Monday, 30 September 2013

Aussie Book Review: Playing by the Rules by Imelda Evans

My Rating:              3 / 5
Format:                   eARC courtesy of Penguin Australia and
Publication Date:    16 September 2013
Category:               Adult and Contemporary Romance
ISBN:                      9781743483961
Publisher:               Penguin Australia
Imprint:                   Penguin eBooks

The Blurb

“Kate Adams expected to return home from Paris with a ring on her finger. Instead, her French boyfriend, Alain, breaks up with her right before she leaves for Australia.

Unwilling to show up at her high school reunion desperate and dateless, Kate asks her best friend's brother, handsome Josh Marchant, to pretend to be her fiancé.

Josh has always had a soft spot for his sister's friend and happily takes on the role. And as they spend time together, the lines between fact and fiction blur and they're soon struggling to remember it's all just an act.

But will the arrival of an unexpected visitor shatter the illusion they've created?”

Summary and Thoughts

Kate Adams expected to arrive back home from Paris in time for her high school reunion with a fiancé in tow.  Unfortunately, for the “planning life down to a t” Kate, she now has to embarrassingly attend that reunion alone, after responding that she would be bringing her partner.

Desperate, dateless and utterly shattered that her marriage plans, and therefore her life, have fallen apart, when Jo’s brother Josh arrives on the scene, plans are hastily made for Josh to go along as Kate’s date … and pretend to be her fiancé.

Josh is gorgeous.  Having just flown in from the USA where he has been working, he’s eager to spend some time with Kate as, unbeknownst to her, he’s always had a soft spot for his sister’s best friend.

Kate soon realises that she couldn’t have asked for a better partner to attend the reunion with her.  He is attentive, funny and shares all kinds of memories from their teenage years with their former peers.  And their first kiss … it’s earth shattering.

However their new found friendship appears about to blow up in their faces when they can’t keep their lips off one another and rather embarrassingly get caught in the lift, after which she remembers that she was meant to tell her mother about the surprise that she had for her.

When Kate’s ex-fiancé arrives in Australia and Josh makes some startling revelations and an unexpected proposal, we see Kate floundering and can only hope that she will realise that not even she can plan love. 

I first met Kate Adams in Imelda Evans’ debut novel, Rules are for Breaking (my review here) which tells the story about the “three strikes and you’re out” Jo Marchant and how she met Declan.  I was therefore thrilled when Imelda contacted me and requested a review on Playing by the Rules and immediately sank my teeth into it.

Imelda's characters are well-crafted and Kate, who is seriously flawed, managed to annoy me intensely with her constant planning for everything in her life.  Josh, on the other hand, is the total opposite, being almost flawless and just so darned nice and there were a few times in the novel where I really felt sorry for him and wanted to shake some common sense into Kate with all her little insecurities.  The story about the rabbit, was just fabulous!

Once again, Imelda hasn’t disappointed with her humour and wit bringing us this sweet and light-hearted read which kept me entertained and one which I would recommend to those lovers of romance looking for a bit of escapism.

I wish to thank Imelda Evans for requesting the review (as well as the lovely mention in her acknowledgements) and NetGalley for providing me with an eARC.

A Little About the Author

Imelda was born in Fremantle and grew up under the nose-peeling sun of WA – at least, she would have, if she hadn’t spent most of her time under a tree reading a book.  From under that tree, she battled pirates on the seven seas, solved crimes in Victorian London, journeyed to the centre of the earth, travelled to distant stars and consorted with witches on blasted heaths – and along the way developed
a life-long love of stories.

Her first book, in what she fondly imagined was the style of Agatha Christie, was published by her grade four teacher to the acclaim of her parents and classmates and the lukewarm interest of her siblings.  Her second effort, a middle grade thriller written in grade six, was less well received and in a fit of pique, she put away her authorly fountain pen until she discovered the  Romance Writers of Australia and thought she’d try again.

In the intervening years she occupied herself as a student, editor, office manager, chorister, kid wrangler, volunteer, storyteller, copywriter and general pest about town.  She has enjoyed all of these roles, but likes being an author best, as none of the others give her an excuse to read novels and call it work.

