In brief: The story of three women, bound by blood but with little knowledge of each other, who find themselves in the outback town of Red Sand to improve the health of the community.
The good: It’s fun, sad and happy – but most of all compulsive reading.
The not-so-good: The sad bit is really sad.
Pages: 304 (eARC)
Publisher: Penguin Australia
Setting: Predominantly outback Australia
My rating: 9.5 out of 10
I’ve enjoyed Fiona McArthur’s category romances in the past (I love medical fiction of almost any description) and she was a lovely author to meet at the Romance Writers of Australia conference last year. Naturally, I was ecstatic to see on her website that she had a rural fiction book releasing this year and I was jumping up and down when I saw it on Net Galley. For those of you already familiar with Fiona’s books, it combines the trademark elements of humour, medicine and warm relationships. What I wasn’t expecting was some tear jerking moments (on the ONE day I forget my sunglasses!) and some emergency action. Put all together, this is a fantastic book of the warmth of the people in the Australian outback coupled with fun romance, friendship and medicine under difficult conditions.
There are three protagonists in Red Sand Sunrise. Callie is a GP who receives the double blow of her husband leaving her for his pregnant mistress and the loss of her father minutes apart. Eve and Sienna are Callie’s half-sisters, who she barely knows. Eve is a midwife in Brisbane looking for a new adventure and Sienna is a no-nonsense, all ambitious obstetrician who won’t let anything or anyone slow her down. Eve decides to attend the funeral and hits it off with Callie and her mother, Sylvia. It’s at the wake when local tornado/benefactor Blanche approaches Callie to help rectify the lack of medical facilities in Red Sand, a small town in Queensland’s west. Women and babies have been dying – can having a health centre save them? Blanche is prepared to foot the bill and Callie doesn’t have anything to go back to in the city, so she agrees. Eve also agrees to be the resident nurse and midwife as Callie doesn’t want anything to do with babies. It turns out that life in Red Sand is more complex than either of these women thought – there’s distracting men and medicine aplenty. When Sienna reluctantly shows up to do research, it seems that everything is falling into place for Callie and Eve. Or is it? Will any of the trio find solace in Red Sand?
I loved the way Fiona McArthur has integrated the three characters together. We read of events from each of their viewpoints, but it never feels that we’re missing out on anything. The women are very different so I didn’t have any trouble whatsoever keeping them separate in my mind. Each character has a great plot – there’s romance and drama aplenty. I did feel that Callie got the short end of the stick – drama and tragedy seem to follow her around, but she definitely had the quiet strength of character to deal with it. Sienna was a perfect curmudgeon initially – she was almost comical in her determination to hate the country and then again in her determination to seduce a local. However, I still warmed to her as I knew what was driving her to be that way – and haven’t we all feared of missing out? Eve was outgoing and the most willing to make changes to her life, but even she hit some stumbling blocks, trying to reach past her self-perceived limits.
I also really enjoyed the medicine portrayed in Red Sand Sunrise. It’s mainly obstetrics, as you’d expect (Fiona McArthur is a midwife) but there were no errors that I could perceive (my pet hate) in any of the medical situations from emergencies to routine medicine. The narrative also makes use of the Royal Flying Doctor Service, which aims to provide medical care across the remote areas of Australia by aeroplane, again demonstrating the isolation of the Australian country. (Even Sienna is amazed when a patient calls a 150km journey ‘short’).
I think the strongest part of the book is the relationships. The relationships between the sisters and Sylvia are sweet to read – where there could have been a lot of reluctance and negativity, there’s love and care. As for the romantic relationships, I think they come secondary to these (not to say that they’re not fun). The heroes are lovely, but they’re not the main focus. This is about women achieving the impossible and implausible in a remote setting and doing it with a smile.
I highly recommend this book if you’re looking for strong Australian rural fiction- it will take you on an emotional journey that will make you laugh, cry and ultimately, smile.