The Romance Diaries: Ruby, by Jenna Austen

And that’s when it hits me like a thunderbolt. The REAL reason people make mistakes in romance is that they imagine they’re in one kind of story but actually they’re in another!

Ruby believes that real life romances, like romantic stories, fall into two categories – the Jane Austen-esque romantic comedy, or the Jayne Eyre gothic romance. The problem, though, is that people think they’re in one kind of romance when really they’re in the other – and so they fail. But because she knows so much, Ruby has the solution a Romantic Action Plan (RAP) to help her best friend Bella, her sister Jo, and even her mum find true love. What could possibly go wrong?

The Romance Diaries: Ruby is a sweetly romantic diary format offering with a Jane Austen-esque mix of comedy, cads and drama. The first in a new series from ABC Books and Jenna Austen (a pseudonym of award winning author Sophie Masson), the story is told over three months of narrator Ruby’s life as she navigates the challenges of friendship, family and first love.

Aimed squarely at tween readers looking for gentle romance novels, the series is sure to be a hit.

The Romance Diaries - Ruby

The Romance Diaries: Ruby, by Jenna Austen
ABC Books, 2013
ISBN 9780733331527

Available from good bookstores or

The Boomerang Bride, by Fiona Lowe

“Why didn’t he meet your plane?”
Her moment of spunk faded and an aura of fragility hovered around her making her seem smaller than her five feet four inches. “Because, like I said, I’m a surprise.” She plucked at the folds of satin. “You know, the girl jumping out of the cake, only I’m the bride jumping in holding the cake.”
He tried to keep his disbelief out of his voice just in case he’d missed a vital piece of information. “You’re arriving unannounced to get married?”
She shrugged. “It seemed like a good idea last week when I was at home in Narranbool.”

Matilda Geoffrey has been swept off her feet. Her Nana told her she would have a romantic adventure, and this is it. Meeting Barry online, falling in love, then dashing across the world to surprise him by arriving unannounced in her wedding dress, is everything she’s ever dreamed of. But there’s one problem. When she arrives in Hobin she finds herself alone on Main Street, in front of an abandoned building. Not only is there no sign of Barry – it turns out that no one has ever heard of him. Could it be that she’s been conned?

Marc Olsen has never met anyone like Matilda – especially given that when he meets her she’s dressed in an antique wedding gown, clutching a wedding cake and staring at an abandoned shopfront. He’s got bigger things to worry about than another man’s abandoned bride, but somehow circumstances keep throwing them together.

The Boomerang Bride is a warm hearted tale featuring an Australian/American romance which makes lotsof false starts. Matilda has been jilted by a con man, and also has issues with her distant parents and the loss of her much-loved Nana. Marc, too, has lost someone – his father, whose early death left Marc the mainstay of his grieving family. Now he is supporting his sister through a cancer battle, and he has no time for romance, and no intention of ever risking the kind of loss he saw his mother experience. Before they can find love with each other, they must get over their past hurts and their individual misconceptions.

Readers will enjoy following their individual journeys in a tale that combines humour, pathos and, of course, romance.

The Boomerang Bride

The Boomerang Bride, by Fiona Lowe
Mira (Harlequin), 2012
ISBN 978192179556

Available from good bookstores or online.

Creepy & Maud, by Dianne Touchell

I am in love with the girl next door. Our windows are almost opposite each other’s, over the side fence.
I call her Maud. That’s not her real name but that’s what I call her. She’s sort of shortish and curvy. Titian hair. No freckles. A dark, smudgy birthmark on the back of her left calf. A nose piercing her dad knows about and a bellybutton piercing I assume he doesn’t. All right, so I have spent a bit of time looking in there.
Am I sounding creepy? Love is sort of creepy.

Creepy (not his real name but he doesn’t mind that people call him that) is in love with girl next door. He spends all his spare time watching her because his bedroom window looks straight into hers, over the fence. Kind of convenient and also kind of creepy. But Maud (also not her real name – just the pet name Creepy has given her) knows that Creepy is looking and she doesn’t mind. When she doesn’t want him to see she closes her curtains.

Creepy has a view of Maud’s life with a level of intimacy that at times means he knows more than her parents do. For example, he seems to be the only one who knows about the alcohol hidden behind her dolls house, and he has a pretty good view of her hair pulling obsession as it spirals out of control. From just watching he gradually starts to communicate with Maud through notes, though the pair never speak – not even at school, where Maud doesn’t acknowledge him. Their friendship is unorthodox, even at times disturbing, yet it becomes important to both of them as they each struggle with a dysfunctional family, and personal turmoil.

Creepy and Maud is a moving, funny, clever young adult novel which will have readers laughing out loud in places and moved near to tears in others. Creepy is a smart articulate first person narrator, belying his lack of success at school, where he tries to fly under the radar – until his obsession with Maud makes this difficult. Maud, too, has a turn at narrating, giving the reader insight into her and her life which is not available to Creepy. Both are likeable characters though their struggles are at times quite painful, and some of Creepy’s behaviour is disturbing.

