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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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Review: Bottlebrush Creek by Maya Linnell

Bottlebrush Creek 
Maya Linnell
Allen & Unwin
2020, 352p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

A pitch-perfect rural romance of changing relationships and family ties from the bestselling author of Wildflower Ridge.

Between managing a bustling beauty salon, hectic volunteer commitments and the lion’s share of parenting two-year-old Claudia, Angie McIntyre barely has time to turn around. And with each passing month, she feels her relationship with fly-in, fly-out boyfriend Rob Jones slipping through her fingers.

When Rob faces retrenchment, and the most fabulous fixer-upper comes onto the market, Angie knows this derelict weatherboard cottage will be the perfect project to draw their little family together.

There’s just one catch: the 200-acre property is right next door to Rob’s parents in south-west Victoria.

It doesn’t take long for rising tensions to set a wedge between the hard-working couple. Angie and Rob have to find out the hard way whether their grand design will draw them closer together or be the very thing that tears them apart.

This is Maya Linnell’s second novel and is connected to her first one, Wildflower Ridge as Angie is Penny’s sister. She and her partner Rob have a young daughter Claudia and Angie works as a beautician whilst Rob is doing fly in-fly out (FIFO) work on a mine. When he faces retrenchment, his payout is perhaps the best chance they’ll have for them to buy their own property and although the one Rob takes Angie to needs a lot of work, she falls in love with it. She can see its potential…..until she realises that it’s right next door to his parents, and Angie has a bit of a contentious relationship with her mother-in-law, finding her a bit interfering and overbearing. Living next door to them could be a challenge – and might only drive them further apart.

I absolutely love renovation shows – I watch plenty of them on TV and there’s something very satisfying about seeing something a bit run down or neglected be turned into a beautiful home. So I was really drawn to this story firstly because of the fact that it was going to contain Rob and Angie renovating the cottage on their new property and all the challenges that would come with that. And the author has experience in this area – she and her husband built their own home and if you’re not following her on instagram, you 100% should be because her home is this amazing sandstone building set on the greenest dairy farm I’ve ever seen and Maya Linnell shares all the amazing things she bakes and grows. The most incredible looking scones and cakes and flowers!

I think it takes a very special relationship to be able to live that close to family. And not just in-laws, but your own family too. I don’t think I’d like to live next door to my own parents – my dad silently judging me on how long it’s been since we last washed the car/brought the bins in on time/mowed the lawn! Wondering why we are leaving the house for the third time that day. And living next to my in-laws would probably result in something similar to Everybody Loves Raymond played out in real time. So I can well understand Angie’s dismay when she discovers that the property is next door to her in-law’s dairy farm, down in south-western Victoria.

There’s a lot about family in here – Rob’s mother seems to have almost lost her identity with not only both her sons moving away but also the way in which they fell out some years ago and haven’t spoken since. I think she feels like she’s finally in a position to reclaim some of that and she’s willing to do almost anything to make it happen. Her husband is more of a mind not to get involved, to let Rob and Angie settle in and find their feet, rather than rushing over there every day and trying to invite them around all the time. I understand a reluctance to commit to ongoing dinners, because I really like my own space and I also never really know what I want to eat for dinner until sometimes, right before we make it. The idea of committing to a lengthy Sunday roast (or whatever) date every weekend, would be really nerve-wracking for me. Angie is of the belief that she needs to lose baby weight and so is on a diet and exercising but Rob’s mother dropping off treats for them all every other day is taking a toll, not just on her willpower but also on their young daughter, who comes to prefer sweet things over more healthy snacks, as most children would when faced with being offered them constantly. I think it’s hard for both Angie and Rob’s mother, because Angie feels as though the way she wants to parent and live her life is being stifled but Rob’s mother wants to be a hands on grandmother, be involved and she knows she has to tread carefully, but sometimes her enthusiasm is a bit too much.

If you read Wildflower Ridge, there’s plenty about the rest of the family in here, including Penny and her situation. Angie has moved a couple of hours away from them in buying the new property but there’s still plenty of opportunities for her to catch up with her family. She really feels the loss of her mother a lot, especially when she feels at odds with or overruled by her mother-in-law. I’m not sure that Rob’s mother really did accept however, that some of her actions, whilst well-intentioned, were not acceptable. She definitely does overstep many boundaries, especially because she does a lot of things secretly.

This was a lot of fun as a read but also had its serious side – I appreciated that it was about an already established relationship that was definitely pushed to breaking point by a lack of communication. Both Rob and Angie had some really big issues clearly stating when they were having problems with some things and on the occasions when Angie did manage to say something, Rob didn’t always support her in the way that I feel a partner should. He had his reasons for keeping things from Angie but he needed to see that the reasons were no longer valid and he needed to let them go and include her in things that would have an impact on her. However I think the way that things played out meant that they were able to establish a way to air everything and then move forward for the better.

