Heart of the Sky by Fiona McArthur

In brief: A new job in the Outback is just what Tess needs to escape from her life. Her landlord Soretta welcomes the newcomers with open arms, until new pilot Charlie reveals his ulterior motive…

The good: I enjoyed reuniting with Soretta and the gang from Mica Ridge, as well as following Tess’s role as an outreach breast cancer nurse.

The not-so-good: I devoured this in just a few days.

Why I chose it: The Homestead Girls was loads of fun, thanks Penguin Australia for the copy.

Year: 2017

Pages: 278

Publisher: Michael Joseph (Penguin)

Setting: Outback Australia

My rating: 8.5 out of 10

Fiona McArthur’s novels are always a heart-warming read for me, as I know that there will be tears, sadness but ultimately a joyful ending. Heart of the Sky is no exception to this, and it also has the added bonus of reuniting the reader with the women of The Homestead Girls. There are also what I’d consider to be two main characters in the novel, but they’re not the hero and heroine. It’s the story of two women, one familiar to the reader and one not, who find joy in unexpected places.

The first person we meet in Heart of the Sky is Tess. She’s an oncology nurse, looking for a new outlet after the tragic death of her husband. From a calendar image, she gets the idea of moving to outback Australia to assist cancer sufferers there. This starts a new journey as Tess becomes an outreach breast cancer nurse in the red dirt country of Mica Ridge. She’s based at the Flying Doctor Service so she can fly out to women on stations to offer support and nursing assistance. Of course, this means that we get to reunite with the other characters from FDS, such as Billie, Daphne and Mia. It’s not long before Tess is living at Blue Hills with Soretta and her grandfather making them welcome. The other new boarder is Charlie, relief FDS pilot, who has a secret up his sleeve. It’s not long before he and Soretta become firm friends, but when his secret is revealed, it deeply affects people she’s come to love. Can Tess and Soretta find their way to happiness?

I enjoy books with an oncology thread to them (I know, it’s a bit odd) because I get to experience the human contact side of it all. I can honestly say that this is the only place I’ve read or heard about knitted knockers (aka knitted prostheses to be used after a mastectomy). Tess’s determination to provide the best care possible regardless of distance is inspirational and even the little touches like tea in her office show how thoughtful and caring she is. There are tips from her practice that others could use in real life to make these women (and men, breast cancer is not exclusively female) to feel more comfortable.

It was also great to get to know what makes Soretta tick. She was determined and even a little bit fiery in The Homestead Girls. She is a bit more comfortable financially in this book, so she let her guard down to Charlie. I enjoyed reading about her mixed feelings and loyalty to her friends and family. The latter part of the book where both her feelings and her wits were tested was great to read. There was a sense of urgency in terms of plot, but Soretta was very level headed in emotional and practical terms. This made me warm to her even more as a character. Like Tess, she wants the best for those she cares about.

Overall, Heart of the Sky is a lovely story, full of characters you will love instantly and with enough drama to keep reading through the night. That’s why I never miss one of Fiona McArthur’s books!

The Barbershop Girl by Georgina Penney

In brief: Amy Blaine never has any luck with men, but when English comedian/writer Ben Martindale worms his way into her barbershop, he also finds a way to her heart. But little does Amy know that she’s the subject of Ben’s weekly newspaper columns…

The good: I love Amy (sweet, kind and with awesome baking/fashion sense) and this is my favourite book yet by Georgina Penney.

The not-so-good: I demolished this one and was left with a book hangover. (Also, Ben – you can be an utter tool).

Why I chose it: Wanted to know more about Amy after reading Fly In, Fly Out. Thanks Penguin for the copy!

Year: 2017 (first published as Irrepressible You, 2014)

Pages: 296

Publisher: Michael Joseph (Penguin Random House)

Setting: Mainly Fremantle and Perth, Western Australia

My rating: 10 out of 10

I’ve enjoyed Georgina Penney’s other books, which are set in my home state, but I knew I was going to love The Barbershop Girl as soon as I saw it. Not only do I own several flower hairpieces, but I have serious dress envy for the one Amy, our heroine is reading on the cover. As I read through the book, I realised that I wanted to be good friends with not only Amy, but Ben, the hero. I didn’t want to stop reading their story – it’s funny, sweet and the characters are perfectly constructed.

