Lena Todd is a city girl from the top of her head down to her toes. Fresh out of university armed with an engineering degree, she is thrown into panic when her boss tells her that she’s green so they’re sending her up north to get some experience on one of their sites. The Pilbarra, in fact. She’ll be trading her lattes, shopping dates and city apartment for khakis, safety hats and a dongar – basically nothing more than a demountable building a couple metres long by a couple metres wide.
She’s utterly horrified but she’s also paranoid. An ill-advised decision in university has made her doubt the legitimacy of her degree and she’s desperate for some experience and to prove herself as worthy of her job and her career choice. But she’s totally unprepared for what she finds when she lands on site – she’s one of 4 women in a camp of about 400 men and they’re condescending, dismissive and often downright rude. They come onto her, they laugh at her, they make life difficult for her whether by accident or design. But Lena is determined not to go home with her tail between her legs – she will crack this job.
She forms a friendship with one of the few other women on site – Sharon, a bus driver who drives the loop bus from the site offices to the project and back. The ‘project’ is a massive wharf that extends kilometres out into the sea and takes the iron ore mined in the state out the ships for exportation around the world. Lena’s job is to oversee the widening of the wharf and also to speed up productivity, which as the client keeps reminding them, is behind on just about everything.
The client. Dan Hullog, tall, dark, very ruggedly handsome, referred to as ‘Bulldog’ behind his back by the site workers. He’s a stickler for safety and the rules and regulations and isn’t afraid to let anyone know it. And he and Lena can’t seem to see eye to eye on much, or anything at all, actually. Rumour has it he never takes his R&R, he spends hours glued to his phone (mystery girlfriend, proclaims the camp) and he’s rude, not to mention not particularly well liked by the site crew. There’s a bit of a rivalry between the site crew and the client organisation and Lena knows that life is tough enough for her on site as it is. If everyone were to find out that she was harbouring a crush on ‘Bulldog’ – then things would get even worse than unbearable. Dan also has his own secrets and when Lena finds out what they are, she wants to help… To be his friend. Only Dan won’t stop pushing her away.
The Girl In Steel-Capped Boots first came to my attention via Danielle over at the ALPHA Reader’s excellent review and I knew there and then I immediately wanted to read it. It’s since also been reviewed favourably by Shelleyrae at Book’d Out and by the time I finally grabbed it from the library, I couldn’t wait to start it. And this is one of those books that makes you so glad to be excited, so happy to be finally reading it, because it’s worth it. I absolutely loved this book.
Lena is responsible for a lot of my enjoyment of this book. I really liked her and admired her the way she dug in and dealt with the obstacles in her way when she arrived in The Pilbarra. She’s young, fresh out of university but doubting herself due to something that happened while she was still a student, so she’s doubly determined not to fail at this job. She has to deal with men up there thinking she’s the new cleaner, ignoring her, leering at her, asking her out, borderline molesting her, talking about her, following her, gossiping about her, being condescending to her, the works. And somehow she always finds ways to deal with them, to put them in their place or earn their grudging respect in ways that are just awesome. She thinks about things, she doesn’t lose her temper and scream to give them even more of an excuse to judge her or look down on her.
This book excels in many areas but one of my favourites was the cast of supporting characters. From Sharon, the bus driver Lena enters into a friendship with, to Carl, her boss who can’t stop swearing, to the likable guys down at the wharf to Dan Hullog, aka Bulldog, there is a host of likable and colourful Australian characters that don’t fail to provoke a reaction with their relationships with Lena, be it frustration when the men are being macho, humour when they’re gently ribbing her or warm and fuzzies when she makes friends. The chemistry between Lena and Dan is also sizzling – I so enjoyed their journey! Their very reluctant mutual attraction, Lena’s stumbling attempts at friendship and not wanting to repeat past mistakes, Dan desperately attempting to resist his feelings and keep his stand-offish manner in tact makes for a rollercoaster read and an awesome one at that.
I mention often that I have an awesome library and I read quite frequently from there and I know books are there if I need to re-read them as I’m an avid re-reader! But every now and then something comes along that I enjoy so much that I have to run out and buy it (or stay in and click a button) and add it to my personal collection so that I know it’s right there whenever I feel the urge to pick it up and read a favourite section. And The Girl In The Steel-Capped Boots is one of these books.
Book #16 of 2012
The Girl In The Steel-Capped Boots is the fourth novel read that counts towards the Australian Women Writers Challenge. It’s setting is deep in the Pilbarra, in north-western Western Australia. The setting plays a hugely important role in the novel – Lena is firmly out of her comfort zone when she first arrives, as she’s a city girl and where she’s living is basically just a site community comprised of the workers on the job. They have to drive distances just to have drinks at a pub and there’s no shops for shopaholic Lena to stock up on her attractive wardrobe. But the longer she spends there, the more she starts to love her surroundings and get into the local landscape and relax her personal grooming and appearance! The setting was new to me and it’s not an area I’ve ever visited, although I have known people who have lived in the area on FIFO (fly-in, fly-out, like Lena) and heard some stories! It forms a hugely enjoyable part of the book with Lena adjusting to her new location and her new colleagues as well as getting to sightsee a few places nearby.