Author: L.J. LaBarthe
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Rating: 3 stars
Provided by Publisher
Blurb: After seventeen years serving in the Australian Army, Ash returns to his childhood home in the outback town of Quorn. Filled with the desire to live a happy life in peace and with loved ones, Ash is grimly determined to beat his PTSD and tackle his flashbacks.
What Ash isn’t prepared for is Jaxon, the new librarian in Quorn. Jaxon is calm, gentle, kind, and a rock for Ash’s battered psyche. Ash finds himself falling for the handsome newcomer, even as his mind and memories of the past torment him.
When he has the idea for a mobile library to bring books and entertainment to remote communities in the far north, Ash is delighted that Jaxon is with him every step of the way. But though the library, called Book, Line, and Sinker, takes off, Ash’s past continues to plague him. Can Jaxon’s love be enough to keep them together until Ash is strong enough to stand on his own?
Review: At seventeen, Ash pursued his wish to leave the town in Australia’s outback that he was born and raised in. Now thirty-four, Ash has com back home to Quorn. His time in the Army has left him with PTSD and the wish for a new start, a new purpose. Ash finds his feet working in his family’s pub where, unlike some of the places of his youth, little has changed in the intervening years. His parents still run The Royal Hotel Motel, just as they did when he left, although now Ash’s little sister Evie helps them manage it and his brother Jeff also does his share behind the bar. Ash soon feels that, as much as he loves working with his family, pulling beers is not enough. After meeting the new school librarian Jaxon, Ash comes up with the idea of a mobile library, calling it Book, Line and Sinker, to service the more remote places in the Flinders Ranges. Jaxon is enthusiastic for the plan and the two of them, along with Evie, scour second-hand shops for things to stock Books, Line and Sinker.
Ash and Jaxon both feel an attraction to each other, but with Ash still finding his feet in civilian life and dealing with flashbacks, they decide to take things slow. Instead, with the encouragement of his family and Jaxon, he puts all of his energy into realising his dream of getting BLS up and running. However, as his life settles into its new chapter, Ash starts to think that maybe it’s time he lets love in, too.
The romance in this book is definitely a slow burn. Most of the story centres around Ash’s arrival back home and then getting the mobile library up and running. The attraction between Ash and Jaxon is there all the way through, but their romance only really starts towards the end of the book. If more time had been spent on developing the storyline around BLS, Ash’s PTSD and his coming home, that would have been okay. Unfortunately, I found that those things were only given cursory treatment and a lot of the narrative was bogged down with unnecessary detail, public service announcements and ‘teaching moments’. When a character is making a phone call, a reader really doesn’t need to know every little action that goes into making that call. It’s something pretty much all of us do regularly, after all. I also didn’t find it necessary to know that Jaxon’s pet is an indoor cat so she doesn’t kill the wildlife or get run over. All that the extraneous details served to do was slow down the pacing and interrupt the flow of the story. I also found quite a few inconsistencies where something is stated and then a few paragraphs or pages later, it’s contradicted.
The narrative often made sudden leaps that had me checking back to see if I’d somehow managed to skip pages without noticing and several incidents came out of nowhere. One moment Ash and Jeff are happy to see each other again after such a long absence, the next there’s suddenly a rift between them that needs to be repaired. Things were referenced on page that there had been no previous mention of. The drama with Jeff and a brief incident that happens with a homophobic pub patron in a neighbouring town seem thrown in randomly to create some conflict. The dialogue also suffered from some hopping around. Several times it was like sentences had been taken out so that the dialogue between the characters was disjointed and replies made no sense.
For a story set in outback Australia, the speech patterns weren’t overly recognisable as quintessentially Australian for the most part. Except for the use of the word ‘bloody’. As an Australian myself, I’m the first to admit that the word ‘bloody’ is a common part of our vernacular. I use ‘bloody’ a fair bit myself, but even I found the amount it was used a lot. Magpies were called raucous (in fact, the Australian Magpie, unlike the unrelated European Magpie, is a songbird and are actually very melodious), and furniture removalists were tipped (the only time I’ve heard of that is if it’s a mate helping out and the ‘tip’ is a case of beer as a thank you. Tipping is really only common in the restaurant industry, although even there it’s not automatically expected). I don’t know if it was because the author was just trying too hard to get across that this story is not set in America, while keeping it familiar enough for an American audience, but it came across as forced to the point where it felt inauthentic at times.
I can absolutely see how another reader would get enjoyment out of this book, but ultimately too many things about it didn’t work for me. For me, the story pacing felt off with not a lot happening for most of the book. Towards the end, the two main storylines of the romance and BLS project, along with the side issue of Ash’s PTSD, came together but none of them were really explored fully. Most of the narration was taken up with detailed explanations of inconsequential actions (or non-actions, as was the case a few times). The MCs were both nice and, apart from a couple of brief conflicts at the beginning, it was an angst free story. Ash’s sister, Evie, was my favourite character, I liked her quite a lot, and I definitely felt the author’s love for the location the story was set in shine through.
Rounded up to three stars because I did like the characters and cared enough about them to want to read to the end.