The story features characters that will be familiar to those who have read Fly In, Fly Out (such as Jo, Stephen and Scott) but the book works perfectly well as a standalone. Amy is Jo’s sister and they are as different as chalk and cheese. While Jo is tomboyish with a penchant for swearing, Amy never swears and wears her 1950s inspired outfits as armour, day in, day out. What both sisters have in common is their horrible upbringing which has left them very close. Amy is grateful to Jo for pretty much raising her and she wants Jo to know that she’s doing fine. Except that she’s not. Amy’s business (barbershop and hair salon) are doing well, but some of her staff have attitudes better left at the door and Amy’s love life has never worked out. Worse, one of her exes insists on making her life a misery every time he’s off swing back in Perth. So when Amy completely fails to recognise a famous opera singer and his famous comedian mate in a bar, she feels pretty useless. She has to apologise – and that’s how Ben Martindale comes into her life.

Ben is funny and lives behind a veneer of utter bastardry – he’s that guy you love to hate but secretly kind of like. He’s rich, says what he thinks and is hiding out in Australia to write and stay out of the British tabloids. Amy isn’t his usual type, but she wins his heart with her dedication to whatever she does. He’s hiding a scarred childhood too, but you’d never know that. And he doesn’t want you to know, so describing Amy under a code name in his weekly columns in a sardonic tone equals affection in Ben’s head. But will Amy agree?

The novel is absolutely gorgeous – it is truly funny and incredibly sweet at times. My only qualm would be the damage caused to an Aston Martin DB9, but at least it’s a fictional one! I truly felt the characters became friends (they were that well fleshed out and lifelike) and I’m trying to fight the urge to go to Fremantle to look for Amy’s salon. (She gives her customers homemade cake and cookies, how sweet is that)? I even found Amy as a fashion inspiration a few days over the last week for dresses and heels! While Amy is an easy person to like, it says a lot that Georgina Penney made Ben, who by his own admission is a bastard, a character to like. Seeing him alone, vulnerable and at a loss helped me as the reader to see there was more to him than just clever words and a flash car. Amy also helps him to see that he doesn’t need to hide as he helps her to see that it’s okay to vulnerable. They are quite similar in some ways.

My time with The Barbershop Girl just flew by. I’m really, really looking forward to hopefully reading Scott’s story one day. He’s a mysterious photographer who jets around the world, surely he has some secrets to reveal?

Mailbox Monday and What I’m Reading 2/1/17

Happy New Year! I hope everyone got a break and some time to have fun. As promised, here is the first of my Christmas haul, tentatively titled ‘The Ones That Kept Popping Up in My Social Media’.

As you can see from the above, I am Lego building again. The haulpak is just part 1 of 8 of my next build!

Bridget Jones’s Baby by Helen Fielding should need no introduction, given that it’s; a) Bridget Jones and b) there was a movie of the same title in 2016. I’ve read this and loved it – but fans of the movie take note, the potential dads involve Daniel Cleaver!

The Girls by Emma Cline has a cover that screams summer! In 1969 California, Evie wants to be part of the girls. But at the centre is Russell, who could be more than just one of the gang…

I also received one book from the lovely people at Penguin, Fiona McArthur’s Heart of the Sky (released 30/1/17). It’s about Flying Doctor Tess Daley and pilot Charlie Fennes in the small rural town of Mica Ridge. But Tess is seeking a change after a past accident and Charlie has a secret that will rock the station house where they live.

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue is set in New York City 2007. Clark is a partner at Lehman Brothers and Jende, recently arrived from Cameroon, is his new driver. His wife Neni gets work with Clark’s wife Cindy and everything looks like it could be happening. But secrets and the financial crisis mean that both couples need to rethink their dreams.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett is another book with a gorgeous cover about family. It starts in 1964 when Bert kisses Beverly at a christening party for Franny – but he’s not her husband. 24 years on, Franny meets a famous author while working and starts to tell him her family’s story…

If you want to look at other books received, do visit the Mailbox Monday blog for links to everyone’s mailbox goodies.

