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Review: Flying The Nest by Rachael Johns

Flying The Nest 
Rachael Johns
Harlequin MIRA
2020, 400p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

They say a change is as good as a holiday…but what if you don’t want either?

Is her family’s happiness more important than her own?

The first time Ashling Wood realises her marriage is on the rocks is when her husband, Adrian, suggests they try nest parenting. Heartbroken, Ash suddenly finds herself living a double life – one week with her children, the next cohabiting with her happily single sister-in-law. Her friends think the modern custody solution is an exciting opportunity for her to spread her wings, but all Ash wants is her family back together.

An offer to renovate a seaside cottage seems like the perfect distraction for Ash while waiting for Adrian to come to his senses. She’s determined to fix her marriage as well as the cottage, but life gets even more complicated when she meets local fisherman Dan Emerson.

Soon, each home-stay becomes more dysfunctional, while for the other week Ash enjoys the peaceful life of the beachside community. The more time Ash spends in Ragged Point, the more she questions what she really wants. Is a sea-change the fresh start she needs to move on?

When tragedy calls Ash back to the city, she’s torn between the needs of her family and her future. Can her family life fit in with a permanent move to the beach or could Ash’s new-found independence attract Adrian back to the nest? 

I am the Queen of imagining hypothetical scenarios. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought of what I would do if my husband and I divorced. I don’t want to divorce and he doesn’t either (or at least I assume he doesn’t!), but I’ve spent many hours wondering where I would live, how we would split time with the children and many other things. It’s just how my brain works – I’ve also thought about what I’d do if I were widowed, what he would do in the same situation, what we’d do if we won the lottery and a million other scenarios. One of the things I did wonder about was nest parenting, but I concluded that as wonderful as the idea sounds in terms of stability for the children, giving them a home they don’t have to leave and keeping all their things in one place, I knew it wasn’t something that we’d be able to make fit in any situation. Because as wonderful as it is for the children, it does sound like it has the potential to end up becoming problematic for the parents.

In this book, Ashling is surprised when out of the blue, her husband asks her if they can try nest parenting: each having one week “on” in the family home and then one week “off” where the other parent takes over. They’ve been together since they were teenagers and now, at almost 40, he wants to separate. It completely rips the bottom out of her world. Even though their marriage isn’t what it was in the beginning, for Ashling, she still thought they’d built a good and happy life with a successful business and two children. As primarily a stay at home parent doing a lot of the “mental” load, she really struggles with the idea of limited contact with her children for the week that she is out of the home and her husband Adrian has custody.

For Ashling, this is a chance to really rediscover (or actually, perhaps even discover) herself. She’s been Adrian’s wife and mother to her children for the last decade and a half of her life and it actually doesn’t seem like she does a lot independently of those two things. On her “off weeks” she is given an opportunity to help clean up the cabin of someone her sister-in-law knows in a coastal town a couple hours away from Perth. Ashling loves cleaning and organising and has renovated the family home almost single handedly so it’s something she has experience and skill in. At first the loneliness and sheer mammoth size of her task daunt her and she nearly runs back to Perth. But she makes friends in the community, she makes headway with the cottage. Although she works towards repairing her marriage, Adrian seems reluctant and Ashling has to fight not to make his life easier when he requests help during “his” weeks – after all he initiated and wanted this, so it seems unfair that he gets to lean on her when he has conflicting responsibilities!

I loved Ashling’s time in Ragged Point – the local community is showcased really well and I enjoyed her adventures in renovating and sprucing up the cabin. Among the locals, she meets her neighbour Dan and also single mother Jedda who both runs the local cafe and also produces the local newspaper. Meeting Jedda in particular gives Ashling the chance to discover what she can offer as a person, not as a wife or mother and gives her a bit of an idea about the sorts of things she might be able to do in the future, moving forward. At first, all Ashling wants is to repair her marriage and to go back to living the way things were but the longer she spends on her own, finding herself as an individual, I think the more she realises that perhaps returning to that marriage as it was isn’t the best thing for her. She’s been a massive support to Adrian, helping him build the business, taking care of everything to do with the kids and home but Adrian doesn’t seem to provide Ashling with the same emotional support and encouragement.

Even though I’m not separated, I found so much of this relatable, especially the challenges of parenting, in particular, around devices and changing attitudes as children get older. That’s something I’ve really found relevant as I have a 12yo son (a couple of years younger than Ashling’s son in the book) but with some of the same sorts of issues. I found Ashling easy to both connect with and relate to, even though we had some differences. We are the same age and there are certain similarities in her internal questioning and my own. This was an excellent, insightful exploration of navigating a difficult time and how someone can find strength from having to stand alone.

9/10

Book #215 of 2020

Flying The Nest is book #80 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2020

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Review: Something To Talk About by Rachael Johns

Something To Talk About (Rose Hill #2)
Rachael Johns
Harlequin MIRA
2020, 348p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

It’s the opposite of love at first sight…or is it?

Dairy farmer Tabitha Cooper-Jones has a heart of gold, yet she’s the eternal bridesmaid. Everyone’s best mate. Despite facing some serious challenges over the years, she’s built a successful ice-cream business and cafe, she’s adored by her family and is an integral part of her hometown – there’s just one thing missing from her life. But the last thing Tab wants is a man – or worse, love – to stop her achieving her dream.

In town for a temporary teaching contract, Fergus McWilliams thinks the small community of Walsh will be the perfect place to stay under the radar but he couldn’t be more wrong. Suddenly, the kids’ cricket team coached by Ferg is inundated with female supporters – single female supporters – and that’s only the beginning.

