#aww2021 · 2021 Reviews · contemporary fiction · new release · romance

New Release Book Review: Starting from Scratch by Penelope Janu

Title: Starting from Scratch

Author: Penelope Janu

Published: January 6th 2021

Publisher: Mira – AU

Pages: 400

Genres:  Fiction, Contemporary, Romance

RRP: $29.99

Rating: 4 stars

For readers of Karly Lane and Tricia Stringer…misunderstandings and injured pride stand in the way of true love in this charming rural romance from an award-winning and much-loved author.

‘Penelope Janu’s fresh, bright, funny new twist on rural romance is an absolute delight. Her wit is as sharp as a knife. She is one of my absolute must-read authors.’ Victoria Purman, bestselling Australian author

After a troubled childhood and the loss of her beloved grandmother, Sapphie Brown finally finds somewhere to call home – the close-knit rural community of Horseshoe Hill.

The locals love Sapphie because she never gives up – as chair of the environment committee, with the children in her classes, the troubled teens at the youth centre, the ex-racehorses she cares for and even the neglected farmhouse and gardens she wants make her own. Sapphie gives second chances to everything and everyone. Except Matts Laaksonen.

An impossibly attractive environmental engineer who travels the world, Matts was Sapphie’s closest childhood friend. He came to deliver a warning – now he doesn’t want to leave.

All Sapphie wants to do is forget their painful past, but thrown together they discover an attraction that challenges what they thought they knew about each other. Do they have a chance to recapture what they lost so long ago? Or will long-buried secrets tear them apart?

In the flowers she creates from paper and the beauty that grows on the land, Sapphie has found perfect imperfection. Could that be what love is like too?


After a minor role in Up on Horseshoe Hill, Sapphie Brown takes centre stage in Penelope Janu’s latest rural romance treat, Starting from Scratch. A story of hope, second chances, belief, pride, protection and love, Penelope Janu graces her readers with another truly heartwarming tale with her new release.

In Starting from Scratch we learn that lead female character Sapphie Brown has not had a privileged up bringing. Sapphie has been touched by difficult family relations and loss, but despite these setbacks, Horseshoe Hill has always been Sapphie’s constant. Sapphie has earned a great deal of respect in her local community due to her various efforts in protecting the local environment, supporting troubled teens and her animal rescue commitments. With her love for gardening and nature, Sapphie is giving soul. But the one thing Sapphie will not tend to is her love life, particularly her relationship with childhood friend Matts Laaksonen. Despite the clear attraction that surrounds Sapphie and Matts whenever they are near each other, Sapphie refuses to entertain the idea of a romance. Saphhie is still nursing the pain of her past and she cannot afford to trust anyone again. However, the attraction between Sapphie and Matts is undeniably strong. How much longer can Sapphie and Matts resist temptation to take their relationship to the next level?

When I need to forget a rather difficult working week, rural romance is always there waiting for me as a cleansing spirit. I was ready to be embraced by the characters of Penelope Janu’s latest release Starting from Scratch this long weekend in Western Australia. As a devoted fan of Penelope’s Janu’s work, I was rather excited about delving into this new story from a much-loved storyteller.  Starting from Scratch was another winning title from Penelope Janu – Australian rural romance virtuoso!

Friendship and romance may rule Starting from Scratch but the environmental themes prevalent in this book really makes this rural romance stand out from the crowd.  This alternative slant on the standard Australian rural romance narrative made me feel as though I came away with a better appreciation for biodiversity and Australia’s wetlands, complete with its precious cargo of endangered species. This is down to the work of the lead characters Sapphie and Matts, who both have innate desire to preserve the local environment as best they can. As we learn through the progression of the storyline, this is a tough gig, but it is also incredibly instrumental to Australia’s environmental longevity. What a truly bold and important theme focus for a novel. I definitely received much more from this novel than I expected for a book marketed as a rural romance.

It was a delight to take a return visit to the quaint and quirky township of Horseshoe Hill. Janu seems to have expanded on her setting further this time and she has gifted her readers with a well outlined location, that felt authentic and very Australian. The sense of community surrounds Horseshoe Hill is obvious to the reader and I enjoyed falling into the step of the townsfolk of this welcoming community. I could see myself listening the advice of the locals while immersing myself in the fabric of Janu’s fictional town creation.

In Sapphie, we have a character that allows the reader to experience of a range of emotions. From hope, sacrifice, grief, loss, mistrust, resilience, altruism, positivity and happiness, Sapphie was a pleasure to be acquainted with. In Matts, we have a loveable lead, a man of morals and ideals, who is also a very hard worker. I admired Matts and I dearly wanted these two to get their act together. After a few false starts and some hurdles, eventually the reader is handed that much awaited happy ever after, what a relief!

A wholesome Australian rural romance awaits the reader in Starting from Scratch. Open your heart to Sapphie, Matts and the community of Horseshoe Hill, you won’t be disappointed!

Starting from Scratch by Penelope Janu was published on 6th January 2021 by Mira –AU. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.

To learn more about the author of Starting from Scratch, Penelope Janu, visit here.

*I wish to thank Harlequin Australia for providing me with a free copy of this book for review purposes.

Starting from Scratch is book #14 of the 2021 Australian Women Writers Challenge

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