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Australian Outback

REVIEW:  Red Dirt Duchess by Louise Reynolds

REVIEW: Red Dirt Duchess by Louise Reynolds

Red Dirt Duchess cover - Calbre

Dear Ms. Reynolds:

I decided to read Red Dirt Duchess because it was set in part in outback Australia and because the heroine sounded interesting. The Australian setting was nice and Charlie was indeed an enjoyable heroine, but it wasn’t enough to overcome some weaknesses in the plot and characterization. Before I move on, I’d also like to note that there are no duchesses in the book and that Charlie has dark hair, so I’m at a loss as to how the title and cover were chosen.

Jonathan Hartley-Huntley is a travel writer – exclusive resorts and other expensive attractions – for Aristo magazine. He’s educated, polished and successful. His editor Caro sends him to middle-of-nowhere Bindundilly, an assignment that he believes to be her idea of a punishment when their supposedly no-strings affair does not lead to something more serious. If this were a historical romance, Jon would be the rakish aristocratic hero with a severe case of ennui who doesn’t get along with this family and doesn’t know what to do with his life. In a contemporary, he’s mainly lacking in direction and initiative: he’s mainly focused on holding off his mother, who wants him to marry and produce heirs (he’s the second son of an earl), and avoiding Caro, who is the sort of woman his mother would choose. That said, he’s more appealing than the description suggests.

At Bindundilly, Jonathan meets Charlie Hughes, who runs the local hotel/pub. Charlie is the daughter of an artist father and a mother who struggled on and off with drug addiction; she had an unconventional childhood, and she misses her parents, both now gone. She moved to Bindundilly with her father a few years before his death, and likes living there. Charlie and Jonathan hit off pretty quickly. She finds it entertaining to oversell the dangers of the Australian outback to Jon, and he enjoys playing along to see how far she’ll go with it. They end up kissing and consider doing more, but both know that there’s no real possibility of a relationship given their very different lives and they decide to leave it at that.

Charlie’s father painted a mural on one of the pub’s walls that reminds Jon of a painting at his family’s home, Hartley Hall; this painting is personally meaningful to him and is tied to a childhood trauma that remains unspecified for much of the book. Charlie knows very little about her father’s background, other than that he was British-born, and before Jon leaves, he suggests that she should travel to England to see the painting and try learn more about her father.

It’s not clear why they think that this is the best way for Charlie to look into her father’s past, but a few weeks later, she impulsively takes Jon up on his offer. Maybe Google wasn’t working that day. Once the action shifts to England, the book loses much of its charm. I was again reminded of historical romances, because anyone who’s read certain classics should be able to predict the rest of the plot: Jon’s family, especially his mother, doesn’t approve of Charlie; she makes friends with the sassy and ultra-competent butler; the older Lady Rushton, a friend of the family, immediately takes to her; Charlie saves the day when there’s an emergency at a glitzy wedding being hosted at Hartley Hall (the family rents it out for events as a source of income); surprise relatives pop up, and so on. Jon’s family is the most stereotypical cold upper-class family imaginable and Caro is a standard-issue bitchy ex (though not an outright evil one, at least). It was all just too cookie cutter to really be engaging.

The thing is, this could have been a really nice romance. Charlie and Jon have chemistry, especially in the early parts, and they clearly enjoy each other’s company and like one another. Charlie is confident in herself and mostly happy with her life, and while she feels out of place in England, she doesn’t view herself as unworthy or less than the people she meets. When she steps up to help at the wedding – of a reality TV star known mostly for taking her clothes off – she’s happy to help make the couple’s day special and is the one person who never condescends to them. She recognizes her parents’ faults but loves them nonetheless, and wants to be with Jon, but not if he can’t stand up for himself and make his own choices rather than his mother’s. Charlie, and to a lesser extent Jon, deserved a better and less generic story. C-/C

Best regards,
Rose

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REVIEW:  A Bride for the Maverick Millionaire by Marion Lennox

REVIEW: A Bride for the Maverick Millionaire by Marion Lennox

Dear Ms. Lennox,

From the wonderful descriptions in this book, I’d say that you enjoyed yourself on your cruise through the same locations. Only I hope you and your DH didn’t go overboard and need to consider whittling a waddy then adding roasted lizard to your menu. Book two in the “Journey through the Outback” series takes up where sister Amy’s story left off though I think that readers could start with either book and enjoy them equally. Barley sugar, anyone?