The only woman who doesn’t seem to have her sights set on Ferg is Tabitha. Despite a disastrous first meeting and a visit from a past love, circumstances keep throwing them together. Neither can deny the sparks between them, but can friendship even be possible for these two strong-willed people?

This is the second of Rachael Johns’ books set in the rural town of Walsh in south-west Western Australia. The first novel, Talk Of The Town focused on dairy farmer and single dad Lawson Cooper-Jones and his romance with new-to-town Meg. This book focuses on Lawson’s sister Tabitha, who was a large part of Talk Of The Town. Tabitha helps out on the family dairy farm and also runs an ice cream business, which she has built up from just making flavours for her family to use up milk, to serving in an ice creamery with her sister-in-law Meg and also serving on the go, delighting the local kids with her ice cream truck. She leads a busy life, volunteering as a St. Johns ambulance officer and also helping out with a children’s sport team.

Fergus McWilliams has applied for a temporary teaching position at Walsh’s tiny primary school. He’s looking to get away from Perth – and leave some people behind as well. Armed with a cranky cat, his idea is to lay low until he realises that it isn’t the way things work in a small town. He finds himself invited to barbecues, roped into coaching the kid’s cricket team and the most popular new man in town! But a relationship is the last thing on Ferg’s mind….not after what just happened to him. Which is why Tab, who is perfectly happy being perfectly single, seems like a good option as a friend. But sometimes, life has other plans.

Lately I’ve read quite a lot of heavier types of books and I hadn’t realised just how much I had been craving a rural romance until this one arrived. I’d been looking forward to it, of course, because it’s Rachael Johns and it’s also featuring the same characters as a previous novel I read (a whopping three years ago now!) and I always love a chance to revisit a familiar setting. Also Tabitha was a really interesting character in Talk Of The Town and I wanted to see her get her story. I also love a bit of a grumpy hero and Fergus definitely fits the bill early in this book in that he’s not looking for a romance and a bit resentful of any attempts to draw him into one but he’s also a soft cinnamon roll who is super dedicated to the kids he teaches.

This is a warm and engaging story from start to finish. I love the character of Tabitha, her strength and determination. She lost an arm to cancer when she was a teenager but she’s adjusted and can do most things more successfully than others including things like driving an ambulance, knitting and milking cows. Tabitha is inspired by a real life person in the same situation and it’s clear that Rachael Johns has researched thoroughly and portrayed the character with sensitivity and authenticity. Tab has recently made a big decision to undertake something alone and it’s not something that she has rushed into or made on a whim. But it’s something that she really wants and even though it won’t be easy, she’s prepared for it as much as she can be.

Fergus has a few things to work out, he’s quite bitter about the reason that he had to leave Perth behind but he’s also hurting over it too, although I think he feels that he’s just angry. He does not want to face the hurt as such, until he is forced to. I really loved his interactions with the locals, his gentleness to the lady who used to live in the house he’s now residing in and his way with the local kids. He has an amazing cat that hates him but he’s done people who wronged him a kindness by taking the cat on and continuing to have patience, despite the cat’s obvious disdain for him. I thought Mrs Norris was such a fun pet – I love cats but they are so very much their own little personalities and Mrs Norris was 100% not here for any of Fergus’ attempts to woo her.

I loved being back in the area of Walsh, checking in with what Lawson, Meg and Ned are up to these days and seeing Fergus settling in to the small-town country life. He and Tab have such an interesting first meet and it sparks an appealing chemistry after Fergus mistakes Tab’s intentions. Both of them are attracted to the other but both are also quick to assure each other that it’s all very casual, nothing serious. Tab has some hang ups from a previous relationship and she also has the journey she’s embarking on alone and Fergus is definitely still smarting from what drove him out of Perth. What is supposed to be casual however, has a bit of seriousness seeping into it quite quickly and they fit together so well but stubbornly, Fergus doesn’t want to see it. It takes a really serious situation for Fergus to see what his determination not to back down is leading to him missing out on.

A good rural makes you wish you were a part of the community and this one definitely makes me feel that way. I have this dream of living rurally (but in reality I don’t think I’m actually cut out for it, I just like the idea of a property and growing my own food etc) and books like this always bring it to the forefront of my mind. This was definitely everything I was looking for when I realised how much I wanted to read a good rural: characters and setting I connected with, good chemistry and a strong sense of community.

9/10

Book #98 of 2020

Something To Talk About is the 30th book read and reviewed for the Australian Women Writers Challenge of 2020

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Review: Lost Without You by Rachael Johns

Lost Without You
Rachael Johns
Harlequin AUS
2018, 481p
Uncorrected proof copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Four women, one dress, and the secret that binds them all…

On a special night that is supposed to be a celebration of new beginnings, Paige MacRitchie’s joy quickly falls away when her mother collapses during the speeches at her book launch. In the aftermath, and terrified of losing her, Paige decides she wants to make the ultimate tribute to her parents’ perfect marriage: she will wear her mother’s wedding dress for her own big day.

There’s just one problem – her mum, Rebecca, no longer has the dress.

As Paige tries to track down the elusive gown, she discovers that Rebecca has a long-hidden secret that, if revealed, could blow her whole family apart. Her new friend Josie is at a crossroads too. She met her husband Nik when she was singing in an eighties-themed bar, but now she’s lonely, yearning for a family and wondering if Nik understands her at all.

And then there’s nurse Clara. When she married Rob Jones, an up-and-coming rock star, she thought she was in it forever. But now Clara needs to make a new life for herself and Rob can’t seem to understand that it’s over.

When the fates of these four women intertwine in an unexpected and powerful way, none of their lives will ever be the same again.

A fresh and poignant novel of family, journeys, past decisions … and dresses … from the ABIA award-winning, bestselling author Rachael Johns.

