All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Within Reach – Sarah Mayberry

Within Reach
Sarah Mayberry
Harlequin
2012, 288p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Angie Bartlett had a special friendship with Billie. They’d been best friends for twenty years, ever since they were at boarding school together. They’d been through a lot together but their lives had gone in very different directions. Billie had married Michael and had two beautiful children. She was a bit of a free spirit, a celebrator of birthdays, a lover of trying new hobbies even though nothing ever stuck. Angie was still single at thirty-two, passionately dedicated to her career as a jeweler, creating beautiful, original pieces. She’s always been a part of Billie’s children’s lives and has gotten on well with her husband Michael.

Then tragically, Billie loses her life on what should have been her thirty-second birthday. Angie is deep in her grief, 10 months passing without the pain easing. She realises, on a routine visit to Michael and the kids that Michael is not coping with the loss of his wife and that things in their household have descended into a bit of chaos. Angie is desperate to help, she knows that Billie would hate to see Michael and her children this way and she does her best to step in, motivate Michael to get back to work and get out of the house and begins also watching the children for him when she can in order to help with stability in their lives.

Angie is then stunned when she suddenly begins to see her best friend’s husband as a man. An attractive man in his own right and she can’t stop noticing and she’s horrified. The betrayal is sharp and she tries to distance herself before realising that she just can’t. Extricating herself from this situation would probably be for the best but she cares too much for the children, who need her and also too much for Michael himself. Even though this can go no where, she cannot walk away.

Michael doesn’t know what he’d do without Angie. He’s been lost, adrift since Billie’s death and he realises that without her, life would’ve been very bleak for him and his children. Angie has always been around but he’s never noticed her as anything more than his wife’s best friend, but now that his wife has been removed from the equation, he’s beginning to see Angie in a different light. She’s beautiful, single and she’s right there in front of him. Michael doesn’t want anyone else, doesn’t want to ever love anyone, his memory of Billie is too precious to taint that way but he also can’t deny his growing attraction to Angie.

Michael and Angie are both caught in a difficult place…. it’s betrayal to a fallen loved one versus the desire and possibility of a beautiful happiness.

Within Reach is Australian romance author Sarah Mayberry’s newest release. I discovered Mayberry’s work just a little while ago thanks to Marg over at Adventures of an Intrepid Reader when she read both Hot Island Nights and Her Best Worst Mistake. I highly enjoyed both of those novels, especially the latter and when I saw this one on NetGalley, I had to grab it.

I think it’s a difficult plot to handle sensitively, a blossoming romance between someone and the husband of their late best friend. I think Mayberry successfully delivers in many aspects here – the establishment of a genuine, lovely friendship between Billie and Angie, despite the fact that Billie is not a presence in this book very long before her death. She also showcases Billie and Michael’s marriage, although through Michael’s eyes retrospectively so the portrayal may be a little idyllic however it’s clear to the reader that Angie and Billie were very close and also that Billie and Michael were exceptionally happy with their lot in life. Likewise, their grief after she is gone is excellent – believable, heart wrenching but not overdone. A ‘suitable’ distance of time also passes (although mileage may vary on what is suitable for the individual reader) before Mayberry throws Michael and Angie back together in a permanent way: they come to a mutual arrangement that allows Angie to work out of Michael’s property and in exchange she can also be around to mind the children occasionally so that Michael can return to work, at least part time.

The attraction that develops between them is slow enough so not to alarm but at times I still found it a bit difficult to negotiate. I can well understand both parties’ feelings of guilt, self-loathing and the fact that they are betraying Billie. She was very precious to both of them, in different ways and even though she’s gone and not coming back it would be very hard to renegotiate boundaries that had been in place for years. The attraction is not something either of them want and Michael in particular is slower to the party and more reluctant but once he does acknowledge it, he’s also the one that acts on it aggressively. I also found Michael’s coming to grips with his feelings at the conclusion of the novel a bit quick for believability, given how much he struggled throughout the rest of the book.

Within Reach is beautifully written, a lovely contemporary romance encompassing friendship, love, grief and the ability to let go and move on. However for me personally, it was a pairing I found difficult to get behind. I couldn’t really relate to either of them and because of the fact they were connected through Billie, I did find it awkward to see them go to being lovers. But there are plenty of readers out there who won’t have issue with this or may even embrace it.

7/10

Book #145 of 2012

Within Reach is the 50th novel I have read and reviewed for the Australian Women Writers Challenge, 2012! I’m so thrilled that I have reached this number, it has surpassed all my expectations when I originally decided to join up for the challenge.

Within Reach was also read as part of my participation in July’s NetGalley Knockdown.

 

 

 

 

12 Comments »

Her Best Worst Mistake – Sarah Mayberry

Her Best Worst Mistake
Sarah Mayberry
Self published through Small Cow Productions
2012, eBook
Bought for my Kindle

Violet Sutcliffe has never had any time at all for Martin St Clair, who is engaged to her best friend Elizabeth. He’s stuffy, uptight, boring and cares only about networking his way to the top of his prestigious and equally stuffy law firm and presumably towing Elizabeth along for the ride. She’s never made any secret of the fact that she doesn’t like him and she knows that she draws his contempt as well.

