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Aussie Novella Review: Anybody But Him by Claire Baxter

My Rating:              4 / 5
Format:                   eBook courtesy of Random House
                               via NetGalley
Publication Date:    1 July 2013
Category:               Romance
ISBN:                      9780857981080
Publisher:               Random House Books Australia
Imprint:                   RHA eBooks Adult
Extent:                    150 pages

The Blurb

“What happens when you fall in love with the man you hate?

Nicola Doyle’s dating record is a disaster, and it doesn’t improve when she returns to Redgum Valley, after an absence of twelve years, to look after her increasingly eccentric parents.  There she’s thrown into regular contact with Blair Morrissey- the very reason she couldn’t wait to leave town in the first place.

The decade-old scars are still raw from that humiliating day in high school – when Blair went from the boy she loved to the boy she hated.

Except Blair doesn’t seem to be a ‘bad boy’ anymore – in fact he’s charming, infuriatingly helpful and extremely attractive.

If only Nicola could forgive and forget.”

Summary and Thoughts
I absolutely love it when a story has me so gripped that I have these rather loud outbursts of unrestrained laughter and Anbody But Him did just that, offering me a brief escape for a couple of hours.  It is a laugh-a-minute account of Nicola Doyle’s return to Redgum Valley and her childhood home.
Former Financial Controller of a huge corporate giant, Nicola recently walked out of her job and decided to come back to Redgum Valley to keep an eye on her parents at her sister, Una’s, behest.  Only planning on being there for three months, she’s not prepared for an encounter with the pesky little Dammit to lead her back to the one person from her childhood whom she absolutely hates, Blair Morrissey.
The prologue so deftly sets the scene for the animosity between Nicola and Blair and my heart was in my mouth, empathising with her at the sheer embarrassment of the situation – as teenagers, I’m sure we all at some time experienced a situation similar to this.
But Blair has seemingly grown into a man who bears no hint of the boy he once used to be, even if Nicola can’t see this at first and, from a scathing comment at their unexpected first meeting after twelve years – “Of course no.  I didn’t think you’d manage to retain the information, that’s all” – to Nicola running into car trouble after a night out with her “down in the dumps” best friend Lainey, being locked in a bathroom with no handle and an accident on the back steps of her sister’s house, with Blair coming to the rescue on all three occasions, Nicola slowly begins to question her lonely existence in Sydney and eases into a friendship with him – a relationship in which he is eventually comfortable enough to reveal a little known fact about his own childhood and offer some insight into the way in which he viewed her “unhappy” home life.
With the time fast approaching for her return to Sydney, Nicola, for the umpteenth time finds herself reflecting on the past and trying to figure out what it is she really wants.  Thankfully, Blair comes to the rescue (again) and Nicola’s teenage dreams are finally realised.
I really loved this story and found myself immersed in Nicola’s life with her worrisome parents “He looked at her as if she’d fallen out of the stupid tree and hit every branch on the way down” along with her keen sense of humour “His memory was like a piece of Swiss cheese – random holes appearing with no pattern” whilst also enjoying the shenanigans of Dammit “The dog sniffed her, then dashed off, apparently satisfied with his work”
Both Nicola and Blair are well-developed and extremely likeable (I also loved Nicola’s parents’ eccentricities) and the dialogue, as also Nicola’s thoughts, are succinct and effective giving the reader a really good sense of everyone’s quirks and backstory, without any unnecessary padding.  Claire Baxter has kept her chapters short and punchy and, while introducing secondary characters, she does so skilfully and with purpose, giving the story an element of suspense as she incorporates some twists and turns (such as the discovery Nicola makes while temporarily employed with a firm in town and her best friend, Lainey’s relationship problems), thereby keeping it exciting.
Anybody But Him is a delightfully sweet and pacy romantic comedy which, while exploring themes of aging parents, re-discovering who we really are and forgiveness, is light in tone.
I wish to thank Random House via NetGalley for providing me with an eGalley of this sweet Novella.
A Little About the Author (taken from the publisher’s website)
Claire Baxter writes contemporary romantic fiction of all lengths.  Her short stories have been published in commercial women’s magazines around the world, while her novels have been translated into 20 languages, and have finalled in the Romance Writers of Australia’s Romantic Book of the Year Award, the Booksellers’ Best Awards, the RT Book Reviews Reviewers’ Choice Awards, and the Cataromance Reviewers’ Choice Awards.
Before following her passion to write full-time, Claire was an award-winning corporate communications manager.  Earlier, she worked as a translator and a PA.
Claire grew up in Warwickshire, England, but for more than 20 years has called Australia home. She considers herself lucky to live near one of Adelaide’s beautiful metropolitan beaches where she loves to walk and think up stories.

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