I tore through this almost 500p book in a few hours in an afternoon. It’s a complex story but also an easily read one, with relatable characters and although some of the situations rely on coincidence and close proximity, it’s easy to set this aside and just enjoy the story that is being told here.

Paige is a devoted daughter to Rebecca and Hugh and when Rebecca falls ill at Paige’s book launch and is diagnosed with quite a severe illness, Paige has the bright idea to wear her mother’s wedding dress to her own up and coming wedding. Honestly Rebecca must have the only 80s wedding dress that transcends that decade because my mother got married in the 80s and her dress was definitely not something I could’ve worn at my 2011 wedding without looking like I was playing dress up! But the idea is lovely and Paige is singleminded in her attempts to track down the dress.

Whilst Paige is busy with all that, Rebecca is ruminating on a deep and dark secret she’s been keeping for 35 years and having regrets brought on by her diagnosis. She knows that it’s time to come clean but when she does, it’s going to have devastating repercussions for her family. For me, this was a seriously strong part of the book. Both Rebecca’s daughter and her husband react strongly to Rebecca’s news and the fact that she’s kept it a secret for so long and their reactions are ugly and bitter and hurtful and well, real. It’s how I think I’d imagine reacting if I found out my husband or parents had kept something from me like that, because I’m the sort of person that knee-jerk reacts to something and then has to calm down. I found it so sad for Rebecca at times, but I could also understand the intense hurt and frustration from both Hugh and Paige at discovering this news. It’s raw and for me, believable and true. It takes a while for each of them to work through their feelings and you can tell that it is something they do have to really work at. Rather than just being shocked and then being fine with it moments later.

Rebecca and Paige meet Clara and Josie throughout the book (and Clara and Josie also meet through other avenues) and the four of them become incredibly entangled in ways that strengthen them individually and also together as they forge friendships but there’s also a lot of hidden secrets that come tumbling out which also complicates their connections as well as changing and evolving them. I loved some of the reveals in this, they were all so well done and (I have always said this) show how well Rachael Johns excels at writing relationships and interactions between people. She just gets the way that people connect and also how they fall apart. There’s a lot of emotion in this book but it never feels over the top or cheesy, not does it feel contrived. There are several couples in this – two already married, one engaged and one couple are divorced. The couple that are divorced, Clara and Rob, have endured a lot of loss and heartache in their lives and Rob in particular has never quite been able to learn to cope with that or find a successful way to deal with the feelings it evokes in him. He turns to the bottle and when he and Clara eventually divorce (at Clara’s instigation) it seems that Rob continues to spiral downward, clinging to Clara and what they shared (and lost) while Clara just wants to move on. She wants a clean break, a fresh start, the potential for companionship and laughter again. Rob, although he only really appears in the book a couple of times, was very well written. His dependency on alcohol is given background and context and he becomes a truly sympathetic character as the depth of his regret and pain is realised. I feel as though the choice for him was the brave one, but the right one in terms of the story being told and the set up. It seemed the only (unfortunately) logical conclusion and because of that, it would allow the other characters to connect and move forward.

This was beautifully heartwarming and full of emotional depth. There are a few coincidences pinning the story together, not going to lie but they’re easy to just go with because the story is so well written. A good book can make you believe anything and this book had no trouble convincing me.

9/10

Book #177 of 2018

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Review: The Greatest Gift by Rachael Johns

The Greatest Gift
Rachael Johns
Harlequin AUS
2017, 416p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Mother: female parent of a child

Mum: the woman who nurtures, raises and loves a child

Radio host Harper Drummond lives for her career. Every day she meets fascinating people doing extraordinary things, but has begun to wonder whether there could be something more for her out there. She’s financially secure, happily married to Samuel and has a great group of friends – what more could she want? It’s only when she interviews one special couple that she starts to think about whether she could make a different kind of contribution.

Claire and Jasper Lombard are passionate about their thriving hot air balloon business and know they’re lucky to find such joy in their work and in each other. But while Jasper has accepted that he will never be a father, Claire has found it hard to come to terms with her infertility. She doesn’t want Jasper to regret choosing her over a child in the years to come. Is there a way to give themselves a real chance at being a happy family? Can they find someone who will give them the greatest gift? Or will it come at a greater cost?

Where do I even start with this book? There’s a reason why books by Rachael Johns take up one of the largest sections when my books are arranged by author on the shelves!

At first glance, Harper Drummond and Claire Lombard would have little in common or to draw them together. Harper is a focused career woman, 34 and living and working in Sydney. She works as a radio host, interviewing a wide variety of people – famous people but also interesting people. She does a lot of research and clearly loves her job. She’s married to Samuel, a lawyer who works long hours with the aim of obtaining partnership at his firm. Very early on in their relationship, Samuel and Harper agreed that they never wanted children. They were very happy having a life where they were free to work long hours, socialise and not have much in the way of commitments. They’re even too busy for pets, so there’s no way they’d be able to fit a baby into their lives.

Claire on the other hand, has always wanted to be a mother but a childhood illness stole her fertility. Now she knows that in order to live her dream, she’ll need a very precious gift from someone. But in Australia those gifts are hard to find – egg donation and surrogacy for profit are illegal in Australia and anything done must be altruistic. Claire wants to carry and nurture a baby so surrogacy isn’t the best option for her. Instead she needs someone who might be willing to donate a piece of themselves to her so that she might live out her dream of becoming a mother. Harper is struggling with finding a way of leaving her mark, of doing something to make a difference and so these two women are brought together by a desire to change something.

