Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Miss Whitaker Opens Her Heart by Jennifer Moore

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: June 12, 2017

Australia, 1814. As a young child bound for a strange country, Sarah Whitaker dreamed of life with her father on his sprawling Australian ranch. But her hopes were shattered when she learned of his death and of her new role as heiress of the largest sheep farm in New Wales. Orphaned in a land greatly populated by petty criminals exiled from England, the future seemed grim. But now, ten years later, Sarah has defied the odds and become a successful businesswoman much to the chagrin of her male counterparts. Hardened by the dishonesty of both her fellow ranchers and the felons in her employ, Sarah has learned one important truth: no one is to be trusted. Daniel Burton is a lucky man. Sentenced to death for his role in a horse-race scandal, Daniel was granted reprieve thanks to the influence of his wealthy relatives. Now, rather than death, Daniel faces exile in Australia an opportunity to put past mistakes behind him. But when he purchases land with the intention of farming it, he unwittingly arouses the wrath of his new neighbor, Sarah. What begins as a battle of wits, however, soon becomes a warm friendship and perhaps something more. But when Daniel's secret past is revealed, will Sarah be able forgive yet another deception?

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Miss Whitaker Opens Her Heart was the first Jennifer Moore novel I chanced to pick up and I’m in no rush to repeat the experience. I respect there are a lot of readers who appreciate this kind of storytelling and I mean no offense to the author or her fans, but Moore’s writing is simply too light and predictable for my tastes.

The novel is set in Australia, but nothing about the text feels authentic to the Land Down Under. There are some superficial details about convicts and their treatment, but Moore never gets into the thick of it and the lack of atmospheric detail made it hard to imagine life on either Sarah or Daniel’s station. I was similarly disappointed with Moore’s treatment of the indigenous people, but meaty subject matter wasn’t Moore’s game so it should come as no surprise that she barely skimmed the surface of Australia’s weightier and less admirable history. 

The romance Moore creates is sweet and while there is nothing wrong with that, I felt a distinct lack of chemistry between her leads. Both are Sarah and Danial are genuinely good people and while I appreciate the sentiment, such flawless personalities don’t exist in real life and I think their lack of individual flaw undermined their authenticity. Moore also has a tendency to tell more than she shows and omit character building scenes – Sarah’s embracing the role of station owner and/or Daniel’s crime and subsequent transport – that would have allowed readers to invest in the growth and experiences of her leads. 

At the end of the day Miss Whitaker Opens Her Heart missed its mark. If anything, I’d consider the novel a good in-between read, but I’d have difficulty recommending the story or subject matter to fellow readers.  

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What hope was there for him? And how was it to be found in a penal colony in an untamed land on the other side of the world?
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