All The Books I Can Read

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Review: Daughter Of The Hunter Valley by Paula J. Beavan

on October 25, 2021

Daughter Of The Hunter Valley
Paula J. Beavan
Harlequin MIRA AUS
2021, 356p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Alone. Near destitute. But brave and determined. Can Maddy beat the odds to create a new home in the Hunter Valley? An exciting Australian historical debut, perfect for readers of Darry Fraser.

1831, New South Wales

Reeling from her mother’s death, Madeleine Barker-Trent arrives in the newly colonised Hunter River to find her father’s promises are nothing more than a halcyon dream. A day later, after a dubious accident, she becomes the sole owner of a thousand acres of bushland, with only three convicts and handsome overseer Daniel Coulter for company.

Determined to fulfil her family’s aspirations, Maddy refuses to return to England and braves everything the beautiful but wild Australian country can throw at her – violence, danger, the forces of nature and loneliness. But when a scandalous secret and a new arrival threaten to destroy all she’s worked for, her future looks bleak … Can Maddy persevere or should she simply admit defeat?

A captivating historical tale of one young woman’s grit and determination to carve out her place on the riverbank. 

I really enjoyed this.

Maddy is a young woman who has been waiting with her unwell mother in England while her father builds a farm and home in New South Wales. Her mother’s frail health means she doesn’t survive to make the trip and then no one is waiting for her so Maddy must make the journey alone to the Hunter River, where her father is. Once there, she finds not a beautiful stone house like his letters promised, but a shack. And he hasn’t received her letters so he neither knew she was coming, nor does he know about her mother. And shortly after her arrival, Maddy finds herself an orphan.

She becomes determined to stay and turn the property into her father’s dream for it, to see it through to the end, which takes bravery and hard work. The conditions are very basic, although they have been blessed with good workers, mostly convicts assigned by the government that landowners can apply for. She also has overseer Daniel Coulter, a good worker and good man, who Maddy finds herself drawn to.

Not everyone in the area is as willing as Maddy to work hard and she finds herself the subject of gossip, for her desire to stay and turn the property into something wonderful and prosperous. She’s also a very eligible woman now and her appearance in the valley means that for the mothers with unmarried daughters, she is competition. Despite being viewed this way by some, Maddy does make some friends and people she can trust to go to for advice regarding things on the property and issues with her workers when they arise.

I felt like the author did a really wonderful job showcasing what it would be like for a young woman to come from England to somewhere that has a completely different climate. Maddy arrives in summer and each chapter lists the date as well as the weather. When Maddy arrives she has to acclimatise to the heat, the humidity and the often powerful summer storms. It’s very different to what she’d be used to and the living conditions probably don’t help. Her determination however, is very high and not the remoteness, nor the weather nor the day-to-day hard work can deter her. There are multiple dangers that she must watch out for, both as a woman considered to be vulnerable (the area has bushrangers) and as someone who is not particularly familiar with the surroundings and the locals (like snakes). Maddy finds a hard worker when she visits the Parramatta Women’s Factory to secure a companion maid to both be a help on the farm and also to avoid the impropriety of being alone on the property with only the male workers, many of whom are technically convicted criminals. Maddy chooses well in Jane who proves to be more than up to the task and takes to most things with relish.

Maddy faces many challenges, including the reluctant guardianship of a young child, whose connection to her she finds that she doesn’t want to investigate too closely. But despite people giving her advice to move the child on, she finds that she cannot and she’s determined to do what she believes to be the right thing, no matter how much it sets local tongues wagging. Maddy really doesn’t ever allow that to impact on her decisions which I found very admirable about her, at a time when there would’ve probably been quite a lot of pressure for women to look and act a certain way and definitely there’d be things that a lady would just never do and the differences between Maddy and some of the other nearby women are highlighted during the planning of a social event, when it’s quite clear that there are two very different agendas.

My only real issue with this book is that I felt it actually ended a bit abruptly. There’s one thing that you know needs to be resolved for the book to finish and when it does, it’s basically on the last page and I really felt like the book could’ve done with just a little more time to deal with this and make it so that it didn’t feel quite so rushed. It’s quite a small thing but I felt like there’d been some build up and then some conflict and it would’ve flowed a little better if there’d been just a little more time spent on resolving it and showing the way forward for Maddy. But apart from that which really is a very small quibble, I thought this was an enjoyable read with great characters and a setting that I haven’t read too much in stories set during this time.

8/10

Book #182 of 2021

This is book #80 of my Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2021

It also counts towards my 2021 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge and is book #29 completed towards that!


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