Flame Tree Hill by Mandy Magro

Flame Tree Hill by Mandy Magro

Kirsty Mitchell is ready to come home. After a tragic accident that left her  scarred, she fled overseas. Now, three years later, she’s finally returning to  Flame Tree Hill, her beloved family farm. But at twenty-five Kirsty isn’t  prepared for the terrifying new challenge ahead: breast cancer. Kirsty’s never  been a quitter and that’s not about to change. But can her budding romance with  local vet Aden bear the strain? As she battles with chemotherapy and as her past  threatens to overwhelm her, Kirsty realises you can never take anything – or  anyone – for granted. Drawing strength from her family and the beauty of Far  North Queensland, Kirsty finally understands what she must do.

A lyrical and heart-warming testament to the power of love – and  forgiveness.

Flame Tree Hill by Mandy Magro

This is a true blue Aussie book, complete with some serious Australian slang and attitudes that mark it as distinctly of the outback.

Of course, the blurb makes no secret of the fact this book deals with some major health issues, which sets it apart from others in this genre. I could have done without some of the oversharing of medical details (which weren’t just about the cancer), but medical discussion isn’t something I’m all that fond of, and I have no doubt many readers will appreciate it. However I did like the way the family rallied around each other when cancer struck.

Now, I’m going to have to admit something: I didn’t like either lead character at the beginning of the book! (But stay with me here…)

In a strange coincidence, the heroine of this story, Kirsty Mitchell, was working on Fleet Street in London when the story began, and this is a street I have both lived and worked on. Whereas my impressions of being in the very centre of London went along the lines of, ‘Wow, I love living surrounded by Renaissance-era pubs, being within walking distance of all the theatres and museums and markets of the West End and being able to see St Paul’s from my windows’

… Kirsty’s reaction was, ‘I hate this place. Only outback Australia is any good. I hate the weather and the buildings and my sense of humour is too good for the locals, and I even though I have a boyfriend here, I don’t care about him. I can’t wait to get home to real men and perfect weather (kind of ironic, as she was from a part of Australia infamous for rain and floods!).

Similarly, hero Aden Maloney had been living in ‘the city’, and was married to a ‘city woman’ who didn’t understand anything about him or his hobbies because she was an ignorant woman from ‘the city’, and he couldn’t stand living in ‘the city’.

If there’s something that stops Rural Fiction from being a favourite genre of mine, it’s this smug superiority so many characters in these books demonstrate. There’s no perfect place, and idealising one lifestyle while demonising another grates.

So… we got off to a bad start, this book and this reviewer. However I am happy to tell you all of that dies down pretty fast…

…Because Kirsty is diagnosed with cancer.

Surprisingly, considering the packaging, this is not really a rural story as much as a story of a relationship struggling to survive through serious illness. There’re a lot – a lot – of medical scenes with a lot of medical details, and I’m going to have to assume the author did some serious, dedicated research here, because it seemed authentic to me.

Kirsty holds a secret from everyone up until the end of the book, and because there’s a lot going on it’s not mentioned very much until later chapters. Your capacity for forgiveness will probably determine how much you like the outcome of this story. I thought about this shocker of a secret for a while, and I honestly don’t know if I could have been as understanding as Aden was. This drama – a bigger spanner in the relationship than the cancer – is probably The Biggest I have read in romantic fiction.

Flame Tree Hill takes Australian rural fiction in a very different direction. It’s a brave move, and I believe people who have some personal experience with cancer are going to find a lot to connect with here.

 

Review copy provided by NetGalley.

Heartland by Cathryn Hein

Heartland by Cathryn Hein

A powerful, passionate and moving rural love story from the bestselling author of Promises and Heart of the Valley.

When Callie Reynolds arrives at Glenmore, the property she’s recently inherited, the last thing she wants is to be saddled with a warty horse, an injured neighbour and a mad goose. Haunted by her sister’s death and her fractured family, all she wants is freedom.

But Callie hasn’t counted on falling for Matt Hawkins, an ex-soldier determined to fulfil his own dream of land and family. Nor could she predict the way the land, animals and people of Glenmore will capture her heart.

