Heart of the Sky by Fiona McArthur

In brief: A new job in the Outback is just what Tess needs to escape from her life. Her landlord Soretta welcomes the newcomers with open arms, until new pilot Charlie reveals his ulterior motive…

The good: I enjoyed reuniting with Soretta and the gang from Mica Ridge, as well as following Tess’s role as an outreach breast cancer nurse.

The not-so-good: I devoured this in just a few days.

Why I chose it: The Homestead Girls was loads of fun, thanks Penguin Australia for the copy.

Year: 2017

Pages: 278

Publisher: Michael Joseph (Penguin)

Setting: Outback Australia

My rating: 8.5 out of 10

Fiona McArthur’s novels are always a heart-warming read for me, as I know that there will be tears, sadness but ultimately a joyful ending. Heart of the Sky is no exception to this, and it also has the added bonus of reuniting the reader with the women of The Homestead Girls. There are also what I’d consider to be two main characters in the novel, but they’re not the hero and heroine. It’s the story of two women, one familiar to the reader and one not, who find joy in unexpected places.

The first person we meet in Heart of the Sky is Tess. She’s an oncology nurse, looking for a new outlet after the tragic death of her husband. From a calendar image, she gets the idea of moving to outback Australia to assist cancer sufferers there. This starts a new journey as Tess becomes an outreach breast cancer nurse in the red dirt country of Mica Ridge. She’s based at the Flying Doctor Service so she can fly out to women on stations to offer support and nursing assistance. Of course, this means that we get to reunite with the other characters from FDS, such as Billie, Daphne and Mia. It’s not long before Tess is living at Blue Hills with Soretta and her grandfather making them welcome. The other new boarder is Charlie, relief FDS pilot, who has a secret up his sleeve. It’s not long before he and Soretta become firm friends, but when his secret is revealed, it deeply affects people she’s come to love. Can Tess and Soretta find their way to happiness?

I enjoy books with an oncology thread to them (I know, it’s a bit odd) because I get to experience the human contact side of it all. I can honestly say that this is the only place I’ve read or heard about knitted knockers (aka knitted prostheses to be used after a mastectomy). Tess’s determination to provide the best care possible regardless of distance is inspirational and even the little touches like tea in her office show how thoughtful and caring she is. There are tips from her practice that others could use in real life to make these women (and men, breast cancer is not exclusively female) to feel more comfortable.

It was also great to get to know what makes Soretta tick. She was determined and even a little bit fiery in The Homestead Girls. She is a bit more comfortable financially in this book, so she let her guard down to Charlie. I enjoyed reading about her mixed feelings and loyalty to her friends and family. The latter part of the book where both her feelings and her wits were tested was great to read. There was a sense of urgency in terms of plot, but Soretta was very level headed in emotional and practical terms. This made me warm to her even more as a character. Like Tess, she wants the best for those she cares about.

Overall, Heart of the Sky is a lovely story, full of characters you will love instantly and with enough drama to keep reading through the night. That’s why I never miss one of Fiona McArthur’s books!

Guest post: Fiona McArthur, author of Heart of the Sky

Today I’d like to welcome Fiona McArthur, author of the new release Heart of the Sky to Sam Still Reading. It’s a cracker of a book and I’ll tell you more in my review tomorrow. Take it away Fiona!

Fiona at Mt Gipps Station

Thanks so much for inviting me back to Sam Still Reading. I wish a happy and prosperous New Year to all. This is the start of a big year for me, too, with two single title books out with Penguin in 2017 and it’s great to be here. I’ve just finished the first draft of Sienna’s Story, readers may remember my bolshy obstetrician sister from RED SAND SUNRISE, and her book comes out in October – and can I tell you I have grinned my way through it.

But for now, I’d like to introduce you to Tess, in HEART OF THE SKY, and the fabulous Mica Ridge Flying Doctor Service, and yes, I loved every minute of it.

It’s funny how books are born. How the concepts are triggered by the world around us – by an article in a newsletter at work on the new McGrath Breast Care nurse in a small town up the road from me with an even smaller rural hospital.

I was also influenced also by an article in the SMH about the appointment of an RFDS Breast Care Nurse at Broken Hill the same time as I started Heart of the Sky. Which suited me because I needed an excuse to return to Broken Hill, and we did, for another fabulous week visiting the sights and Mount Gipps station and I wanted my setting authentic although I didn’t manage to catch up with the nurse – I so admire her work and apologise for any artistic licence in popping people in and out of planes. (Excerpt about the setting in Heart Of The Sky)

“The morning surrounded her and she breathed it in. Pure, crisp air, the chattering of birds, a small herd of feral goats moved collectively away from them like a small dappled cloud on the hillside.

She forgot about the man behind her, looked briefly at the golden sun on the horizon and closed her eyes. The intense gold circle burned with afterglow on her retina. She heard Charlie behind her, not too close, just there and it was nice to share the moment. Not something she’d needed before. Not that she needed it now but an interesting concept. She opened her eyes.

