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Review: Take Me Home by Karly Lane

Take Me Home
Karly Lane
Allen & Unwin
2021, 344p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: When Elle Kinnaird takes the plunge and travels from her rural small-town life to the misty legends of her ancestors in the Scottish highlands, she finds that it’s a big world after all. A heartwarming novel about new beginnings, from the bestselling author of Fool Me Once.

It was a straightforward request. Take her gran home to her beloved Scotland.

In the space of a few days, Elle loses her job and her home and faces moving back in with her parents-where she knows she’ll hear a lot about how she is wasting her life, unlike her three siblings . . .

Then Gran’s will is read and everything changes.

It seems simple: a road trip across Scotland, a country Gran loved, to locate the family castle; meet some long lost cousins; oh, and work out what she wants to do with the rest of her life before returning home. Not a problem.

That is unless the family castle is a ruin that has pretty much been lost in time; the family Elle has never met seem to be hiding a mysterious secret; her over-achieving parents are breathing down her neck, and she’s running out of time to make a decision about her future.

Take Me Home is a glorious lesson in life, love and finding your true destiny.

There was a lot about this book that I really liked! It begins in rural, northern NSW just a short time after Elle Kinnard’s beloved grandmother passes away. Elle lived with her gran for the last few years, providing the necessary care and company that allowed her to remain in her own home. Elle has never really felt like she fits in with her family, full of degree-earning over achievers. She tried university but it wasn’t for her and now she avoids conversations with her mother, who constantly pushes her to return, to get a “real” job and not just the one she has at the local independent supermarket.

I really appreciated that this was an attempt to normalise not knowing what you want to do with your life. Elle is about 24, she’s tried uni doing something she didn’t love, to please her parents, and couldn’t finish it. She loves drawing and art, but her mother doesn’t see that as a viable career. Elle believes that she’s actually quite happy with her life, until her grandmother’s will requests that Elle return her ashes to her home in Scotland and provides the funds for Elle to do so.

I also loved the Scotland portion. I’m always drawn to books set or partially set in Scotland because a lot of my family (several generations back now) are from there and I also have the recessive red hair gene from those ancestors – much better suited to the highlands than to Australia’s much harsher climate! So I loved reading about Elle exploring Scotland, visiting castles and ruins and meeting members of her family that she barely knew existed. With her redhaired cousins, one of whom is very artistic, Elle actually finally feels like she might belong somewhere. She connects to them much better than she does her own family, with their busy lives and clever jobs. And then she meets Stuart, a lawyer turned farmer and well, the sparks fly. Despite the fact that she’s supposed to be finishing up her holiday/chore and heading back to Australia soon, Elle finds herself questioning the reasoning. There’s nothing waiting for her in Australia – no job, casual or otherwise. Just her mother trying to talk her into university courses and getting a real job and “growing up” and being responsible in order to one day take care of the family she will have.

I also loved the story of Elle’s gran, which is woven into her journey to Scotland. Her gran came to Australia as a teenager and until going to Scotland, Elle was completely unaware of the circumstances surrounding why she’d left her home. Her gran’s sister Moira is still alive, although has dementia and fades in and out of lucidity and mistakes Elle for her gran once or twice, dropping hints about some of the tragedy behind her gran’s leaving. All of those portions of the novel were fantastic (except the way some of the information is imparted, more on that below), I enjoyed them immensely and I liked Elle, as well as her family in Scotland. I felt like in leaving, she might’ve finally found a place where she could fit in and the longer she spent there, the more she seemed to realise things about herself and finally, grow in confidence regarding her art, that it could be more than just a hobby.

