New Release Book Review: Two Hearts Healing by Renee Dahlia

Two Hearts HealingTwo Hearts Healing by Renee Dahlia is book 3 in the Merindah Park series and focuses on the third sibling Serena and her trainer boss Lee.

Serena is recovering from an accident whilst riding in a horse race, she’s dealing with the recovery of both physical injuries and traumatic brain injury. It is definitely not an easy time and Renee Dahlia does a great job of showing us some of the many impacts TBI can have on a person, while reminding us it is different for everyone and whilst someone can look physically ok, that doesn’t mean they aren’t struggling with hidden issues.

Serena is stubborn, whereas before the accident she would do as she was told, she is starting to find her voice and make decisions based on what she truly wants and feels is important to her, the top two things on her list are to ride again and to kiss Lee.

Lee has been blaming himself for Serena’s accident and has cut himself off from Shannon, Serena’s brother, and his friend, as well as from Serena. When she turns up unexpectedly asking for help to get back on a horse, Lee is left feeling emotions he has no idea how to deal with. His relationship with his parents has played a major role in how Lee sees himself and how he holds himself emotionally around others, and Serena is about to test every one of those walls and boundaries he has put around himself.

I really enjoyed these two characters, and while the banter between them was fun, there were also misunderstandings, arguments, and revelations. There is plenty of growth in store for both characters as they negotiate their feelings for each other and try and figure out what they want and what it means to have those things. 

We met Serena in book two Making Her Mark as she is Rachel’s twin and they were both struggling to build a real relationship between each other as they are both quite different people. While in Making Her Mark Serena had Rachel’s back, it is nice to see their relationship has continued to grow and this time Rachel is there for Serena.

I have learnt a great deal about the horseracing industry through this series, in book one Merindah Park there is the issue of gambling, then in Making her Mark I leanrt about the extra work female jockeys have to do to get the same respect as their male counterparts, and in Two Hearts Healing I learnt about the care of horses and the issue of finding the correct homes for them when they can no longer race. It is evident that Renee Dahlia has great knowledge and love of this industry and is determined to educate us about what really goes on.

I’ve really enjoyed this series so far and I really hope there is a fourth for the last brother Shannon.

Thanks to NetGalley and Escape Publishing for a digital copy of this novel in return for an honest review.

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Book Review: Dead Again by Sandi Wallace

This is my #AWW2020 book #2 and I’m also joining in the Backlist Book Challenge which Amanda @ Mrs B’s Book Reviews alerted me about,  so this is my first book in #20backlistin2020.

IMG_20200109_210413I’ve had this book, Dead Again by Sandi Wallace (Rural Crime Files, Franklin and Harvey #2) out of my library for 6 months, which is a ridiculous amount of time to have had it sitting next to my bed. I don’t know why I finally picked it up now, but I’m very glad I did as it was so good, I had trouble putting it down to go to sleep each evening. It was a ‘one more chapter’ book, but because the chapters are nice and short, I’d think, well maybe just one more.

Considering the fires all over our country right now, it was also quite a fitting read being about the aftermath of a terrible wildfire in Victoria 2 years beforehand and the search for the truth about those fires. I didn’t know this before starting reading as I didn’t read the blurb, I had it out because I read book one in 2018 and really enjoyed it. I’m now waiting for the library to get hold of book 3 for me.

In this novel, Melbourne journalist Georgie Harvey is on an assignment in the small rural town of Bullock 2 years after wildfires tragically nearly wiped out the town and killed 46 people. She is there to find a story, but she finds more than she bargained for. This novel asks the questions what are the long term after-effects of a tragedy like this on the people and the town? Should people rebuild in such an area? And why would they want to? It also asks the question if it is arson and the person is caught, what would justice look like for a crime like this?

As Georgie gets to know the people in the town and builds trust with several of the characters, she starts to uncover a mystery about a missing man, is he missing or is he dead, and if he is missing, then why? Her investigation leads her to work with police officer John Harvey from Daylesford, who we met in book 1 and who Georgie had an emotional connection with. This book takes place 8 months after book 1, and that connection is still there for both of them, but can anything come of it this time since Georgie is still in a relationship. For me, a big part of my enjoyment of this book was the connection between these two characters and the relationship and banter that builds between them. I can’t wait until book 3 now to find out where this possible relationship goes.

Franklin has his own issues in his town, with vagrants, vandalism, and break-ins to investigate as well as a love triangle that may prove dangerous to all involved.

