The House on Burra Burra Lane by Jennie Jones

In brief: Sammy is new to Swallow’s Fall, a tiny town in the Snowy Mountains. There’s an instant attraction between her and Ethan, the local vet/carpenter; but will they ever act on their feelings?

The good: The slightly creepy undercurrent that runs through the book, letting you know this isn’t just a plain romance.

The not-so-good: The story (or rather, Ethan) jumped in a little too fast at the start for me.

Why I chose it: Gorgeous cover, plus Jennie was an excellent MC at the Romance Writers of Australia conference in 2013. Thanks to Net Galley and Escape Publishing for the ecopy!

Year: 2014

Pages: 304

Publisher: Harlequin Mira (Escape Publishing 2013)

Setting: Australia (primarily New South Wales)

My rating: 7.5 out of 10

The House on Burra Burra Lane first grabbed my attention with that gorgeous cover. Not only do you have the rustic cottage and the snow-capped mountains, you’ve also got a girl who looks like she’s having incredible fun. (Plus, in the interests of full disclosure, I really like her lip gloss colour!) However, the smile on the cover hides what is a romance with quite a few very suspenseful scenes.

From the very first chapter, I felt a kind of undercurrent running through the narrative that everything wasn’t going to be what it appeared to be. There was a shadow lurking around the corner as Sammy, recent big city Sydney transplant, joins the tiny community of Swallow’s Fall (population now 87). This isn’t even a country town, this is a tiny community where everyone is going to know everything, like it or not. Naturally, Sammy’s purchase of the run down farmhouse on Burra Burra Lane and arrival is A Big Event. So big that the locals are running a (betting) book on how long before she leaves town…now her meeting with hunky Ethan, vet slash carpenter has tongues wagging.

The narrative doesn’t waste any time in getting these two to meet – from the very first page Sammy is in Ethan’s surgery, getting a consult on her cat. The tension between the two simmers immediately and it’s only constant drawing back by the pair that stops the attraction from fully sparking. Why (despite many heated conversations), don’t they get it together sooner? Well, it’s because each of them have a Past. Kudos to Jones who draws out Sammy and Ethan’s secrets teasingly at just the right pace and for writing secret pasts that are not clichéd, but interesting in a shock-horror-can’t look away sense.

It’s these secrets that make the characters so fascinating. Sammy seemed to have it all in her Sydney life – beautiful clothes, classy job and glamorous boyfriend. Underneath that glamour hides a man determined to rule her and blackmail her mother so that Sammy runs to the Snowy Mountains. Out here, she’s determined to make a go of it herself – rebuilding the once beautiful house and standing alone. It’s a mindset that sees her somewhat at odds with the townsfolk, but with the approval of Grandy (town patriarch), she becomes increasingly accepted. Getting to know Ethan helps too…

Ethan’s a local boy, banished from town by Grandy years ago, yet welcomed back later with open arms. He’s a troubled man with a lot of problems, secrets and worries. He tries to hide it by being the local good guy, helping everyone out at his own time and expense. He feels he can’t get as close to Sammy as he’d like because he’d destroy her, but naturally he doesn’t tell her that! He broods silently while poor Sammy’s self-confidence takes another hit. Ethan can’t even tell her that he used to live in Sammy’s house – and yet nobody else in town does, which I found odd. (Surely this is something someone would LOVE to slip into a conversation…but then the folks of Swallow’s Fall are incredibly conscientious). Ethan’s baggage got a little too much for me at times, especially as I loved the independence and fragility in Sammy. His introduction to Sammy was also a little hot and heavy too fast for me…slightly creepy! I wish he had told her his issues earlier (but then of course, he couldn’t redeem himself in such a spectacular fashion).

I believe there is another Swallow’s Fall book in the works and I’ll be interested to read more about Sammy and Grandy, who is an absolute card. His scenes, a combination of common sense and dry wit, were fantastic.

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