8/10

Book #109 of 2020

Bottlebrush Creek is book #37 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge 2020

 

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Review: Wildflower Ridge by Maya Linnell

Wildflower Ridge
Maya Linnell
Allen & Unwin
2019, 384p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Penny McIntyre loves her life as an ambitious city professional, with a marketing team at her fingertips and a promotion just within reach. So when she’s floored by a mystery illness, and ordered back to the family farm for three months’ rest and recuperation, she is horrified to find her perfect life imploding.

Within days, Penny has to leave her much-loved job, her live-in boyfriend, and her beloved city apartment… to return to the small country town in which she grew up. Back to her dad and three sisters, one of whom has never forgiven her for abandoning her family. And to her ex-boyfriend, Tim Patterson, who was the biggest reason she ran in the first place.

When Penny’s father is injured in a farming accident and Tim campaigns to buy the property, she must choose between the city life she loves and the farming dream she buried long ago.

Wildflower Ridge is rural fiction straight from the heart.

Sometimes when you read a book, you know what to expect going in and the book delivers exactly that. Other times though, you think you know what you’re getting but the book ends up surprising you. I think that for me, Wildflower Ridge was both. I in some ways, got exactly what I thought I would, going in. But there was also a part of the book that was definitely unexpected and was really surprising to me…..but definitely in a good way.

Penny left her family’s farm in rural Victoria behind many years ago, moving to the city where she works in marketing. She is very dedicated to her job, working long hours and she’s gunning for a big promotion. She has a boyfriend who like her, is an upwardly mobile professional and she is very satisfied with the direction of her life. Until a sudden illness knocks her flat and she’s packed off to the country to get better, leaving her job and the city behind. Penny is incredibly resentful of being forced to leave and go back to the family farm and it’s clear she doesn’t want to really be there. Although she does return to see her family, her visits seem sporadic and one of her sisters wastes no time in attacking most of her life goals and the fact that she’s left the farm behind. And there’s also the complication of Tim Patterson, Penny’s high-school boyfriend who now works for Penny’s father on the family farm in a managerial capacity.

Returning to the family farm from a city career is a common trope in rural fiction but I appreciated the depth Maya Linnell gave Penny’s journey here both with her illness and also her motivation many years ago in seeking her new life in Melbourne. I feel as though disdain for those that leave is also a common theme at times but once again, the author breathes new life into this as well. Families are tricky and sometimes those dynamics can be difficult to get right. Penny gets along relatively well with two of her sisters but clashes badly with a third, the two bickering incessantly and sniping at each other. At one stage I remember I started to get really frustrated with the direction of their arguments…..I just wanted to know what the heck Penny’s sister Lara’s problem was. That frustration I was feeling made me really identify with Penny, who is experiencing a lot of frustration of her own towards Lara. After their father is injured in a farming incident, Lara really pushes for something that makes Penny reassess her priorities and what she wants out of life, rethinking those events from her teen years that led to her making the choices she did. Lara’s a prickly character, quite unlikable at first in her relentless jibes at Penny for leaving and her life in the city. But once the reader discovers precisely what Lara’s problem is, you see her in an entirely new light. Her reasoning, her motivation, her desperation all suddenly makes sense and you can see what drove her and why she was just so…..closed off. And remote. Her character was really well done and the depths the book went to in exploring her situation were very thoughtfully done.

This is a very strong debut novel that I thoroughly enjoyed. I loved the setting – an area in Victoria that I’m a little familiar with due to regular trips out that way into western Victoria and I liked the farm stuff. There’s situations where Penny really struggles and it felt incredibly realistic. The weather gets in the way too, of course. The strength is in the relationships between family – Penny and her sisters, Penny and her dad and the frustration that results from his accident and Penny taking on a lot of responsibility and commitment as she’s recovering from her illness. I also really liked Tim and the relationships he has with his family – the Nanna who basically raised him and also his brother, who has Down Syndrome. He also has some very complex feelings toward his absent parents as well and a determination to be seen as a separate entity to his father, not a younger version of the same man. Country minds can link families together (funnily enough, a bunch of people from my husband’s hometown generally refer to him as ‘Sam’, which is his Dad’s name. I’ve never known why they do it and neither does my husband other than it’s something they do there) but Tim has his own dreams and wants to achieve them on his own merits. I loved the well-roundedness of the story and all its characters and the believability of their interactions. I’m definitely looking forward to Maya Linnell’s next book!

8/10

Book #87 of 2019

Wildflower Ridge is book #39 for The Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019

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