The characters are all very real and very Aussie and I could relate to many of them and see the behaviours of others as very understandable, both the good and the bad.

I really loved meeting Georgie, Fraklin and his daughter Kat, as well as the other police officers from Daylesford. I wasn’t really a fan of Georgie’s partner AJ in books 1 and that didn’t change in book 2, I admit to having my fingers crossed the whole time that they would break up.

There was plenty of intrigue and twists and turns to keep me interested throughout this novel, and I enjoyed it even more than book 1. This can be read as a standalone, but for your enjoyment, I’d read book 1 first.

You may see this book pop up again in one or more of my challenges this year as there are a few crossovers.

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Book Review: Fleeting Moments by Rania Battany

I’ve finished my first book of the year and my first book in the #AWW2020 challenge and what a fabulous book to kick off the year.

IMG_20191219_111738I actually read this at the end of November, but I was having an issue with fatigue and wasn’t up to writing a review, I also had a thought in bed after reading it about why Maya, the main character annoyed me so much, but by morning it had flittered away. I thought it only fair to reread it so I could give it a proper review, and I’m glad I did. The thought that came to me after reading it the first time was, ‘Hmm I think the reason Maya annoys me so much is that in many ways I totally relate to her and she has many of the characteristics I don’t like so much in myself’, as is so often the case with things that annoy us about others.

Reading this for the second time, I could see so much of myself and some of my relationships, in Maya, it was so clear and confronting. Rania Battany says in her author’s note at the end of the book “I wanted to create a heroine that was flawed, and Maya is seriously flawed. I often read stories with strong, independent and powerful women, and while these characters may empower others, I can never relate. I wanted to create a character who had to fight her way back after loss, not only the loss of a loved one but the loss of connection with themselves and others – the loss of self-identity and relationships. Regardless of each personal journey, the struggle of fighting through a period of darkness is a universal one, and I believe Maya’s journey is one a lot of women will be able to identify with.”

Well, Ms Battany has certainly achieved this, at least as far as I’m concerned, I identified a great deal. Her author’s note really connected with me the first time I read it too. Reading Fleeting Moments for the second time, was even more satisfying in some ways than the first time, maybe because I knew how it ended and I was able to relax a little more, maybe because this time I knew why Maya annoyed me so much and because of this I had far more empathy for her this time around, just like I realise I need to have for myself.

Maya really is a great character, she is flawed and sees herself as different from others, unable to connect properly, unable to be understood, she deals with anger and hurt by withdrawing or getting angry (I feel like I’m talking about myself).

When the book starts we meet Michael, an asshole, and her longtime partner, things hit rock bottom for Maya soon after and we ride along with her for the fallout.

Then we meet Sam, (big sigh), what a gorgeous guy, (just the kind of guy I need) and maybe the kind of guy Maya needed. Sam is positive, easy-going, generous, kind and a great friend. I loved Sam and wondered why he persevered sometimes with Maya (hmm another insight into myself). I loved the relationship that Maya and Sam started to develop, the whole getting to know someone can be fraught with many challenges, especially if you are full of self-doubt.

Another element to the story is Maya’s grief at losing her father and how this has impacted just about every aspect of her life. We all deal with grief differently, there is no right or wrong way and sometimes it can be really messy. I am lucky and haven’t experienced grief like Maya, I’m not sure how I’d cope and hopefully, I won’t have to find out for a very long time, but I imagine it would be a very messy and mixed up time. Seeing how Maya had coped with this grief was heartbreaking, losing the one person she thought truly understood her, made other relationships tumble.  Maya’s relationships with her sister and her mother are difficult and I  lived alongside Maya while she worked through the issues she had with them, wondering if they could be repaired in any way. My heart really went out to all three of them, I could completely empathise with each character.

We also meet Amanda, who Maya works with and who extends to Maya a hand in friendship. Amanda, and what she is dealing with, is a reminder that we need to connect with others, that we need to see past what is there on the surface and get to know people and find out how they really are coping with life. Connections with others are so important and we can all gain so much from taking the time to get to know people on more than a surface level.

This is a story of loss, grief, hope, love, friendship and finding oneself amidst the chaos of this thing we call life. This is a story I am sure I will revisit again one day because Rania Battany certainly achieved her goal of writing a character I was able to identify with and one that would give me hope “that healing is possible no matter how deep the pain

Thanks to the author for providing me with a copy of this novel in return for an honest review. Thanks also to the author for giving me so much to think about and work on in my own life.

