Hired By the Brooding Billionaire by Kandy Shepherd

hired by brooding billionaireOne thing you can be certain of when you pick up a romance novel written by Kandy Shepherd, you’re in for a well-written, light-hearted read. It’s no accident Shepherd subtitles her website: “fun, feel-good fiction!” Her scenarios are fun; the inevitable happy ending is fun. Yet there are often surprising elements in the writing that adds an extra layer of enjoyment.

In Hired By the Brooding Billionaire, Shepherd rewrites the familiar and favourite trope of Beauty and the Beast. The “Beast” is Declan Grant, a man who has hidden himself away after the death of his beloved wife. He’s inordinately rich – hence the “billionaire” of the title – having made his fortune from a computer game. Despite his wealth, Declan doesn’t find life easy; he has shut himself away inside his Sydney-Eastern Suburbs mansion, rarely seeing daylight, and letting the garden his wife had once cherished grow unkempt.

Into his life walks Shelley Fairhill, not your usual “beauty”, but an amazon-like landscape gardener. The two meet when Shelley approaches Declan for work, wanting to bring his garden back to its former glory. She recognises it as having been designed by “probably Australia’s most famous landscape designer” of the 1920s, Enid Wilson, a woman Shelley wrote her dissertation on at uni. (It’s pretty clear Wilson is based on the real-life Australian landscape designer, Edna Walling, and this is the kind of gently feminist reference I’ve come to expect from Shepherd’s writing.) Despite his need for solitude, Declan is persuaded to let Shelley loose on the garden, and becomes increasingly attracted to her as a muse: he needs a model for his next female-starring computer game.

Shelley is passionate about her work and becomes equally passionate about her employer – this is a romance, after all; but more than Declan’s tragic past throws doubt on their chances for a “happy ever after”. For one thing, Shelley has a desire to work in the most famous gardens in England, and she’s not going to let a man stand in her way.

Don’t get me wrong: Hired By the Brooding Billionaire isn’t a feminist romance. In many ways, it’s a typical Mills and Boon novel: traditional, warm and sweet. But it does portray Shelley as strong-minded and independent; she doesn’t have to rely on a man for her success or happiness, though her “happy ever after” with Declan is welcome when it comes.

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Author: Kandy Shepherd
Title: Hired By the Brooding Billionaire
Publisher: Mills and Boon
Year: 2015
ISBN13: 9780373743506

This review forms part of my Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2016.

Disclaimer: Kandy Shepherd is not only a fellow Blue Mountains romance writer, she is also a friend and critique partner.

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A Loving, Faithful Animal by Josphine Rowe

a Loving Faithful Animal Josephine RoweI bought a copy of A Loving, Faithful Animal by Josephine Rowe at Megalong Books in Leura a couple of weeks ago after hearing the author interviewed on ABC radio. During the interview, Rowe read an extract conveying the repercussive horror experienced by one of her characters, Lani, after witnessing a rape during her teenage years. In the book, something seemingly innocuous triggers Lani to a flashback of the abuse, forcing her to hide until the nausea and horror subsides. Rowe’s prose was so crisp, the emotion so accurately evoked, that I instantly recognised that she had suffered what many adult survivors of childhood abuse have suffered, what some call “traumatic witness”. In the interview Rowe spoke of the trauma of having grown up with an abusive father who, in turn, had been traumatised by the Vietnam war; somehow Rowe not only survived, but also found the language, the imagery and form to transmute those horrors into powerful fiction.

A Loving, Faithful Animal is told sequentially from the points of view of Ru, her mother Evelyn, her father Jack, her sister Lani and her uncle Les, with Ru’s story, the only one told in the second person, bookending the novel. Each character has a distinctive voice, their narratives intersecting during a shared period, New Year’s Eve 1990, a time shadowed by the Iraq war and still haunted by Vietnam, the war Ru’s father brings daily into the family’s living room.

