Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Aussie Book Review: Common Ground by Cheryl Adnams

“Only love can begin to heal the deepest of battle scars.

Rachel Raymond has always loved her job – she's a strong, independent foreign correspondent and has built up an illustrious career chasing stories across the world. But her life suddenly changes for ever when at the end of a tour based in war-torn Afghanistan, the vehicle she and her team are travelling in hits a roadside bomb.

Liliana Howell is over the moon when her long lost best friend returns unexpectedly the week before Lily's wedding in the South Australia Riverland. But it doesn't take her long to realise that something is different about Rachel, even though her old friend refuses to talk about why she's finally come home. 

Fireman Tate Cassidy has also made the trip to the Riverlands for the wedding and finds himself instantly drawn to the mysterious journalist. Tate has his own demons to fight, but when he finds himself falling for this woman who's seen too much, can he use their Common Ground to help her through her darkest time? And will Rachel let him close enough to show her that love can heal all wounds?”

There are still a lot of readers out there who tend to shy away from the romance genre thinking that it’s all “fluff” with protagonists jumping in and out of bed with each other with no depth to the story. As a reviewer, I feel that those readers just need to find the right book and this latest by Cheryl Adnams, could possibly change their mind, if they give it a chance because she is an author who writes with substance.

Cheryl doesn’t write romance inasmuch as it’s boy meets girl, girl falls in love with boy and they live happily ever after. Yes, her romances (like most) do have happy endings but it’s her characters that have so much to offer us in terms of real life issues – in this novel, it is PTSD, alcoholism (an issue that has touched my own life), survivor’s guilt and the profound emotional impact on both the sufferers and those closest to them.

In a departure from her Muller’s Field winery series (my review of Chasing the Flames here), Cheryl brings us Common Ground in which she gives us the story of Rachel Raymond, a war correspondent who has returned from the frontline in Afghanistan, broken not only by the things that she has seen but the injuries she sustained from an exploding IED  - stark reminders of the human cost of bearing witness in an increasingly hostile environment.

Returning to the Howell’s home in the Riverland in South Australia for the wedding of her best friend Lily, Rachel isn’t looking for anything more than time to heal her shattered soul and body. Suffering with debilitating nightmares and fatigue from the lack of sleep, she is exhausted – physically, mentally and emotionally – and can’t seem to find her way out from the chasm that threatens to suck her right in. Her mental health is in tatters but, for the sake of her friend Lily’s special day, she hides all this from those she loves. Until she meets the groom’s oldest friend!

Fireman, Tate Cassidy, hasn’t been lucky in relationships and prefers to keep the fairer sex at arms-length since his break-up. After suffering his own trauma in the line of duty, he, too is healing. He is drawn to Rachel who brings out the sensitive side of him and, while it’s taken more than a year for him to make the decision to go back to work, witnessing the strength she displays for the benefit of others while being keenly aware that there are deeper issues at play, is what allows him to put his own life and recovery into perspective. They definitely share common ground but he just can’t seem to break through the barriers she has erected so that he can help her through her latent trauma. If only she can overcome her reluctance to seek help so that her healing process can begin.

It’s been a few days since I lay this book down, but the subject-matter of this latest novel by Cheryl Adnams continues to haunt my thoughts. She definitely doesn’t disappoint as she brings the larger issues to life and, by the time I turned the last page, my emotions were all over the place.

Whilst the Prologue efficiently sets the scene for the tone and mood of the novel, Cheryl (as with most contemporary romance authors) has structured her novel from the points of view of Rachel and Tate and she has also made use of some fantastic dialogue (in particular the scenes involving Tate, her nightmares and the fireworks) that both moves the story forward and enhances the characterisation of both her main protagonist and her secondary characters, allowing the reader to get the “bigger picture”.

She writes with an assured confidence that exudes from the pages of this novel and the sheer complexity of her characters shows that she has gotten to know them inside and out. Given this and, while I loved the relationship that grew between Rachel and Tate, it was the pure minefield of emotions Rachel found herself dealing with and the utter tenderness that Tate showed towards her that saw my eyes constantly being flushed with tears.

Cheryl's research about the situations that both our men and women in the armed forces as well as journalists find themselves in and the impact of the sights and sounds they are surrounded with is impeccable and a few times I caught myself trying to reach out and help Rachel get through her pain as her vivid nightmares and flashbacks stirred something deep within me.

In order to keep this review as concise as possible, I have only touched on a few of the elements that Cheryl has utilised but, as a whole, the result is an absorbing story about two people not quite sure how they’re going to reach the end of that long road to recovery which touched my heart. In the grander scheme of things though, this is a story about the pain that a PTSD sufferer can hide in private along with the secrets that they are too ashamed to talk about.

All in all this was an extremely satisfying reading experience from an Aussie author who has earned pride of place on my watchlist!

I wish to thank the publisher, Random House Australia, for providing me with an eGalley proof of this novel.

*Usually, when a book takes my emotions on a roller-coaster ride like this one did, it results in me doing some of my own “research” into the topics covered – in this instance, alcoholism and mental health, which are two issues that have played a role in my life.

During the course of my “research” after reading this novel,  I came across an Australian-based not for profit organisation called Picking Up The Peaces which offers valuable information on the preventative health education and awareness about PTSD and stigma.

If you or a loved one are suffering the effects of this debilitating trauma, please take the time to read through the information contained on their website or you can call either Lifeline on 13 11 14 or BeyondBlue on 1300 22 4636. There is help out there, you just need to reach out!

About the Author

Cheryl Adnams lives in Adelaide, South Australia. After discovering a love of writing in high school, she went on to complete courses in screenplay writing and a Diploma of Freelance Travel Writing and Photography.

