard to really feel as though you have enough time to paint a full picture with a novella and I know that I often struggle with them because they can feel a bit rushed, like the characters don’t have enough time to get to know each other. However this book didn’t have that rushed feeling – I felt as though Nick and Chrissy were both given plenty of page time and their fledgling relationship was constructed well. I also liked that the conflict came from an unexpected location.

Nick is Danny’s brother from Santa and the Saddler and Danny and Beth make appearances in this novel, as do several other familiar faces from books also set in this world. This is something I really enjoy because I always like getting a little glimpse into the “after” and this is the country, where people tend to run into each other quite often and are very involved in the local community. It feels like each installment builds on that community but they can still be easily read as stand alone stories.

I really enjoyed this – it’s a well written story for those that like sweet romances with plenty of humour and warm fuzzy feelings. Perfect for any time really – it’s so quick and easy to read, the characters are immediately appealing and there’s a charm in revisiting a familiar place.

8/10

Book #136 of 2017

Chrissy and the Burroughs Boy is book #44 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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Review: Wayward Heart by Cathryn Hein

wayward-heartWayward Heart
Cathryn Hein
Harlequin MIRA AUS
2016, 352p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

A compelling rural romance, with a healthy sprinkling of suspense and family drama.

Jasmine Thomas should feel safe in her cosy cottage at Admella Beach after finally putting an end to an ill-advised romance. But her perfect sanctuary is shattered with the arrival of hand-delivered threatening notes. Someone has discovered her secret.

When the notes escalate to vandalism, Jasmine’s anxiety rises. But in such a small place, telling the police would mean the whole town finding out.

Digby Wallace-Jones is stumbling through the motions of life, wrapped in a fog of grief since his fiancee Felicity died. Withdrawn from his family, Digby doesn’t care about anything beyond his loss. But in a chance meeting with Jasmine, his sister’s best friend who he’s known forever, even he can see the tension she carries. Worried and feeling protective, he continues to drop by, but it’s more than that. Jasmine soothes him; and, unlike the rest of his family, he can talk to her about his pain without fear of judgement. But as much as he likes Jasmine, Digby’s enduring love for Felicity means he has nothing left to give and he pushes Jasmine away.

Jasmine knew they were supposed to stay friends ‘with excellent benefits’ but she can’t help her wayward heart from falling for this tortured, kind and sexy man. How can she ever loosen the grip Felicity’s memory has on Digby’s soul and remind him he still has a life ahead of him?

This is the third in a set of books linked together by the Wallace-Jones family. In the first, Digby’s sister Em found her happy ever after. The second featured Emily’s friend Tegan and now this book showcases Em and Tegan’s friend Jasmine as well as Emily’s brother, who has suffered terribly. The foundations for Jasmine were laid in that first book as well as readers learned she was involved in a particular relationship, something that caused tension in her friendship with Tegan. I was interested in Jasmine’s story, because I wanted to find out her motivation for her part in the relationship and how she came to move on from it.

When this book begins, Jasmine has ended that toxic relationship and is suffering from some of the fallout. It seems unfair that someone has discovered her secret after everything is finished and they’re making her life a misery invading her privacy and leaving threatening messages. She doesn’t feel as though she can file a complaint because then the whole sordid story would come out, something she couldn’t bear.

Digby is a mess. It’s been about a year since his fiancee Felicity died in a terrible accident on a family property and he’s deep in depression and grief, to the point where some of his family are incredibly worried about him. He’s also struggling with how he feels about the role his sister Em played in the events that led to Felicity’s death as well and chooses to isolate himself from his family. As Jasmine is a lifelong friend of Em’s, he knows her well and a meeting in a park one day leads to the two of them beginning to spend some time together to just watch dvd’s and hang out. Digby doesn’t feel pressured to behave in a certain way when he’s with Jasmine and she in turn enjoys an easy, judgement free companionship. Their friendship escalates into the type with benefits, both of them filling a space for the other.