It’s Monday! What are you reading? is hosted by Book Date. Click on the pictures to read more about the books.

What I Read Last Week:

What I’m Reading at the Moment:

Up Next:

Mailbox Monday and What I’m Reading 5/12/16

Hi December. You certainly came in with a busy rush! It looks like parties, lunches and dinners are only going to increase in frequency for the next few weeks…hence not a lot of time today to tell you the books I received. Let’s just stick with the books I actually got through the post!

City of Friends by Joanna Trollope (February 2017) came from Pan Macmillan. Stacey has lost her job, and with it the only life she knows. At least she has her three best friends, ‘The Girls’. But they all have problems too and Stacey’s change in situation forces a betrayal to be revealed. Can they still be friends? I’m really looking forward to this!

Another book I was really happy to open was Georgina Penney’s The Barbershop Girl (January 2017). This is Amy from Fly In, Fly Out‘s story through the eyes of British celebrity Ben, exiled after yet another scandal. Ben uses Amy and her family to write about in a London newspaper – but she’s not going to be too happy when she finds out… Thanks Penguin Random House for the book, I’ll take your advice and sit down with a (large) cup of tea for this one!

If you want to check other bookshelves, do drop by the Mailbox Monday blog for links to everyone’s mailbox goodies. Overseen by Vicki (I’d Rather Be at the Beach), Leslie (Under My Apple Tree) and Serena (Savvy Verse & Wit), I’m sure you’ll find many books for the wish list!

It’s Monday! What are you reading? hosted by Book Date and formerly by Book Journey and J Kaye. Click on the pictures to read more about the books.

What I Read Last Week:

What I’m Reading at the Moment:

Up Next:

Absolutely no idea – maybe a library book.

The Drifter by Anthea Hodgson

In brief: Cate has never been known to stick at anything, but after a tragic accident she’s staying put in the bush. What she doesn’t know is that in the middle of nowhere, she will start to feel like she belongs…

The good: Sensitively written, it’s an engaging story.

The not-so-good: Henry is reluctant to give up his secrets.

Why I chose it: From the author and Penguin Books, thank you.

Year: 2016

Pages: 354

Publisher: Michael Joseph (Penguin)

Setting: Mainly country Western Australia

My rating: 9.5 out of 10

The Drifter is a book that sneaks up on you, until you’re completely captivated by its charm and melancholy. I’m a fan of Australian rural fiction, yet The Drifter is a unique fit as it deals with loss, secrets, life, death and grief. Despite the heavy subject matter, it’s an ultimately uplifting story.

The book begins as Cate arrives at her great aunt’s farm. Cate’s always been a drifter, darting from job to job with no real purpose but after a devastating accident she’s forced to reassess her life. Life in Perth is not what it used to be, so Cate decides to help Great Aunt Ida in the middle of nowhere. It’s not what the party girl expected, with no mobile phone reception and Ida’s thorough job of hoarding decades’ worth of items. Cate is willing to have a go though, and Ida is more than happy to accept her. Ida is a gentle soul with a great deal of wisdom. In her own quiet ways, she integrates Cate into the small community, increasing her self-worth. She doesn’t question or judge, but lets Cate grieve and heal in her own time.

One thing that Cate does find a bit odd is the way Ida insists that there’s the ghost of her late husband doing jobs on the farm. After a little detective work, Cate discovers ‘Henry’, living in an old shack. Ida is delighted that her ghost has a name (and a nice body), but Cate is much more wary around Henry. Swaggies (swagmen) aren’t really a modern thing in Australia, so what has Henry got to hide? A drifter like him must have some secrets too…

Little by little, both Cate and Henry’s reasoning for hiding and secrets come to the fore. However, Hodgson still leaves a few key points to the very end, so the reader is rather surprised at the outcome! But overall, the book has a few overarching themes: life and death, redemption and facing your fears. The three main characters (Cate, Henry and Ida) all tackle these in their own way with different results. While they do this, they support each other’s journey. It was pleasing to read about the support offered to Cate through the small rural community, just by being Ida’s grand-niece. She was accepted and later supported by them when her past came to the country. The stark contrast between Ida and Cate’s parents’ treatment of her was uncomfortable to read at times. While Ida gives unconditional love, Cate’s parents are boxed in by societal constraints and a mulish belief that their way is the only right way. Offering Henry and Ida as a foil to that lets the reader know that there isn’t one correct track in life, that you can still ‘make it’ no matter how circuitous your road is.

