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Review: Magpie’s Bend by Maya Linnell

Magpie’s Bend
Maya Linnell
Allen & Unwin
2021, 350p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: A pitch-perfect rural romance of community and family from the bestselling author of Bottlebrush Creek.

Lara McIntyre and journalist Toby Paxton are thrust into the limelight when an accident puts the beating heart of their community in jeopardy.

The small country town of Bridgefield can’t manage without their general store and post office, but Lara can’t stomach the idea of out-of-town buyers running it into the ground either.

With the help of the close-knit community, they rally together to save the general store. Featuring a black tie ball, a fun run, a magpie called Vegemite and a snake-chasing kelpie called Basil, Magpie’s Bend is a story about rural lives, family, love and letting go.

This is third book by Maya Linnell focusing on the McIntyre sisters. Some of Lara’s story was revealed in previous books but you could also read this stand alone as well. Lara is a nurse, living in the Grampians in rural Victoria. She has a teenage daughter Evie who has just gone to boarding school in Ballarat and Lara finds herself missing her terribly. Her life gets busier when she finds the older owner of the local general store hurt. Lara administers first aid while the one man behind the local newspaper assists and then, when she realises Mrs Beggs will have to sell the store, Lara can’t bear to see it fall into the hands of people not from the area who don’t understand it. She rallies to organise a roster of volunteers to keep it up and running whilst Mrs Begg is in hospital and then comes up with an idea of how the town might be able to purchase it and keep it running, rather than see it turned into an American diner or vegan cafe.

I have really enjoyed both the previous books and this one was no exception. I like the whole McIntyre family, I think they’re wonderful, which is great because we get to catch up with the characters in the previous two books: Penny and Tim and Rob and Angie. Lara’s family often have big gatherings and everyone comes along and it’s wonderful. The sisters are different, but close and share some similarities.

During helping Mrs Beggs, Lara meets Toby Paxton, photographer and journalist who runs the local weekly newspaper. I also really liked the character of Toby. Both Lara and Toby are divorced parents of teenage girls. Toby sees his daughter Holly regularly, the rest of the time she lives with her mother in Ballarat. Evie’s father is no longer in her life but due to her enrolment at boarding school, Lara now only sees Evie sporadically but they speak all the time on the phone. I thought the parenting roles were written really well – the children are older, which means their presence is less in the story but it was enough to get the ideas of the challenges of single parenting or parenting with someone you are no longer married to. Both Lara and Toby are attracted to the other but Lara’s past definitely makes her wary and she’s in this town in the long haul, whereas she doesn’t know if Toby will be sticking around or heading for a more prestigious job in the future.

I also enjoyed the local community aspect – the idea of the town purchasing the store to keep it running as it is, a local general store and post office. It’s a pillar of the community (it also made me really want a meat pie, for reasons people will understand once they’ve read it!). I also was intrigued by the idea Lara came up with about the space above the store – that was excellent.

I follow Maya Linnell on instagram and she’s a wonderful baker (and gardener) and often posts pictures and videos of the things she makes and grows. Her characters often enjoy baking too and this book is ripe with descriptions of baked goods – Lara stress bakes which I think a lot of people could probably relate to. Also one of the sisters, Diana has a green thumb and grows incredible flowers – I’m sure Diana’s book will be next because there’s been some intriguing little tidbits dropped about her in the books so far. I’m keen to know more.

I thought Lara and Toby went really well together and the slow pacing of their developing attractions definitely worked because of Lara’s history. I liked how much they had in common and how they built things during running together and also brainstorming ideas about the store and Toby helping by writing articles for the newspaper. I always really appreciate when you can see characters building a friendship as well as see their physical attraction because it’s so easy to picture the life they build together that’s more than just chemistry. You really did get the feeling Lara and Toby had created something incredibly strong.

Maya Linnell continues to write lovely heartwarming stories that draw you in, featuring wonderful little communities and characters that you would want to know. I can’t wait to read her next one.

8/10

Book #89 of 2021

Magpie’s Bend is book #37 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2021

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