But things always get complicated and Jasmine knows she has developed feelings for a man whose heart belongs to someone else. Even though Digby has begun to find a little peace and happiness in his moments with Jasmine, he’s still tormented by Felicity’s loss. Digby’s grief is a very large part of this book. It consumes him and so does his conflicting feelings for his sister Em. It’s almost like Digby has a bit of post traumatic stress disorder. He finds being around people, even (especially) his own family difficult. He hasn’t really been able to come to terms with what happened and I think he’s twisted bits of it around in his mind to make his guilt even bigger. I had a lot of sympathy for Digby, because I think to go through something like that and the way in which it happened, would be terrible of course. But my sympathy began to wane around the time that he ended things with Jasmine for “her own good”. Digby was a bit slow in realising that what the two of them had was much more than a friends with benefits situation. It had morphed into a relationship between two people that knew each other well, cared about each other. But Digby was stuck in this rut where he didn’t believe he could ever move on or deserve happiness with someone else. He needed to do something to be able to finally let go of Felicity and look to the future….and hope that it wasn’t too late.

I think that Wayward Heart was a nice addition to these linked books and I loved that we got to see previous characters again. I’m always a big fan of revisiting past couples to see how they’re getting on and I think fans of Josh and Em, Lucas and Tegan and even Harry and Summer will be pleased here. Jasmine was a really interesting character….I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about her going into the book, given some of the decisions she’d made but I felt her strength and growth over the course of the novel was perhaps its strongest feature. She’s exactly the sort of woman Digby needs, especially after what happened with Felicity. She’s very understanding of Digby’s pain and seems to make a lot of effort into really trying to make him happy without freaking him out about her developing feelings. Digby is more a typical dense male who doesn’t seem to realise that his feelings have also evolved as well until quite a bit later.

A sweet summer read from an author who always delivers.

8/10

Book #210 of 2016

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Review: April’s Rainbow by Cathryn Hein

April's RainbowApril’s Rainbow
Cathryn Hein
Self-published
2016, 183p
Copy courtesy of the author

Blurb {from Goodreads.com}:

When shy farmer Tristan Blake is given free rein to manage iconic local property Rainbow, he soon finds himself living his dream. Even more so once the farm’s dark-haired artist owner April Tremayne arrives. April is mysterious and slightly wild, with an air of tragedy, and Tristan is captivated. The more involved he becomes with April and her eccentric projects, the harder he falls for her. April might believe the price of love is pain, but Tristan vows that is one thing she’ll never experience with him.

But even the sweetest dream can turn dark. April is haunted by the very heartbreak she’d come to Rainbow to heal, and as her demons tighten their grip, Tristan is torn between keeping his promise or betraying the woman he loves. And the risk of either choice is losing her forever.

Australian rural romance author Cathryn Hein has carved a strong following with her love stories that explore the highs and lows of life and this novella, which Hein has chosen to publish solo is no different. I read April’s Rainbow a couple of years ago in draft form and since then it’s been polished and professionally packaged with a beautiful cover and flawless finish.

For anyone who has wanted to read a romance novel from the male point of view, this one is for you because Tristan is our narrator throughout which is an interesting spin on the traditional formula. Tristan lives for the land and farming – he’s very passionate about it but as the fourth son he realises that he’s going to have to work hard to be able to achieve his dream of having his own property. The chance to manage a beautiful local property known as Rainbow comes with some strange stipulations but Tristan doesn’t care. This is the sort of gig he’s dreamed of and for the first part, Tristan is alone preparing the property and sourcing livestock. Then the owner, artist April Tremayne arrives and Tristan is immediately enamoured.

April is beautiful, damaged and eccentric with strange ideas that she requires Tristan to help with. And he does, although he can see that they feed a mania in April, something deep and dark spurred on by a tragic loss that he cannot really understand. And as he falls more in love with her, he tries to get her to see that love doesn’t always need to equal pain, that he won’t cause her any more hurt. Words of course that will come back to haunt him when he must make a choice for April’s wellbeing.

I found it too distressing to try and put myself in April’s position and in that experience, I kind of felt that it would be pretty easy to go down the same path that she does….frantically searching for a sign, for a sense of presence. Rainbow is where she feels that she might be able to heal but it’s not actually that easy and the installations she works frantically on only serve to temporarily lift her up before their inevitable end brings her crashing back down. The installations were such amazing ideas, I loved picturing them and could imagine the sort of stir they might cause in a country farming town!

Tristan’s struggle is a strong part of the novel. He’s incredibly quiet and shy (as a redhead I sympathise with his blushing) and April is someone he really does come to really care about deeply in a short amount of time. He wants to be able to help her in all ways but in order to really help her he must make a very difficult decision, one that he’s well aware may cost him everything. He tries to protect April for a long time, from the other local people, even from his well-meaning family but eventually he cannot ignore the fact that April needs more than she’s finding at Rainbow, that it’s not helping her.