Overall, the writing comes across as gentle, but Hodgson has a firm grip on the story. Underneath the multilayered characters lies a strong plot that guides the reader through Cate, Henry and Ida’s journeys. It’s sweet, sad but most of all hopeful. I really look forward to reading more of Anthea Hodgson’s work after this confident debut novel.

Mailbox Monday and What I’m Reading 31/10/16

Wow, today the end of October. Where did the time go? I don’t celebrate Halloween (except for on Pokémon Go) but if you’re going out tonight, stay safe and have fun.

I received two books in the mail last week, many thanks to Penguin and Hachette for the goodies:

The Drifter is by Anthea Hodgson, a local W.A. author. The said drifter is Cate, but after a tragedy to flees to Western Australia’s wheatbelt. There she meets Henry, a swagman. Cate and Henry need to work together to help Cate’s great aunt Ida and by doing this, they can move forward.

The Blood Mirror by Brent Weeks is the final book in the Lightbringer series. Now the Seven Satrapies are four and Gavin Guile is imprisoned. What’s worse is that he created this magical prison – but he has no magic left. Who will fight for the empire now? I must also add that this book is so comprehensive, with maps, character lists, a glossary and an appendix.

The other week, I decided I needed more non-fiction books in my life. Those orders have started to arrive, so here’s what I’ve received over the last week:

Naked Economics by Charles Wheelan – I decided that if he can make statistics funny, I should try his economics book. I need to get back into economics as my knowledge is a bit rusty and I’m sure his hilarious examples will help.

I saw Bird Brain: An Exploration of Avian Intelligence by Dr Nathan Emery in Nature’s book reviews section (this is probably my most read section in the journal!). It’s a gorgeous hardcover talking all things bird (with pictures) on bird tools, communication and deception.

Jonathan Eig’s The Birth of the Pill explores how the oral contraceptive pill was invented and its supporters and opponents.

If you want to check other bookshelves, do drop by the Mailbox Monday blog for links to everyone’s mailbox goodies. Overseen by Vicki (I’d Rather Be at the Beach), Leslie (Under My Apple Tree) and Serena (Savvy Verse & Wit), I’m sure you’ll find many books for the wish list!

It’s Monday! What are you reading? hosted by Book Date and formerly by Book Journey and J Kaye. Click on the pictures to read more about the books.

What I Read Last Week:

What I’m Reading at the Moment:

Up Next:

Um…spoiled for choice here…

The Family Secret by Fiona Palmer

In brief: Kim’s in a man drought until two very different men enter her life – Charlie, local insurance man and reclusive Harry. As two tales are told across two time periods, will secrets come to light?

The good: Blends rural romance with the darker past of Australia – and brings some issues to light.

The not-so-good: Sometimes the two plots felt a bit too distant.

Why I chose it: Thanks to Penguin Australia for the eARC – I always look forward to reading Fiona’s books.

Year: 2016

Pages: 384

Publisher: Penguin Australia

Setting: Rural Western Australia

My rating: 9 out of 10

Fiona Palmer is an author I can always rely on to deliver a good story. More recently, she’s been branching out from rural romance to encompass bigger, more topical issues in her stories. The Family Secret combines a modern day rural romance with a darker part of history that some of Australia would like to forget – the Vietnam War. The veterans on their return were scarred and faced the wrath of the people, who ignored that the soldiers were conscripts (i.e. not volunteers). The soldiers were forgotten by others, but their pain and suffering lives on. It’s a heavy subject to tackle, but Palmer does it with understanding and compassion in the character of Harry.