Martin thinks that Violet is too loud, too flirtatious, too flashy in her dress and overall just far too much in general. He’s tolerated her purely for Elizabeth’s sake and when Elizabeth calls off their wedding and heads to the other side of the world, Martin and Violet come to the realisation that they need never see each other again. For both of them, this is quite a surprise – they are both a bit…disappointed.

When Violet hears that Martin’s attempt to retrieve Elizabeth from Australia and bring her home as failed, she takes him a peace offering, feeling a bit sorry for him in his loss of Elizabeth. After all, she was the one thing that was special to both of them, so she finds herself suddenly sympathetic to him. Martin doesn’t want her pity though – it’s soon quite obvious that he wants something else entirely, the back-and-forth insulting banter sparking a rather explosive sexual attraction.

Before long, Martin and Violet are seeing each other every day. It started off as a crazy, wrong one night stand but neither of them could forget it and the next time they saw each other, at the home of mutual friends, both of them almost buckled under the weight of the sexual tension. Despite the fact that Violet feels as though this is something she’s been waiting her whole life for, the very thing she was urging Elizabeth to get out there and find, she’s crippled by guilt. Because although her best friend may be on the other side of the world, she’s everywhere as well, in Violet’s thoughts. Violet can’t believe she keeps betraying Elizabeth like this, but she can’t resist Martin.

As things escalate with Martin, from them just meeting up for sex to spending nights together with him cooking for her, Violet can’t help but swing between depression and elation. Even though she and Martin are chalk and cheese, somehow their opposites attract has sparked the best thing that’s ever happened to her in regards to men. But the other best thing that’s ever happened to her, her friendship with Elizabeth, looms in the background. Violet knows that she’s going to have to confess and she’s terrified that it could mean losing Elizabeth, just like she’s lost everyone else.

As soon as I saw Marg add this to her Goodreads, I knew I wanted to read it. It sounded so fun because there’s something about an uptight, very conservative guy who ends up being bewitched by an overconfident and sassy woman. Marg suggested I read Hot Island Nights first and I did and enjoyed it but ultimately, I was looking forward to this one and it wasn’t a disappointment.

The books basically run parallel, they begin at roughly the same point and continue on, the only difference being that this one takes things a little further past the end of Hot Island Nights. So while Elizabeth is meeting Nathan and hooking up with him in Australia, in this one we get to see what’s been happening with Martin back in England. Despite the fact that Elizabeth ended their engagement, called off the wedding and ran off to Australia, it seems that Martin and Violet cannot stay away from each other, even though they really shouldn’t have had any more contact. Previously when they’d been in the same room, they’d been unable to help themselves issuing little barbs about the other. Martin has worked himself up from a very poor background into privileged society, graduating with a law degree and gaining a job at a well reputed firm. Violet on the other hand, was born into privilege but now shuns it for reasons of her own. She dresses provocatively, she says what she thinks and she had all the benefits he didn’t and turned her back on them.

Somewhere along the way their fiery contempt and condescending disdain turned into an attraction, promoting panic in Violet because of the fact that she believes she’s done Elizabeth a terrible wrong. Even though nothing happened until after Martin arrived back from Australia, trying to get Elizabeth to come home, Violet is still wracked with guilt. Martin was once Elizabeth’s and Violet thinks that once Elizabeth finds out, she’ll cut Violet out of her life. So she doesn’t tell her, sitting quietly on it every time she speaks to Elizabeth, even as she’s falling in love with Martin and realising that this could be so much more than just an affair, it could be the one relationship that is meant to be.

I loved Violet and I loved Martin. I thought they were so perfect together and I really enjoyed their transition from disliking each other to finding themselves within the perfect relationship. Violet is fun and full of sass and confidence and Martin, whilst conservative and ambitious, and yes, a fraction uptight, is still wonderfully complex. They’re both much more than they first appear and they were just so incredibly compatible. It was funny and kind of heart-warming to see them learn important things about the other that help redefine their opinions and preconceptions of each other. The natural way in which they slide from purely sexual ‘hook-ups’ into an actual relationship is so smooth and well written that like the characters themselves, you almost don’t notice.

It’s possible that a woman hooking up with her best friend’s ex-fiance might’ve bothered me in certain scenarios but not this one. Martin and Elizabeth are so totally wrong for each other and perhaps the fact that I read Hot Island Nights first and know that not only is it Elizabeth that ends things, but that she also finds her own much more suitable happy ever after, helped smooth the way. I did really like and sympathise with Violet’s dilemma about her friendship with Elizabeth, which was one of the most important things in the world to her, but ultimately her budding relationship with Martin was becoming just that too. I think that Violet and Elizabeth had a truly lovely and unique friendship and that ultimately, whilst Violet’s fears were not unfounded, her past coloured the way in which she expected Elizabeth to react in a big way.