 

“Rachel Cotton has high hopes for her cruise through the beautiful Kimberley region–surely this will be the perfect chance to forget her past and enjoy some much-needed rest and relaxation? But gorgeous shipmate Finn Kinnard seems much more interested in stirring her up!

Finn might make Rachel feel all woman, but he also warns her that romantically he can’t be relied on. But when a high-octane adventure puts this claim to the test, Rachel discovers there’s much more to Finn than meets the eye–and that he might be just the man to entrust her fragile heart to….”

a-bride-for-the-maverick-millionaire
Once again you manage to construct two wildly disparate characters who, on the surface, are miles apart but who end up being perfect for each other. I also like that they’re friends and comrades – once they get past their initial prickly introductions – before romance enters the picture, both enjoying their to-the-death Scrabble games with Dame Maud. Each has to overcome deep seated beliefs which are direct results of past issues in their lives. Finn’s father made a game of seducing a certain type of weak woman while Rachel’s bastard of an ex-husband twisted truth and lies until the event that injured Rachel and killed their unborn child.

Finn sees petite Rachel and his mind immediately flashes back to his weak, fragile mother who depended exclusively on others. He has to learn by watching her that Rachel is one of the strongest women he’s ever met and would never fit the description of “helpless female.” In fact, it’s her agility – despite her gimpy hip – and expert knowledge of rocks that gets the job done when it needs doing. Geologist Rachel to the rescue! But then ever since he’d seen her slither though red dust on her back to get a glimpse of prehistoric cave drawings of wombats, Finn has known – deep down – that Rachel is special. And, devious man that he is, he knows enough to entice Rachel with Big Rocks – instead of the expensive chocolate that lesser men might resort to – when the occasion demands.

Rachel is a woman who’s been lied to in the past by someone whom she should have been able to trust. She senses that Finn isn’t being totally honest with her about who he is and what his family relationships are. She and Maud decide that he’s an honorable rogue. When she discovers exactly who and what he is, Rachel accepts that not everything is black or white nor need it be. Her trust had been shattered but through Finn’s careful treatment of his siblings and of his honorable treatment her, it is rebuilt and strengthened. Finn is also the man who asks about Rachel’s child and through talking about her lost daughter, Rachel can be sure that her baby won’t be gone to everyone except Rachel. Let me say that this part of that scene choked me up. Finn is the man who makes Rachel want to believe in men and their promises again. Both end up growing as people even as they fall in love.

Despite all the character growth over weighty issues, this isn’t a total angsty, downer of a book as shown in the deadpan humorous dialogue:

‘So we’re dividing labour according to sex? You want me to hunt and kill while you make fire?’

He grinned. ‘Be my guest. Go bash a barley sugar to death.’

‘I’m far too sensitive. They look at me with their big brown eyes.’ Then she saw his hands and her smile died. ‘You need to let me help. Your hands are already blistering with sunburn.’

‘Yours are prettier than mine to start with,’ he said. ‘Why spoil four hands? But you might usefully hunt and kill firewood. Does driftwood look at you?’

The meddling busybody character usually doesn’t work for me but as in “Her Outback Rescuer,” Dame Maud is a secondary yet essential component to the story as well. She’s an enthusiastic matchmaker, intrepid tourist and determined rescuer when those she loves are in danger. Anyone who tangles with her or makes the mistake of dismissing her concerns soon learns you don’t fool with Dame Maud. That also goes for Finn and Rachel when Maud thinks they need a swift kick to get back on the road to a potential HEA. Maud comes off more as a wise and loving mothering character instead of a pushy and interfering one.

The ending of the book did get a touch treacly and group hug-ish in contrast to the slightly acerbic, yet still funny, beginning. Still it’s a strong ending to the series – or is it? – and a lovely armchair tour of what sounds like a fabulous part of Australia. B

~Jayne

 

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