Harry and John met up in Vietnam. Gradually, John’s story is told from his life as a newlywed on the farm to being drafted for national military service. His family left the farm and his dream to be a farmer was shattered. We read more about his time as a ‘nasho’ (National Serviceman) and then as a new soldier in Vietnam. Then, the aftermath of war…

Now Harry lives in solitude, helping out on an old mate’s farm. He’s virtually unknown to the townspeople and when Kim needs to shelter at Harry’s place one night, her family worries about the rumours they’ve heard about Harry. Kim and Harry strike up a friendship over their shared love of the land. Both characters are hurting. Kim’s had a bad run with men – her unrequited love is marrying someone else and previous boyfriends have had some substantial things to hide. So when she meets the slightly older Charlie, she’s interested but cautious. Charlie is in town for a new job, but he’s also trying to find out the truth of an old envelope found in his mum’s possessions…

Fans of The Saddler Boys will recognise familiar characters – Nat and Billy and Kim herself. If you haven’t read Nat’s story, it really doesn’t matter because you get the added bonus of the wedding! I enjoyed getting to know Kim better – from the previous book, I only knew her as farmer and star sculpture welder. She’s a tough cookie, but with secret pain. Charlie was a lot more straightforward and honest, which made it easy for me to trust him as a reader (Kim, not so much – she’s suspicious with good reason).

John’s story was very interesting. I haven’t read many books on Australians in Vietnam and the aftereffects. My knowledge comes from friends of my parents and people I’ve met. I think Fiona Palmer has tackled what is still a sensitive subject to some with tact and dignity. She showed great respect for both John and Harry. My only negative is that the two storylines seemed disjointed at times. I did work out what the secret was later, but initially I wondered why we were hearing so much about John and what his link was to the story, besides being a friend of Harry’s.

As always, Fiona’s books are a delight to read. One (or two, three or four) chapters are never enough! She creates great, true Aussie characters that represent rural culture in combination with a rollicking story. I was glad to have the time to devour this book properly.

The Grazier’s Wife by Barbara Hannay

In brief: The grazier’s wives over two generations (and hopefully a third) all have their secrets. But some have bigger ramifications than others…

The good: Barbara Hannay’s stories are the calorie-free version of a chocolate bar – rich and satisfying.

The not-so-good: The fallout from the big reveal was tied up quickly and neatly.

Why I chose it: It’s Barbara Hannay! Thanks to Penguin Australia for the eARC.

Year: 2016

Pages: 432

Publisher: Penguin Books Australia

Setting: Rural Queensland, Australia

My rating: 9 out of 10

I always look forward to a Barbara Hannay novel because her books tick so many of the right boxes for me. The Grazier’s Wife practically ticks them all – a family secret, dual timelines, romance, Australian rural setting and well written. It’s no wonder I powered through this book in just a few days.

The book opens with a bang both in the past and the present. The first grazier’s wife Stella looks to be in trouble and she does what she considers a terrible thing. Then we move to the current day as Seth, the current grazier’s son is working on the family property. He has very few cares in the world – his parents are on a well-deserved holiday and he’s enjoying his work. Then a former short-term girlfriend appears, baby in arms. Little Charlie is now his as she’s going home to marry her fiancé. Seth cops it on the chin and immediately becomes man of the district as he looks after little Charlie as a single dad. Things look sweet again for the Drummond family as life settles into a new routine but when Jackie, Seth’s mum decides to get the family sideboard resilvered, she shakes up Drummond history in a way that nobody expects. Hidden behind the mirror is Stella’s diary of life as a nurse in Singapore and her ‘dreadful’ secret revealed.

The narrative then moves between past and present day as Stella’s life in Singapore during World War II is revealed. How she came to marry Magnus Drummond is revealed as Jackie reflects on her own perceived shortcomings in social status. But it’s Alice, she works on repairing the sideboard who captivates Seth. Alice has her own past that she believes will prevent anything long term with Seth. Can the women move through their problems and the family survive the reveal of Stella’s secret?

Barbara Hannay’s books are always comforting and captivating for me. I love the way that history and the present are tangled together and the characters are always fascinating. Not just Seth, who is the bachelor of the district (seriously, this guy has few flaws) but Stella could have easily had her own book. Her stories in war time were very interesting, particularly as I have an interest in Far North Queensland and Singapore during that time. Alice is wonderfully complex with a lot to work through and it’s pleasing to see her growth throughout the story.

