All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Boundary Fence by Alissa Callen

The Boundary Fence (Woodlea #7)
Alissa Callen
Harlequin MIRA AUS
2020, 358p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Healing doesn’t just take time, it takes courage…

The scars country vet Ella Quinlivan hides are not solely on the outside. Men are off limits. She fills her world with her friends, work and the colourful community of small town Woodlea. She also becomes custodian of a sandstone cottage of an elderly friend whose teenage daughter went missing two decades ago.

With a broken marriage behind him, Saul Armstrong is determined to recapture his dreams by bringing American bison to the Australian bush. He intends to stick to his side of the high wire fence that divides his farm from his distracting new neighbour, Ella.

When Saul calls out Ella for a bison emergency she isn’t just thrown out of her comfort zone by dealing with an unfamiliar animal. Slow-smiling and guarded Saul stirs emotions she’d long ago discarded.

As the summer heat parches the landscape and dust obscures the sun, hidden secrets come to light. Not only will Ella and Saul be tested, the connection forged between them will be threatened. Will love be enough to guarantee their freedom or will fear continue to dictate the direction their lives?

Technically this is book 7 in the Woodlea series but I think it’s the 4th full length book with 3 others being short stories or of novella length. I read the other 3 full length books when I was on holidays visiting family some six months ago and I’ve been waiting for this one to come out. Ella is a character who appears in several (or maybe even all) of the previous books and it’s always been obvious that she had some sort of painful past which has scarred her and made her quite determined to stay single, even with the best efforts of local matchmaker and busybody, Edna.

Ella is the local vet who bought a property belonging to a widow named Violet who has recently entered an aged care facility, somewhere smaller and closer to town. Violet’s daughter Libby disappeared at age sixteen some twenty or so years ago and she’s kept her bedroom exactly the same – and Ella keeps it the same way too. And every night, just like Violet did, she puts the porch light on so that Libby will always be able to find her way home. Ella has made some good friends in the local community – Cressy, Fliss, Neve and their partners. But she has never dated, nor has there been anyone that even tempted her. Until Saul Armstrong.

Saul is Australian but spent a large portion of his life in America riding bulls and whatever else with Denham. Now he’s returned to Australia and has bought the property adjoining Ella’s where he runs American bison. They were paired together at the wedding of their friends and both of them felt….and saw, something in the other. A shared pain, a secret past. For that Ella finds him unnerving and she’s aware that she’s been avoiding her friends so as to avoid Saul. But when he requires her veterinary services, she realises that she cannot continue that way. And the more time they spend together, the more they learn about each other and the deeper the friendship they build up.

I really liked both Ella and Saul. I already liked Ella, I knew less about Saul but I found him to be exactly the sort of man I like reading about in this sort of book. Quiet, dependable, a bit of a hint of a mystery. He’s the tall, strong and silent type but eventually he confides things about himself in Ella and is always willing to listen when she decides to return the favour. As neighbours they end up spending quite a bit of time together away from their shared friendship group – Ella’s occupation, her cheeky little goats, Saul’s dog, they’re all reasons why they end up in each other’s company. Saul is also fond of Violet, his former neighbour as well and when Ella starts looking into Libby’s disappearance a bit more, trying to see if she can find anything that might give Violet some closure, whether she be alive or not, Saul is all too willing to lend a hand and an ear as Ella digs around.

I loved the friendship they built up, how ensconced in each other’s lives they became. How they both turned to the other, whether things were going well or if things had been a bit rough. What is difficult at first becomes suddenly easy – almost too easy as they both realise they are catching feelings for people that have only ever claimed loudly to want to stay single. Their lives fit together so well, they’re both attracted to each other but there’s a lot more than that. They both manage to fulfil something for each other. Ella understands Saul’s passion for his animals, his dedication to his farm and he understands her job, the hours it takes, the demands it can sometimes make. I always enjoy books where the author really takes the time to build a friendship between the two characters, something deep and abiding that you can imagine carrying them through a lot of years. The instant attraction is fun too but I like to read about a couple and think that I know where I see them in the future, knowing that they have not just the hots for each other but a lot of mutual respect, admiration and trust. I definitely got that feeling with Saul and Ella.

I’m not sure if the author has more books planned for this series – there were ways in which this felt quite final for the core little friendship group. Marriages, babies, etc. But there were also characters I felt could possibly get their own story in the future, if there were to be more books and it’s easy to introduce new ones. I’d certainly be happy to read more. I really have enjoyed my experience reading about Woodlea and the people that live there.