Your father. His head is a ghost trap. It’s all he can do to open his mouth without letting them all howl out. Even so, you can still see them, sliding around the dark behind his eyes like a Balinese puppet show. At night he’ll let his guard down. Too bad for everyone. Now he’s out here somewhere. Wasting his New Year’s Eve in a shabby, forgetful room… (p12)

In a time when domestic violence is high on the national agenda, Rowe gives an insight into the family dynamics of abuse, including a sympathetic – but not sentimental – portrait of the abuser and the abused, as well as the effects on the children and extended family. It’s not an easy read; there’s little in the way of comfort; but it has the compelling ring of truth.

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Author: Josephine Rowe
Title: A Loving, Faithful Animal
Publisher: UQP, 2016
ISBN: 9780702253966

This review forms part of my 2016 Australian Women Writers Challenge.

Wild Chicory by Kim Kelly

Wild Chicory by Kim KellyWild Chicory by Kim Kelly is a novella-length celebration of stories, family and migration. Each of its chapters has a theme, indicated by the chapter title: for example, “Good White Bread”, “The Fire Trail” and “The Little Milk Maid”; each presents a snippet of life of the Kennedys, an Irish-Australian family, as they migrate from their ancient rural home in County Kerry in the early part of last century, to the streets of Surry Hills – with scenes reminiscent of Ruth Park’s Harp in the South – and beyond. Threading through the stories is the image of “wild chicory”, a plant that figures in both countrysides, and comes to symbolise both the wildness of the characters and the tales they tell, and the connections between generations over time.

A character who figures prominently in the stories is Nell Kennedy, the only daughter in a family of fourteen children, a feisty redhead who wages a battle with a neighbour and comes a cropper over some stolen forget-me-nots. In the way of children, Nell believes this theft is the reason her family uproots from Ireland and travels with nothing to a new home in Australia.

And after thinking about it for quite some time now, Nell realised that there was only one person in all of her family that could be blamed for what had befallen the Kennedys: and that was her small but wicked self. It was Nell’s fault that they’d had to sell up and leave their farm; it was Nell’s fault that Stanly the stag-pig was killed in his stall with his blood all running out into the med along the edge of the stone path there and reaching towards the back step; it was her fault that they were all here now, tossed on the black sea, bound soon, surely, to hit a subtropical iceberg and plunge to the fathomless depths – just like the Titanic. If only she hadn’t teased and taunted Mrs O’Neill, and squirted her with Maggie’s [the cow’s] milk. (p37)

Nell also figures as “the grandmother”, seen through the eyes of her Australian-born, half-Irish, half-Polish granddaughter Brigid. Like her grandmother, Brigid has a gift for storytelling and knows instinctively the vital role it plays in carrying people through the travails of everyday life. She clamours for her grandmother’s oft-told tales, stories that have taken on the feel of fables, knowing telling them will provide solace for her grandmother as she grieves the loss of her husband and lifelong mate.

Being one of twelve kids from an Irish-French Catholic family, I was primed from the start to enjoy this book. My Irish ancestors came to Australia earlier than these Kennedys, but many of the same values were passed down, including the prayers, the superstitions, the valuing of education, the adventurous spirit, the humour and, above all, the love of tall tales. One aspect that Kelly touches on that I found both interesting and moving is the reason she gives for the loss of language: the shame associated with the use of Gaelic, a marker of poverty and ignorance, which subsequent generations sought to erase. I know I was well into adulthood before I realised that certain idioms and cadences common among my family – especially my cousins in the country – were forms more common to Irish English speakers than speakers of standard English, vestiges of a language no longer spoken.

I always hesitate to say that my mum would love this book, but she will; so will my friend Denise. It’s a well told series of connected tales that vividly recreates a slice of Australian-Irish history.

~

Author: Kim Kelly
Title: Wild Chicory
Publisher: The Author People
Year of Publication: 2015

This review forms part of my 2016 Australian Woman Writers Challenge. Thanks to the publishers for a review copy.

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