Penguin Books AUS
Copy courtesy of the publisher
Sally Piper is working as a freelance journalist, picking up what work she can find. She’s still in mourning for her husband, who died in an accident just over two years ago but her friends are convinced that it’s time for Sally to start living again. They want her to put herself out there a bit more, meet some new people. Against her better judgement she attends a ball in Charters Towers with a war theme and decides that the ball might make a good focus for a story for one of the country life magazines.
At the ball Sally meets Luke Fairburn and learns of his plans to restore his grandmother’s homestead. This is something Sally is interested in herself and she journeys out to Moonlight Plains to see the home and decides that it would also make a great story. Although sparks fly between Sally and Luke, she’s not quite ready yet – she can’t seem to let go of Josh and move on and find happiness.
Moonlight Plains has seen a lot in it’s time, including some war action when some Allied planes crashed on its land during the Second World War. Young Kitty Martin was home alone at the time and although terrified of what she might find, she hears the planes come down and heads out to investigate. What she discovers brings her the experience of the tragedy of war and heartbreak but also the promise of something beautiful.
Years later as Luke plans to unveil the new Moonlight Plains to the entire family, a deep secret looks like being exposed.
In recent years, a story that blends the contemporary with the historical has come to be one of my favourite types to read. I also really enjoyed Barbara Hannay’s two previous books surrounding the Fairburn family, Home Before Sundown and Zoe’s Muster and had been waiting eagerly for Luke’s story. The two stories blend together quite seamlessly here as we visit Townsville in 1942 and the Allied troops that are stationed there, perfectly placed for missions into Asia. Japan was looking towards Australia, keen to expand its territory and all that land sparsely populated must’ve been tempting. They’d already bombed Darwin and there were rumours of “the Brisbane line” where everything north of that city wouldn’t be defended. Kitty Martin was sent inland to Moonlight Plains, her great-uncle’s farm to keep her away from those flirtatious American soldiers….only to meet American soldiers when they crash their small crafts onto the property!
I loved Kitty’s story – in fact I could’ve read a whole book devoted to just her and her life both before and after WWII. She was strong and independent and hadn’t been cowed by her rather strict religious grandfather. There was plenty of romance in her story but also practicality and I found it very believable that it would play out the way in which it did. I also loved learning about the restoration of the old homestead. I watch too much lifestyle television and restoration shows or building projects, are some of my favourites so I was always really interested in everything Luke was doing and how it was all going to come together.
Which brings me to Sally and Luke! I already knew Luke so I had to get to know Sally and it was hard not to empathise with her. She was terribly young to have already lost a husband and the grief she was experiencing was still rather strong but there was also guilt too. Guilt that she could be attracted to Luke and want to act on it as well as I think, guilt that perhaps she and Luke had more in common than she’d had with her late husband Josh. Sally had an interest in old homes, she had wanted to buy a fixer upper herself (and had almost done so with the insurance money, only the guilt stopped her) whereas Josh had preferred a modern apartment for their home. He was a lawyer, so not a handyman type like Luke. Sally was the type of girl who would want to get her hands dirty and help as well, learning how to help brand and ear-tag cattle as well as pitch in with ideas for the homestead. They were so good together, it was obvious they just worked and Luke was definitely ready for something long term. Sally was different though, she definitely still had some things to work through. I was a little surprised at how angsty Luke was, he is quite brooding….but not unattractive!
Moonlight Plains has taken the rural romance genre and then gone one step further adding in a historical romance element as well that deals with the troubles of war and the beauty that can come out of such times. Both the 1942 story and the current day story work well both separately and together and I was equally invested in both. I think Barbara Hannay did a great job balancing them out and making sure that each story had the attention it deserved. I was equally connected to Kitty and Sally and their very different journeys toward happiness.
This one can be read as stand-alone but I would recommend picking up Home Before Sundown and then Zoe’s Muster beforehand just to really get familiar with the Fairburn family.
Book #166 of 2014
Midnight Plains is book #63 for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014