Callie is faced with impossible choices. But she must find the courage to decide where her future lies, even if it costs her everything she holds dear.

Heartland by Cathryn Hein

Cathryn Hein has created another engaging rural Australian romance. This oh-so popular genre has a few writers who are head and shoulders above the rest, and Hein is one of them. As with her previous books, this one shows a clear love for and understanding of horses.

I liked the role reversal of sorts in this story, with Matt knowing almost immediately that he wanted a relationship with Callie, and he made no secret of it. As the author points out more than once, it is the little things he does rather than what he says that makes it clear he cares. I also liked the way his occasional loss of confidence over his obvious war scars was portrayed.

It’s always nice to have one of those grovelling moments at the end – makes for some good drama! There’re some secrets that aren’t revealed to Callie until the very end of the book, but I liked the way it was handled.

For lovers of contemporary romance, women’s fiction and anybody who has ever had a thing for horses.

The Week: 1st – 7th April

Autumn has well and truly reached us here in Canberra!

Canberra Autumn Sonya Heaney 5-4-2013

Grayson Manor Haunting by Cheryl Bradshaw is currently free.

Man Drought by Rachael Johns

Rachael Johns’ Man Drought is still on sale for $1.05.

Oh boy, this week went crazy as far as reading is concerned. Once I get myself into a mindset, I cannot step out of it, and I’ve been powering through books set in 19th century England like they’re going out of fashion! The problem with my obsessive attitude to genres is that I burn myself out fast. In about a week, I predict I’ll be onto another type of book entirely!

 Seducing the Princess by Mary Hart Perry

I reviewed Mary Hart Perry’s Seducing the Princess HERE.

The Accidental Prince by Michelle Willingham

I also read The Accidental Prince by Michelle Willingham. It was very much a fairy tale story (not set in England). I plan to review it tomorrow.

Other books on my radar this week include She Tempts the Duke by Lorraine Heath, which I am slowly working my way through when I have a spare few minutes. I also read Eileen Dreyer’s Never a Gentleman, but started to lose faith on page 27 when the ‘heroine’ punched the hero in the face for no good reason.

The Tea Rose by Jennifer Donnelly

I bought myself a Kindle copy of The Tea Rose by Jennifer Donnelly, a book I picked up at random in India eight years ago and read on the plane home.

It’s a favourite of mine, so I thought I needed another copy!

Hattie Wilkinson Meets her Match by Michelle Styles

I’m now starting on Hattie Wilkinson Meets her Match by Michelle Styles.

Man Drought by Rachael Johns – currently $1.05!

Man Drought by Rachael Johns

Man Drought by Rachael Johns

I read and loved this book a few months ago. HERE is my review. Get it while it’s so cheap!

Imogen Bates moved to the small rural town of Gibson’s Find to start a new life for herself after the death of her husband. Tired of being haunted by the painful memories of her old life, Imogen set her last remaining hopes on the little town and, in particular, pouring her heart and savings into restoring The Majestic Hotel to its former glory. But while the female-starved town might be glad to see a young woman move in, not everyone is happy about Imogen’s arrival.
Sheep and crop farmer Gibson Black once dreamed of having the kind of family his grandfather reminisces about, but he’s learnt not to dream anymore. Living in the mostly male town suits Gibson down to the ground…and he won’t have anyone – least of all a hot redhead from the city – change a thing.
Imogen has never been one to back down from a challenge, especially when it concerns her last chance at happiness. She’s determined to rebuild the pub and create a future for the little town. But can she create a future for Gibson and herself, too?

More RITA Award news to be excited about

I have already mentioned the exciting list of 2013 Romantic Suspense RITA Awards finalists, but there’re a lot of other books worth noticing nominated in other categories.

This is a pretty good year for Australians, including recognition for Bronwyn Parry’s romantic suspense/murder mystery story Dead Heat.