Not a difficult read, but there’s a lot to digest, even after it’s finsihed. Creepy and Maud is an outstanding debut novel.

Creepy and Maud

Creepy and Maud, by Dianne Touchell
Fremantle Press, 2012
ISBN 9781921888953

Available from good bookstores or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Brumby's Run, by Jennifer Scoullar

The most important meeting of her life, and she was running late. Faith had offered to come along, but Sam had sensed her reluctance. In the end she’d gone off in a cab by herself, under a gloomy sky. It was probably for the best. This was something she needed to do, alone. The car swished through the rainy streets. Sam stared out the window, stomach knotted tight in anticipation. She was about to meet a sister she’d known about for less than twenty-four hours.

Samantha Carmichael is enjoying a carefree summer before she starts a university degree. But, over lunch, her mother delivers two stunning pieces of news – firstly that Samantha is adopted, and secondly, that she has an identical twin sister, Charlie. It seems the truth has come out now because Charlie is critically ill, and only Sam can save her.

Sam and Charlie have grown up in different worlds, but their connection is instant, and soon Sam finds herself offering to look after her sister’s home at Brumby’s Run, a propety high in the Victorian Alps, while Charlie recovers in the city. Sam knows horses, but she has never lived in the country, and now her days are filled with looking after cattle, breaking brumbies, and getting the run-down property back on track. Fortunately she has a helping hand from the handsome Drew Chandler, the son of the neighbouring property owner and Charlie’s former boyfriend.

As the time for Charlie’s return draws closer, Sam finds herself faced with an unwelcome possibility – has she stolen her sister’s life, and will Charlie want it back?

Brumby’s Run is a moving tale of family secrets and relationships, rural life, and the brumby – the wild mountain dwelling horses of the Australian alps. Whilst this is a romance, the issues dealt with are important too, and dealt with well. the exploration of the many issues surrounding brumbys is especially well handed, leaving the reader well informed.

Issues aside, the key here is that this is an accessible read, with romance at its heart.

Brumby’s Run, by Jennifer Scoullar
Penguin 2012

Available in good bookstores or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Waratah House, by Ann Whitehead

‘It’s an omen,’ Marina said earnestly, and blushed when Sarah made a disgusted ‘tch tch’ sound. ‘My mumma believed in omens,’ she added apologetically. ‘She would have said this golden tunnel is leading us to a bright future.

When Marina arrives at Waratah House, a mansion in southern New South Wales, she hopes it will be the start of a new, better life. It is the first real home she’s ever lived in, having travelled with her parents for most of her young ife. Now, though, she is an orphan, with her parents dying on the trip to Australia, and the man who adopted her also dead. Here at Waratah House she finds a new family amongst the fellow servants. Everyone loves Marina – except her guardian, Sarah, who blames Marina for anything bad that befalls her.

Years later, Marina’s daughter, Emily, finds that she, too, is the victim of Sarah’s wrath. Sarah will stop at nothing to ensure Emily can’t find happiness. Will history repeat itself, or will Emily find a way to follow her dreams?

Set in colonial NSW, Waratah House is an absorbing historical novel exploring the lives of the servants at a country mansion, a fact which is bound to draw comparisons with Downton Abbey, though in this offering the lives of the family ‘upstairs’ is largely incidental to that of the servants, who are very much the focus.

There is a lot going on here, and possibly enough material for two separate books – one focussing on Marina, and the other on her daughter. This would also allow more exploration of other characters – whose lives are interesting, but sometimes touched on only long enough to arouse interest. That quibble aside, Waratah House is on the whole a satisfying read.

Waratah House

Waratah House, by Ann Whitehead
Penguin, 2012
ISBN 9781921518744

This book is available online from Fishpond.

A Distant Land, by Alison Booth

Jim’s mouth is so dry he can hardly swallow. As he struggles into a sitting position, he sees on the lip of the hollow three pairs of feet. Three pairs of feet wearing sandals fashioned from rubber tyres and inner tubes.
Slowly he raises his eyes and sees three rifle barrels. Holding the rifles are three soldiers. They are not the allies. they are not the Cambodians either. These young men are wearing the belted green uniforms of the North Vietnamese Army.
Casually lifting his gun, the tallest soldier directs it at Jim.

Zidra Vincent and Jim Cadwallader have been friends since childhood, but each secretly wonders if their relationship could be something more. But when Jim returns from Cambodia on a short visit, the opportunity to say what they’re feeling doesn’t arise. When he’s summoned back to Cambodia where he’s a war correspondent, Jim promises to write.

In Sydney Zidra follows an story which could be the making of her journalistic career, and waits to hear from Jim. But it is at work that she sees a headline which may change everything: a headline telling of a missing journalist killed in Cambodia. As she realises it is too late to tell Jim how she feels, her world collapses.

A Distant Land is a moving story of love set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War and also highlighting the personal and legal struggles of the Aboriginal rights movement in the 1970s. The history is important to the plot and enlightening for the reader, but doesn’t overshadow the story.

A Distant Land is a conclusion to the Jingera trilogy, but stands alone (I hadn’t read the first two books, though am now tempted to seek them out).

