Author: Rachael Johns
Harlequin MIRA RRP $24.99
Review: Monique Mulligan
After reading Man Drought earlier this year and then hosting Rachael Johns as a Stories on Stage speaker (read my interview with her here), I was more than happy to receive an advance copy of her next book, Outback Dreams. Hands up if you wish you received that advance copy … if your hand is waving, then you’ll be happy to read that I have one copy to give away to AU readers. More on that later. I was hoping for another fun-loving romp in John’s refreshing style and I’m happy to say that’s just what I got – an enjoyable story of two people looking for love in the wrong direction.
Thirty-year-old Faith Forrester lives on a farm in a small Western Australian town with her father and brother. Her mother died of breast cancer 10 years earlier and since then Faith has been running around after her brother and father like a chook with its head chopped off … but, she’d much rather be running around on the farm. That doesn’t seem to be an option so when Faith is at a boarding school reunion, she decides to take part in a fundraising challenge and prove to herself (and her old school peers) that she’s doing something worthwhile. That’s not the only complication Faith has added to her life in one fell swoop – when asked about her love-life, which is non-existent, she thinks on her feet and tells everyone that her long-time best friend Monty (Daniel) is her boyfriend, hoping that will satisfy their lust for information.
Back in town, she updates Monty, and is surprised to find that she’s looking at him in a new way. He looks pretty good, she thinks, wondering why she’s never really noticed before. Turns out Monty has news of his own. After years of dreaming of a farm to call his own, Monty has the deposit he needs to buy a property. With Faith’s new charity mission and Monty’s real-estate venture, things look like they’re falling into place … apart from the fact that neither of them have partners, Monty has a crush on a girl who doesn’t seem interested, and Faith can’t stop looking at Monty’s ripped bod. When the two travel down south to check out a property Monty is interested in, a few too many red wines lead to an amorous night under the stars and suddenly life is more complicated than ever before. Both want to be in love, but they just didn’t expect it to be with each other.
What an enjoyable read! Just the right amount of conflict, heat and romance, played out by two great characters in Faith and Monty. I read this after a few heavier books and it turned out to be the perfect antidote for a weighed-down mind! Johns has really found her forte in romance writing; she tells a good yarn, uses humour well, and she makes her rural settings look darn inviting. I’m looking forward to the rest of what is, as I discovered later, a three-book series (you can read this as a standalone, though) and I think for her growing fan base, Outback Blaze and Outback Ghost won’t come fast enough.
One of the key elements in determining whether a romance works or not, aside from the requisite conflict of sorts, is the chemistry between the leads. I really liked that Faith and Monty started out as friends first and that the romantic attraction was a later addition to their relationship – it gives me faith in their longevity. Often with a fast-burn relationship I wonder what will happen once the lust and desire wears off (or at least dims, as it is wont to do). Once the attraction was sparked, I found it believable; at different times I felt frustrated by the characters’ miscommunications and wanted to give them a shake! Other characters, such as Ruby and Adam, who will be highlighted in the next two books, rounded out the story well, providing stability, added interest and a little extra conflict (as well as friendship and a voice of reason for the love-addled Faith and Monty).
It’s not all sweetness and light; the storyline also explores a touchy relationship between Faith and her still-grieving father, as well as an issue close to Johns’ heart, autism. Yes, in essence it’s a romance, but I do like a bit more depth and Outback Dreams delivers that with a gentle touch.
To be in the chance to win a copy of Outback Dreams, simply tell me where in the Aussie outback you’d like to have a romantic picnic. Due to postage costs, this competition is only open to AU residents. A winner will be selected at random on Sunday, September 29.
Bookish treat: Strawberries dipped in good quality dark chocolate. Fed to me by my beloved, of course.