Book #10 of 2020


Review: The Round Yard by Alissa Callen

The Round Yard (Woodlea #3)
Alissa Callen
Harlequin AUS
2019, 323p
Read from my Nan’s stash

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

A heartfelt story about finding where you belong. A new Woodlea rural romance by bestselling Australian author Alissa Callen. For only child Neve Fitzpatrick, family is everything. When she loses her mother, she heads to the bush to rent a farmhouse near her grandmother’s family home. To keep herself busy and her grief at bay, she offers to look after two little redheaded cowgirls and adopts a sassy pony and shaggy donkey in need of a refuge.

Drover and horse trainer Tanner Callahan may have just found his mother, but he’s resolved never to let anyone too close. Abandonment has cursed him all his life, and he won’t let it happen again. Only two things unnerve him: children and small-town matchmaking. Then he meets occupational therapist Neve. Warm-hearted and unforgettable, she represents all that Tanner feels will forever remain out of reach.

But when an old iron key unlocks family secrets from the Second World War, Neve needs help only Tanner can give. As the threads of the past unravel, and locusts threaten to suffocate the land, Neve and Tanner must make a choice. Will fear keep them running or is the home each yearns for already within grasp?

Ever since I met Tanner in the first book in this series, I knew he’d make a great character in a book of his own. Thankfully I didn’t have to wait too long and that’s another good thing about being able to read these basically all together!

Tanner’s journey to Woodlea led him back to his birth mother, who had to give him up for adoption when she was young. The two of them have forged a good relationship and continue to get to know each other, as well as Tanner realising that one of the people he’d befriended since moving to Woodlea was now his cousin. He’s found a good tribe but Tanner never lets anyone get too close and he’s learned to avoid the local busybody and matchmaker Edna who has eyes on Tanner for her daughter. Unfortunately for Tanner, he drives a distinctly coloured car and his presence in town is difficult to hide.

Neve has returned to be close to her former family home after a personal loss. She finds herself looking after two young girls who recently lost their mother while their father works and adds to the fun with a pony and donkey, both of whom seem to be escape artists. Tanner is roped in to help contain them and also to help Neve and the girls learn to handle them properly. Tanner is petrified of children, they represent the ultimate commitment and he’s not ever allowed himself to consider that as an option for his future.

One thing I really enjoy about this series is that it’s consistent. The quality of story and the depth of character in each of them are all very much on par and I’ve really liked all of them pretty much the same amount. I read them basically one after the other, which might not suit some people because they might feel a bit ‘samey’ but that’s what I was actually loving about them. They were perfect holiday reads – the right length, feel-good, small community stories but ones that still had a lot of character growth and exploration and the fun of being able to check in on couples from past books, because they all form that friendship group that drives the series.

I love Tanner and I just wanted to spend a large portion of this book telling him everything would be okay and that small children weren’t terrifying and that he’d find his partner in life. Tanner has quite a lot of abandonment issues – he was put up for adoption, his adoptive mother died, his relationship with his adoptive father is somewhat fractured and he had a relationship end badly. Tanner and his father don’t see eye to eye and are completely different. His adoptive father is a city boy, very professional job who doesn’t seem like he’s ever been west of Parramatta. Tanner is at home in the country, it’s where he feels comfortable and it seems that the more remote the better. He often spends large portions of time droving on his own. But he’s also lonely as well – it seems as though Tanner really wants a partner, someone like what Denham and Hewitt have found but he struggles to let go of the fact that it might not work out and he’ll be alone again.

This book did a great job exploring why Tanner feels that way and his relationship with his adoptive father and how that has impacted on the way he lives his life and the way he feels the way he does. When Neve finds something mysterious connected to her grandmother, it gives Tanner a chance to ask his father for help and although the two continue to clash on their differences, it’s also the way for them to go forward and try and find a common ground to work together on. Because sometimes I think Tanner feels as though he’s a disappointment to his adoptive father and that with his adoptive mother gone, there’s nothing to tether them together anymore.

Because I already liked Tanner from the two previous books, I really wanted him to have someone amazing but I think Neve fit the bill perfectly. I really enjoyed her story as well and her quest to find the truth about her grandmother as well as deal with what she had recently been through. Her bond with the two young girls she takes care of is so sweet and I really enjoyed the escapades with the pony and the donkey! Also Reggie and his test makes a return this book too, which adds another element of humour. Even Edna and her desire to marry Bethany off to every cowboy in town takes an unexpected turn.