This book is made to be discussed. It would be such a fabulous option for book clubs or groups of friends. There’s just so much in here that is perfect for a bit of spirited debate. I find egg donation and altruistic surrogacy really interesting because I once offered to be a surrogate mother for a friend of mine and I truly believe I would’ve done it, had circumstances played out in a way that would have allowed it. There’s a lot to unpick about the legal rights and what happens if one person suddenly wants to play more of a role than was previously agreed or circumstances change drastically in the case of the people accepting the donation. Rachael Johns really goes about this book meticulously but also with warmth and sympathy towards all the parties involved. When I was reading this I would find myself frequently pausing just to stop and think about things that the book was throwing up – what would I do in that situation? What would my husband think/say/do if I wanted to do something that was happening? How would we go about it? I found it so interesting on so many levels but this book will also tug at your heartstrings. There’s a lot of emotion in the story, all brilliantly told without feeling overly dramatic. This book is a reminder that life can be cruel but also deliver the greatest joy.

I feel as though I say this in every review of a Johns book but with each new novel she really does grow as a storyteller and writer. As she moves more into the women’s fic/life lit genre she is really tackling some powerful issues and examining different parts of society and life experiences. This book is beautifully written, a page turner from the get go but for me it was just definitely the way the book made me think about my own beliefs and the ability I had to so easily put myself in the characters shoes that really made it such a good reading experience.  I love a book that can really make me consider my thoughts and opinions on various topics and ones that spark a good conversation. This is a fantastic read – definitely a must for Rachael Johns’ fans and if you haven’t tried her books yet then this one would be an excellent place to start.

9/10

Book #175 of 2017

The Greatest Gift is the 53rd book read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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Review: Talk Of The Town by Rachael Johns

Talk Of The Town
Rachael Johns
Harlequin MIRA AUS
2017, 399
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Lawson Cooper-Jones has two priorities in life – his son, Ned, and the survival of the dairy farm that has been in his family for generations. Despite the best efforts of the town matchmakers and the determined pursuit of local girl Adeline Walsh, Lawson’s heart belongs still, and only, to his late wife.

But when a flat tyre strands Lawson and Ned in nearby Rose Hill, he’s surprised to find a woman living alone in the old general store of the deserted town. Ned immediately forms a bond with the beautiful stranger called Meg, and Lawson is surprised to find himself captivated by her too.

Although shy at first, Meg starts to open up to him about the haunting secrets of her new home and, with Lawson unable to get her out of his head, they agree to investigate the history of the old building together. Soon they find their friendship has bloomed into something more.

But when meddling Adeline makes it her mission to uncover the truth about the newcomer and her real identity is revealed, Lawson and Meg’s budding romance comes crashing down. Can they both learn to forgive in order to claim a future for their damaged hearts?

Rural romance is such a palate cleanser for me. I’ve had a few books I didn’t really click with lately but I know when I pick up one of Rachael Johns’ books that that particular problem won’t be an issue.

Meg is a woman with secrets – from the beginning it’s obvious that she’s fleeing Melbourne due to some negative attention from the press and as a result she’s picked a very secluded place, a town that pretty much isn’t one anymore and only has two real residents. Even the thought of doing things like groceries and seeing other people gives Meg anxiety and she fears being recognised.

When a flat tyre brings dairy farmer Lawson Cooper-Jones and his young son Ned to her door, Meg doesn’t want to interact however she’s kind of forced to. Ned immediately takes a liking to her and there’s a flicker between Lawson and Meg too. If Meg could put her past behind her, she might find a way to carve a new life for herself.

What I loved about this book was having a heroine who had made some real mistakes in her past. Meg has definitely been through some troubled times and made some bad choices as well. Her story unfolds in a way that I did not expect but I thought it gave her really believable motivation for wanting to be in such an isolated location and attempt to put her life back together.

Lawson is a single father who also runs a dairy farm and this book takes time to examine the issues facing farmers as well. It’s something that’s been quite front and centre in political and social headlines around the country. I also liked the glimpse into the workings of the farm as Lawson shows Meg around when their friendship develops. The two of them have a nice, easy chemistry and Lawson’s relaxed nature is perfect for putting Meg at ease and making her feel comfortable. Ned really takes to Meg and the two develop quite a rapport. Lawson’s widowed status is handled with gentle care as well, highlighting a believable kaleidoscope of emotions as he readies himself to move in and have feelings for a woman who is not his late wife.

What would a romance be without some conflict and the way in which this one develops is a real strength of the book. Meg has her secrets – she’s unprepared for the swiftness of her feelings for Lawson and misses several opportunities to confide in him about her past. These things have a way of coming out though and the parallel between Meg’s past and Lawson’s tragedy is a really clever piece of writing and I thought the way it played out worked very well. Meg has both reasons to tell Lawson and yet reasons not to and Lawson also inadvertently kept things from her too that made things all the more complicated when everything was laid bare. It’s not all about the romance though and some of the other relationships in this book are developed with care and sensitivity – in particular the friendship between Meg and her neighbour Archie who bond over shared experiences and regrets. Meg might’ve been seeking solitude when she originally arrived but she nurtures friendships in several directions, perhaps craving a return to a “normal” life, one where she doesn’t need to fear people knowing her past. Or knowing it and not judging her for it, understanding the circumstances that led her there and the fact that she’s changed now.

If she chooses, I get the feeling Rachael Johns could return to this setting she has created multiple times, the way she did with the Outback books. Already it seemed some small seeds were planted for a story involving Lawson’s sister. It’s definitely the sort of place that I believe a reader would be happy to return to – I know I definitely would!