Interesting that Sarah Mayberry chose to self publish this one – she has plenty of novels under her belt, close to 30 I think, published in various Harlequin lines. I think it was an experiment of sorts as she originally thought that Martin and Violet’s story would only really be the size of a novella, (from her blog post here) but it ended up being about the size of a book. You can buy it from Amazon and Smashwords (you’ll need to have your filter for adult content disabled) and for $2.99 I think it’s easily well worth it! I can highly recommend this one as a fun, spicy read with really well thought out and written characters.

8/10

Book #90 of 2012

Her Best Worst Mistake is the 33rd novel read and reviewed for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2012

9 Comments »

Hot Island Nights – Sarah Mayberry

Hot Island Nights
Sarah Mayberry
Harlequin Blaze
2010, eBook
Copy courtesy of Marg

Elizabeth has always done what people have expected of her. She lost her parents at a young age and was taken in by her grandparents. To repay them for their generosity, she changes her degree to suit them, joins the committees her grandmother nominates her for and even dates the young man they push her towards, agreeing to marry him.

Her world is blown apart when, weeks before the wedding, Elizabeth sees a copy of her birth certificate and realises that the man she believed was her father was not, he was her stepfather, marrying her mother when she was two years old. Devastated that not only have her grandparents kept this information from her, but they’d informed Martin, her fiance and expected him to keep it from her too, Elizabeth finally sees that what she is doing is not making her happy. She calls of the wedding and flees. Maybe if she can find her father, then she can set about finding herself.

Her father’s last known whereabouts were Phillip Island, Australia a tiny dot south east of Melbourne famed for its beaches and penguins and that’s where she goes. She doesn’t find her father, who is off in Sydney preparing to crew a boat for the Sydney to Hobart yacht race, but she does find Nathan Jones. Who is wearing only a towel.

Elizabeth has always lived a very proper life, she’s never really known passion. She knows that she doesn’t love Martin the way she should and that they weren’t really compatible. When she sees Nathan, her proper side, her upbringing of 30 years of doing what other people want, tells her not to worry about him. He’s a bum living in a shack on the beach with no real discernible job. But the other side that’s trying to break out says well, why not? He’s there and he’s very sexy and what does she have to lose?

As she falls headlong into an affair with Nathan, Elizabeth is about to discover that he is more than just a cut body. Nathan is suffering in the aftermath of a severe trauma, something that has caused him to shun his previously successful life and hide away down in Phillip Island drinking and surfing away the pain. The more she learns about him and the more she shares about herself, the more she realises that this isn’t just a fling. It’s very, very real.

I used to read a lot of Harlequin M&B stuff when I was in high school and I probably overdosed. My grandmother had a subscription and she was a prolific reader and passed them all on to me. I had no money, she had books. And when they’re all you read, they can get a bit repetitive. And because of that, I didn’t read any for a very long time. But in the last few years I’ve found that every now and then, one makes a nice change. Especially when it’s a well written one.

I picked up this one because I’d seen Marg’s comment on her review of the companion novel, Her Best Worst Mistake and the premise of that one intrigued me a lot. Marg said I should read this one first, so I did and although you could probably read them in any order without detracting from the story, I’m glad I saved the other one for last.

I vowed to read as widely as I could for the Australian Women Writers Challenge but I hadn’t yet read any Category Romance so this also helps nicely to qualify for a part of the challenge I hadn’t completed yet. I read through this in about two hours whilst my husband watched his team play footy and it was the perfect read for a cold Saturday night.

Elizabeth is a bit typical, an ‘English rose’ with blonde hair, blue eyes and pale skin who comes all the way to Australia to track down a father she’s never met and who might also possibly not even know that she exists. It’s a brave move that is the very beginning of her resolution to find herself and live her life the way she wants to and to stop sacrificing things she wants in order to please other people. She’s very uptight in the beginning, very frosty and Nathan seems to enjoy baiting her and getting a rise out of her but as she settles in to life in Phillip Island she starts to relax and unwind. Her character evolution is quite remarkable as she falls in love with Nathan and comes to realise that she doesn’t need anyone’s approval, not even her real father’s, in order to be happy.

Nathan’s trauma was quite an interesting story line, it’s not often I’ve read too many of these types of books where the male love interest is suffering in such a way. Nathan is suffering dearly and it was hard not to feel sorry for him, so obvious was the depth of his pain. He’d been drowning himself in grog and women so he could sleep without hearing the screams but it isn’t long before he figures out that the thing that soothes him the most, is Elizabeth. The only thing is, Nathan isn’t sure he deserves to be so happy and embrace the life he has left, after what happened. Elizabeth will have to draw upon all her new-found confidence to try and make him see that they both deserve it.

7/10

Book #89 of 2012

Hot Island Nights is the 32nd novel read and reviewed for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2012. It gives me a new setting (Phillip Island) and also a new genre to tick off.

9 Comments »