But. There were a few things that didn’t work for me with this book and it’s just personal preference really – there’s a pretty strong supernatural element in this and I’m just too much of a skeptic to be honest, to really enjoy that portion of it and often it felt quite intrusive in the plot. Especially when Elle would forget her surroundings and talk out loud, making people near her think she was a bit unstable. Probably played for laughs, but for me it was just a bit embarrassing/awkward. Also it’s to be expected I suppose, but this book references Outlander a lot. Like an awful lot. And I know they’re in Scotland, which is the setting for Outlander and there’s a successful TV series and all that jazz but….if you haven’t read the book (or like me, don’t like it) it ends up taking up quite a bit of page space as the characters reference it over and over again. I’d probably feel the same way about anything that was referenced that much in a book, I wish I’d counted them because it feels like an awfully high amount of mentions and yes, it’s Scotland, I know. But Scotland is much more than just references to this one book/TV show.

Look, those are two small things but honestly they were enough to affect my immersion in the story a little. I still really enjoyed this but it didn’t end up on my favourites list.

7/10

Book #81 of 2021

Take Me Home is book #34 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2021

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Review: Fool Me Once by Karly Lane

Fool Me Once
Karly Lane
Allen & Unwin
2020, 318p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Farmer Georgie Henderson manages a cattle farm in the New England region of NSW, but her dream has always been to buy back her family property, Tamban. Her every waking hour for years, has revolved around planning to make this dream become a reality.

When an unlikely meeting with Michael Delacourt at a rowdy B&S Ball sends them on a whirlwind romance, Georgie can’t believe it’s possible for life to be this good and her dream of buying back Tamban has, for the first time, taken a backseat to happiness.

But her world shatters when she discovers the shocking secret Michael has been trying to keep from her.

Can Michael convince her they still have a future? And after having her heart so thoroughly broken, can Georgie ever trust anyone again?

Karly Lane’s 10th book takes readers to country New South Wales – the New England region. Georgie Henderson has experienced the very lows of farming when her father sold their family farm to a large corporation for a pittance when she was at university. It’s been her dream to buy it back but until that opportunity presents itself, she works as a manager on another property where the owner, an elderly gentleman, is no longer able to maintain a physical role. Georgie saves as much as she can in order to fulfil her goal but she knows that she’s still some time away from it being realistic. And that’s even if she can convince the current owners to ever sell, a moneymaking machine known for buying up family properties during hard times for rock bottom prices. They’re changing the face of farming in Australia and Georgie has a lot of feelings about it.

Her friend convinces her to let her hair down at a B&S ball and there she meets Michael and it’s the start of a whirlwind fast romance. Michael has a terrible secret though and when Georgie finds out, she ends what they have….but there’s still one thing tying them together and Michael refuses to let things go easily. He’s determined to make Georgie see her mistake, to hear him out….no matter what it takes. And Georgie is just as determined to stick to her guns and protect her heart. The two of them couldn’t possibly make this work.

There was a lot I enjoyed about this, namely Georgie, her role and love of farming and also the analysis of the changing landscape of farming in Australia. A lot of properties are being bought out by corporations and run as part of an overall business. There are employees but no owners live and work the land, passing it down to the next generation. Georgie grew up on a farm and it’s in her blood, she can’t imagine her life being anything but living off and working the land. She has never recovered from her grieving father selling the family farm after the death of her mother when he got into financial trouble. He didn’t want that life for Georgie, the worry and the debt but he didn’t consult her about what she wanted either and it’s been a source of pain and resentment for Georgie ever since. All she wants is that piece of land back and the chance to make it hers. As she feels it should have been.

Although I didn’t mind the character of Michael at first, I do have to admit that after their whirlwind romance and Georgie discovers the secret he’s been keeping from her, the way that Michael acts in order to try and win her back, was not really for me. It harked back to those Harlequin Presents books and heroes who think they know the heroine better than she knows herself and “she says no but she means yes” type of thing. I found him to be very forceful and arrogant and in terms of the secret, he was basically like “well I know I should’ve told you but I didn’t and it’s not important anyway for this reason, so this is why it shouldn’t matter”. I’m not sure why Michael thought it was a good idea to keep that secret – well, I suppose I do know. It was fear. He knew that she wouldn’t react well and I think he was just hoping for a time when Georgie would find him so incredible that it wouldn’t matter. But instead of coming clean to her and explaining from the very get go, he let it slide and eventually she found out in another way, because secrets always come out and that just made it a million times worse, because for Georgie, that was an ultimate betrayal. I found that the things Michael did, like turning up as a paying guest at Georgie’s business to be so cocky, rather than contrite. He always seemed like he had zero responsibility for the demise of their relationship and if Georgie would just see reason like she hadn’t explained to him a thousand times her feelings on such things, there’d be no issue. It wasn’t until right near the end that I thought Michael actually came across as feeling the loss of her, and devastated and the thought that he might not be able to fix it.

