Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Aussie Book Review: Common Ground by Cheryl Adnams


“Only love can begin to heal the deepest of battle scars.

Rachel Raymond has always loved her job – she's a strong, independent foreign correspondent and has built up an illustrious career chasing stories across the world. But her life suddenly changes for ever when at the end of a tour based in war-torn Afghanistan, the vehicle she and her team are travelling in hits a roadside bomb.

Liliana Howell is over the moon when her long lost best friend returns unexpectedly the week before Lily's wedding in the South Australia Riverland. But it doesn't take her long to realise that something is different about Rachel, even though her old friend refuses to talk about why she's finally come home. 

Fireman Tate Cassidy has also made the trip to the Riverlands for the wedding and finds himself instantly drawn to the mysterious journalist. Tate has his own demons to fight, but when he finds himself falling for this woman who's seen too much, can he use their Common Ground to help her through her darkest time? And will Rachel let him close enough to show her that love can heal all wounds?”

There are still a lot of readers out there who tend to shy away from the romance genre thinking that it’s all “fluff” with protagonists jumping in and out of bed with each other with no depth to the story. As a reviewer, I feel that those readers just need to find the right book and this latest by Cheryl Adnams, could possibly change their mind, if they give it a chance because she is an author who writes with substance.

Cheryl doesn’t write romance inasmuch as it’s boy meets girl, girl falls in love with boy and they live happily ever after. Yes, her romances (like most) do have happy endings but it’s her characters that have so much to offer us in terms of real life issues – in this novel, it is PTSD, alcoholism (an issue that has touched my own life), survivor’s guilt and the profound emotional impact on both the sufferers and those closest to them.

In a departure from her Muller’s Field winery series (my review of Chasing the Flames here), Cheryl brings us Common Ground in which she gives us the story of Rachel Raymond, a war correspondent who has returned from the frontline in Afghanistan, broken not only by the things that she has seen but the injuries she sustained from an exploding IED  - stark reminders of the human cost of bearing witness in an increasingly hostile environment.

Returning to the Howell’s home in the Riverland in South Australia for the wedding of her best friend Lily, Rachel isn’t looking for anything more than time to heal her shattered soul and body. Suffering with debilitating nightmares and fatigue from the lack of sleep, she is exhausted – physically, mentally and emotionally – and can’t seem to find her way out from the chasm that threatens to suck her right in. Her mental health is in tatters but, for the sake of her friend Lily’s special day, she hides all this from those she loves. Until she meets the groom’s oldest friend!

Fireman, Tate Cassidy, hasn’t been lucky in relationships and prefers to keep the fairer sex at arms-length since his break-up. After suffering his own trauma in the line of duty, he, too is healing. He is drawn to Rachel who brings out the sensitive side of him and, while it’s taken more than a year for him to make the decision to go back to work, witnessing the strength she displays for the benefit of others while being keenly aware that there are deeper issues at play, is what allows him to put his own life and recovery into perspective. They definitely share common ground but he just can’t seem to break through the barriers she has erected so that he can help her through her latent trauma. If only she can overcome her reluctance to seek help so that her healing process can begin.

It’s been a few days since I lay this book down, but the subject-matter of this latest novel by Cheryl Adnams continues to haunt my thoughts. She definitely doesn’t disappoint as she brings the larger issues to life and, by the time I turned the last page, my emotions were all over the place.

Whilst the Prologue efficiently sets the scene for the tone and mood of the novel, Cheryl (as with most contemporary romance authors) has structured her novel from the points of view of Rachel and Tate and she has also made use of some fantastic dialogue (in particular the scenes involving Tate, her nightmares and the fireworks) that both moves the story forward and enhances the characterisation of both her main protagonist and her secondary characters, allowing the reader to get the “bigger picture”.

She writes with an assured confidence that exudes from the pages of this novel and the sheer complexity of her characters shows that she has gotten to know them inside and out. Given this and, while I loved the relationship that grew between Rachel and Tate, it was the pure minefield of emotions Rachel found herself dealing with and the utter tenderness that Tate showed towards her that saw my eyes constantly being flushed with tears.

Cheryl's research about the situations that both our men and women in the armed forces as well as journalists find themselves in and the impact of the sights and sounds they are surrounded with is impeccable and a few times I caught myself trying to reach out and help Rachel get through her pain as her vivid nightmares and flashbacks stirred something deep within me.

In order to keep this review as concise as possible, I have only touched on a few of the elements that Cheryl has utilised but, as a whole, the result is an absorbing story about two people not quite sure how they’re going to reach the end of that long road to recovery which touched my heart. In the grander scheme of things though, this is a story about the pain that a PTSD sufferer can hide in private along with the secrets that they are too ashamed to talk about.

All in all this was an extremely satisfying reading experience from an Aussie author who has earned pride of place on my watchlist!

I wish to thank the publisher, Random House Australia, for providing me with an eGalley proof of this novel.

*Usually, when a book takes my emotions on a roller-coaster ride like this one did, it results in me doing some of my own “research” into the topics covered – in this instance, alcoholism and mental health, which are two issues that have played a role in my life.

During the course of my “research” after reading this novel,  I came across an Australian-based not for profit organisation called Picking Up The Peaces which offers valuable information on the preventative health education and awareness about PTSD and stigma.

If you or a loved one are suffering the effects of this debilitating trauma, please take the time to read through the information contained on their website or you can call either Lifeline on 13 11 14 or BeyondBlue on 1300 22 4636. There is help out there, you just need to reach out!

About the Author

Cheryl Adnams lives in Adelaide, South Australia. After discovering a love of writing in high school, she went on to complete courses in screenplay writing and a Diploma of Freelance Travel Writing and Photography.

Having travelled extensively, Cheryl lived and worked in the United States, Canada and then for a tour company in Switzerland and Austria. Back home in South Australia now, she has a deep love and pride for the Fleurieu Peninsula and Adelaide Hills regions – particularly the beauty of the beaches and wine region of McLaren Vale.

She attributes Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb for inspiring her to get back into her lifetime love of writing. 

When she’s not writing, Cheryl is avidly reading as many books as she can fit in around her busy full-time job as a training facilitator.

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