There is another book set in rural Australia that is a finalist in the Contemporary Single Title Romance category: Zoe’s Muster by Barbara Hannay. I loved this book, added it to my Best of 2012 list, gave it as a Christmas present… I also reviewed it HERE.

Zoe’s Muster by Barbara Hannay

Three women… two families… one secret…

When Zoe, restless black sheep of the Porter family, discovers that her biological father is a North Queensland cattleman, Peter Fairburn, her deep desire to meet him takes her from inner city Brisbane to a job as a stockcamp cook.

Zoe’s mother, Claire, is wrestling with guilt and shock over Zoe’s discovery. She swears Zoe to secrecy, fearing that the truth could ruin the career of her high profile politician husband. When she is forced to confront her past, Claire also reassesses her marriage.

Virginia Fairburn is happily married to Peter, but she’s always lived with the shadow of the other woman her husband loved and lost.

On the muster at Mullinjim, Zoe meets brooding cattleman Mac McKinnon, who knows from painful experience that city girls can’t cope in the bush. Every instinct tells Mac that Zoe is hiding something. As the pressure to reveal her mother’s secret builds, Zoe fears she must confide in him or burst.

The truth has the potential to destroy two families. Or can it clear the way for new beginnings?

The Week: 25th February to 3rd March

Summer is over. It’s autumn. I’m going to Europe for half of winter. Things aren’t looking so bad!

In less than two weeks I’ll be in Melbourne for the start of the Formula One season, and then with a couple of other interstate trips, including a beach holiday in Queensland in the second half of the year, I’m starting to think I’m doing too much travel in 2013!

Tactical Strike by Kaylea Cross

I read Tactical Strike by Kaylea Cross. It’s just fantastic. Realistic – the author does more research than anyone in the world! – it is military romance at its best. I will review it closer to the release date (which is less than a fortnight from now).

Hope's Road by Margareta Osborn

I also read my second Australian rural story of the year: Hope’s Road by Margareta Osborn (which I keep accidentally calling ‘Hope’s Run’!). Thank goodness the review copy of this one was properly formatted and edited (unlike the last one), making it a lot easier to read! I reviewed it HERE.

I’ve fallen behind on reading my review books, so I’m trying to finish a couple this weekend.

On a non-book note, I received the most bizarre Facebook message from a US Army soldier from Arizona. He sent me a PM – on Facebook – telling me he also posts to a group board I do on Pinterest.

He told me he didn’t like pictures I post there because they’re of ‘pretty girls’ (they aren’t) and he doesn’t want to look at them, because the board is supposed to be about the beach. (Which would be why I post pictures of the beach on there.)

Um… is it just me, or is this Arizonian a freaky stalker? Why in the world would he think it was acceptable – or sane – to track me down on Facebook to send me such stupid stuff?! I’m certainly no fan of the gun and religious propaganda floating around all over Pinterest (especially as I’m not even American!), but I’ve never sent anyone PMs about it, for Heaven’s sake!

I don’t feel the need to stay completely anonymous on the internet, but I have to wonder why people like this man don’t understand the concept of boundaries!

Hope’s Road by Margareta Osborn

Hope's Road by Margareta Osborn

From the author of the bestselling Bella’s Run comes another captivating rural romance set in the the rugged, beautiful high country of East Gippsland. Hope’s Road connects three very different properties, and three very different lives … Sixty years ago, heartbroken and betrayed, old Joe McCauley turned his back on his family and their fifth-generation farm, Montmorency Downs. He now spends his days as a recluse, spying upon the land – and the granddaughter – that should by rights have been his. For Tammy McCauley, Montmorency Downs is the last remaining tie to her family. But land can make or break you – and, with her husband’s latest treachery, how long can she hold on to it? Wild-dog trapper, Travis Hunter, is struggling as a single dad, unable to give his son, Billy, the thing he craves most. A complete family. Then, out of the blue, a terrible event forces the three neighbours to confront each other – and the mistakes of their past.