A Distant Land

A Distant Land by Alison Booth
Bantam, 2012

This book is available from good bookstores or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Wattle Creek, by Fiona McCallum

Jacqueline Havelock has never lived in the country, but she needs a fresh start, so when she’s offered a job as a rural psychologist, she takes it. Her first patient is Damien McAllister, a man on the brink.

The saltbush plains stretched for miles all around and without another car in sight, Jacqueline had begin to feel isolated and melancholy. She’d read that the rate of suicide was highest in young men living in rural and remote areas. No wonder, she’d thought wistfully; the environment was so grey, brown and stunted. Refusing to accept any internal suggestion that she was having second thoughts, she’d put on a CD and sang loudly while her eyes focused on the endless white lines dividing the dark bitumen road.

Jacqueline Havelock has never lived in the country, but she needs a fresh start, so when she’s offered a job as a rural psychologist, she takes it. Her first patient is Damien McAllister, a man on the brink. Since his father died and his mother remarried, Damien has been running the family farm. It’s hard, lonely work, and he isn’t even sure why he bothers. He’s certainly not used to sharing his problems, so ending up in the psychologist’s office is painfully embarrassing. Even more embarrassing is the fact that he finds her so attractive – and she’s telling him up front that their relationship must be strictly professional.

As the pair get to know each other, though, both of their lives change. JAcqueline learns about coutnry lfie – its highs and its lows – and Damien learns tof ind hope. If they can both break free fromt he ghosts of their pasts it’s just possible that the pair might find happiness.

Wattle Creek is a rural romance novel , which is also a story about following dreams, unlikely friendships and life in rural Australia. The characters and events will be familiar with those who live in, or have lived in, farming communities. The book also deals with the issue of depression and is dedicated to those who have suffered depression.

A warm tale.

Wattle Creek

Wattle Creek, by Fiona McCallum
Mira Books, 2012
ISBN 978192179539

This book is available in good bookstores, or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

North Star, by Karly Lane

When he was alive, Kate Thurston’s grandfather was a mean, violent drunkard. But he’s dead now – and he’s bequeathed his property to her. Kate and her children need a new start, so it seems that her grandfather has, at last, done her a favour…

His condition?’ Kate arched an eyebrow. ‘Do you mean the fact that he was an alcoholic? I didn’t realise alcoholism was considered a condition nowadays.’ Kate didn’t mean to sound so harsh, but being a violent drunkard could hardly be pt in the same category as diabetes or heart disease.
‘Y-ye, well … um,’ stammered the solicitor, shuffling through the papers on his desk. After a moment he seemed to collect himself and pointed out the places she had to sign.

When he was alive, Kate Thurston’s grandfather was a mean, violent drunkard. But he’s dead now – and he’s bequeathed his property to her. Kate and her children need a new start, so it seems that her grandfather has, at last, done her a favour. But when Kate is confronted by the bad state of the house and the property, and memories from her past emerge, she wonders whether coming back was such a good thing.

As she rebuilds the property, Kate must also navigate the dramas of raising a rebellious teenage daughter and a timid son and the difficulties of starting a new relationship. When her ex-husband turns up it seems there might be no escaping the past.

North Star is an absorbing novel from new author Karly Lane. Set in rural Australia, the tale blends drama with romance for a pleasing whole.

North Star

North Star, by Karly Lane
Allen & Unwin, 2011
ISBN 9781742374826

This book can be purchased in good bookstores, or online from Fishpond.

Paris Dreaming, by Anita Heiss

Libby is over men. Every time she’s been serious with one, they’ve cheated and hurt her. Now she’s on a man-fast, and happy to keep it that way. After all, she has plenty of good stuff in her life…

I’m telling you now: I’m never having another boyfriend – EVER!’

Libby is over men. Every time she’s been serious with one, they’ve cheated and hurt her. Now she’s on a man-fast, and happy to keep it that way. After all, she has plenty of good stuff in her life – a great job that she loves, three wonderful tiddas, and two cats for company at home. She doesn’t need a man. But when she gets the travel bug, Libby finds herself in Paris, surrounded by men and by lovers. Will her resolve falter?

Paris Dreaming is the second in Anita Heiss’ ‘Dreaming’ series featuring strong Koori characters each on a quest for personal fulfilment which includes, but is by no means limited to, romance. Set initially in Canberra, then in Paris, the story follows Libby’s adventures as she travels to Paris to represent the National Aboriginal Gallery at an exhibition in the Musee du Quai Branly. In Paris Libby hones her fashion skills, makes new friends and explores exciting career possibilities, whilst also protecting herself from again having her heart broken.

Libby is an endearing narrator, sharing her story as a first person narrator. The book is Heiss’s special blend of Koori chit-lick, with strong female Aboriginal characters, and the exploration of serious issues such as racial tolerance and cultural sensitivity alongside romance, fashion and fun.

Paris Dreaming is fun and intelligence in equal measure.

Paris Dreaming

Paris Dreaming, by Anita Heiss
Random House, 2011
ISBN 9781741668933

This book can be purchased from good bookstores, or online from Fishpond.