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Grapey Book Club: Love, Just In by Natalie Murray

Publishers Allen & Unwin provided Lauren Grzina with a copy of Love, Just In, in exchange for an honest review of this Natalie Murray novel.


Love, Just In centres around Josie Larson, a journalist who is ever aware that she is approaching 30, and determined to prove herself to her boss that she is a capable news presenter after having a panic attack on live TV. Her punishment: being sent to Newcastle to cover a reporter’s six-month leave at a regional station.


Josie sees this as not only an opportunity to redeem herself but also to reconnect with her best friend Zac Jameson, who moved to Newcastle two years ago, following a tragic accident that caused him to distance himself from Josie.


Now that they have reconnected, Josie works to revive their friendship while navigating her stirring attraction to Zac, dealing with mental health issues and restoring her image to her employer.


This story is told in alternating timelines. The primary timeline is the present, where Josie and Zac reconnect. But with every second chapter, we get a glimpse into their past together, all the way back to when they first became friends to the aftermath of the tragic accident that led them to where they are today. I like these flashbacks as they provide an insight and deeper understanding into their relationship and long history.


Natalie Murray is an award-winning romance novelist, who grew up in Sydney. Murray also shares a type of anxiety with Josie. While I wasn’t aware of this author or their previously successful novel, Emmie and the Tudor King, you can definitely tell there is maturity and assuredness in their writing. Moreover, the lived experiences and connections that Murray shares with her characters shine through the writing, making it rich and nuanced.


In its marketing, Love, Just In is compared to Emily Henry’s writing, particularly her novel, You and Me on Vacation – which was a huge selling point for me, as a lover of Emily Henry – but we’ll get to this comparison and its impact on the novel later.


Zac was probably my favourite character in the book, one of the few male love interests in contemporary romance novels that isn’t toxic in any way that we, as the reader, are expected to overlook for the sake of fiction. Zac was a totally adorable and caring love interest, and it was hard to fault him. I felt that all his reactions, motivations and actions were realistic and justifiable, which seem to be a rarity in contemporary romance novels.


Murray was a master at creating tension and portraying emotions, building palpable tension between Josie and Zac from the moment they meet again at the train station to eventually reaching a point that had you begging for them to finally get together. 


The portrayal of Josie’s severe anxiety was cleverly done. You could understand it so well before you were even told what it was and how it came about. I think the success of this portrayal was largely due to the fact that Murray experiences the same kind of anxiety, allowing lots of subtlety to create a full picture of what Josie was dealing with.


The settings of Newcastle and Sydney have nostalgic vibes to them as Murray makes specific reference to well-known beaches and suburbs in and around the areas, as well as specific city elements of NSW, such as our tangerine-coloured train signs. The familiar setting made me feel more connected to the characters and the story as I could imagine where they were and what they were seeing.


As this book was compared to work by Emily Henry, I had high expectations. For those unfamiliar with Henry’s work, she is known for her well-rounded characters, endearing male love interests, realistic romances and for exploring complex themes outside of the main romance plot. I have to say that Love, Just In, was very reminiscent of Henry’s work in these ways, but it lacks a certain inexplainable charm that Henry weaves into her writing. Despite Murray writing a technically brilliant contemporary romance, the fact that it paled in comparison to Henry’s works is what brought the rating down for me.


To me, Henry’s writing will always be superior, but Murray has provided a viable Aussie alternative that I would be interested in reading more of in the future.


Love, Just In not only explores the relationship and tension between Josie and Zac, but it also tactfully explores anxiety, family tragedies, trauma and careers. I would recommend this novel to any lovers of Emily Henry, who are looking for loveable characters and angsty romance with a refreshing Aussie twist.


3.75/5 grapes.


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