Author: Nicola Marsh
Publisher: Harlequin Mira
Publication Date: September 24, 2019
Copy: Courtesy of the Publisher and NetGalley
RRP: $29.99

Nicola Marsh is a Melbourne based author that I have been aware of for many years, I reviewed one of her titles early on and followed her career from a distance as she published across different formats and genres. She has now published seventy books and is a USA Today bestselling and award-winning author.

Long Way Home is a rural romance published by the MIRA imprint and would make a solid start to a series, or a trilogy at least, so I will be sure to keep my eyes open for more stories by Marsh set in Brockenridge.

Ruby is Brockenridge born and bred but the mean girls at school never made it easy for her. She was bullied relentlessly and on the night of her Graduation Ball they took it one step too far and Ruby ran. She ran out on the best day of her life, as she counted down the hours to her date with the most gorgeous guy in school.

That was the final straw for Ruby, she ran to Melbourne and never looked back; never went back. Her relationship with her mother remained as strong but they caught up on the phone and regular catch-ups in Melbourne, Ruby couldn’t bear to return to the town that had caused her so much pain.

Eleven years later Ruby has achieved her goals and is making a life for herself in Melbourne, until the devastating phone call to tell her that her beloved mother had died.

Ruby hasn’t been home but Brockenridge was still her mother’s home so after making arrangements for the funeral from her home in Melbourne she heads to Brockenridge to say her goodbyes, planning a short visit before hightailing it back to Melbourne. She is concerned about what will become of The Watering Hole and her mother’s loyal friends and staff but hopes that the owner will put in a new manager and business will go on as usual.

Connor Delaney is the gorgeous boy Ruby ran from all those years ago, and he too left town as soon as he could; opting to begin his career in Queensland instead of the family business. Connor wanted to make a name for himself instead of trading on the family name, he’s done remarkably well but when his father calls and needs him to come home and prepare to take the reins of the family company he finds he can’t say no.

 The money and prestige that come with the family name made it hard for Connor to find true friends, and to avoid the small town gossip. He treasured his friendship with Ruby because it was real, well he thought it was until she up and left town with no more than a single line text. It shook his already rattled view of relationships and left him a no-strings kind of man.

The project Connor returns to oversee, his first for Delaney Corp, is a new golf course with five-star facilities. A resort that will bring much needed jobs to the region. The only catch is that they haven’t quite acquired all the land they need to set the plans in motion.

Long Way Home is very much a contemporary rural romance but it relies heavily on the past for context and momentum. So much relatively recent history is relevant to the way the story unfolds. The history between Ruby and Connor is never far from the surface, neither of them ever really had closure after Ruby ran.

Long Way Home sees Ruby and Connor trying to forge their new futures while reconciling the issues they have with their pasts. Both ran far from Brockenridge, but their return reminds them that through it all, it was still home.

 I loved the storylines and all of the characters in Long Way Home, because being a small town there is quite the cast of colourful characters to get to know.

Ruby returns to the town that shunned her, a successful businesswoman who has achieved her goals. On her return she discovers that a lot has changed, the mean girls at school have suffered a run in with the karma bus and none of them are recognisable as the popular, good-looking girls who made Ruby’s life at school a nightmare.

It isn’t just the mean girls that have changed, all the small town gossips who were happy to look down their noses at the hardworking Aston’s and spread gossip about The Watering Hole now feel the loss of Ruby’s mother deeply. Her welcoming nature and hardwork had slowly won over the town and turned The Watering Hole into a community gathering place as much for the town as the truckers and tourists who had always found it a welcoming oasis on their cross country travels.

The unfolding story shows us the differences between The Watering Hole and many of the other roadhouses littering the rural highways of the countryside. I’m sure anyone who has ever travelled rurally in Australia will know the kind of places The Watering Hole comes to be compared to; the ones with skyhigh prices, dusty old stock and tired, weatherworn staff. Compared to places like these The Watering Hole is clean, welcoming, friendly and looked after; and I know there have to be places like this scattered across the countryside.

Marsh has managed to create a small town filled with characters we come to care about, and want to know more about. The central staff of The Watering Hole are like family to Ruby and we become invested in their stories, some of which are explored with some depth in Long Way Home making it a double romance novel and some that will hopefully be explored in books to come.

Long Way Home was engaging and emotional but it also contained an interesting twist or two that I didn’t see coming. I really enjoyed getting to know the people of Brockenridge and I look forward to getting to know them a little better in upcoming books, and of course checking in on those we’ve already gotten to know quite well.

The story unfolds from multiple perspectives with alternating chapters, in the third person, by Ruby, Connor and Alisha. A story of love, loss, regret, new beginnings, second chances, homecomings and fighting for your dreams.

Long Way Home is Marsh’s first foray into mainstream rural romance and I certainly hope it’s not her last. Her style is compassionate, witty and engaging with a diverse character set and a palpable love of the region she has set the story. I look forward to following her rural romance journey and I am interested in chasing down some of her work in other genres.

Thanks to NetGalley and Mira for a digital copy for review.

Long Way Home is well worth a look for lovers of character driven stories and rural romance; chase down a copy, you won’t be disappointed.

Nicola Marsh loves hearing from readers and she can be found in the following places: her Website, her Blog, Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.

Long Way Home was read as part of the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2019, perhaps by the end of the year I will work out what number I’m up to. 😊