8/10

Book #79 of 2017

Talk Of The Town is book #26 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

 

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Review: Pregnant By Mr Wrong by Rachael Johns

pregnant-by-mr-wrongPregnant By Mr Wrong (The McKinnels Of Jewell Rock #2)
Rachael Johns
Harlequin Special Edition
2017, 217p
Copy courtesy of the author

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Dear Aunt Bossy,

It’s no secret that my world turned upside down when I learned an impulsive night of passion left me pregnant. And the dad? He’s the devil-may-care brother of my former fiancé. He’s a heartbreaker of a man who swept me off my feet—again—before he learned I was in the family way. But our romantic reunion might not have been as unplanned as I thought.

Aunt Bossy, I don’t want a man who’s with me just because he feels it’s his duty. I want him to be as smitten with me as he is with the idea of becoming a father. As head over heels with me as I am with him…

I have to admit, I don’t often read Mills & Boon novels now. But for a long time, they were my staple – my Nan was a subscriber and from the time I was about 10 or so, she passed a few of the less risque ones onto me to read because I was growing bored of books for kids my age. I also occasionally snuck a few of the racier ones when no one was looking. My mother is a reader but a slow one and the books my Nan passed onto her used to pile up. She never noticed when there were 1 or 2 missing! From the time I was about 13 or 14, my grandmother cut out the middle man and just passed them all onto me and I read them before passing them onto my mother. There was 6 or so a month, plus the occasional special pack but after about 4-5 years, I did begin to lose interest. As everyone knows each category is written very much to a specific formula and when you read a lot of them, they can begin to feel a bit samey. My Nan used to subscribe to the “sexy” line, so bossy heroes (not as bossy as Presents though, I don’t think) and most had a sex scene. There were also “sweet” ones that turned up occasionally which didn’t contain any down and dirty. I think if I’d mixed up the categories a bit more, I’d probably have read them longer.

But they’re a good palate cleanser, they’re quick and you know what you’re going to get when you pick one up. I read the first book in this series, which was titled A Dog and A Diamond in Australia (but I think is titled It’s Not You, It’s Her elsewhere) which introduced us to the large, whiskey-making McKinnel family. The main character in this book Bailey was featured quite significantly in the first book and there was clearly a little something something between her and Quinn McKinnel. That something something becomes quite complicated when Bailey discovers that she’s pregnant to Quinn….who does just happen to be the brother of her former fiance.

Quinn is the sort of guy who doesn’t really do commitment and so Bailey doesn’t exactly rush to tell him that she’s pregnant right away. She needs time to process it, to think it through and wonder if Quinn is going to be the sort of man that she can count on. Quinn in turn is somewhat offended that she didn’t tell him right away, despite readily admitting that he’s generally not the sort of guy one can count on for the long term. He is definitely excited to be a father though and pledges to be very supportive. The chemistry between the two is also off the charts and so it makes sense to try and have a proper go of it.

I liked Bailey – I remembered her story from the first novel quite well although I was rather surprised with what had happened between her and Quinn but it was understandable in a way. She felt very neglected and like she didn’t exist and that can be a very demoralising thing. Despite her rash action with Quinn, she’s still very calm and level headed, the sort of woman who probably has a plan for everything. She’s an events manager/coordinator in her job and therefore definitely has that organisation thing down pat and you could tell she’d have adapted well to being a single mother, if it had to be that way. Quinn however, definitely dives in headfirst and he’s bombarding Bailey with all these things but he doesn’t seem to realise for quite a while that she wants more than just someone to co-parent with. She wants a loving relationship as well but Quinn is still holding onto a lot of baggage from his childhood that really doesn’t seem to allow him to want that for himself. Or to even see it as a possibility for himself.

I enjoyed this – it was a quick and very fun read. Quinn did have some tosspot moments but I really liked the way in which he came to his realisation about his feelings and the quite dramatic way that he declared himself. He and Bailey make a good couple and bring out a lot of positive things in each other. I’m pretty intrigued about several other McKinnel family members as well, they are a big family who have a lot of affection for each other and come together a lot, so you get a chance to get to know them as well.

7/10

Book #37 of 2017

aww2017-badge

Pregnant By Mr Wrong is book #11 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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Review: The Art Of Keeping Secrets by Rachael Johns

art-of-keeping-secretsThe Art Of Keeping Secrets
Rachael Johns
Harlequin MIRA AUS
2016, 464p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Little secrets grow up to be big lies…

They’ve been best friends since their sons started high school together, and Felicity, Emma and Neve share everything … or so they thought.

But Flick’s seemingly perfect marriage hides a shocking secret which, with one word, threatens to destroy her and her family’s happiness. Emma is in denial about a potential custody battle, her financial constraints, the exhaustion she can’t seem to shake off and the inappropriate feelings she has for her boss. And single mum Neve is harbouring a secret of her own; a secret that might forever damage her close-knit relationship with her son.

When the tight hold they have each kept on their secrets for years begins to slip, they must face the truth. Even if that truth has the power to hurt the ones they love, and each other.

Perhaps some secrets weren’t made to be kept.

Popular rural romance author Rachael Johns takes a couple more very brave steps outside of her familiar comfort zone with her second ‘life lit’ offering, The Art of Keeping Secrets. Focusing on a trio of women brought together by their sons starting a prestigious high school together some 5-6 years ago, Flick, Emma and Neve have developed a tight knit friendship where they probably thought they knew all of each others secrets. But as their sons get ready to graduate, each woman faces the possibility of secrets that they’ve kept from each other and perhaps even themselves coming out and their lives as they know it drastically changing.