He said quietly, ‘I see what you mean about the line between light and dark.’

They both watched the steady creep of the copper line cross the dark hills. Slowly but surely fingers of orange-yellow crept down hillsides, slipped into gullies and reflected off the mica studded rocks and the white quartz that scored the hillsides like lines on a tiger’s back. And in the places sunlight didn’t reach? There lay shadows and dark shapes of stunted trees and jagged boulders.” See attached photos. Seriously, I love my job J

I needed to soak in the ochres and the blues and the people of this frontier world who cared about each other, and I loved my Homestead Girls, and thought how healing they could be for someone else with different issues. Some of the characters Blue Hills Station had to be revisited from THE HOMESTEAD GIRLS. The book itself is stand alone so you don’t need to read THG first.

Which is where Tess came in. A young widow, from a small coastal city, a fish out of water in the outback. Because I’ve never been an outback station wife or outback nurse, (but I have been a midwife for thirty years) and neither has Tess, and both of us had to make mistakes and grow and the best place to do that is on the job. Of course she needed friends. People who care. I knew just the place to find them, so this is Tess’s story and Tess’s adventure to healing. And then of course there is Soretta’s tempestuous love affair and Mia’s homecoming woven in her journey.

I hope readers love HEART OF THE SKY as much as I do.

And if you would like to know more about the fabulous Breast Care Nurses, can I recommend TAKE MY HAND – Inspiring stories from the McGrath Breast Care Nurses, by Jo Wiles, for more on the McGrath Foundation. A beautiful book that I drew heart from as well.

Warmest wishes to all for 2017


Mailbox Monday and What I’m Reading 2/1/17

Happy New Year! I hope everyone got a break and some time to have fun. As promised, here is the first of my Christmas haul, tentatively titled ‘The Ones That Kept Popping Up in My Social Media’.

As you can see from the above, I am Lego building again. The haulpak is just part 1 of 8 of my next build!

Bridget Jones’s Baby by Helen Fielding should need no introduction, given that it’s; a) Bridget Jones and b) there was a movie of the same title in 2016. I’ve read this and loved it – but fans of the movie take note, the potential dads involve Daniel Cleaver!

The Girls by Emma Cline has a cover that screams summer! In 1969 California, Evie wants to be part of the girls. But at the centre is Russell, who could be more than just one of the gang…

I also received one book from the lovely people at Penguin, Fiona McArthur’s Heart of the Sky (released 30/1/17). It’s about Flying Doctor Tess Daley and pilot Charlie Fennes in the small rural town of Mica Ridge. But Tess is seeking a change after a past accident and Charlie has a secret that will rock the station house where they live.

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue is set in New York City 2007. Clark is a partner at Lehman Brothers and Jende, recently arrived from Cameroon, is his new driver. His wife Neni gets work with Clark’s wife Cindy and everything looks like it could be happening. But secrets and the financial crisis mean that both couples need to rethink their dreams.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett is another book with a gorgeous cover about family. It starts in 1964 when Bert kisses Beverly at a christening party for Franny – but he’s not her husband. 24 years on, Franny meets a famous author while working and starts to tell him her family’s story…

If you want to look at other books received, do visit the Mailbox Monday blog for links to everyone’s mailbox goodies.

It’s Monday! What are you reading? is hosted by Book Date. Click on the pictures to read more about the books.

What I Read Last Week:

What I’m Reading at the Moment:

Up Next:

The Homestead Girls by Fiona McArthur

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.

Year: 2015

Pages: 304

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.

Five Female Aussie Authors with New Books in 2015

I’m always excited to hear that some of my favourite Australian female authors have new books coming out later in the year. I thought I’d share with you what I’m looking forward to. Click on the picture to go straight to the blurb (if available). These are Australian release dates, so your country may be different (I envy you if it’s earlier)!

Kate Morton – The Lake House (October 2015)

Rachael Johns – The Patterson Girls (October 2015) – a gorgeous cover and sure to be a wonderful story!

Lisa Ireland – Feels Like Home (July 2015)

Kate Forsyth – The Beast’s Garden (August 2015)

Fiona McArthur – The Homestead Girls (24th June 2015)

What do you think? Are you excited for any of these?

Red Sand Sunrise by Fiona McArthur

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.

Why I chose it: Enjoyed Fiona McArthur’s category romances (e.g. The Prince Who Charmed Her) – thank you to Penguin Australia.

Year: 2014

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.

The Prince Who Charmed Her by Fiona McArthur

In brief: Dr Kiki Fender is a doctor on a cruise ship, leaving behind a lost love affair and a secret. How does she react when her ex-lover, Prince Stefano, is on the boat?

The good: Awesome medical jokes that had me laughing.

The not-so-good: At first I thought this might be a sequel, but then I was filled in on Kiki and Stefano’s history.

Why I chose it: Met Fiona at the Australian Romance Writers Conference in 2013 and received this lovely signed copy.

