Review: The Sunburnt Country by Fiona Palmer

Title: The Sunburnt Country

Author: Fiona Palmer

Published: Penguin Australia February 2013

Read an Extract

Status: Read from February 25 to 28, 2013 — I own a copy

My Thoughts:

The Sunburnt Country is Fiona Palmer’s fourth engaging novel set in the regional area of her home state, Western Australia. In a small country town where the residents are struggling to survive the drought, bankers are the enemy.

Jonelle Baxter dreads having to meet with the new Bundara bank manager, her mechanical repair business is not in good financial shape despite keeping her as busy as ever and she is risking bankruptcy by falling behind in her loan repayments. She doesn’t expect to be attracted to the suited city boy who threatens everything she loves.
Daniel Tyler is in town to do a job, he has two months to tie up loose ends before the permanent bank manager will arrive and then he can return to his comfortable city life and a significant promotion. He doesn’t expect to find a home in Bundara… or love with the town’s only mechanic.

I found Jonelle aka “Jonny” a very likable character (though not her name so much). As a mechanic with a love of dirt car racing and a Torana her most prized, she is a little different to most romantic heroines, though definitely a tomboy she is still feminine. Her loyalty to her family, friends and community is her best trait. She risks her own business, accepting barter and delayed payment, in order to support those doing it tough and serves as an volunteer rescue crew member. She is close with her family which includes brother Zach and best friend Nae (Renee,) who provide a secondary romantic subplot and when childhood friend Ryan falls apart, she doesn’t hesitate to do all she can to help him get back on his feet.

Jonny’s close family and friendships contrast with Daniel’s lack of genuine relationships. His relationship with his father is complicated by the man’s narrow focus on work and his estrangement from his mother and younger brother after his parent’s divorce. Daniel is still very much in his father’s shadow but his time in Bundara gives him a fresh perspective. I liked the way in which Palmer developed Daniel’s character, though as a hero he was perhaps a little too passive for my tastes.

The romance between Jonelle and Daniel is fairly low key, developing naturally and pleasingly not beset by simple misunderstandings. There are good reasons for their wariness with each other – Jonelle will never leave Bundara while Daniel has a life in the city to return to. Though the romance is a feature of the novel, I really like that the author doesn’t rely on their relationship to promote personal growth for each of her characters. The decisions both Jonelle and Daniel make are about their individual needs, not the romance between them.

Fiona Palmer authentically captures the spirit of a community doing it tough, waiting for the rain, and I really liked the way in which she showed how the effects of the drought affect not only the farmers, but the town as a whole. She also touches on the issues of depression and suicide as Ryan struggles to deal with the end of his marriage and his failing farm.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Sunburnt Country, just as in The Road Home, Palmer’s own passion for the land bleeds into the story, her scenes are vivid and genuine, just as her characters are. This is another Australian rural fiction title I am happy recommend.

Available to Purchase

@Penguin Australia I @Boomerangbooks I @Booktopia I @Amazon Kindle

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Review: Absolution Creek by Nicole Alexander

@ Goodreads

Title: Absolution Creek

Author: Nicole Alexander

Published: Random House Australia September 2012

Synopsis: In 1923 nineteen-year-old Jack Manning watches the construction of the mighty Harbour Bridge and dreams of being more than just a grocer’s son. So when he’s offered the chance to manage Absolution Creek, a sheep property 800 miles from Sydney, he seizes the opportunity. But outback life is tough, particularly if you’re young, inexperienced and have only a few textbooks to guide you. Then a thirteen-year-old girl, Squib Hamilton, quite literally washes up on his doorstep – setting in motion a devastating chain of events… Forty years later and Cora Hamilton is waging a constant battle to keep Absolution Creek in business. She’s ostracized by the local community and hindered by her inability to move on from the terrible events of her past, which haunt her both physically and emotionally. Only one man knows what really happened in 1923. A dying man who is riding towards Absolution Creek, seeking his own salvation… From the gleaming foreshores of Sydney Harbour to the vast Australian outback, this is a story of betrayal and redemption and of an enduring love which defies even death. Read an excerpt

Status: Read from November 25 to 27, 2012 — I own a copy {Courtesy TheReadingRoom/ Random House Australia}

My Thoughts:

As a fourth generation grazier, Nicole Alexander writes what she knows, sweeping sagas set in Australia’s rural farming land. Absolution Creek is her third novel, with dual narratives set in 1923 and 1965.

Jack Manning is eager to escape the family run grocery store in Sydney’s grimy city streets and make his fortune so when a kindly neighbour offers him the opportunity to make a living on the land he jumps at the chance. Promising to send for his sweetheart, Olive, in a few months, Jack sets off to Absolution Creek determined to establish New South Wales finest station. With only a few books to guide him he purchases sheep and begins the arduous task of taming the bush.
More than forty years later, as an old man begins his journey from southern Queensland in search of redemption, Cora chases a wild pig from the banks of Absolution Creek in the predawn light and considers the imminent arrival of the niece she has never met, and her plan for revenge against the step sister who destroyed her family.

Initially the shift between timelines is quite disorientating as the characters seem entirely unrelated but as the narrative unfolds revealing the past and present, the stunning connections between Jack, Scrubber, Cora slowly begins to emerge. Three quarters of the way through the lengthy book I was tempted to complain about the sheer crowd of characters but as the book concludes each finds a path that adds to the depth of the plot. It was Squib’s, and later Cora’s, story I found most intriguing though, as the epicenter for novel’s story.

The historical details in the novel are fascinating, beginning with the forced acquisition of homes and businesses to make way for the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, I can barely imagine the city without the iconic structure in place. I was also unfamiliar with the story of the ram featured on our fifty cent piece, (I am sure I have mentioned it before but Australian history was completely neglected when I was at school and I am constantly amazed at what I am finally learning through fiction) which I found interesting. At least I know a little about the hard work it took (and still takes) to farm in rural Australia and I felt Alexander’s portrayal of the life authentic.

Absolution Creek is a complex tale of love, betrayal, jealousy, murder and revenge. I found it to be an absorbing read and I’d recommend Absolution Creek to fans of both historical fiction and the rural lit/romance genres. I am only sorry it took it’s time making it’s way to the top of my reading list.

Available To Purchase

@Random House Australia I @BoomerangBooks I @Booktopia I @Amazon Kindle

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