Publisher: Harlequin MIRA

Water Under the Bridge by Lily Malone

Water Under the Bridge by Lily MaloneWater Under The Bridge by Lily Malone
Series: Chalk Hill #1
Published by Harlequin MIRA on 19th February 2018
Pages: 268
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Ella Davenport hasn’t been in a swimming pool since a bad decision ruined her chance of Olympic gold. So when Ella decides on a new career selling property, she chooses Chalk Hill. The country town is a long way from the water, with no pool in sight. Perfect!

Jake Honeychurch doesn’t want to sell his Nanna’s house, but circumstances force his hand. Listing the property with the rookie real estate agent in town, and asking a hefty price means it shouldn’t find a buyer. Perfect!

But determination and persistence are traits Jake admires, and Ella has them in spades. After all, no one ever made an Olympic team by being a quitter.

When news breaks of a proposed waterski park, a local developer starts sniffing around Honeychurch House. Ella’s first sale is so close she can taste it, until a sharp-eyed local recognises her.

Between sale negotiations with Jake that keep getting sidetracked, and a swimming pool committee hellbent on making a splash, Ella has more to contend with than kisses and chlorine.

Can she throw off the failures of the past and take the chance of a new start? Or will her dreams of a new life be washed away again?

I’ll say something from the outset and that has to do with how much I normally love Lily Malone’s writing. It’s just ‘Water Under the Bridge’ that didn’t quite work out right for me, despite the wonderful setting of a part of Western Australia so little explored in rural fiction and the unique rhythms of life that Malone captures very nicely here.

There’s something so wistful and close to my heart here about Ella’s new career direction and her past trauma after all—a hundred and eighty degrees somewhere else, where all hopes are pinned onto having something noteworthy marked into a new career; in Ella’s case, the sale of an overpriced home which is listed by an owner out of grumpy pretence.

That much got me through a third of it, where I soon found myself flagging. Admittedly, Ella and her constant hedging about her son’s real parentage when I thought she owed it to Jake *and* her son to be open with them tested my patience sorely; that much reduced my enjoyment of the story which inched forward only because it became a test of Ella’s inability to be honest and open with many moments that seemed deliberately engineered to stop her from doing so as well.

Ultimately, it became an exercise in frustration because it was road block after road black of stubbornness rearing its head in so many places: Ella’s reticence and overreactions and self-pity, Sam’s obstinate acting out, Abe’s refusal to talk, and the list goes on. I’m usually out to root for the protagonists in romantic fiction—if I can’t ship a pairing, then it’s pretty much useless—but the difficulty I had getting behind a female protagonist who kept blowing hot and cold (and made it so effective such that inroads were just simply impossible) definitely deterred this.

So frankly, I’m not too sure how to place my own feelings about the book. There were parts which I was enthralled with, parts that I really didn’t like, yet I’m still eager for the next book in the series because, well, Malone’s writing isn’t something I can resist.


Wayward Heart by Cathryn Hein

Wayward Heart by Cathryn HeinWayward Heart by Cathryn Hein
Published by Harlequin MIRA on December 12th 2016
Pages: 352
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Jasmine Thomas should feel safe in her cosy cottage at Admella Beach after finally putting an end to an ill-advised romance. But her perfect sanctuary is shattered with the arrival of hand-delivered threatening notes. Someone has discovered her secret.
When the notes escalate to vandalism, Jasmine's anxiety rises. But in such a small place, telling the police would mean the whole town finding out.
Digby Wallace-Jones is stumbling through the motions of life, wrapped in a fog of grief since his fiancee Felicity died. Withdrawn from his family, Digby doesn't care about anything beyond his loss. But in a chance meeting with Jasmine, his sister's best friend who he's known forever, even he can see the tension she carries. Worried and feeling protective, he continues to drop by, but it's more than that. Jasmine soothes him; and, unlike the rest of his family, he can talk to her about his pain without fear of judgement. But as much as he likes Jasmine, Digby's enduring love for Felicity means he has nothing left to give and he pushes Jasmine away.
Jasmine knew they were supposed to stay friends 'with excellent benefits' but she can't help her wayward heart from falling for this tortured, kind and sexy man. How can she ever loosen the grip Felicity's memory has on Digby's soul and remind him he still has a life ahead of him?

There is a long history and a complicated backstory of Rocking Horse Hill and a bit of it is fleshed out a little in ‘Wayward Heart’, which is essentially, a story that moves from a dark place of grief and betrayal to life and love.

Cathryn Hein writes very sympathetically about her characters and her insights about human nature and their motivations are gold. My own prejudices and hard-limits are the only things that colour the way I’ve come to perceive Jasmine, whose affair with a married man made me like her less than a female romantic lead with more moral integrity. I did think her insecure and weak—again, my own interpretation of her character despite Hein’s persuasive writing about Jas’s struggle in being ‘the other woman’ for years and then her easy capitulation and desperation—as much as I wished she’d done her life more differently. Digby on the other hand, struggles with grief, jealousy and unforgiveness ever since his fiancée died tragically, only beginning to find himself again when he starts an affair with Jasmine.

