All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Under Southern Skies – Anne McCullagh Rennie

Under Southern Skies
Anne McCullagh Rennie
Penguin AU
2012, 357p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Cate Perry is one day off turning 18 – not much time left if she wants to win the bet that she’ll make her first solo flight before her birthday. She grew up on a cattle property in the Northern Territory named Twin Falls. She has so much to look forward to besides piloting solo – she’s a daughter of the land and loves the family property and working around it dearly. Plus there’s Alf (short for Alfredo) a family friend whom she has grown up with. Alf was like a brother to her in childhood but now she’s feeling some distinctly unbrotherly-like feelings towards him. She makes her first solo flight with ease and is excited about the potential in that, such as perhaps learning to muster properly from the air one day. On a property such as that, the skill would be more than handy. Planes are almost a necessity in the Northern Territory, given it is usually the best way to visit neighbouring properties and can make a heavy workload easier.

Then a tragedy strikes, shattering Cate’s world and turning it utterly upside down. Driven out of her home, the only place that she has ever really known and a property that meant the world to her, devastated by the loss of two of the most important things in her life, she retreats to a family friend’s place to ponder her future. Her beautiful singing voice takes her to Tamworth for a look at the Country Music Festival, working for Alf’s aunt and uncle in their Italian restaurant. There she meets Nat, drummer in a band that just happens to have lost its singer. Cate asked if she might be able to audition and bemused, Nat gives her a go. From there Cat is catapulted into a world of singing, rehearsing and writing songs as the band picks up local gigs around the area.

To Cate’s disappointment it seems like life in the Top End is going on without her – Alf is seeing someone and his sister, her close friend, is barely around to take her calls these days. Her music keeps her plenty busy as she wins a singing competition that sees her get to record in Nashville – the world home of country music.

But you can’t keep a girl away from where she feels is home forever and as the singing starts to fall apart for Cate -due mostly to the implosion of her relationship with Nat- Cate finds herself tasked with the job of getting a farm in Queensland up to scratch for the absent owners to sell it. She stocks it with cattle, mends fences, finds a place for herself in the community and even starts singing again. And then Alf, the man she has always loved, reappears in her life.

Under Southern Skies is another Australian rural lit release that I was recently offered the chance to read and review. Our protagonist Cate is young – in fact sometimes it’s easy to forget just how young she is. She’s just 17 (well a day off 18) when the book opens, preparing to take her first solo flight over her family’s vast cattle property in the Northern Territory. That solo flight is important, as it is just the first of many solo flights that Cate will have to take as she goes on her journey to find her place in the world after tragedy strikes.

Cate is a happy go-lucky sort of girl, passionate about the land and her family farm. She works hard on it doing all sorts of jobs and you can tell that she looks forward to taking it over one day, making the property hers and carrying on her family legacy. She’s also a people pleaser, often sacrificing something she wants to do (or trying to) in order to make others happy, particularly her stepmother very early on in the book and then later, her bandmate-turned-boyfriend Nat. When her family farm can no longer be her home, she could’ve stayed in the Top End, with Alf’s family or possibly have gotten a job on a nearby property. But she chooses to go interstate, to country New South Wales and make a life for herself in Tamworth. She’s always loved to sing and if she can’t work on her family farm, then maybe she can make a go of it as a singer.

Luck falls in her lap when she meets Nat and his band, who are currently down a singer. Success finds them steadily after Cate joins and soon she is putting all her energies into music. It was hard not to like Cate, she had suffered a lot in her young life but she managed to retain a very happy personality and an attitude to looking on the bright side. A lot of people would’ve been very bitter about being forced to leave the only home they had ever known but although Cate was devastated, she wasted no time hating. And it was the same when her singing career stalled and she found herself back working the land. She didn’t lament the loss of her fame, or popularity. She found something that she wanted to do, that she could do, and went to do it and once again, made herself happy.

There’s a lot going on in this book – plenty of action at every turn and it can leave you feeling at little dizzy at times, especially when the book jumps forward in time. Cate has a whirlwind life, from the Northern Territory to Tamworth to Nashville, back to Tamworth and then up into Queensland. But it’s a very warm and inviting sort of book with lots of enjoyable characters, such as Alf and his boisterous and generous Italian family and the vet and his daughter that Cate meets when she arrives at the Queensland property.

Overall I enjoyed Under Southern Skies although for me personally it could’ve benefited from a little less action and a bit more character depth and development. But it’s a fun read.


Book #36 of 2012

I’ve been given permission to share Anne McCullagh Rennie’s inspiration for Under Southern Skies:

I have studied music since I was a child and studied in London and Vienna as well as attending many summer schools in Austria and Germany, was Concert Manager to the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London and performed both on stage and worked behind scenes in musical productions.  While I drew on my classical music experience in my novel Song of the Bellbirds, set against the wheat fields of Queensland and the opera houses of Europe and America, (sold over half a million copies), this time, along with my love of the Outback, I was inspired by Australian Country music singers including Slim Dusty, Kasey Chambers, Sara Storer, Troy Cassar Daley, Lee Kernegan and John Williamson to write Under Southern Skies.

As well the top Five Outback experiences Anne recommends you do before you die:

  1. Go camel riding at Uluru
  2. Fly over Kakadu in a six seater plane and see the Jim Jim falls
  3. Watch the sunset over the sea at Darwin Markets
  4. Feed Macaws, parrots and other brightly coloured tropical birds as they sit on your shoulders, head and arm
  5. Sail hobbycats with the turtles near Dunk Island QLD
and Five things Anne discovered when visiting Outback sheep stations
  1.  The galvanised tin shearers’ shed shower is freezing in the early mornings!
  2. Watch out for frogs that croak at you from  the toilet bowl – I luckily saw no redbacks on the toilet seat
  3.  The friendliness of the sheep station owners, managers and rousabouts
  4.  How soft and pristine creamy white wool is if you part the fleece on the rams’ backs
  5. The heat mirage on Outback roads that stretch to the horizon
Although not born here, Anne McCullagh Rennie now lives in Sydney, so I’m counting this novel as part of my participation in the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2012! It’s the 10th novel completed for the challenge, which technically completes my involvement but given I haven’t read as widely from the genre pool as I’d like, I’m going to keep participating. Like most rural lit books I’ve read, the setting is important here, from the Northern Territory to Tamworth to Queensland. Cate has deep ties to the land and she’s always thinking about it, even when not fully involved in working it at the time.
My thanks to Penguin AU for the copy and for the additional material.