Although there was quite a portion of the book where I didn’t really enjoy Michael’s actions he kind of did redeem himself for me in the end. But what I really enjoyed about this story was Georgie and her determination to find a place for herself in the world of farming. She was lucky to discover a person that appreciated her skills, who was willing to give her a go and entrust more and more responsibility to her as his own ability to maintain his property waned. They had obviously formed quite a strong bond and the way his family treated Georgie was really admirable as well. This was a pleasant, mostly engaging read consistent with Lane’s prior exploration of the ups and downs facing Australian farmers.

7/10

Book #85 of 2020

Fool Me Once is book #28 of The Australian Women Writer’s Challenge for 2020

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Review: Return To Stringybark Creek by Karly Lane

Return To Stringybark Creek (The Callahans Of Stringybark Creek #3)
Karly Lane
Allen & Unwin
2019, 328p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

When top-flight journalists Hadley Callahan and Mitch Samuals married two years ago, theirs had been declared the celebrity wedding of the year. But, now, Hadley unexpectedly returns to Stringybark Creek alone to tell her parents one major piece of news while determinedly hiding another even more explosive secret.

Hadley’s big society wedding had killed any hopes that Oliver Dawson, the Callahans’ neighbour and Griff Callahan’s best friend, had nurtured since his teenage years when Hadley was his best friend’s little sister and thus out-of-bounds.

While Hadley’s in town, the shocking suicide of one of their old school friends brings them together as they mourn their loss. Hadley and Ollie begin a campaign to raise awareness of rural mental health, both wanting to make a difference.

With Mitch putting pressure on Hadley to keep quiet, and the secret she’s keeping causing her great anguish, Hadley’s feelings for Ollie take her by surprise. But her life is so messed up at the moment – what future could they possibly have together?

Return to Stringybark Creek concludes the Callahan family trilogy with a delightfully irresistible story of loyalty, hope and the importance of staying true to yourself.

I’ve read and enjoyed the previous two books in this series and I was quite interested in this one because in the previous book, it was discovered that Hadley’s husband was cheating on her but although that was a shocking revelation, an even more shocking one was precisely who he was cheating with. And so with this final book being Hadley’s I wanted to see the fallout, because it was clearly going to have an adverse effect on the entire family.

Hadley returns to her family home after the separation from Mitch, her husband. She’s being ‘kept out of the way’ by the network so that they can spin the separation and eventual divorce in a way that won’t impact negatively on Mitch, their golden boy. Hadley finds herself taking a break from work and becoming back involved in life with her family and neighbours, through good times and bad. She also finally learns about the crush that Oliver Dawson, from the neighbouring farm, has had on her since they were in school.

Oliver was around plenty in the previous book as he’s both Griff’s best friend and also Olivia’s twin. I have to admit, there’s a fair bit of hypocritical posturing from both Oliver and Griff that got a bit annoying after Hadley found out Ollie had feelings for her and they start to make a few tentative steps towards taking their friendship to another level. It’s very ‘how dare you touch my sister’ which, coming from Griff, is quite laughable as he spent the entire previous book doing an awful of of touching to Oliver’s twin sister. In 2019, it’s a bit old fashioned to be reading about brothers going the overprotective route of women who are well into adulthood. I can understand the Griff perhaps thought that Hadley was in a vulnerable place – but does he also not know his own best friend? This is not some random from the pub, it’s a man he’s known probably his entire life. And pretty much everyone except Hadley seemed to know how he felt about her, although even if Griff was perhaps oblivious to that, he should still be able to recognise what sort of man his own best mate is. Also the way in which Hadley is referred to as ‘back on the market’ the second she arrives in town after separating from her husband is a bit of a distasteful term. She’s not a good for purchase.