Year: 2013

Pages: 250

Publisher: Harlequin Mills and Boon

Setting: The exotic European Coast

My rating: 9 out of 10

My confession for today is that I’ve never read a Mills & Boon (or ‘category’) romance prior to this. Yes, I’ve read plenty of final chapters of these books that my mum and nan were reading as I was growing up, but never one from start to finish. Mills & Boon books used to have a bit of a stigma that they were only for old ladies, but hopefully that is changing thanks to websites like Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. They prove anyone can read anything and still be a fantastically clever diva.

Anyway, I’d just finished doing some exams (who knew that they are so tiring after the age of 21?) and wanted to chill out. Looking through the pile, I noticed this book and thought, ‘Gosh, she has really nice shorts’. (Yes, I am still thinking fashion/cosmetics/accessories even when it comes to book covers. It’s cheaper than buying Vogue every month). The Medical banner also got me – I don’t mind a bit of medical in my reading, it makes me feel intelligent. So I crashed on the couch and started reading.

By the end of the first chapter, I was laughing my head off. Why? Because author Fiona McArthur had managed to fit in not one, but TWO awkward situations involving an Epi-Pen (adrenaline/epinephrine auto injector). One of them was the stuff you snicker about but the other one…well; it has major, major potential for a really embarrassing situation. Not something I’ve ever considered you could do with an Epi-Pen! This was the point where I was hooked.

The rest of the narrative was not quite so funny, but it definitely hooked me line and sinker. Kiki Fender is a doctor working on a cruise ship when after the first awkward incident she runs into her ex-lover. Who happens to be a prince of a small island with an internationally renowned hospital (I’m thinking kind of like Monaco). Prince Stefano Adolphi Phillipe Augustus Mykonides is also a surgeon, and he and Kiki had a fling when he was visiting Sydney. Leaving a legacy behind, it all went pear-shaped for Kiki and now she’s lost and lonely. She tried to get in contact with Stefano, but fate intervened so that he was unable to speak to her. Now fate has put him on a ship with Kiki and he’s determined to get her back, any way possible. Kiki’s just as determined not to be hurt again. Who will win? You know the answer of course, but it’s a fun ride involving a craniotomy (no, really), helicopters, fake engagement rings and a duty to marry before 40.

I was very pleasantly surprised how well this book was written. Even though I know that it’s incredibly difficult to be accepted by Mills and Boon, I’ve stupidly held on to the stereotype that they’re not well written. Utterly untrue. This book had a plot, well fleshed out characters, humour and enough interest to keep me reading – and reading. It’s a fairly sweet romance (i.e. not too many sex scenes) but also covers the feelings of being an outsider really well.

Fiona McArthur also has a new book, Red Sand Sunrise, published by Penguin Australia for a July 2014 release. I’d strongly suggest you look out for it based on the excellent writing in this book.

Mailbox Monday 2/9/13: Goodies from RWAus13

I swear I just wrote last week’s post, doesn’t time fly! Last week I showed you what I bought at the Romance Writers of Australia Conference, now here’s what was in the conference bag, a prize I won and other books I was lucky enough to receive!

Mailbox Monday was started by Marcia, and this month is being hosted by Notorious Spinks Talks. Please do drop by to look at everyone’s latest acquisitions!

First up are the contests of the conference bag – delightfully heavy with books!

I swapped another book I’d read for A Duchess to Remember by Christina Brooke, a historical romance. To Turn Full Circle by Linda Mitchelmore is a historical romance set in early 1900s Devon. London’s Last True Scoundrel looks like a romantic historical novel with a wicked hero. Banish by Nicola Marsh is a YA book full of dramatic events and the supernatural. Date With Destiny by Helen Lacey / Haley’s Mountain Man by Tracy Madison are part of the Cherish romantic journeys for Mills and Boon. Stefanie Laurens’ The Reckless Bride is part of a historical romance series.

These two books were kindly on offer from Harlequin after the conference – first in, best dressed! Susan Wiggs’ The Apple Orchard is about family, friends and memories – gorgeous cover! The Sweetest Hallelujah by Elaine Hussey is about a mother looking for someone to take care of her daughter when she dies. I think I’ll really like both, which are available to buy now.

Penguin were also offering some books at the end of the conference – the cover of Seduction by Kate Forster looked tantalising (movie stars, old houses and scandal). I haven’t read Cathryn Hein before, so I was thrilled to pick up her rural romance, Heartland.

At the ARRA signing on Saturday, Harlequin Mills & Boon were offering free copies of the Australian and New Zealand authors. I ended up with three signed books. Bronwyn Jameson’s Princes of the Outback contains three Aussie rural romances; while Nikki Logan’s duo How To Get Over Your Ex / Mr Right At The Wrong Time looks like sweet and sexy contemporary romances. The Prince Who Charmed Her by Fiona McArthur is about doctors working on a cruise ship.

Finally, I won a copy of Kaz Delaney’s Dead, Actually from the lucky number door prize. It’s a YA novel, full of mystery.

Have you read any of these? What type of romance (if any) does you like to read?