Having travelled extensively, Cheryl lived and worked in the United States, Canada and then for a tour company in Switzerland and Austria. Back home in South Australia now, she has a deep love and pride for the Fleurieu Peninsula and Adelaide Hills regions – particularly the beauty of the beaches and wine region of McLaren Vale.

She attributes Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb for inspiring her to get back into her lifetime love of writing. 

When she’s not writing, Cheryl is avidly reading as many books as she can fit in around her busy full-time job as a training facilitator.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Aussie Book Review: The Road to Hope by Rachael Johns

“Bestselling author Rachael Johns takes you back to Hope Junction and the characters from Jilted.

Nurse Lauren Simpson is known in Hope Junction for the wrong reasons – and she’s over it. Watching the man she’s always loved marry someone else is the last straw – she decides to get out of Hope. But her resolve is tested when the hot new locum doctor arrives in town.

Doctor Tom Lewis also has skeletons in his closet – including a painful breakup and devastating family news. He’s hit the road with his vintage ute and surfboard, to travel the outback and live in the moment.

When Tom and Lauren meet the attraction is instant, but for Lauren Tom threatens to be just another fling and Tom has his own reasons for hesitating. Everyone else – their friends and patients – can see how perfect they are together, but just what will it take for them to admit this to themselves?”

I had been meaning to read Jilted for quite some time (ever since it was released on eBook) so, I was rather excited to receive a hard copy version of it in the mail during January this year. Unfortunately with my reading schedule the way it has been over the last few months, it’s been a bit difficult to pick up my “favourites” and just read for the sake of reading.

Although I have now read it, I won’t be reviewing the novel as it has been out for quite a while already and has had some great in-depth reviews written but, let me just say I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Ellie and Flynn’s journey to their HEA.

For those of you who haven’t yet read Jilted, please don’t feel compelled to do so as these two books can be read as stand-alones although you will get a better feel for some of the characters in this sequel.

In this second novel in the loosely linked Hope Junction series, The Road to Hope, Rachael Johns brings us the story of a woman I grew to despise in Jilted when Ellie and Flynn were trying to patch things up and, to tell you the truth, I had no idea how she was going to turn my opinion of Lauren around – but that she did!

After seeing the man that she has loved since childhood get married, Lauren Simpson decides that she’s had enough of small-town life (and the gossip-mongering about her being the “town slapper”) resolving to get out of Hope.

Taking steps to carry through this resolution as well as her decision to become a “good girl”, however, proves to be a lot more difficult than she first thought when firstly, her manager rejects her resignation on the basis that the hospital cannot afford to lose a staff member over the Christmas holiday period and secondly, the locum, Dr Tom Lewis, who is running from his own demons, comes to town.

Unbeknownst to Lauren, the biggest test of her life is about to unfold when she discovers that “Dr Delicious” is a friend of her brother, Frank, who has invited him to stay in their house - with her, alone!

There are a number of things I love about Rachael’s writing – her well-crafted characters (think Nora Roberts) and settings. These settings are memorable in that she re-creates small-town living in rural Australia that both Australian and non-Australian residents will be able to identify with and, in this novel I especially loved her depiction of life in the nursing home attached to Hope Junction Hospital where Lauren works as a nurse.

The nursing home is where, for me, Lauren’s character really came to life as Rachael turned my unjust opinion of her around by treating me to a side of this young woman that hadn’t been totally apparent before then, thanks to the way she came across in Jilted as well as all the gossip! Beyond that gossip is a girl who is passionate about her job, both caring and compassionate towards her patients but at the same time just aching to be loved in return by a man who will marry her and raise a family together – like her friends are doing!

Beyond her characters and settings, Rachael has a sympathetic eye for human nature in general and doesn’t shy away from the bigger issues such as aging and age-related diseases while bringing us a story of heartache, loss, fresh beginnings and ultimately hope.

There’s no doubt in my mind that you, like me, will fall in love with Hope Junction and its residents and enjoy the time spent there. I know I wasn’t quite ready to say goodbye to the little town and am hoping that somewhere along the line, Rachael will give us Frank Simpson’s story!

I wish to thank the publisher, Harlequin Books Australia, for providing me with a hard copy for review.

About the Author

Rachael Johns is an English teacher by trade, a mum 24/7, a supermarket owner by day, a chronic arachnophobic, and a writer by night. She rarely sleeps.

She lives in rural Western Australia with her hyperactive husband and three mostly-gorgeous heroes-in-training.

Rachael has been writing since she was 17 when she broke up with her first boyfriend (at the time she thought he was The One and was hugely devastated in the fashion of all 17 years olds). For some reason unbeknownst to her, she turned to writing as a form of therapy for her broken heart. It was enlightening to realise that with writing she could create whatever ending she liked and wrote the story of her and The One and actually ended up killing him off. The writing was therapeutic, the story was cringe-worthy but she had caught the bug.

Almost a decade later, after a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Writing and English and after many, many attempts at writing different types of novels, Rachael joined Romance Writers of Australia. Finally she learnt there was more to writing a book than just typing out random thoughts – she learnt about craft, conflict, consistent characters, etc – and also learnt that she LOVED contemporary romance and that was what she wanted to write.

Eventually she found a publisher who liked her work enough to offer her a contract. Her first book came out in December 2011 and she's been living the dream since then (i.e. working from home in her pjs). She's written sassy, urban romances for Carina Press, a cowboy romance for Tule Publishing and lots of rural romances for Harlequin Australia and HQN.

In 2012 her debut rural romance, Jilted won the Australian Romance Readers Association’s Favourite Contemporary Romance Award and in 2013 she was voted in Booktopia’s Top Ten Favourite Aussie Authors. She's currently Australia’s number one rural romance author according to Bookscan Neilson.