But he remains unconvinced that he’ll ever be able to give his heart to another woman as he did with his ex and from then on, the plot gets rather predictable as they finally move down the slow road of conflict and acceptance.

‘Wayward Heart’ is about taking very deeply-flawed characters—even those that we can’t tolerate when they fail to do what’s right —and using them to show that even these characters deserve some kind of happy ever after. And the answer that Hein leads us to, really, is time: time apart from each other for things to get reset, for family wounds to scab over and for Digby and Jasmine to rediscover their own ambitions before getting together again without past hurts getting in the way.

There’s a powerful load of family drama, a lot of meditative contemplation and a little suspense as well, but what really lingers is Hein’s beautifully wrought description of the languid, rural Australian landscape that stays long in my mind after I’ve finished the book.


Legacy Of Hunters Ridge by Sarah Barrie

Legacy Of Hunters Ridge by Sarah BarrieLegacy Of Hunters Ridge by Sarah Barrie
Published by Harlequin MIRA on January 1st 2016
Pages: 400
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Successful horse trainer Alissa Morgan-Jones has the world at her feet, until a tragic fire destroys everything. Widowed, in debt and under suspicion for arson, Alissa’s life is in tatters. Her mother-in-law’s isolated farm gives her the opportunity to pull her life back together and get herself back on her feet.
Four years after fleeing the city and the scandal that ruined his career, disgraced lawyer Cameron Blakely has a successful new business and a new life. When his neighbour, Mavis Littleton is diagnosed with a terminal illness he volunteers to handle her affairs – and her farm until her daughter-in-law arrives to take over. When Alissa finally shows up, he’s drawn to her immediately. But there’s more to his new neighbour than her big blue eyes and lost expression. If only she’ll open up and let him in.
But there are secrets in both Alissa’s past and Hunters Ridge – secrets that jeopardise far more than Cameron’s fledgling feelings. Lurking in the isolated wilderness is a danger that neither anticipates – but one that threatens everything: the town, their love, and their lives.

Widowed, broke and barely functioning, Ally Morgan is dealing with her PTSD as much as she can, with the help of her sister. But she isn’t free of consequences of the fire that had destroyed her life all those months ago and a pesky phone call from an ex-lawyer brings her out into the country and straight back into her nightmares. Dragged into affairs that aren’t quite her own, it’s there that Ally finds things that do go bump in the night. Tired of simply attributing the strange happenings to her hallucinatory state, she realises that the answers might just be found in the twisted truth that comes out as religious nonsense from her ailing her mother-in-law. From there it’s all up to Cam and Ally – and their unfailingly loyal group of friends – to untangle this mystery before that sinister presence comes for her too.

There is so much to like about this book: the creepy suspense that almost verges on the paranormal thanks to the wonderfully descriptive writing, the tight camaraderie and the unexpected, sparkling humour and above all, the breathless action and the well-crafted characters that walked into the story and cemented their places in it. I turned the last page feeling overwhelmed – and it’s seldom that I need the rest of the trilogy (right now!) to see this brilliantly written story-arc through.


Hold On To Me by Victoria Purman

Hold On To Me by Victoria PurmanHold On To Me by Victoria Purman
Published by Harlequin MIRA on January 1st 2016
Pages: 300
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Can she learn to trust him and love again?
Stella wasn't looking for love – and especially not from a younger man..
When Stella Ryan's successful life in Sydney crumbled, she returned flat broke – and broken hearted – to the beachside town she'd once called home. Five years on, she's opened a boutique and rebuilt her life in the tourist haven of Port Elliot.
Luca Morelli has been working flat out to establish his own building company in the city and doesn't have time to be driving back and forth to the beach to do a small job in a shop that was almost destroyed in a fire. But he soon changes his mind when he meets the glamorous owner.
Before long, Stella and Luca find that a working relationship isn't the only thing developing between them. But the closer they get, the ghosts of Stella's past come to haunt her once more. Can she ever believe a man again? And if she can, is the much younger Luca Morelli the man she can trust with her heart?

Victoria Purman’s straightforward storytelling is always a joy to read, but the (re)introduction of Stella Ryan as a former Middle Point resident seemed to come out of nowhere, like an afterthought for an author who couldn’t quite say goodbye to the beloved cast of characters who inhabited this particular place. It wouldn’t quite have been an issue however, had Stella been part of the regular crew from the very beginning of the series, but she wasn’t and with Luca Morelli together, felt more like a forced pairing than an inspired one.