April’s Rainbow is a really beautiful story exploring terrible grief but from a very interesting perspective which sets it apart. It’s heartbreak and love, despair and fragile hope that packs an emotional punch that will stay with you.

9/10

Book #20 of 2016

AWWC2016

April’s Rainbow is book #12 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016

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Review: Summer And The Groomsman by Cathryn Hein

Summer And The GroomsmanSummer And The Groomsman
Cathryn Hein
Self-published
2015, eBook
Copy courtesy of the author

Blurb {courtesy the author/Goodreads.com}

It’s Levenham’s wedding of the year but unlucky-in-love Harry Argyle has more on his mind than being groomsman.

After yet again nearly colliding with an escaped horse while driving home to the family farm, Harry Argyle comes face-to-face with its pretty owner, and doesn’t hold back his disapproval.

Confronted by a bad-tempered giant on a dark country road, beautician and new arrival in town Summer Taylor doesn’t know who to be more afraid for: herself or her darling horse Binky. It’s not her fault Binky keeps escaping. The alcoholic owner of the paddock she rents won’t fix the fence and Binky can be sneaky when it comes to filling his stomach. But no matter how big and muscled the bully, she refuses to be intimidated.

When Harry’s wedding party book a session at the day spa where Summer works, both she and Harry are horrified to be paired together. Grudgingly, they agree to make the most of it – only for the session to spiral into disaster. Realising he’s made a dill of himself in front of sweet Summer yet again, Harry vows to set things right.

Summer isn’t about to easily forgive the man who called her horse stupid, no matter how brave and kind, but with everyone on Harry’s side, even fate, resistance is hard. Can these two find love or will Summer’s wayward horse put his hoof in it again?

Aussie rural romance author Cathryn Hein steps into the self-publishing arena with this sweet little romantic novella set in a world with some familiar faces for regular readers of her books.

The characters in this novel are so fun and it was awesome watching them evolve, even though the story is quite brief. Harry Argyle is less than impressed when he finds a horse on the road late at night and he doesn’t waste much time letting the horse’s pretty owner have it. Despite this early introduction into Harry’s temper, he’s really quite a softie and almost immediately regrets his outburst and wants to make it up to Summer, the horse’s owner. Before he can however, he finds himself at Summer’s mercy when the men of the wedding party Harry is participating in are booked in at the local spa and Summer is one of the beauticians.

Even though I kind of suspected what might happen to poor Harry in this scene but it was still so hilarious to read and it played out really well. The scene is kept light and funny with just a touch of the humiliation for poor Harry but it also helps them find new ground and begin to move forward from their previous encounter on the road at night. What follows is a very sweet, awkward and realistic courtship in a way. That’s quite an old-fashioned word to use for a contemporary romance but it fits. Harry is lovely, definitely a typical Hein hero, very much a country boy with a very gentle nature who gets embarrassed quite easily!

Summer Taylor is new in town and just wants a safe option for her beloved horse when she’s at work. I thought the story of the man who owned the property Summer agisted her horse on was very well woven into the story and he became a character you really came to care for the more you read about him. Summer had her reasons for wanting to look after him, perhaps going that extra mile when a lot of the other locals had dropped off, however some come to rally around to help when he really needs it and it became an integral part of the story that helped bring Summer and Harry closer together as well as showcase more of the small community.

I really enjoyed this cute and fun little romance with a very professional polish. Summer and Harry are amazingly sweet and very easy to relate to and it was nice to see those few familiar faces and get to be a part of something special with characters from a previous story.

8/10

Book #156 of 2015

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Summer And The Groomsman is book #64 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015

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Review: The Falls by Cathryn Hein

The FallsThe Falls
Cathryn Hein
Penguin Books AUS
2015, 402p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

For Tegan Bliss, managing the family property has been her lifelong ambition. Her brother didn’t seem particularly interested and Tegan had worked hard, saved hard, to be able to accomplish her goal. But then she was betrayed by the people that should have protected her, the ones that should have fostered and nurtured her ambition. And Tegan was left devastated, homeless, directionless and feeling alone.

To heal, she heads to her aunt’s property in Falls Valley New South Wales, far away from her childhood home. Tegan’s aunt Vanessa is much younger than Tegan’s mother and Tegan has always known there’s been some tension. For her, this is a perfect place to recuperate and regroup. Vanessa is a fabulous host and her place is always humming with visitors who pop by for Vanessa’s popular cocktail hour. There are plenty of animals for Tegan to bond with – and some she’d rather not. She finds herself a job working with horses and then there’s Lucas Knight, the local farrier. Possibilities are endless.