Hope’s Road by Margareta Osborn

My second Australian rural lit read of the year was an engaging one, rolling over weeks of messy family conflict on the land. Author Margareta Osborn has a nice writing style that sets her apart from others in the genre, and even though some of the farm-speak was as familiar to me as Estonian (a beautiful but impossibly difficult language!), the characters kept me hanging around for more.

If I’m being honest, the star of this book for me was not one of the three adult lead characters (though I didn’t dislike them!) but Travis’ ten-year-old son Billy. Children in fiction tend to either be supremely irritating or very endearing, and Billy was one I liked. He has some issues when it comes to paying attention – a problem dealt with in the story – but he’s also devoted and enthusiastic, and he brightened up scenes.

However that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the others. Poor old Joe, with a life full of disappointments, Tammy with an abusive husband, and completely lost Trevor; there were three people in this one who’d found out life didn’t turn out at all like you expected.

People are people, no matter who they are or where they’re from, and this author ‘got’ that. The city versus country crap (er, garbage) I often have to overlook in rural fiction was nowhere to be seen here, which led to better fleshed-out characters and more interesting conflicts.

There’re a few suspenseful moments in Hope’s Road, followed by one gigantic coincidence towards the end. In my opinion, any book is made better by a bit of excitement, and I thought the final few chapters in particular were good.

I doubt I’ll ever find a piece of rural fiction that would convert me to a life of dealing with livestock (especially some of what Tammy has to go through in this one – my God, I’m too squeamish for that!), but Hope’s Road was entertaining, and makes it into my collection of better Australian rural fiction titles. Recommended for fans of women’s fiction and anyone who dreams of escaping to the bush.

Review copy provided by NetGalley.

The Sunburnt Country by Fiona Palmer

The Sunburnt Country by Fiona Palmer

Jonelle Baxter is a young woman in a man’s world – a tough, hardworking motor  mechanic from an idyllic country family. But lately things in her perfect life  have been changing, and her workshop isn’t the only local business that’s  struggling.

Daniel Tyler is new in town, posted from the city to manage  the community bank. As he tries to rein in the spiralling debts of Bundara, he  uncovers all sorts of personal dramas and challenges. The last thing Jonny and  Dan need is an unwanted attraction to each other.

It’s going to take more  than a good drop of rain to break the drought and to keep this small but very  colourful community thriving.

From the bestselling author of The Road  Home comes a moving and heartwarming story about love, change and courage – and the beauty that’s found in the bush, even in the harshest of times.

 

The Sunburnt Country by Fiona Palmer

 

I received this book as a review copy from the publisher, and at the end of this review I have to mention something that unfortunately had an effect on my reading experience.

 

This is one for the tomboys!

The Sunburnt Country gives you a very good idea of what to expect with its stereotypically Australian title. Set in outback Western Australia, we’re introduced to a town struggling enormously with a drought that’s destroying not only farms, but also business throughout the community. The temporary bank manager, Daniel Tyler, sent out from Perth, is basically there for one purpose: to take people’s livelihoods away.

The heroine of this story, Jonelle Baxter, is too good to be true, if Dan’s love-struck opinion is to be believed! A mechanic who races Australian muscle cars for fun, there’s not a lot of girliness going on here.

If you’re into Australian cars, you’ll love this book. I don’t know the first thing about them, but am a huge Formula One fan who attends races every year, so the scenes describing the pits and the behind the scenes of the races really rang true to me.

Rural books – from any country – tend to be a little self-congratulatory, demonising people who aren’t from the land, and making out that only those who farm are capable of human decency. I tend to judge rural fiction on this point first: if the author goes overboard with country = perfect and city = evil, then I cannot usually look beyond it to enjoy the story.

The author evened the playing field somewhat in The Sunburnt Country, by introducing a male lead character who is from a city. I don’t know what kind of men live in Perth (having never been there), but our Special Forces are based there, and – based on my knowledge of Australian men – city guys are nowhere near as wimpy as Jonelle’s biased opinion tries to make us believe!

I did like that Jonelle is incredibly prejudiced for much of the book, and towards the end realises something has to give. She can’t keep fighting for things to always stay the same. She can’t be stubbornly blind to the possibility of an outsider being the perfect man for her.