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New Release Book Review – Last Bridge Before Home by Lily Malone

Last BridgeI loved the first two books in the Chalk Hill series, Water Under the Bridge and The Cafe by the Bridge and have been looking forward to Last Bridge Before Home. It certainly didn’t disappoint. Where The Cafe by the Bridge highlighted male depression and the need to ask for help, Last Bridge Before Home deals with another topical issue, domestic abuse.

Jaydah for all she comes across as a strong young woman is also an insecure young woman who has been physically and mentally abused for most of her life by her father who is an absolute bastard. It’s not just Jaydah who has been a victim to this vile excuse of a man, but also her mother and her sister Jasmine. Much of Jaydah’s life has been spent protecting them from her father and taking on responsibility for keeping them all safe. I can’t imagine living like Jaydah, being so afraid to tell anyone what is going on, keeping so many secrets all to herself, huge secrets that no one in the town of Chalk Hill has any idea about.

But is that really true? Well, one secret yes, but most people in Chalk Hill had an inkling that things weren’t exactly right with Jaydah’s father, but no one wanted to step up and ask questions, then afterwards they say ‘why didn’t you say something, why didn’t you tell us?’ way to pass the blame to the victim. This happens in real life all too often, no one wants to take responsibility for what might be going on behind closed doors, maybe we should start looking out for each other and asking the hard questions ‘Do you need help? Can I do anything? Is everything all right?’. Be there and let the people/person in question know that when they are ready, you are there, no judgement, just support.

Brix, what a lovely, loyal guy he was, and no pun intended, but what a ‘brick’ of a character he was. Jaydah has always been the love of his life and he has never given up hope that one day she will be his. Jaydah has kept her secrets even from Brix who thought he knew everything about her. I’m not sure how I would have coped if I found out all of my partners secrets and had to deal with all the issues that Brix does, but the way he took it all in his stride despite his worries about how he would deal with everything was fabulous and truly showed his love for Jaydah.

Another issue that Lily Malone deals with in this novel is the aspect of caring for someone with an intellectual disability and all it entails. She also delves into the dreams of people with a disability and what they can realistically expect when it comes to freedom of choice and their future. This is a hard topic as anyone who cares for or works with a person with disabilities can attest to. I work with people with disabilities and I can’t imagine what it would be like to have the responsibility for a person day in, day out, to make the hard choices, to explain why they can’t have everything they see others around them having. Dealing with the behaviours of people with intellectual disabilities is challenging and Lily Malone has done a great job with both her character portrayal and showing the good and the bad of living with such a challenge.

There were many tense moments in this novel, there were heartbreaking moments, moments of joy, moments I wanted to take one of Jaydah’s kali sticks and whack her father across the head for her, there were ups and downs and many wonderful moments threaded through this novel making it an absolute joy to read despite its darkness.

I hope we get to visit Chalk Hill again and see how the three brothers and their partners are going, along with their extended families.

Thanks to Harlequin Mira Australia and NetGalley for providing me with a digital copy in return for an honest review.

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Book Review: True Blue by Sasha Wasley

IMG_20191219_111731I absolutely loved this novel and I can’t believe I let it sit on my shelf unread for so long. After reading Dear Banjo for the second time the other month, I knew I had to get to books 2 & 3 ASAP. True Blue was another fabulous story in the Daughter’s of the Outback series and this time we get to know Free (Freya), the more flighty of the sisters, except she’s not as flighty as her sisters have her believing.

I really loved getting to know Free, she’s an artist and I love the way she looks at life, always trying to see the best in people and experiences. I loved how she gets totally absorbed in her art; I am the same way, (maybe we are kindred spirits). There was a lot of humour in this story, and a lot of heart.

Free takes up an artists residency teaching position at the local high school and as nervous as she is, I loved the way she taught, maybe if I’d had a teacher like her I’d have pursued art earlier in life. She makes enemies early on, without meaning to, with a truly unlikeable character who is a  colleague at the school. What a nasty piece of work he turned out to be, even worse than my first impressions.

We also have the romance (of course), and what a lovely man Constable Finn Kelly is. It is a bit of a bumpy journey for these two to get together, plenty of misunderstandings and worrying about the future. I really enjoyed the chemistry and the interactions between Free and Finn, (I wish I could meet him myself, too bad he’s a fictional character).