But the sanctuary Tegan seeks can’t last forever and she’s stunned when she’s followed to Vanessa’s by someone she’d rather not see, who brings up the memory of pain and betrayal. She throws herself into local politics, something that Vanessa knows can’t end well. Tegan is already in a fragile state of mind and when she realises just how many people around her are still keeping secrets, it’s going to tear her apart.

The Falls is Cathryn Hein’s fifth novel and is very loosely linked to the previous, Rocking Horse Hill. Tegan is one of Emily from RHH’s best friends and her story begins in that novel as her ambition and later devastation is showcased alongside Emily’s story. In the opening of this story, Tegan has arrived at the property of her aunt Vanessa in New South Wales, needing some time to get away and recover from the betrayal she experienced and the loss of her home. Tegan is angry – very angry and she’s also suffering from a sort of blackness that threatens to take hold of her. At times her voice is quite dark and it’s clear that Tegan is a person who is experiencing a lot of pain without a way to vent it.

Unfortunately there’s no getting around the fact that I have a couple of issues with this book, things that didn’t particularly work for me. For a start, it does feel a bit overlong and there’s a lot of filler scenes where random people just roll up to Vanessa’s to drink specific drinks on specific days and at times, it doesn’t feel like these scenes do anything to advance the plot (or in some cases, Lucas and Tegan’s very fledgling romance). The character of Vanessa didn’t do much for me individually but when put together with businessman Dominic, who owned a nearby rehabilitation centre and wellness facility that was controversial for the locals, she became interesting. Actually for a while there, Vanessa and Dominic’s dance around each other was far more interesting than anything else happening in the book and they do have quite an appealing chemistry.

It’s rare for me not to love a Hein hero but I didn’t really fall in love with Lucas. Their first meeting was awkward, especially when he told Tegan that although he found her physically attractive and his type, she was too skinny. I don’t believe that should be any more acceptable than telling someone that she’s his type but too fat. Tegan does have reasons for being underweight but I don’t feel as though anyone does her any favours by addressing these in a productive way. Instead people just tell her she’s too skinny (including the guy she’s attracted to) which tends to just make her self esteem even worse and she’s always thinking of ways to hide her skinny body or wondering if Lucas is repulsed by it. When they do begin to put together a tentative relationship, Lucas seems to take on far too much responsibility for Tegan’s general mental health and stability, which doesn’t take much to figure out can’t end well. He doesn’t help the situation by keeping things from her – things that to be honest, wouldn’t be too earth shattering in a normal situation but with Tegan’s prejudice and issues, end up being just another sign to her that people betray her and don’t trust her.

Interestingly enough, my favourite scene with Tegan is when she stands up for herself and lets fly at one of the people that hurt her. It might be the wrong one in a way – someone more enabling than guilty but I felt such satisfaction that Tegan was getting a chance to actually tell people how she felt, how utterly devastated and betrayed she was, how angry and how disappointed because it seems as though this is a bit glossed over. It’s also a scene that causes other characters to turn on her for going too far so maybe I’m just the bloodthirsty sort who enjoys a good chance for vengeance. I actually don’t think there was anything wrong with how angry Tegan was apart from the fact that she wasn’t moving on from it even when things started to turn around. Venting that anger should’ve been a natural part of it, instead she’s made feel ashamed about it which seems to only make things worse when she believes that people who have supported her are now upset with her. Tegan’s anger was justified, at least to me. She should’ve gotten to aim it at one more person too, before she embarked on her journey of therapy and healing!

For me The Falls was not without its issues but it’s still a very readable and enjoyable story focusing on putting yourself and your family back together again after both have been torn apart. Tegan does experience a lot of personal growth in the book and her relationship with Lucas can only grow and strengthen as well once everything is out in the open and they can focus on themselves rather than the myriad of issues and secrets around them. I really enjoyed the setting in this book, the property where Tegan comes to try and heal and there’s a lot of colour in the local community and as always, a few animals of character to lighten things up! There is a third book to come, featuring Emily and Tegan’s friend Jasmine and I am dying to read that and see precisely what Jasmine’s story is from the snippets we’ve been fed by her friends.

7/10

Book #73 of 2015

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The Falls is book #27 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015

 

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