Where this book does excel is tackling rural depression and suicide. A friend of Oliver’s takes his own life and the entire town are in grief and shock about it. He was a young man and even though he’d had a few setbacks, no one could’ve predicted that this would be the action he would take. Oliver is devastated and angry and he wants to do something about it, to make it so that people don’t have to feel like this is their option. It’s an admirable goal and he’s willing to do whatever it takes in order to spread the word, to try and make it so that people can talk about the things that are bothering them. Change the mindset of country or farming people that you keep that inside, don’t tell anyone if you’re struggling or feeling down. It’s about encouraging conversation, removing the taboo of it. Opening up a dialogue so that hopefully people can realise they are not alone in feeling this way and that there are things they can do, coping mechanisms. That’s a really great part of the book, how involved the community gets and the cheeky idea Olivia comes up with to raise awareness and try and shine a light on the issue.

For me though, the resolution of Hadley’s marriage and the way it ended, lacked something. Maybe I’m just a meaner person than Hadley but I felt her reluctance to tell her parents (so they ended up finding out on public tv….) was childish, she allowed her ex-husband to basically walk all over her and there was a lot of seemingly attempting to frame the culprits as victims, one in particular and although I know things are complex, you can’t ignore how it started and the absolute hurt and betrayal of that. The unapologetic “sorry you felt hurt by it but I saw my attempt for happiness and took it and I’d do it again no matter what” felt incredibly off to me and Hadley’s attempt to make nice at the end, because she still loves the person that hurt her, was selfless but also felt a bit wrong. Like she made all the concessions and the people who acted selfishly and hurt her, made none. Mitch is a complete tosser and although Hadley is well rid of him, she’s not really, is she? And I feel like having to put up with him in her life still, is a poor outcome.

Overall I enjoyed this series but I feel like this one for me personally, wasn’t the strongest instalment.

6/10

Book #211 of 2019

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Review: Mr Right Now by Karly Lane

Mr Right Now (The Callahans Of Stringy Bark Creek #2)
Karly Lane
Allen & Unwin
2019, 312p
Read from my Nan’s stash

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Griffin Callahan and Olivia Dawson were inseparable. Everyone in town knew it. But when Griff went off to Ag College, Liv told him it was over and fled her family’s farm to study law. Griff had never understood her reasons but eventually accepted that first loves don’t last. Until now.

Currently back on the farm to help her twin brother with the harvest, Liv is the same gorgeous, laughing, hazel-eyed girl he’d always loved. Yet Griff can sense a difference, an uncertainty playing beneath the surface that wasn’t there before.

Amidst crossed wires, drunken declarations, and families on a mission, will Griff and Liv finally have a second chance? Or will the old saying – If you love someone set them free – become their reality?

I read the first book in this series last year but somehow I missed the second one. Griffin featured prominently in the first book as a potential love interest for Cash but really she was destined for his older brother Linc, with whom Griff has a strained relationship. In this book, the return of Griff’s high school sweetheart Olivia complicates things but shows him a possible future.

Griff and Olivia dated for several years in high school. She’s the twin sister of his best friend (as an aside – twins called Oliver and Olivia? Really?) but inexplicably to Griff, Olivia ended things after he went away to university and before she could join him, being a bit younger than he was. Since then Olivia has gone on to have a high flying and ambitious career in the city and Griff has remained on his family farm. The two have crossed paths occasionally, most recently at Griff’s younger sister’s wedding but the two of them haven’t had a lot in the way of meaningful interaction. That changes when Olivia’s father has a farm accident and is hospitalised in the city. In order for things to get done on the farm and so her mother can remain by her father’s side, Olivia returns home to run the farm with her brother so that they don’t fall behind. Their neighbours rally around them too, including Griff, who is more than willing to lend a hand.