There are some stereotypes explored in the book to varying degrees of success:
– the younger man/older woman dynamic in which age only became an issue in the way Stella used it as an excuse not to go for what she wanted, proving that sometimes it is the younger man who has more sense than the older lady.
– the dynamic of large Italian families and the strange impulsive flare of temper in Luca that he explains away as being ‘Italian’ made him seem less than his 29 years.

The most glaring issue however, was the protagonist herself whom I tried hard to like but ended up hating. I thought Stella, whose independent streak and stubborn desire to rely only on herself had long crossed over to obnoxiousness and insensitivity in the way she treats people around her.

Despite her behaviour being often given justification – a tragic childhood with hard knocks along the way – it seemed as though her new life was built on a lie that stretched pretty much the whole book because I found myself waiting for her to break and was disappointed when she hadn’t changed sufficiently for my liking by the end of the book.


The French Prize by Cathryn Hein

The French Prize by Cathryn HeinThe French Prize by Cathryn Hein
Published by Harlequin MIRA on September 1st 2014
Pages: 352
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An ancient riddle, a broken vow – a modern-day quest for a medieval treasure.
Australian-born Dr. Olivia Walker is an Oxford academic with a reputation as one of the world’s leading Crusade historians and she’s risked everything on finding one of the most famous swords in history – Durendal. Shrouded in myth and mystery, the sword is fabled to have belonged to the warrior Roland, a champion of Charlemagne’s court, and Olivia is determined to prove to her detractors that the legend is real. Her dream is almost within reach when she discovers the long-lost key to its location in Provence, but her benefactor – Raimund Blancard – has other ideas.
For more than a millennium, the Blancard family have protected the sword. When his brother is tortured and killed by a man who believes he is Roland’s rightful heir, Raimund vows to end the bloodshed forever. He will find Durendal and destroy it, but to do that he needs Olivia's help.
Now Olivia is torn between finding the treasure for which she has hunted all her life and helping the man she has fallen in love with destroy her dream. And all the while, Raimund's murderous nemesis is on their trail, and he will stop at nothing to claim his birthright.

I dived straight into this book because of the mouthwatering premise of an Indiana Jones-like adventure and in this particular aspect, The French Prize didn’t disappoint. Ms Hein’s descriptions of the Provencal countryside and solid grasp of history definitely created an atmosphere I was content to lose myself in for a couple of hours.

But it seems that these days – maybe I’m getting truly intolerant or something – I’ve been getting an influx of annoying, petulant heroines who should really know better than behave way below their status and obsessions. Olivia’s obsession with history and artefacts should be something I normally find commendable, but her disregard for safety and stubborn insistence do cross the line into TSTL category at times. At the same time, Raimund is described often as a classy hero and a modern-day knight, but because the story was written from Olivia’s perspective, he merely came across as wooden with hints of feeling.

In all, a good read…if you can stomach characterisation that can seem lacking in depth at times.


Our Kind of Love by Victoria Purman

Our Kind of Love by Victoria PurmanOur Kind of Love by Victoria Purman
Series: Boys of Summer #3
Published by Harlequin MIRA on November 1st 2014
Pages: 352
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Anna is… unexpected… unbelievable… unstoppable.
And unavailable.
Will what happened in Middle Point stay there?
Dr Anna Morelli rarely makes mistakes. But this one is big, bordering on huge. Somewhere between sunset and sunrise at the simple beachside wedding of two old friends, she’s cried in the ladies bathroom, danced to too many ABBA songs and survived the best, knock-your-socks-off one night stand in recorded history. Has she gone crazy? She’s supposed to be running from the disasters in her life, not creating more.
Award-winning journalist Joe Blake is back in Middle Point to lick his wounds after being dumped by his wife and sacked from his Sydney job on the same day. But after one incredible night with Anna, he finds he’ll need all his investigative skills to figure out why she won’t give in to their sizzling chemistry….

Which is essentially what the feel-good, HEAs all try to portray, and perhaps never more so here, which feels like the wrapping up of an era of sorts after three very rewarding books. Victoria Purman’s love for this fictional slice of South Australia is evident in the description of the lovely Middle Point and constant reminders she puts out of the simple pleasures that the folks there take in the smallest things.

‘Our Kind of Love’ reminds me of the continuing soft spot that I developed long ago for for Ms. Purman’s boys and girls in Middle Point and I’m sorry to see the trilogy come to an end. Joe’s and Anna’s story finally comes together in Purman’s uncomplicated by heartfelt prose, aided in a large part, by Lizzie/Dan and Ry/Julie in the previous 2 books. The path that they take to get together is a long and winding one stretching 300 pages, but an unsurprising one considering the number of issues that they each face.

The same down-to-earth candour and spontaneity that could be found in the previous 2 books are present here and my only complaint is Anna’s fixation on wanting children and preserving the family tradition seemed to override her feelings for Joe. I would appreciated some greater compromise on her part (and less cowardice really) and not have Joe only having the change of heart.