There’s a lot of learning both characters have to do here, and nobody ends up the same as they were at the beginning.

There’re a lot of characters in this one, many of whom are struggling with the drought. Covering months of life in small town Australia, this is the kind of book that will appeal to fans of television show McLeod’s Daughters.

This is not the first book I have read from this author, and I can see her writing is developing with each one. Packed full of Australianisms, this is definitely an authentically ‘country’ read.

 

So. My complaint?

I know that when a review copy of a book is sent to a blogger we’re supposed to ignore typos and formatting errors and all of that because it isn’t the finished product. However I have to mention it here, because the ARC I received had an error in every sentence and it definitely had a huge effect on my experience of the book. Most sentences started in lower case, and almost every proper noun was in lower case too. There were apostrophes where there shouldn’t have been and none where they needed to be. Wrong words were often used. Paragraphs weren’t always separated.

Quite frankly, it was a mess and sometimes very difficult to read. I expect some mistakes in ARCs, but not to the point it makes my experience of the book far more negative than it should have been.

I apologise to the author for having to base my opinion of her book on this!

Upcoming Australian Rural Fiction

I returned from Sydney to find I had sixteen new review books, so there’s a lot of reading in my near future!

A number of those books are upcoming “Rural Lit” Australian books.

I think this new, uniquely Australian genre is now coming into its own. Authors are discovering they don’t *only* have to write about sheep shearing and misogynistic fathers, and that there’re endless possibilities for stories.

Here are a few I’ll be reading this month:

Hope's Road by Margareta Osborn

Hope’s Road by Margareta Osborn

From the author of the bestselling Bella’s Run comes another captivating rural romance set in the the rugged, beautiful high country of East Gippsland.

Hope’s Road connects three very different properties, and three very different lives …

Sixty years ago, heartbroken and betrayed, old Joe McCauley turned his back on his family and their fifth-generation farm, Montmorency Downs. He now spends his days as a recluse, spying upon the land – and the granddaughter – that should by rights have been his.

For Tammy McCauley, Montmorency Downs is the last remaining tie to her family. But land can make or break you – and, with her husband’s latest treachery, how long can she hold on to it?

Wild-dog trapper, Travis Hunter, is struggling as a single dad, unable to give his son, Billy, the thing he craves most. A complete family.

Then, out of the blue, a terrible event forces the three neighbours to confront each other – and the mistakes of their past…

The Sunburnt Country by Fiona Palmer

The Sunburnt Country by Fiona Palmer

Jonelle Baxter is a young woman in a man’s world – a tough, hardworking motor mechanic from an idyllic country family. But lately things in her perfect life have been changing, and her workshop isn’t the only local business that’s struggling.

Daniel Tyler is new in town, posted from the city to manage the community bank. As he tries to rein in the spiralling debts of Bundara, he uncovers all sorts of personal dramas and challenges. The last thing Jonny and Dan need is an unwanted attraction to each other.

It’s going to take more than a good drop of rain to break the drought and to keep this small but very colourful community thriving.

From the bestselling author of The Road Home comes a moving and heartwarming story about love, change and courage – and the beauty that’s found in the bush, even in the harshest of times.

Song of the Bellbirds by Anne McCullagh Rennie

Song of the Bellbirds by Anne McCullagh Rennie

All young Lizzy wants to do is sing, ride the boundaries of her family’s Queensland property and dream of one day performing on stage. But when a freak storm hits the area, wreaking havoc and bringing tragedy, she swears never to sing another note.

Lizzy, however, has a voice as uplifting as the pure beauty of the song of the bellbirds, and others are not quite so willing to let her remarkable talent go to waste. There is the loving but ambitious Sister Angelica, a natural teacher; the vibrant and dangerously attractive Maestro Leonard Rominski, whose charms Lizzy finds irresistible; and the irrepressible Gran, whose love sustains Lizzy through thrilling highs and crushing lows.

But it is Lizzy alone who will ultimately decide if the price she must pay to sing is too high…