I hope book 4 gives us Ella’s story. Now I just have to wait for it, which is something I’m not used to with this series.


Book #104 of 2019

The Round Yard is book #48 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019

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Review: The Red Dirt Road by Alissa Callen

The Red Dirt Road (Woodlea #2)
Alissa Callen
Harlequin AUS
2018, 308p
Read from my Nan’s stash

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Dr Fliss Knight returns to small town Woodlea after losing a patient. Her confidence and city career in tatters, she buys a rundown farm. She intends to live a solitary life and hopes that the slow country pace will help her heal.

Pick-up rider Hewitt Sinclair is no stranger to when things can get hairy in a rodeo arena. But when it is the life of his twin brother he can’t save, he hangs up his spurs. Determined to provide for his brother’s widow and young family, he gives himself no time to grieve. But when a motor bike accident proves he needs to also look out for himself, he accepts an old friend’s invitation to stay at an isolated property while his body heals.

When Fliss meets the cowboy living in the bluestone stables across the garden, all her hopes for a quiet and peaceful life fade. Despite his reserve, Hewitt is impossible to ignore. As they work together to care for an abandoned dog and her puppies and to raise money for the local hospital by attending a mountain trail ride and charity ball, they also find themselves drawn to each other.

But as a family secret threatens every truth Fliss has ever believed, and the heavy spring rain continues to fall, both Fliss and Hewitt must face their deepest fears. Will love be enough to guarantee happiness or will the past refuse to relinquish its dark hold?

I picked up the 2nd Woodlea book the day after finishing the first one because I’d enjoyed it so much! Especially once I realised that the second book featured Felicity (Fliss) Knight, Cressy’s sister. After a devastating professional loss that has affected her profoundly, Fliss has left the city behind and returned to the place of her childhood, buying a rundown farm. She had intended to live in the bluestone stable block but instead the homestead spoke to her, so she makes her home there. When Denham and Cressy ask if a friend can stay in the stable block, Fliss is reluctant to disturb her peace and solitude but she can’t say no to someone in need either.

Hewitt has been through a rough time but he’s plowed on, not letting himself stop and grieve the loss of his brother. The accident from the motorbike forces him to be still, to let everything catch up with him. Despite their initial attempts to maintain a discreet distance from each other, Fliss and Hewitt end up crossing paths quite often and getting to know each other, becoming involved in each other’s lives….and each other’s pain. Both of them have things that they need to address and deal with. Fliss has a fear of driving country roads in the wet, which often means that Hewitt will take her places as the weather is quite wet and often the roads and bridges nearby are prone to flooding. Fliss also has her professional loss to deal with and to decide what she wants to do with her future. Hewitt needs to grieve his brother and also address how it makes him feel, the role he feels obliged to take on as well as come to terms with who his brother was.

I loved Fliss and Hewitt together. It’s a slower burn than the first novel obviously, because they didn’t already know each other but they seem to build a rapport quite quickly, and an understanding about each other. There’s a few little hiccups, like when Fliss thinks Hewitt’s niece and nephew are his children but once they know that the other is single, all their ideas of quiet solitude seem to go right out the window.

One other thing that I really enjoyed about this book is the burgeoning friendships of the ‘core group’ that continues to grow and be featured throughout this novel. Cressy and Denham are a good part of this story of course, given that Fliss and Cressy are sisters and also the family secret that Fliss discovers during this time. Also Tanner, the drover they meet in the first novel pops in and out as well. I like Tanner so I was definitely happy to realise that the third book is his story. Also there’s Ella the local vet as well, who I hope will one day be the subject of a book so we can finally learn her backstory, which is merely hinted at sometimes. I even like Edna, the interfering socialite who seems determined to find a rich cowboy with land for her daughter Bethany but in doing so seems to have other ulterior motives as well. I think the community forms a large part of why I have enjoyed these so much because it gives me that series feel but with new people and situations each time. And I get to check in on previous couples and find out who they’re doing. It’s like the best of both words. And the community and local area is so appealing in terms of the people populating it and how they are so supportive of each other and helpful. No one is too busy when someone needs something. Also the animals are great, especially Reggie the bull and the “Reggie test”.

