In brief: Five women in Mica Ridge are missing something in their lives and as housemates on a station homestead, they’ll find what they were missing.
The good: Gentle story blending medical fiction with friendship and a touch of romance.
The not-so-good: Perhaps too gentle in places?
Why I chose it: Thank you to Penguin Australia for the eARC. I have enjoyed several of Fiona McArthur’s books previously.
Publisher: Michael Joseph (Penguin Australia)
Setting: Outback Australia
My rating: 8 out of 10
I was really happy to hear earlier this year that Fiona McArthur had a new book coming out. I enjoyed Red Sand Sunrise last year (even though it made me cry on public transport) and Fiona’s category romances combine medicine, romance and quirky scenes brilliantly (think of an allergy to latex at a rather embarrassing time). When I heard that this was also about a Royal Flying Doctor base, I was even more interested. Once again, Fiona McArthur takes us on a journey that is quintessentially Australian, living through the hardships of bush life and combining it with love and friendship.
There are a number of strong female characters in this story and part of the fun is seeing them interact and grow through the book. We have city doctor Bilie, who has lead a nomadic life with her daughter Mia. When Mia goes off the rails one time too many, Billie decides to make the leap to return to her country home of Mica Ridge and fulfil a dream to become part of the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Mia is not too happy about that, but it’s not long before she finds several things to entertain her in town. Next door to them lives Daphne, flight nurse and Billie’s colleague. Daphne desperately wants to be everything to everyone – she’s always volunteering to help someone in need to cover her own history of feeling inadequate and out of place. One of the people Daphne helps is Soretta, who comes into contact with the RFDS when her grandfather is injured badly on the family station. Soretta is barely keeping one step ahead of the banks and Daphne’s determined to help somehow. Finally, added into the mix is widow Lorna – a spritely 80 year old who is not ready to lie down quietly. The women become friends and later housemates at Soretta’s family homestead. There they help each other to overcome their fears and find happiness and love.
If I could describe The Homestead Girls in one word, it would be gentle. There’s the way the women help each other through hard times. There’s the way Billie and Daphne (along with the other members of the RFDS team) look after their patients – even in the most crucial of times, the team treat each patient like an individual (something that doesn’t always happen in medicine). The romance between the members of the RFDS team is gentle – it’s slow and respectful for the women’s damaged pasts. I also liked that the main focus of the book wasn’t ‘let’s pair up Billie and Daphne’. Lorna’s illness is treated with a gentle, sympathetic and caring hand. It’s sweet and celebrates the power of female friendship and romance. I found though that the scene with Mia’s father revealed was not quite as powerful to me though. Perhaps it was because I knew that the women had the power to shoot him down, perhaps I had faith in their triumph. It just wasn’t all that scary to me.
What I did love about the book were the medical stories. They were varied and true to the kinds of ailments and accidents that become so much more critical when help is hundreds of kilometres away. Even though I knew the phone ringing at the RFDS base meant bad news, I was still eager to read how the team managed it all. The descriptions of the bush around Broken Hill (surely one of the most beautiful parts of Australia) and how they were incorporated into the narrative were brilliantly done.
So if you’re after an insight into how medicine is dealt with in outback Australia combined with a great story about Aussie women, The Homestead Girls is well worth reading.