Flick has two children, a daughter about to be married and the son about to graduate. Both Emma and Neve are single mothers – Emma for only a short amount of time and Neve has raised her son entirely on her own. Both are envious of Flick’s seemingly perfect marriage to the wonderful Seb but if only they knew….. Although Seb is a fantastic husband and father, their marriage hides a secret that Flick has been prepared to cope with for the past twenty years. When she discovers (is blindsided) by the fact that Seb wants to take this secret much further, Flick is thrown savagely into a cesspit of horror, uncertainty and confusion. She knows she needs to make a decision about what she wants to do with her marriage and it’s not going to be easy. She fluctuates, because she loves Seb but she’s not sure she can get on board with what he needs to do. Flick’s through processes are brutally honest in the book – it’s confronting and ugly and uncomfortable but quite realistic as well. She has had her status quo rocked and her mind goes to some pretty dark places, even if it’s only briefly.

Neve’s son has expressed a desire to meet his father, who has never been in his life. Although Neve expected this day to come at some stage, for Neve it means admitting to her son that she lied to him. The two of them have always been close as it’s been just the two of them and Neve fears that what she has to confess will destroy their relationship, perhaps irreparably. Not only does Neve have to confess something to her son but she also needs to track down the former love of her life and admit something to him too, the thought of which makes her feel ill. Neve’s journey takes her to New York, with Flick and Emma tagging along for moral support and the chance to escape from their own situations.

Emma is now a struggling single mother of three as her former husband left her for a much younger woman and has somehow managed to manipulate the financial situation so that Emma is left without much support. He then lavishes expensive holidays and gifts on their children that Emma cannot compete with, leaving her fearing that the children will eventually prefer to live with their father in his McMansion. She’s also harbouring some crush-type feelings on her lovely, handsome boss that everyone thinks might possibly be gay as well as experiencing some crushing headaches that just don’t seem to go away. Emma is also reevaluating her friendship with Neve after some of Neve’s secrets were spilled and although Neve is trying to make things right, Emma’s situation means that it takes some time for her to be able to to accept that.

These three women are written with such honestly. I had a range of emotions whilst reading this book from cheering for them, wanting them to be my friends to disbelief, irritation and even horror at some of their thoughts and actions. It was impressively real and made their secrets all the more believable because their reactions to theirs and to their friends were so realistic. They had ugly moments, beautiful moments, strong moments, weak moments. All throughout however, that strong friendship was underpinning everything, holding the three of them together both individually and as a group, even when there was some discord. The friendship is written as the core of the book, the secrets are in a way, what serves to strengthen and showcase that friendship as each of them face something in their lives and move through it with the help, support and understanding of their friends. Even though there are some times where things don’t always go smoothly, the three women are always able to move on and be almost better for it. This is why I love Rachael Johns’ books so much, be they her rurals or her women’s/life lit because she captures emotion and human nature so well. I enjoyed the fact that at times I viewed their actions or thoughts negatively because it was brutally honest and reflected the sort of thoughts or reactions I myself might have had in the same situation……they were things that it would be hard to react positively or thoughtfully to straight off the bat and it’s human nature at times to react first and think later. I think we also all harbour those secret thoughts, ones that we might not admit to or be ashamed to admit to but they’re there nonetheless and so I can find them quite understandable given the situations!

This is the sort of book that I think it’s best to set aside a couple of hours/a whole afternoon or evening before you start it because once you do start, it’s hard to find a break in the story to put it down. Don’t start it late at night or you could end up being up all night! It’s not just a compelling story, it’s several compelling stories woven together into one big one. I do have to admit, it did leave me with a few curiosities at the end of the story, things I was pondering over and wondering about. I’m annoyingly addicted to closure though and knowing everything, so sometimes my nosiness backfires on me when it comes to reading!

Incredible writing and a great story. A must for old fans and should definitely attract some new ones.

9/10

Book #175 of 2016

 

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Review: Outback Sisters by Rachael Johns

Outback SistersOutback Sisters (Bunyip Bay #4)
Rachael Johns
Harlequin MIRA AUS
2016, 400p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

A Bunyip Bay novel

Frankie and Simone are sisters and best friends. Could a new man in town drive a wedge between them for the first time ever?

Cafe owner Frankie has been unlucky in love all her life. It’s hard in a small town like Bunyip Bay to meet prospective partners. Her sister, Simone, lost the love of her live years before and is now devoted to raising their two teenage girls, leaving little time for romance. When Frankie is kissed by a handsome stranger who calls her Simone, it’s a case of mistaken identity – but who is this man and how does he know Simone?

Logan Knight is in town to meet up with a woman he has met online. Although raised on a farm with his brother Angus, he has travelled the world as a journalist and is now looking forward to meeting a girl and settling down. The girl in the cafe was an amazing kisser – but not the one he thought he was meeting!

Reclusive farmer Angus wants nothing to do with Logan’s plans for improving the property’s finances and finding a partner – until he meets the sisters at a wedding. Who is attracted to whom? More importantly, can Frankie and Simone sort out their feelings for the two brothers without destroying their very close bond.

This is the fourth novel in Rachael Johns’ highly successful Bunyip Bay series, basically written in response to popular demand from readers who wanted to revisit this small town in Western Australia after the original trilogy concluded. In Outback Sisters we get the double whammy of 2 for the price of 1 with heroines and sisters Simone and Frankie taking centre stage. Both were introduced and featured in the previous novels, with something of each of their stories being told so it was only fitting that they both got to find their own happy ever afters.

Frankie is working in her local cafe when a handsome man strides in and kisses her senseless – quite enjoyable, very enjoyable in fact until she realises that he thought she was her sister Simone. Disappointed, Frankie directs him on how to find Simone, who has been set up by her teenage daughters in what is a pretty funny (but not really for poor Simone) sort of situation. Luckily the handsome stranger, named Logan, is not a serial killer and is just as nice as he is good looking.

