All The Books I Can Read

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Review: Burning Fields by Alli Sinclair

on June 15, 2018

Burning Fields 
Alli Sinclair
Harlequin MIRA
2018, 352p
Copy courtesy of Harlequin AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

1948. The world is struggling to regain a sense of balance after the devastation of World War II, and the sugar cane-growing community of Piri River in northern Queensland is no exception.

As returned servicemen endeavour to adjust to their pre-war lives, women who had worked for the war effort are expected to embrace traditional roles once more.

Rosie Stanton finds it difficult to return to the family farm after years working for the Australian Women’s Army Service. Reminders are everywhere of the brothers she lost in the war and she is unable to understand her father’s contempt for Italians, especially the Conti family next door. When her father takes ill, Rosie challenges tradition by managing the farm, but outside influences are determined to see her fail.

Desperate to leave his turbulent history behind, Tomas Conti has left Italy to join his family in Piri River. Tomas struggles to adapt in Australia—until he meets Rosie. Her easy-going nature and positive outlook help him forget the life he’s escaped. But as their relationship grows, so do tensions between the two families until the situation becomes explosive.

When a long-hidden family secret is discovered and Tomas’s mysterious past is revealed, everything Rosie believes is shattered. Will she risk all to rebuild her family or will she lose the only man she’s ever loved?

I really enjoy Alli Sinclair’s books and this one is no exception. In some ways quite a lot of this story is not unfamiliar to me, even though I’ve never lived on a cane farm or in northern Queensland. But I grew up in northern NSW and holidays we took were often to southern QLD. Up around the border is a huge cane growing area and the fields and smell of the burning cane are really familiar to me. Also, as I’ve mentioned many times before, my husband is a first-generation born Australian. Like the Contis in this book, his family are from Sicily and both his parents came here in the 50s after WWII had ended but when attitudes towards Italians could still be deeply hostile. My mother-in-law has been quite upfront about some of the negativity she experienced working in a shop in a small country town. She was only a very young girl during the war, but for many people that didn’t matter.

Rosie Stanton has been living and working in Brisbane but has now returned to the family farm. One of her brothers is confirmed lost in the war, the other believed to also have been killed. Rosie has a head for figures, a way with mechanics but her father doesn’t seem to want her back on the family farm, constantly urging her to return to Brisbane. Rosie is desperate to help however, hurt by her father’s rejection of her and her skills. If she was a man, surely her father wouldn’t be treating her like this. He doesn’t want her anywhere near his workers, anywhere near the books. But Rosie is nothing if not determined and she’s passionate about making the farm her life.

Rosie meets Tomas Conti on the bus back to her family town. The Contis have purchased the farm next door to Rosie’s family and Tomas is late joining them. The two hit it off quite well although there are some complications in the form of her father’s hostility towards Italians and Tomas’ Nonna, who warns Rosie off falling for her grandson. Rosie wonders if it’s because Nonna doesn’t find her good enough for Tomas because after all, who is good enough for their grandson in a Nonna’s eyes?

There was so much I enjoyed about this but the role of women was definitely at the forefront. Rosie is so clever and capable and she really wants to be involved in the family farm but the way in which her father shuts her down time and time again is so frustrating and hurtful for her. Actually her father was making me really frustrated but his sharpness about her not being involved was so at odds with other parts of his character that I was really wondering what was going on. I loved the way it played out, that all was not as it seemed, and that there was so much more to it than Rosie herself realised. She had lots of progressive ideas and was a really proactive person. I found her determination to save the family farm and her tenaciousness really admirable and it really did seem that Rosie would be able to accomplish whatever she set her mind to. She has endless patience with both her parents as well, no matter how frustrating and upsetting they are.

I liked her friendship with Tomas as well, the two of them seek each other out as a way almost of winding down and their walks and talks are really enjoyable. Tomas’ past is not unpredictable but that didn’t lessen the impact and it’s obvious how it has affected him. But I also liked that a lot in this book seemed to symbolise new beginnings – Rosie is undergoing a new beginning even though she’s returning to her childhood home. Tomas is undergoing a new beginning by moving across the world to an entirely different country. Rosie’s parents face a new beginning where they must finally share the knowledge they’ve carried for years and Rosie and Tomas are potentially embarking on a new and shared beginning.

This was a really lovely read, a great way to pass an afternoon.


Book #101 of 2018

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