Moonlight Plains by Barbara Hannay

In brief: Sally is a widowed journalist who meets Luke at a 1940s themed ball. Can she forget her past while her friend (and Luke’s grandmother) Kitty relives her days during World War II?

The good: Loved the dual narrative, especially the parts about Townsville during WWII.

The not-so-good: You’ll gobble this book up in a sitting or two and be tired the next day!

Why I chose it: Loved the cover, thanks to Penguin Australia and The Reading Room for the copy.

Year: 2014

Pages: 369

Publisher: Penguin Australia

Setting: Far North Queensland, Australia

My rating: 9.5 out of 10

This is the first book by Barbara Hannay I’ve read, but it certainly won’t be the last. Attracted by the gorgeous Queenslander (house) on the cover, the book immediately appealed to me. Flipping over to the back cover, I then saw that the story contained a dual narrative across current day and Townsville, Queensland during the Second World War. That was it. I was hooked – history and current day entwining is my fiction weakness!

The book introduces us to Sally, a young widow and journalist living in Townsville. Her husband died in an accident over two years ago and her friends are encouraging her to socialise a little more. However, it takes an older lady, Kitty, at the nursing home where Sally visits her grandmother, to get Sally to attend a 1940s themed ball in Charters Towers. There, Sally meets Luke and sparks fly. He tells her how he is renovating the family homestead at Moonlight Plains and the journalist in Sally sniffs a story. But after an enjoyable night, Sally gets cold feet and tells Luke she’s not looking for a relationship. The story then switches between the growing friendship between Sally and Luke as Moonlight Plains is rebuilt and Kitty’s life in Townsville and Moonlight Plains during the war, starting with an aeroplane crash near the homestead. It’s here that Kitty meets Ed, a handsome American pilot from a wealthy family in Boston. Nothing can come of this relationship across class, can it?

I enjoyed both Kitty and Sally’s stories in Moonlight Plains. Hannay knows just when to switch between narratives so that the reader can get their next fix of Kitty or Sally’s story. I loved how the older Kitty was trying to act as matchmaker for Sally and Luke, not knowing they’d already ‘enjoyed’ each other’s company! Seeing Kitty as a young woman also brought to mind just how short life is and that elderly people were young and mischievous once! I liked how both stories eventually came together – I didn’t see it coming (although I see in other reviews that people did). Perhaps I’m too trusting and gullible, but the sentinel moment at the grand party for Moonlight Plains had my jaw dropping along with the guests who realised what had happened!

Both Sally and Luke were likeable characters. I was worried initially that Sally was going to be too wishy-washy about whether it was right to enter into another relationship, but she’s a strong and practical woman who was able to separate her love for Josh (her husband) and what he would have wanted for her. Luke was definitely handsome and a true gentleman, however, I wish he had talked to Sally a bit more about his feelings towards her (I know, he’s a man, difficult). The part near the end where Luke decided the relationship was over because of what had happened with Kitty was a bit out of character to me, but perhaps he’d been thinking it over too much. All was right in the end, which is what was important.

I loved the descriptions of Moonlight Plains – the house and surrounds sounded beautiful and the reason the fish pond was built was touching. I also enjoyed reading about Townsville during the war – it’s something I’ve not read much about, but Hannay made it all seem perfectly real, as if the scene was laid out in front of me. The sandbags on the Strand, the planes and the soldiers amongst the hive of activity and uncertainty of invasion – the writing was strong and the plot well-paced.

One thing I didn’t know until the end is that this is the third book Barbara Hannay has written about the Fairburn family (Luke’s family). Zoe’s Muster is the story of his half-sister and Home Before Sundown is about Bella Fairburn. I’ll definitely be checking these books out. I do hope Hannay continues the historical fiction elements of her books because they work brilliantly, capturing the essence of a long-ago time in Australian history.

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