She lives in Melbourne with her long-suffering darling of a husband, her daughter, an arthritic but enthusiastic dog and an indeterminate number of frogs.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Aussie Book Review: The Outback Heart by Fiona Palmer

My Rating:              4 / 5
Format:                   Paperback courtesy of Penguin Australia
Publication Date:    25 September 2013
Category:               Modern and Contemporary Fiction
ISBN:                      9781921901447
Publisher:               Penguin Australia
Imprint:                   Michael Joseph
Extent:                    352 pages

The Blurb

“Indianna Wilson is a country girl through and through. She’ll do anything she can to save her beloved home town from disappearing off the map – even if she has to die trying. She brings Troy Mitchell to her tiny outback town, with hopes that he can bring a breath of fresh air to the Saints football club and lift the wider farming community.

He’s just the spark they need in Hyden, but it’s the fire that he ignites in Indi’s heart that takes her by surprise. She knows he’s feeling something too – why, then, does he insist on pushing her away? What is it from his dark past that’s preventing them from sharing a future?

As the town rallies together and their fighting spirit returns, Indi and Troy discover that sometimes life offers up a second chance – you just have to brave enough to embrace it.

The most heartfelt and moving story yet from favourite Australian rural writer Fiona Palmer.”

Summary and Thoughts

The Outback Heart is Fiona Palmer’s fifth contribution to the Australian Rural Romance sub-genre.  After reading her fourth novel, The Sunburnt Country (my review here), and thoroughly enjoying it, I didn’t hesitate to devour this latest offering when it presented itself and was definitely not disappointed with this heart-warming and, at times, tear-jerking story of one woman's quest to save her small town’s footy club and one man’s determination to steer clear of all attachments.

Indianna Wilson (Indi) loves her small home town and, unlike so many of the young people she grew up with, has no plans to ever leave!  With her “finger in many pies”, she works hard, holding down a full-time job as well as running the household she shares with her father and two brothers, while going out of her way to volunteer for a variety of other organisations she feels need her help to keep their town going – organisations who benefited from her mother’s assistance before her passing.  The loss of her mother two years previously still haunts her and, while she goes out of her way to make a difference in the lives of her father and brothers, her passion lies in footy!  So it’s no surprise that when the town’s club finds itself deteriorating to the point of becoming non-existent, she decides to do her best to keep it going and enlists the help of a former footy player as coach.

With not many great relationship prospects around town and rumours about her sexual preferences abounding, when Troy Mitchell arrives, she’s not expecting the visual feast which presents itself nor the depth of emotion and passion he ignites in her.

Unfortunately, Troy has only one goal in life and that is to steer clear of any form of relationship with anyone, including his own family!  Still trying to come to terms with a loss that he has suffered as well as the event in his teenage years which changed his life forever, Troy is pretty much a loner who has resigned himself to the hand that life has dealt him, preferring to never settle in one place for too long.  He doesn’t feel that he will ever be ready to make a commitment which he is afraid he may not be able to keep!

Initially aloof and indifferent to Indi’s attempts at conversation and friendship, a tentative rapport begins to develop between the two of them when they find themselves working together as coach and assistant coach of the newly revived footy team.  While we see Indy’s bubbly personality and her commitment to rejuvenating her home town’s footy team  - not to mention her sexy little body – begin to draw him in, we also see him withdrawing whenever he gets too close.  However, he never bargained on Indi’s tenacity.

I am a known sook when it comes to stories that touch my heart and, to my mind, this is a story that did just that.  I became so invested in the lives of Indi and Troy, thanks to Fiona Palmer’s expertly crafted characters, whose lives are propagated by real-life issues which went a long way to creating great emotional depth thus pulling me in to the immediacy of their lives.  Indi’s passion and spiritedness had me cheering her on and turning the pages in anticipation of the outcome, while Troy’s indifference had me wound so tight that, by the time I reached the end, my heart was almost broken.