We get to catch up with Banjo and Tom and see how they are going, we also get to know Beth a little more as it’s Beth who Free turns to a lot when she needs someone to talk to or a shoulder to cry on. Beth could be pretty hard and pessimistic towards Free, but I think this stems from her own issues, (which I’m pretty sure we’ll find out more about in the next book Love Song, which is Beth’s story), but she’s still a supportive and protective big sister.

Running through the story is the issue of mining and the environment and the importance of fighting for our environments protection.

I think Free did a lot of growing in this story and came out much stronger and had way more belief in herself by the end of the story.

I highly recommend this novel and this series.

New Release book Review: The Good Woman of Renmark by Darry Fraser

IMG_20191113_183424Within the first couple of pages, Darry Fraser managed to transport me, once again, to another time and place, and there I stayed for the whole novel. It is 1895 in Renmark, South Australia, and a tough young woman has just defended herself and her friend from a rapist. Fearing repercussion she is now on the run for her life and her freedom.

What a time to live in, where women have a lot fewer rights than men and a man’s word will always mean more than that of a woman’s. Maggie doesn’t think this is fair at all and refuses to live her life being a slave to a man and popping out babies (I so agree with her!).

I really liked Maggie, she was stubborn, tough, opinionated and determined, all things women in that time, and this need to get by (though at times she was too stubborn). I loved Sam, talk about loyal, what a fabulous friend to have in times like this. Sam was so in love with Maggie, throughout I just kept hoping Maggie would see that Sam wasn’t the kind of guy to make her give up her independence and give in to her feelings for him.

This was a great journey down the Murray River, seeing how others in that time lived and struggled to make ends meet. The horrible characters from Renmark, it turns out there is one more than we originally think, are not nice people at all, not in behaviour or morally and there were moments I wished that Maggie had truly finished the job she started when she defended herself and her friend.

This was another great read by Darry Fraser and I truly love being transported to the late 1800s in her writing, I also am truly glad I don’t live in those times.

Thanks to Harlequin Australia for a copy in return for an honest review.

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Book Review: The Art of Friendship by Lisa Ireland

IMG_20191103_171448I bought this book when it first came out which is over a year ago now, I got just over a quarter of the way through but was getting annoyed with one of the main characters and obviously wasn’t in the mood for being annoyed because I put it down with the intention of picking it back up down the track, but it never happened. Luckily my friend has just started a bookclub and she chose The Art of Friendship as the first book our group needed to read, which gave me the opportunity to pick it back up. I started from the beginning as it had been so long between reads. And what a great novel it was, I still didn’t like Libby, the main character who annoyed me the first go-round, but this time I was in the right headspace to be able to deal with that.

This novel really does explore the many aspects of friendship, old friendships, new friendships, long-distance friendships, colleague friendships, friendships you make because you belong to the same group or because your kids go to school together, and the way they survive or don’t survive. It really made me think about the friendships I’ve had over the years and the ones I have now, those that are just a few likes on Facebook and those that interact, those I catch up with or chat to regularly and those that I might only have contact with now and again, but I know they are there for me if I ever need them. Not many of my friendships from childhood or even highschool have survived the test of time, (not past Fb anyway), which is kind of sad in a way but also made me wonder about those past friendships and why they died.

As I said, I didn’t like Libby, one of the two main characters, I found her need to please everyone, to make people think she was something she wasn’t, (to make herself be something she wasn’t), to be very annoying, I’ve never been one to pretend or to ‘keep up with the  Jones’, so I always find people like this very false. As the story progressed and you get an idea of why she is how she is, I still didn’t take to her, but despite that, I enjoyed the novel this time around.

Kit, on the other hand I liked a lot, yes she did make some questionable decisions and they both had a hand in making their friendship one that wasn’t wholly based on truth and honesty, but she was still more real and likeable than Libby.

I liked the way Lisa Ireland drew out the secondary characters backstories and how we think we know one thing about them but it turns out to be something completely different, I especially liked that in reference to Libby’s husband.

With Libby’s son, we get to explore, bullying, mental health, and healthy parenting and some of the outcomes are unexpected. Lisa Ireland has done a great job of bringing these important aspects to life and giving you something to think about.

Spousal abuse is yet another theme that comes up in this novel, why and how people let it happen and how they are able to hide it, also, how friends and colleagues miss or justify signs that it is happening. It isn’t a straightforward topic and there isn’t always a way out or a right way of dealing with it.

Lisa explores so many themes in this novel and she does it so well. A really great story that I’m glad I finally got around to finishing.