The big secret didn’t quite end up the way I thought it would (which I like, because surprises are good). I feel though that the way the family dealt with the reveal was a bit mixed. It was a really big deal, which I expected. Then Jackie had some practical ideas, which I thought was a good step. Then we had some falling out with Hugh Drummond’s sister, which I thought was a bit petty, but incredibly sweet-natured on Hugh’s behalf. Then everyone calmed down and started to work things out, then it was solved very quickly. So quickly that the Drummond family announced their intentions the very next day. It just seemed to be tied up very neatly, very fast for me. Perhaps the Drummonds are a quick-decision family and the forthcoming party was the next thing on their minds! It certainly didn’t ruin the story for me, but I did feel a little bit, ‘so this is it?!’. I got my happily ever after so I can’t complain too much!

Overall, The Grazier’s Wife is warm and engaging – just what you want to read during a cold winter.

The Doctor Calling by Meredith Appleyard

In brief: Laura has escaped to the small rural town of Potters Junction from a world of pain. When she becomes involved in the care of her next door neighbour Neill, a number of secrets are revealed. One: she’s a GP. Two: Neill’s family, especially his son Jake, have their own skeletons. Can they help each other?

The good: I adored this story, following Laura as she starts to regain confidence in herself.

The not-so-good: Neill’s deterioration – I knew it was coming but it was so sad.

Why I chose it: Thank you to Penguin Australia for the eARC.

Year: 2016

Pages: 384

Publisher: Penguin Australia

Setting: South Australia

My rating: 10 out of 10

I’m still mentally kicking myself as I write this review for not reading Meredith Appleyard sooner. If you don’t get anything else out of this review, remember this: go and read The Doctor Calling. It’s a wonderful story that ticks off the right boxes for a great read for me: personal growth of the heroine, friendship, a dash of romance, secrets, some medicine and a happy ending. I adored this story. If it were a person, I’d buy it dinner in gratitude and we’d probably become best friends. There’s just something intangible about the story that I just ‘got’ and the book ‘got’ me.

On the surface, there’s nothing earth-shattering about the content of The Doctor Calling, but it is written with such tenderness and understanding that the book can’t help but find its way into your heart. The protagonist is Laura, who has retreated to the cottage she inherited from her great aunt after a number of devastating losses. Laura feels like she’s lost everything from family to career and renovating the cottage is her way of trying to heal. Her main contact is with her neighbour Neill, who is terminally ill with metastatic cancer but she hides a secret even from him – she’s a GP from the city. Then Neill’s son Jake appears on the scene –he’s come to see Neill one last time, tie up some loose ends. Sparks fly between Laura and Jake, but it’s a slow burning relationship. The main focus of the story is Laura’s healing, returning to work, making friends and opening her heart to love.

It was heart-warming to see Laura grow and Meredith Appleyard handles each step of Laura’s return to society tenderly and with skill. The reader is there as she makes her first consult as a GP (once Laura’s profession is revealed, the local doctors are like a moth to a flame because of the dire shortage of rural GPs) and as she struggles with her feelings for Jake. Running parallel to this is the secrets of the Finlay family as Neill and Jake skirt around a decades-old issue and Jess (Jake’s sister) faces devastation as her own world collapses around her. It sounds callous, but another aspect of the book I really enjoyed was that there were no easy fixes for any of the characters. They all had to work through their problems and that look time, with stumbles along the way.

If you are looking for a story where romance is the primary focus, you may be disappointed with The Doctor Calling. I’d say the story is more rural fiction than rural romance. Sure, there’s some hot scenes between Laura and Jake but this story is about Laura. Deep down, she’s strong but she has suffered some horrible events that she needs to recover from. Looking after Neill (who is an absolute sweetheart) helps her to do so, as does working (and standing up to local GP Milt) and friendship with Jess. The story shows the many sources in our lives that we can draw strength on.