I had mixed feelings about this one. I liked it but there were aspects of it that I think I just didn’t like, or didn’t work for me. Olivia and Griff’s history is skimmed over but you are supposed to get the feeling they were teenagers deeply in love until Olivia abruptly ended it. Griff has always wondered why and Olivia finally does give him a reason and it’s a good one, that was taking him into consideration but because they were young, they didn’t talk about how to handle what was happening, how to move forward in a way that would protect their relationship but also give both of them what they needed in terms of education and career. Olivia goes on to live in Sydney and doesn’t seem to return to her hometown very often.

Back on the farm, she settles into quite a traditional female role, cooking and cleaning for her brother which kind of annoyed me a bit, as did her brother’s attitudes. She does do some things on the farm but there’s plenty she seems to want to do but doesn’t get to. This is a role her mother has filled probably her whole married life – she still cooks Oliver’s meals and washes his clothes despite the fact that he’s probably mid to late twenties, which is the sort of enabling a manchild behaviour that gets on my nerves. I know rural and farming life is different to my suburban life but every man should be able to work the washing machine (and do so, not let his mother clean his clothes) and knock up a meal when required or wield a vacuum. I really disliked Oliver for most of the book and it looks like he might be next, which makes me a bit wary. Especially as his story seems remarkably similar to this one in terms of relationship.

Griff was also a bit lacklustre as a character for me, he spent a large portion of the book after he and Olivia reconnect thinking that everything will just be perfect if she gives up her job and comes back ‘home’ ignoring the fact that it hasn’t been her home for some time and that she seemed to have no real desire to do that in any way before reconnecting with him and barely after. Olivia is very conflicted about things – she wants a future with Griff but it seems that she is the only person who would have to sacrifice things for that to be able to happen. No one suggests Griff hop off the family farm and come and get a job in Sydney to be with her – the very idea would be laughable! But Griff seems to think that it’s very reasonable and indeed expected, that Olivia do just that. He does improve towards the end of the book, but in a way that makes decisions for her, which didn’t really sit well with me. It was the same thing that Olivia did when they were teenagers, making executive decisions solo that affected the both of them. I understand what Griff was trying to do in giving her this freedom but it was in a way that presented her with a fait accompli rather than allowing her a discussion and choice. She was able to make a choice in the end but only after other things had kind of been presented to her.

The drama with Griff’s family rolls on in this – I am interested to read the fallout of that, because there’s some things revealed here to several characters but the wider family aren’t privy to the information yet and I want to see how that all happens. It looks as though the next book, if it’s the one I’m thinking it’ll be, could be very explosive and I really want to find out how things got to that stage and where it goes from here.

My review probably seems like I enjoyed this less than I did, because I talked about a few things that niggled with me, but it was still a book I enjoyed reading at the time, despite the frustrations with several aspects of it. What I think I liked best was the stuff about the farming – the difficulties after Olivia’s father has the accident, the race against time and weather to get stuff done, the dangers of cutting corners because of that, the community aspect of people helping as well. That part was really good.

7/10

Book #105 of 2019

Mr Right Now is book #49 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019

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Review: The Wrong Callahan by Karly Lane

The Wrong Callahan (The Callahan’s Of Stringybark Creek #1)
Karly Lane
Allen & Unwin
2018, 326p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

It had been two long years since Lincoln Callahan had found himself in front of the gates to Stringybark Creek. He was in the army then – a lifetime ago. Linc had always been the unsettled Callahan, looking for danger, the one who couldn’t wait to leave the family farm.

This time he was back for his little sister, Hadley’s, wedding. From far and wide, the Callahan relatives were streaming toward Stringybark Creek.