I’m quite sad that there’s only one left in the pile to read!


Book #102 of 2019

The Red Dirt Road is the 47th book of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019


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Review: The Long Paddock by Alissa Callen

The Long Paddock (Woodlea #1)
Alissa Callen
Harlequin AUS
2017, 343p
Read from my Nan’s stash

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

A captivating love story about community and second chances.

Country-girl Cressida Knight fills her days with her farm, a mischievous pet bull called Reggie and her volunteer emergency services work. The busier she keeps, the less she thinks about the cowboy who left her behind. She’s convinced the small-town Woodlea grapevine that she’s moved on, but now it’s time to move on for real. 

Champion bull rider Denham Rigby shares Cressy’s deep love for the land and all he’s ever wanted was to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Cressy through life. But three years ago a dark family secret left him no choice but to run. Now family duty gives him no choice but to return to the bush.

What Denham hasn’t come home to do is to hurt Cressy by rekindling their relationship. He’s nothing but a liability and the beautiful, self-reliant cowgirl has to stay off limits. But when faced with Cressy’s desperation to save her drought-stricken farm, he can’t keep his distance. He joins her out droving on the long paddock. Then when Woodlea is hit by more than just rodeo fever, they are further thrown together and Denham loses the battle to lock down his emotions.

But has he left it too late to stop running? And will the woman he’s always loved be prepared to risk her heart for a second time?

Although I have plenty of books to keep me occupied on my iPad in the iBooks and Kindle apps whilst I’m here on holidays, I don’t really like to do all my reading on a screen. I still enjoy picking up a print book and reading one of those so I turned to my Nan’s books (which she passes onto my mother after reading once) to find something to read. I found a stack of 3 of these and they’re all linked. They looked perfect for the sort of thing I was after.

Neighbours Denham and Cressy were in a relationship years ago but then Denham left to further his career bullriding overseas in America and they haven’t seen each other since. Now Denham has returned to the family farm after the death of his mother which brings him and Cressy back into close proximity. There’s been rumours of a new boyfriend for Cressy but for Denham, she’s only ever been the girl for him. But Denham has a reason he feels they can’t be together and so he must recalibrate his feelings to ‘friendship’ and enjoy socialising with and helping Cressy but go no further.

Cressy’s family farm is in trouble. To make a success of it is all she’s ever wanted. It was her grandfather’s pride and joy and Cressy was always the one by his side, learning the ropes. But when it passed to her father, he made some terrible decisions and the drought is crippling her. She desperately, desperately needs it to rain. Knowing that Cressy is too proud to accept a straight handout, Denham must structure every bit of assistance to her as a ‘deal’ whereby they both benefit.

I ended up adoring this book. Denham and Cressy are both such great, down to earth characters and they have a really interesting dynamic. Things are a bit awkward between them at first – after all they used to be a very loved up couple and then they split up for Denham to go overseas and haven’t really interacted since. They care about each other a lot. Cressy is really concerned about Denham’s feelings after his mother dies and she always wants to make sure that he’s doing okay, that he’s not getting down about different things due to his quite complex family history. And Denham wants to help Cressy with her family farm in any way that he can. They have obviously never really gotten over each other (something Denham acknowledges openly to himself, and that he doesn’t expect to ever get over Cressy) but he also has these demons that he feels prevent him from being with her, from making her truly happy. I found that really interesting and something that is often under-explored in fiction although I think it is becoming a little more prevalent. I appreciated the exploration of Denham’s feelings and the agonising he did over it as well as his own determination to sacrifice his happiness for the sake of thinking Cressy would be better off without him. He feels as though he’s doing the best thing that he can, and I did admire that about him even though it was clear that there were other options for him. He just had to get to a place in his life where he felt that he could accept them as being his future.

I really loved the small community in this book – Cressy’s sister is a voice on the phone pretty often and she turns up late in the book to see her and Denham, as well as the local vet and hairdresser plus they befriend a new drover in town. There’s a steady friendship group being created and I’m excited to get to the rest of the books and see who gets their stories. It makes me glad that I’ve already got the two books here ready to go, it’s the best way to read something like this when you discover it. This is the sort of book that makes me want to live in a rural town (probably just briefly, I’m not really cut out for the lifestyle and I know it but it makes it sound so appealing that I forget that).

Really enjoyable.


Book #101 of 2019

The Long Paddock is the 46th book read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019

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