Meredith Appleyard also does brilliantly with the aspects of medicine in the story. I love reading medical stories, but I’m a harsh critic when it comes to getting it right. I couldn’t fault any of this – the language used when talking to Neill about palliative care was perfect, as was Laura’s diagnostic suspicions and discussions with her patients. Neill’s deterioration was also handled sensitively and realistically – so much so that his passing brought a tear (or three) to my eye.

The Doctor Calling is a perfect rural story, and if you’re after more of Meghan (the GP of Magpie Ridge), her story can be found in The Country Practice.

Summer Harvest by Georgina Penney

In brief: Beth has been through some hard times, so when her grandmother surprises her with a trip to Australia, it’s hard to say no. Amid the beauty of Western Australia’s south, she finds how to be herself again – and perhaps how to love if Clayton has any say in it!

The good: I do love a West Aussie setting and the great descriptions made me long for a holiday!

The not-so-good: We didn’t see too much of Jo (heroine of Fly In Fly Out).

Why I chose it: Really enjoyed Fly In Fly Out – thanks to Penguin Australia for the eARC.

Year: 2016

Pages: 320 (eARC)

Publisher: Michael Joseph (Penguin)

Setting: England and south west Western Australia

My rating: 8.5 out of 10

Summer Harvest is a perfect read for…well, summer. It has that filled-with-light, lazy holiday feel to it, yet it covers some darker subject matter with skill and tenderness. A word of warning though, the story will make you crave a getaway to Western Australia’s Margaret River region (home of wine, cheese, chocolate, fudge and surf)! It’s one of those books that show off my home state to the world and make me proud to be a West Aussie.

The story opens in grey, drizzly England where Beth is living a mundane, day to day existence. Since her double mastectomy for breast cancer (which coincided with her husband leaving her – nice guy), she’s been living with her grandparents. Her only spot of joy is her work as a dog trainer. (It was at this point that I wondered how big a role Beth’s job was going to play in the story because I’m not a dog person – but it’s not much). She’s surprised when her gem of a grandmother gives her a ticket to Australia, the home of Violet’s favourite soap. The only thing is that Louis, her grandfather, got the wrong side of the country and Beth is off to Western Australia. (The better side, really). On arrival, Beth takes off for the south west to have a really relaxing break away from cities and people and…everything. She didn’t expect that a chance meeting with a handsome stranger would end up changing the tone of her holiday… Beth quickly falls into a friendship with Laura and Clayton, but Clayton could mean something much more. But Beth feels she’s damaged a Clayton has a demon or two to deal with (not to mention his father and grandmother being at loggerheads). Can they get it together?

I’m sure you know the answer to that last question, but it’s a really fun trip getting there. Beth seemed to me a bit insipid initially, but I think that’s because she’s so shy and damaged from her experiences that she’s reluctant to reveal herself to even the reader. As we got to know her, she came across as much stronger and meeting Clayton helped with that strength coming to the fore. The jokey way Clayton and his friend Jeff competed for Beth’s affections was a great demonstration of Aussie mateship. Clayton was a great hero, he appeared to tick all the boxes initially, but I liked seeing his more vulnerable, softer and questioning side. Laura (Jeff’s sister and the owner of the cottage where Beth stayed) was a character I’d like to know more about – she’s a bit quirky and full of sensible advice. Perhaps she will get her own book in the future? Penney also writes fantastic older characters, from the fiery Angie (Clayton’s grandmother) to the frank Violet, who was born to gossip. There’s also some romance around the more mature folk, which is handled sensitively but with several fireworks.

Summer Harvest also explores life post-cancer, which is a topic that gaining more interest, both in the lay press and oncology circles. Given that survival rates for several cancers are now better than they’ve ever been, people can expect to live for decades after, if not their full life span. For Beth, who had a double mastectomy and lost her sister to the same disease, it’s not an easy process. Her scars and mastectomy bra revolt her to the point where she doesn’t want anyone (even Clayton) to see them. Changes in body image and sexuality are common post breast cancer (feeling of loss as a woman) but aren’t something that’s talked about that often. I’m pleased that Summer Harvest covers this in detail.

But the story is not all doom and gloom. There’s some hot sex scenes and plenty of good wine, balanced with some very funny moments (think a sheep in a tractor for example). I can’t wait to see what Georgina Penney comes up with next.