Linc’s little brother, Griffin, was the steady son, the one who stayed at home, the one who did the right things. And now, the one who had feelings for city-girl, Cash Sullivan.

For Cash, the offer to manage her best friend’s luxury beauty spa tucked away in the country had come at the right time. She knew she needed to make smarter choices in her life, starting with the men she dated, and an enforced break in the country seemed the right way to consider her options.

When Linc sets eyes on Cash at a family dinner, their swift attraction floors him. But Cash is his brother’s girlfriend…what was he thinking?

As Linc, Griff and Cash form an uneasy triangle, each of them have personal demons to face before they can open their hearts.

Karly Lane’s latest release is the first in a new series centering around the Callahan family who own and operate a farm in New South Wales’ Riverina district. In this book, older son Linc has returned home to the farm for the first time in many years. A former military man, Linc signed up for the army as soon as he could and left the small country town behind. Several tours later and now he owns and runs his own private security firm that specialises in helping people navigate overseas’ difficulties. Returning to the farm for his sister’s wedding, Linc is hiding a lot of secrets from his family, such as why he’s really back for such a long time. His return is immediately complicated by his attraction to neighbour Cash Sullivan, whom the whole family seems to think will soon be attached to Griffin, Linc’s younger brother.

Now normally I’m not really a huge fan of love triangles and I’m even less of a fan when they include members from the same family. I always find it a bit awkward to read about sisters warring over a man or brothers both attracted to the same woman because it’s hard to see this issues just….going away….and everyone getting along in the future. Also indecisiveness really bothers me, so I really dislike it if a character is going back and forth between two options for a good portion of the book. However this was written in a way that I think was both believable and managed to weave in some very intricate and old family conflicts that really gave this depth and about much more than just which brother Cash liked more.

Cash had a very unusual upbringing, not an easy one and her taste in men has seemed to run to the….not so good for her. The ones that don’t stick around, that aren’t really good prospects. Griffin is kind of the opposite of all that, he’s a nice guy with a steady job working his family’s farm and a plan for the future. Lincoln however…..seems more like the men she’s always chosen. No fixed address, a bit dangerous, a bit of a past. Cash wants to change the pattern of her behaviour, her choices but the thing is, you can’t force chemistry. It’s either there or it isn’t and Cash’s head might want one thing but her heart definitely wants another.

The Callahan family are big and kinda rowdy and not without their individual issues. Griffin has a long standing resentment of Lincoln, who doesn’t understand what he’s done to deserve it. One sister seems to be going through a very difficult time and the other is finally getting married after she and her fiancé postponed it twice due to their busy careers. All of the siblings were really interesting and I enjoyed their interactions with each other. What’s mostly explored here is between Lincoln and Griffin and it’s a way for Lincoln’s secrets to out after Griffin flips a switch. I’m not sure there was as much resolution as I was expecting but perhaps the next book will look to address that a bit more. There’s certainly a lot still left to explore in terms of individuals and also how these people connect as siblings. I enjoyed the characterisation of the parents as well, who are very strongly portrayed as hard working and social country people. Lincoln and Griffin’s mother in particular does a lot to make Cash feel welcome and included, although I do suspect she has ulterior motives.

This was a very enjoyable read and a good introduction to the Callahan family. I’m definitely looking forward to the next book and seeing what happens as several family members still have a lot of things to deal with. I really liked the setting and the small community and for me, the way that the love triangle played out was well done.

8/10

Book #200 of 2018

 

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North Star – Karly Lane

North StarNorth Star
Karly Lane
Allen & Unwin
2011, eBook
Bought for my Kindle

Since her divorce, Kate has felt like she can’t get back on even ground. She’s been working two jobs to keep a roof over her head and the head of her two children after having to sell the lovely family home in order to pay her husband’s gambling debts. He has continued to gamble, continued to make excuses and Kate has had to take action to keep her children out of the situation. As a result, her moody teenage daughter Georgia isn’t feeling very kindly towards her at the moment and it gets even worse when Kate is informed that her grandfather, a mean alcoholic that she’s had no contact with in over fifteen years, has died and left her North Star, a large property.