Simone and Frankie are about as close as two siblings can be but the arrival of Logan Knight definitely complicates their relationship a lot. Things get even more complicated when Logan and Simone decide to get Logan’s grumpy brother Angus to accompany Frankie to a wedding. The sparks are flying – but they’re not really the sparks you’d be expecting!

The two sisters are remarkably real and I really enjoyed the ups and downs their relationship goes through in this novel as they negotiate some really difficult times and heightened emotions. Simone has been a single mother for a long time and Frankie has always been there to help her (and keep her and the kids fed!). Not having a sister, I really love reading about the intricacies of this sort of relationship and this one definitely explores the connection they have but establishes them very firmly as individuals.

Both Logan and Angus have experienced a lot of loss and family tragedy. Logan has managed to maintain a very positive outlook on life but Angus has his “grumpy” moments, working the family farm and not often getting out and about. Logan’s job as a journalist takes him away from the farm on a regular basis but Angus’ life has become very insular and although he’s often portrayed as being gruff and brusque, there are times when he really connects with some of the characters, even Simone’s very difficult teenage daughter. I found that I really warmed to Angus – the reader hears about him before we meet him and you are prepared for him to be antisocial and grumpy and he’s the sort of character that really grows on you as you discover his hidden depths.

One of the best things about a series, is that feeling of ‘coming home’ with each new installment and this book definitely gives that feeling. Due to a special occasion taking place there’s a whole cast of characters that we’ve previously read about showing up and popping in and out of the narrative and it makes you feel like you kind of belong in this town, like they could all be your friends too. The Bunyip Bay books have always been like this for me – Rachael Johns has created the most amazing small town and filled it with wonderful characters and this book was heaven for people who love a glimpse of past characters and what they’re up to now which satisfies the need to know more in me.

Outback Sisters is another gem, definitely one for the keeper shelf!

9/10

Book #29 of 2016

AWWC2016

Outback Sisters is the 16th book of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016

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Review: The Patterson Girls by Rachael Johns

Patterson GirlsThe Patterson Girls
Rachael Johns
Harlequin MIRA Aus
2015, 496p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {courtesy of the publisher/Goodreads.com}

How can four sisters build the futures they so desperately want, when the past is reaching out to claim them?

When the Patterson daughters return home to Meadow Brook to be with their father after their mother’s death, they bring with them a world of complication and trouble.

The eldest sister, obstetrician Madeleine, would rather be anywhere but her hometown, violinist Abigail has fled from her stellar career, while teacher Lucinda is struggling to have the children she and her husband so desperately want. The black sheep of the family, Charlie, feels her life as a barista and exercise instructor doesn’t measure up to that of her gifted and successful sisters.

Dealing with their bereft father who is determined to sell the family motel, their loves old and new and a series of troublesome decisions doesn’t make life any easier, but when they go through their mother’s possessions and uncover the shocking secret of an old family curse, they begin to question everything they thought they knew.

A warm and wise novel about secrets revealed, finding your soulmate and the unique bond between sisters.

It’s always a little scary when a favourite author tries something new. Their previous books are familiar, you always know what you’re going to get and it’s going to be good! There’s always a little nervous anticipation diving in when a writer deviates from their previous work, but it’s an excited anticipation. It’s the unknown and if you’re lucky, it will be just as fabulous but in a different way.

With The Patterson Girls, Rachael Johns moves from rural romance to the broader women’s/contemporary fic genre and neatly ties in the stories of four sisters, all returning to spend their first Christmas at home with their recently widowed father. Their mother died unexpectedly and her absence is felt keenly by each of the Patterson daughters, as well as her husband. Two of the daughters, obstetrician Madeleine and violinist Abby now live overseas. The two other daughters, teacher Lucinda and yoga teacher Charlie also live interstate so it’s not often that they all return together to their family home.

I don’t have a sister and sometimes I lament that but sometimes I’m actually rather glad of it. I have a brother and we have a wonderful relationship, I couldn’t ask for a closer sibling. But I do enjoy reading about sisters, perhaps because for me, it’s the unknown, the different relationship that I’ve never experienced. I have sisters-in-law, and get on rather well with one of them but it’s not quite the same. I think the sister dynamic can be difficult to get right because four, very different grown up women are going to interact in many and varied ways. They will love each other and they will at times, hate each other too, or at least fight. In this novel, each of the sisters is a fully fleshed out personality with attributes and faults and their personalities do often clash in believable and yet also silly ways – just as people who have known each other all their lives would.

Each of the sisters has an issue in their personal life and after the Christmas holiday is over all four of them once again find themselves back at home. Each of the girls’ stories are incredibly interesting and I found that I had little trouble relating to almost all of the sisters at one point or another in the story. I understood Lucinda’s longing for a child and her frustration at her mother-in-law’s attitude. I also understood how her longing could become an obsession driving a wedge between her and her husband Joe. Charlie was a favourite character of mine and her story is an absolute page turner! I don’t want to say too much about it for fear of spoiling anything but the twist in the story that involves Charlie is amazing and very well orchestrated. It’s an emotional rollercoaster – for both the characters and the reader!

To be honest I’m not really one for believing in curses or anything like that so I did wonder how I would go with that part of the story but I think it’s presented in a way that you can understand why the sister’s would begin to really start to question it, especially Lucinda who is searching for an answer, any answer to a question. I found myself quite enjoying the revelation about the curse and how it played out. There was something about the way it was written and something about the way the girls slowly came to question whether or not it was just rubbish or if there could really be something to it and it might explain a few things that they have begun to question and worry over. Each of them react to the news about the curse, some of them do things that are quite out of character and some of these things (probably most of these things) end up getting them into problematic situations. It’s how these situations get resolved that make for wonderful reading as each of the sisters put their lives back together, take on new challenges and head in different directions from the ‘before’ time, when their mother was still alive. Even their father begins to embrace change and the chance to live again.