Despite the fact that the central issue of this novel is a serious one, Ms Palmer doesn’t burden the story with needless scientific jargon, but rather goes into just enough detail to assure the reader that she has done her research, while her depiction of Australian small town life and the landscape are brought into vivid clarity, providing the reader with a real sense of place and confirming that she writes what she knows.

Told with warmth and humour, this is a story of hope, courage and the ability to recognise and embrace second chances, even while knowing that a single day could change our lives forever.

I wish to thank Penguin Australia for providing me with a paperback copy of another fantastic addition to the Australian Rural Romance sub-genre.

A Little About the Author

Fiona Palmer lives in the tiny rural town of Pingaring in Western Australia, three and a half hours south-east of Perth.  She discovered Danielle Steele at the age of eleven, and has now written her own brand of rural romance.  She has attended romance writers' conferences and received an Australian Society of Authors mentorship for her first novel, The Family Farm.  She has extensive farming experience, on occasion does the local mail run, and was a speedway driver for seven years.  She loves helping out in her tiny community in between writing and looking after her two children.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Aussie Book Review: Breakaway Creek by Heather Garside

My Rating:              4 / 5
Format:                   eBook courtesy of Heather Garside
Category:               Contemporary
ISBN:                      9780987507860
Publisher:               Clan Destine Press

The Blurb

“Two city women – a century apart – find love and adventure with rugged men in the Queensland outback.

Two love stories; two parallel lives; two destinies.

Set in the 19th and 21st centuries, Heather Garside’s debut novel is a passionate rural romance of love and its consequences.

Shelley and Emma are separated by time but bound by a dark secret to a place called Breakaway Creek.

Betrayed by her long-term boyfriend, Shelley Blake has fled the city to return to her home town.  Her interest in a photograph of her great-great-grandparents is piqued by her family’s reticence about the mystery couple, and a search for answers takes her to the cattle station Breakaway Creek.

Here she meets Luke Sherman, a man embroiled in the bitter ending of his marriage and a heart-reaking separation from his two small boys.

Shelley resists an instant attraction to Luke as neither is ready for a new relationship.

And, while Luke struggles to reclaim his children, Shelley uncovers the truth about her ancestors, Alex and Emma.

A story of racial bigotry and a love that transcends all obstacles takes the reader back to the pioneering days of the 1890s.”

Summary and Thoughts

An old family photograph sparks Shelley’s interest in learning more about her family, in particular her great-great grandfather, Alexander Baxter.  Having recently broken up with her boyfriend, Jason, and trying to keep her mind off him, she puts in for some leave from her job in Brisbane and finds herself in Clermont, heading to Breakaway Creek in an attempt to uncover the reason why her grandmother is so reticent to share information on her ancestors.

Making contact with Luke Sherman, one of the two brothers who now live at Breakaway Creek, her plans are set in motion after she makes an arrangement to visit him at the property in order to view the photographs and information contained in the Family Bible.

Envisaging an “old, crusty bushie”, she’s shocked to find that Luke is a far cry from her imaginings but even more dismayed when the information from the Family Bible and the writing on the back of the photograph yields more questions than answers.  When Luke offers to speak to his parents, currently travelling in Europe (if Shelley agrees to stay on for a few days in exchange for some housekeeping duties) it doesn’t take her long to decide that her trip would be wasted if she left without the information she is after, and that a few days on a working cattle property would be a welcome experience.

Luke is a man who has been deeply hurt.  Following the breakdown of his marriage, he’s trying desperately to find a way to get his two small boys back and harbours great resentment towards his estranged wife, a born and bred city girl, who has since returned to Brisbane with his children in tow, leaving him heartbroken and with a rather cynical outlook towards the sanctity of marriage.

Both Shelley and Luke are looking for a distraction from their current relationship woes, and despite their obvious mutual attraction, neither of them feel they are ready for the complications of a new relationship, so when they visit the old ramshackle homestead and discover a port with a lot of useful information for Shelley’s research, the days which follow see them sifting through the paperwork and becoming enveloped in the past lives of Alexander and Emma.