At first Kate’s plans were to fix up the house, which has been neglected and get it back on the market. But being back there, being in the house where she spent time with her beloved gran and felt real love, plants a seed of hope within her. Kate owns the property outright so it doesn’t come with the trappings of a mortgage. If she can find a way to make a little income, just enough to cover what they need, she thinks that they can make North Star their future. Georgia is less than enthusiastic, not willing to leave behind her friends and her social life for a dump in the middle of no where. Kate’s younger child Liam is more open to the idea and Kate hopes that living in a small town where he’ll have the chance to make friends will give her son the confidence he so desperately needs.

Kate, along with her childhood friend Jenny, Jenny’s husband and two children, begins the hard work of making the homestead liveable again. Just as she feels she’s beginning to make progress, in all aspects of her life by setting the house to rights, finding her feet in the new town, even making a friend that could possibly turn into something more, Kate faces opposition from a neighbouring grazier who seems determined to bully her off her land. And then her ex-husband turns up, seeing opportunity in Kate’s new found inheritance. He isn’t above playing games using their children and threatening Kate with a secret she has held close for many long years.

I’ve had a copy of North Star on my kindle for some time – ever since I read Karly’s second book, Morgan’s Law. She’s since released a 3rd, Bridie’s Choice which I’ve been hearing excellent things about and before I read that, I wanted to catch up by reading this one as well. I always like having a few books on the kindle that I think I’ll really enjoy in case I go away and am looking for something like a ‘sure bet’ to read and North Star was definitely one of these.

Kate was such a tough, admirable character. She’d had a horrible childhood, the only bright spot the times she went with her gran on North Star. She married young after being forced off North Star in tragedy and her and her husband worked hard to pay off their house only to then lose it to her husband’s gambling debts. You get the feeling that Kate craves stability, both emotional and financial after her upbringing and for her to lose the house was a huge blow. She had to work two jobs just to pay for the rent in a small flat, somewhere really unsuitable for herself and her two children. Her children have also been affected terribly by the marriage breakdown. Her teenage daughter Georgia is pushing the boundaries – sneaking out, experimenting with drugs and alcohol. Kate thinks that hopefully, being removed from those influences might have a positive effect on her daughter, even if she’s brought her attitude all the way out to North Star. Kate’s son Liam is younger and painfully shy. He needs some stability and structure desperately and Kate hopes to provide all that and more with the idea she’s had for starting a business on the property.

What I enjoyed about this novel was Kate’s attitude to her ‘fresh start’. She works so hard at fixing up the house to make it habitable again, she tries so hard with her children. She doesn’t lose her temper with Georgia when she’s rude and pushing the boundaries when it would be tempting to come down on her more severely. She also takes things very cautiously with John, the local police officer who makes it quite clear that he’s very interested in Kate for the long term. Kate hasn’t been involved with many men at all and she has some trauma in her past that makes it hard for her and she also has herself and her children to think of. They’ve all been hurt recently and you can tell that she wants to make sure that this is absolutely right before she proceeds. Unfortunately just as she makes that decision and takes that step, her ex-husband rolls into town, determined to make trouble, especially when he spots that Kate is slowly forging a life for herself without him and with someone else.

North Star is such an enjoyable book, it’s one of those wonderful reads that you just sink into and emerge from hours later, not quite sure where the time went. There’s an undercurrent of suspense running through the latter half as a story from long ago is unfolded. I can’t wait to get to Bridie’s Choice when I get home!

8/10

Book #287 of 2012

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Morgan’s Law – Karly Lane

Morgan’s Law
Karly Lane
Allen & Unwin AU
2012, 318p
Read from my local library

Sarah Murphy has returned to Australia in order to fulfill the wishes of her late and beloved grandmother, who wishes her ashes to be scattered under the ‘Wishing tree’ in a tiny town called Negallan, along the Negallan River. So Sarah flies back to Sydney from London, hires a car and sets out driving up to Negallen.