I really enjoyed The Patterson Girls and I’m sure it’ll bring Rachael Johns new admirers. For her old fans, there are times when she hasn’t strayed too far from the familiar – Charlie and Mitch’s story could’ve probably made a full length rural! But there are more intricate layers here and more main characters are handled expertly with none losing out in depth and time in the limelight. Luckily for me, The Patterson Girls is just as fabulous as Johns’ other books, just in a different way!

9/10

Book #142 of 2015

aww-badge-2015The Patterson Girls is book #56 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015

 

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Review: The Road To Hope by Rachael Johns

Road To HopeThe Road To Hope
Rachael Johns
Harlequin MIRA AUS
2015, 352p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Nurse Lauren Simpson has just watched the man she loves marry someone else. She’d wanted Flynn ever since high school but after the arrival of Ellie she never stood a chance – not then and not when Ellie came back to Hope Junction. Now Lauren has decided that she’s tired of being notorious around town for all the wrong reasons. She grew up in Hope Junction and then came back after university and has worked at the local hospital ever since. It’s time to move on.

But just as she’s ready to do so it seems that fate throws the perfect man onto her doorstep – literally. Dr Tom Lewis is a locum filling in for a local doctor who has gone on a holiday. Friends with Lauren’s older bother who is overseas, Tom was told he could stay with Lauren in the family home. But Lauren’s brother forgot to inform Lauren she’d be getting a new housemate until Lauren came home and found Tom making himself comfortable.

The attraction is immediate but Lauren is turning over a new leaf. No more sleeping with the wrong men. From now on she’s looking for the one, the one that loves and cherishes her as much as she’s seen that Flynn loves and cherishes Ellie. Lauren might want to jump into bed with the hot new doctor and the whole town might think she has already done so but she’s holding out. This time she wants a future. But Tom is dealing with a secret, something that makes him utterly convinced a long term relationship isn’t for him. He’s here in Hope Junction for a good time, not a long time as he’ll be moving on soon. He has a lot of chemistry with Lauren and he’d love to take things a step further but ultimately, Tom is convinced he cannot give her what she wants…..even though Lauren is pretty sure that he could, if only he’d just let himself and believe in her as well as the future they could have.

In her latest release, Rachael Johns takes readers back to Hope Junction, the setting for her first novel Jilted. Many will remember Lauren as the woman Flynn tried to use as a bit of a distraction really, when his teenage love Ellie returned after jilting him at the altar and leaving 10 years previous. In some ways Lauren was the antagonist but she was almost more a victim really, because although she had feelings for Flynn, he didn’t really return them and was really only attempting a relationship with Lauren to avoid the feelings he still had for Ellie. If anything I more felt sorry for Lauren than disliked her and it appears I’m not the only one because there were plenty of requests for Lauren to receive her happy ever after as well.

The book opens with Lauren as a guest at Flynn and Ellie’s wedding, watching the man she has always wanted marry someone else. She’s feeling more than a little sorry for herself and it’s sort of the catalyst for her to decide that it’s time for her to leave town. Lauren had a bit of a reputation in the way that can happen in small towns and Johns takes time to establish her background and childhood and how so much of Lauren’s worth was tied up in her looks and her attractiveness to the opposite sex. I think both that and her devotion to her job really establish Lauren as a character, especially what goes on beneath the rather brittle exterior she tends to project. I really enjoyed seeing Lauren in her professional environment and her dedication to her patients. It was quite clear that many of them were more than that to her, as her weekly manicures with the elderly hospital/nursing home residents proved. In some ways Lauren seemed to lack for female company. Her best friend Whitney is a newlywed and also fully focused on attempting to conceive. Whitney also wants her to make an effort to befriend Ellie, which isn’t very easy for Lauren although she does attempt to do her best. The arrival of Tom and her attraction to him definitely helps with her feelings for Flynn and give her a way to move on but it’s still awkward for her.

I loved Tom. A hot, surfing doctor who takes the time to get to know his patients and plays monopoly with the elderly residents – what’s not to love there? Tom has jacked in a permanent job in Adelaide, where his family are and is travelling Australia, taking casual positions here and there so he can see as much as the country and experience as much as he can. His family has been rocked by some tragic news, something that affects Tom perhaps a bit more than the rest and I think I could understand his motivation in distancing himself from his family and hitting the road. He has something potentially hanging over him and he wants to live as much of his life as he can in a short amount of time. However there was definitely the feeling that he was also cutting himself off from experiences (and potential experiences) too, just not a possible relationship with Lauren. They both were very attracted to each other but Lauren wanted to feel like it could go somewhere, like they had a future. Tom, in trying to protect Lauren (and perhaps himself) was closing himself off from a huge part of life and he definitely needed to be shown that he could enjoy life and share it with someone as well, regardless of what may happen in the future.

I’m a fan of the slow-burn romance, the couple that takes time to get to know each other and I think this one is a great example of that. Because of Lauren’s turning over a new leaf, she refuses to jump into bed with Tom (although she wants to!) and because of that they do friends first. They watch movies, they talk, they learn things about each other. And even though there are still some secrets, it’s obvious that they do come to trust each other with a lot of personal information. I think Lauren probably wasn’t going to be an easy character to tackle but she was made someone the reader could identify with and even sympathise with as she struggled to find her place and happiness.

9/10

Book #41 of 2015

aww-badge-2015

The Road To Hope is book #16 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015

 

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