Copy courtesy of the publisher
Brisbane girl Zoe is stunned when she finds out quite by accident that the man her mother is married to, the man that has raised her, is not actually her biological father. Zoe’s real father is a north-Queensland cattle station owner and suddenly the insecurities Zoe has always had about not fitting into her family, about not knowing what she wants to do with her life in a family of decision makers, seem like they might go away if she got to know her father. And almost by divine intervention, the cattle station that Peter Fairburn (her biological father) owns is advertising for a stockcamp cook to provide food for the men while they’re mustering all the cattle. Zoe is a chef, currently running a high tea business in Brisbane and feeling restless. Looking for a change. Ignoring the fear her mother has of only bad coming from this, Zoe applies for the job and not long later finds herself arriving in far north QLD. She’s not quite sure what to expect, especially when she discovers that her accomodations are quite some way from the homestead. She’s not sure she’ll even get a chance to glimpse the man that fathered her, especially when she learns that he’s laid up at the moment recovering from a heart attack.
Despite this disappointment, Zoe throws herself into the work, dishing up hearty food for the busy men and scrumptious desserts. Well fed men are grateful men and they’re quite happy to have Zoe around. Awkwardly, the man that is her half brother (although unbeknownst to him) takes a shine to her, flirting with her and making no secret of the fact that he’d like to get to know her…more. He’s her boss though and Zoe is loathe to shut him down too harshly even though with her knowledge, she knows that she should. Besides, she’s more interested in his dark and brooding friend Mac, who owns a nearby property. Mac is helping with the muster as it’s Luke’s first time overseeing one with his father still not quite back on active duty. Mac is suspicious about Zoe’s arrival on the property – in fact he’s suspicious of all city girls he thinks are heading out to try and pick themselves up a station-owner husband. Mac has been burned before, but that doesn’t stop the attraction he feels for Zoe, even though he knows he will hurt Luke.
But it isn’t just Luke that stands to get hurt by Zoe’s secretive employment. If her secret were to come out – and let’s face it, all secrets do eventually- then a whole family stands to be hurt, including the man who raised her as if she were his own. Zoe’s impulsive search to help her understand herself has suddenly become very serious in that now she knows these people. And if they discovered who she truly is, it could change everything.
The rural literature keeps coming as strong as ever and this latest offering, from experienced romance author Barbara Hannay is a really enjoyable book. I really liked Zoe, right away she’s portrayed as a hard worker but perhaps a bit lacking in fulfillment in her job and at a bit of a loss with what she wants to do with her life long-term. She looks different to the other members in her family and she is different, temperament wise. Her father is a federal politician, her younger sister a lawyer. When Zoe discovers that the man she has always thought was her father actually isn’t, she’s naturally devastated, but also curious and things start making a little more sense for her. She’s always passionately loved cooking, but never known where that comes from. She has curly dark hair and she’s curvy whereas her mother and sister are thin with straight, lighter hair. When she googles her newly-found biological father’s name she discovers that the station is hiring a cook for their upcoming muster and that’s all the invitation Zoe needs. She just wants to go there and see for herself. She has a whole other part of her family that she knows nothing about and maybe she can finally understand herself.
I think that if I were in Zoe’s position, I’d want to do exactly the same thing – in fact no one could probably have stopped me from doing that. To find out that a totally strange man was actually her father and that was a whole part of her family she didn’t know about, I don’t blame her at all for taking off up there given the opportunity. She immediately likes the property and she enjoys the work of feeding the hungry working men. She meets Peter’s wife Virginia and bonds with her and she also likes her younger half-brother Luke, although Luke likes her a little too much! That had potential disaster written all over it, especially when Luke’s friend Mac was added in to the mix! What I loved about this was that it wasn’t really a love triangle, because there was only ever one option for Zoe, given she was related to the other one!
Mac has his own issues and this colours his opinion of Zoe from the very beginning. He’s wary of her even before she arrives and given he feels she’s hiding something about her real reasons for coming to the station to work (she is, just not what he thinks) he’s even more suspicious of her and isn’t shy about showing it. However the two actually work really well together, especially once Zoe confesses to him and his understanding was very refreshing. I half expected him to blow up about her deceiving the family but he was actually very supportive of her, although he did urge her to tell them, especially Luke, before he made a fool of himself.
The characterisation in Zoe’s Muster is incredibly strong and it’s not just limited to Zoe and Mac. Zoe’s parents are equally well established, especially her frustrated musician mother Claire. We get Claire’s story in bits and pieces throughout the book and it really helps to flesh out the story and give the reader a real understanding of just how this situation came about. I found every part of the story really engrossing and would love to revisit this world one day! Maybe through a HEA story for Luke…? Just a thought!
Book #124 of 2012
Zoe’s Muster is the 45th book read and reviewed for the Australian Women Writers Challenge