Penguin Books AUS
Copy courtesy of the publisher
For zoologist Zoe King, it’s her dream job. Working at a Reef Centre in Kiawa near Bundaberg in Queensland Zoe not only gets to rehabilitate animals and return them to their natural habitat but she will also get to conduct exciting research and maybe even help implement changes to protect the reef. Zoe is a passionate conservationist and at first, everything about her job seems perfect. Her boss Bridget is friendly and capable, welcoming Zoe and seemingly enthusiastic about the same things as Zoe. Zoe is also given the guest quarters on the large cane farm of Bridget’s fiance Quinn Cooper and she begins to embrace a more outdoor life, learning to ride and working with horses.
But there are some complications. Zoe didn’t count on feeling an immediate and powerful attraction to Quinn, despite the fact that she knows he’s off limits. He belongs to Bridget and although she makes the decision to ignore her feelings, she can’t ignore when things begin to not add up at the Reef Centre. Conflicting stories and some strange behaviour make her begin to question exactly what the goal of the centre is. And when Zoe’s research shows that animals on the reef are dying in numbers, she finds herself faced with an answer that could possibly drive a wedge between her and the man she has come to love. Zoe will have to decide if the future and health of the reef are more important than her own future happiness.
Jennifer Scoullar’s fourth novel takes readers to the ‘Gateway to the Barrier Reef’ in a small town close to Bundaberg in Queensland. Zoologist Zoe King has moved from Sydney to Kiawa to take up her dream job working at the local Reef Centre, a place that rehabilitates marine life and also houses those that are not fit to be returned to their native habitat. There are dolphins, turtles, sharks and an array of others such as fish, octopus. The centre also operates as a tourist attraction with the resident dolphins performing in shows, which helps keep the bills paid. For Zoe, it is a quick immersion from the theory of her recently completed degree to a much more practical aspect as she will be feeding and working with a variety of different animals as well as being able to map the reef and conduct extensive research.
Zoe is a wonderfully passionate conservationist who has some really strong ideas about her career and what she wants to be able to achieve. Her focus is on rehabilitating the sick and injured animals that come in and getting them returned to the ocean as soon as possible. Early on she notices several dolphins that look good candidates for a release only to be quickly informed that they are ‘lifers’ who won’t be able to be released. Zoe faces the challenge of being new and therefore not really having much say and she’s also inexperienced in the field, intimidated by Bridget’s qualifications. I liked and admired Zoe as a character, her enthusiasm and her determination is wonderful to read and I enjoyed learning about her job a lot. I wanted to study marine biology briefly as a teen until I realised that well, science and I were not entirely friends. Also I can’t really swim. But anyway, reading this book reminded me of that and how beautiful these creatures are and how important it is to do everything possible to protect them and their habitats. I found myself moved by the most unlikeliest of things – I must congratulate Jen Scoullar because I’m pretty sure I would’ve thought before reading this book it would be impossible to cry over an octopus!
I have to admit, I didn’t particularly find the romance aspect of this book much to my liking. Part of that perhaps had something to do with the fact that Quinn was engaged to Bridget but mostly I think it was just Quinn himself. He was far too arrogant and bossy for me – “sit here, do that, get in, don’t drink Coke it’s bad for you, here’s an iced tea instead”. If a man asked me what I’d like at a pub/cafe and I ordered a Coke and he came back with an iced tea, I’d dump it on his head. I loathe iced tea. I don’t like people that feel as though they have the right to make decisions for others. Zoe is a big girl, if she wants a diet Coke, get her a darn diet Coke! This was something that tended to carry through the book and most of the time I found him overly defensive and aggressive. At times he’s pretty horrible to Zoe, even though she came off a bit nosy when she was trying to do the right thing. I liked Quinn a little more right at the end of the book, perhaps Zoe will be a good influence on him – well I’m sure she will be actually because his attitudes really do change. Quinn learns to stand on his own two feet and have his own opinions and not just do things because that’s the way his father did them. I did like Quinn’s relationship with his brother Josh (who is a wonderful character and a huge part of this book). Even though it’s laced with mistakes and frustration you can tell that he loves Josh and he really does want the best for him and to keep him safe. And when Quinn realises that he is making mistakes, he does do his utmost best to fix them. It’s a slowish sort of process but I can understand his fear in letting the reins go a little and letting Josh begin to make decisions again for himself and do things which might potentially put him in danger again. But they’re things Josh not only loves but also needs in order to live his life.
I really enjoyed this – I love how Jennifer Scoullar manages to incorporate strong themes of conservation and protection into her stories without making it seem like a lecture. Bundaberg is further north than I’ve ever been and I have to admit it and its surrounds haven’t really come up on my radar as places to visit before. But I feel as though up there might be a part of the world I need to see.
Book #65 of 2015
Turtle Reef is book #23 for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015