Upon arriving into town, it becomes obvious that this isn’t going to be quite as easy as she had first assumed. Her visions of driving into town, finding the tree and scattering the ashes and then turning around and driving out of town are dashed when she realises that no one in the town has any knowledge of her grandmother and the location of the mysterious wishing tree isn’t easily discovered either.

Sarah takes a room at the local pub and strikes up a friendship with Tash, the publican. Despite the fact that her inquiries don’t seem to be going anywhere at the moment, Sarah finds herself slowly relaxing in the small town, away from the pressures and stress of London and her high-profile job. She enjoys good food and the small-town atmosphere as she tries to find out some information about her grandmother. It turns out that someone does recognise her but Sarah is surprised to find that after all these years, her grandmother seems to have been hiding some very important secrets. Determined now to get to the bottom of everything, despite the warnings of the handsome local farmer to leave some things be, she sets out to solve the mystery so she can finally lay her grandmother to rest.

Morgan’s Law is another recent ‘rural lit’ release and, as I discovered, was the perfect read for a chilly winter’s night snuggled under a blanket. Sarah Murphy is an Australian who has been living in London for the past 10 years working her way up the chain in advertising. She’s got the minimalist apartment, the aversion to meat and carbs and a high powered career that has her thriving in the overseas city. Called back to Australia after the death of her grandmother and charged with carrying out her last wishes, Sarah finds out that some of the simplest pleasures have been totally passing her by. Negallen is a quiet farming town that is slowly dying since the closure of the cotton gin some years ago. It became too expensive to freight the cotton further for cleaning/sorting/etc so some farmers sold up and left. Some changed to grain or cattle. And some chose other ways out.

Morgan’s Law might be a story of friendship, farming and family but it also embraces a serious issue and one that rural Australian communities face – suicide. In the novel a character’s brother commits suicide after running into financial difficulty and there is frustration expressed at trying to get these country, proud men to doctors or counsellors for support when life on the land does become tough and depressing. The crippling droughts our country experiences, often broken by flooding rains that ruin crops leads to many farmers experiencing such phenomenal debt and a feeling of failure that some of them do feel that sometimes, that can be their only way out. There’s an emphasis in this novel on the need for better government and social support, somewhere that people can go for help without feeling uncomfortable.

This novel had so many threads that wove together to create this story and each of them were highly enjoyable. Sarah’s quest to find the truth about her grandmother and what she had to do with the powerful local Morgan family, as well as her blossoming romance with local farmer Adam, the fact that Negallan is dying as a town and that something needs to be done by the residents in order to resurrect that. I think that part of the story might’ve been one of my favourites, because of the idea of the community saving itself. I really enjoyed reading about how the idea itself came about and the local who took it and ran with it, working tirelessly to try and save the town despite some very vocal opposition from some of the residents. I also enjoyed the scene with the frog (which those who have read will recognise but that I won’t spoil for those who have not), it made me laugh so hard because I could picture myself and my reaction in a similar situation. It was one of the nice touches of added humour that really helped flesh out this book and its characters.

If you’re looking for one of those warm, comforting reads but that also addresses serious and genuine issues, then I can highly recommend this book. There’s romance and friendship, adversity and hardship but also success and a community coming together to really try and prevent the downward slide that so many rural areas seem to be facing these days. Such an enjoyable book – I think I raced through it in about two hours!

Morgan’s Law is, I think, the second book Karly has written under this name – she also writes romances under the name of  Karlene Blakemore-Mowle. I have her first novel as Karly Lane, North Star on my Kindle to read and I am saving that for when I go away in July for 2wks as I’ll only be taking my Kindle and absolutely no print books and I’m definitely looking forward to the day when I can read it!

8/10

Book #93 of 2012

Morgan’s Law is the 34th novel read and reviewed for the Australian Women Writers Challenge

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