When Shelley finally learns the truth about Alex and Emma and inadvertently becomes embroiled in the present day drama heading Luke’s way in the form of his estranged wife and the safety of his children, they soon discover that not all city girls are cut from the same cloth!

What initially drew me to this novel when Heather Garside requested me to review was the premise which piqued my interest as I am a passionate family genealogist.  For many years I have been trying desperately to glean information on my maternal great-grandparents who were born in Portugal and immigrated to South Africa in the early 1900’s.  Unfortunately, I have been rather unsuccessful in finding too much information as my great-grandmother passed away when I was about eight years old and my grandmother passed away in 1990.  Of course, while members of the family are still alive, they have so far been unwilling to share any information they have (quite possibly because of some alleged “shocking” family secret) and I could so easily relate with Shelley as she diligently went about her search without receiving the initial push and assistance from her grandmother.  The fact that she and Luke discover a port tucked away in the dilapidated original homestead calls to mind a story that my mom told me - that my great-grandmother also had a suitcase with lots of photographs and other documents, which disappeared shortly after her death.

I found this to be a rather enjoyable novel which, right from the prologue, had me wanting more as Ms Garside created an air of suspense which left me feeling that I just had to discover the dark secrets buried in Alexander and Emma’s past.  In taking that step back in time (and a life that we will only ever be able to live through characters in a book), Ms Garside has also offered us some insight into a bygone era and the social decorum of pioneering life in Australia during the late 1800’s.

Her main characters of Luke and Shelley in the present and Alexander and Emma in the past are very well rendered as Heather keeps their actions, speech and general day-to-day life consistent within their time-frames, all perfectly executed through the dual timeline as it shifts seamlessly between past and present. 

Along with the dramas that come into play in their lives, there are some heated moments of passion and, particularly in Alexander and Emma’s story, I was able to feel their desperation as they struggled to endure the rigid propriety of the times, the injustice of nineteenth century prejudices and the risk of social ostracism in their pursuit of forbidden love.

Part historical, part contemporary, this romance has a lot to offer and there is an underlying realism to the story which, through the narrative, offers a stark reminder of the challenges faced by our early settlers as well as those faced by our modern day society, such as social problems in the form of child neglect and the dry and desolate place the Outback can be in times of drought.  

Nonetheless, we see that love in the Outback was and still is possible, while the beauty, freedom and adventure of bush life, although harsh at times, is still something to be experienced, even if you are a city girl!

Moderately paced, with two strong heroines at its heart, Breakaway Creek is an easy to read novel which will appeal to readers who enjoy a romantic tale with a hint of adventure set in the Australian outback.  I look forward to reading more from this Australian author and, as I leave you with the beautiful words of the second stanza in Dorothea Mackellar’s “My Country”, I wish to thank Heather Garside for providing me with an eBook copy of her novel.

“I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
of droughts and flooding rains
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror –
The wide brown land for me.”

A Little About the Author (adapted from her website)

Heather Garside grew up on a cattle property of 47,000 acres in Central Queensland,  Australia.  As a child she loved horses, books and the bush although not a lot has changed except that she has grown to appreciate the finer things in life, like eating out.

While Heather is a member of the Romance Writers of Australia, she also belongs to the Central Highlands Writers' Group which have published three books of short stories, Boots At The Door, A Taste Of Fear and Pot Luck: Stories of the Central Highlands with several of her fiction and non-fiction stories and a couple of poems being included in these anthologies.

Heather published a historical romance set locally when she was in her early twenties and started another book but, having a family interrupted that flow and she didn’t seriously get back to writing until many years later and she finally sold an historical novel, The Cornstalk, to Wings ePress with the sequel, A Hidden Legacy, being purchased by them a few months later.

Her short story, Coming Home was selected for inclusion in one of the RWA's Little Gems anthologies and the same story and her poem, Drought, was recently printed in Idiom 23, the Bauhinia Literary Awards magazine.

Heather and her husband have two adult children and live on a smaller cattle and grain farm close to where she grew up.