Author: Rachael Johns
Rachael Johns has fast become one of my favourite Australian authors, even if she does make me cry – EVERY single time I think. I have previously read and reviewed Jilted, Stand In Star and Man Drought. I have been itching to get my hands on Outback Dreams for months so when it arrived I wanted to drop everything and dive in, which didn’t quite happen but I did manage to devour it in the space of 12 hours.
Outback Dreams is set in the small Western Australian farming town of Bunyip Bay. A beautiful and well described spot that is the setting for at least three linked books, so of course I am itching for the next already.
In this book Rachael Johns has tackled a sensitive subject that touches many people’s lives and in her opening letter to readers explains why she chose to base a book around this subject.
The Autism Spectrum covers a wide range of behavioural issues and affects thousands. It is quite often misunderstood and those on the spectrum can find themselves avoided or bullied quite often. This book tackles the issue in a sensitive and empathetic manner from the perspective of loved ones who are affected.
The leads in Outback Dreams are Daniel ‘Monty’ Montgomery and Faith Forrester, best of friends for as long as they can remember and many of them from a distance.
Monty has never wanted anything from life but to be a farmer, early dreams revolved around taking over the family farm but they were fast destroyed when the family moved to Perth when Monty was 10. Will’s treatment and specialists were mainly based in Perth and it was all getting too difficult and expensive, add to that the need to think forward to high school and the best thing to do for Will was make the required sacrifices and move to Perth.
His friendship with Faith remained strong through the years, helped when she attended boarding school because it was easier for her to spend weekends with the Montgomery’s in Perth than heading all the way home to Bunyip Bay.
The story picks up when Faith and Monty are fast approaching thirty and at a point where something has to give. Faith is sick of being taken for granted as the hired help by her father and brother, she isn’t allowed to pull her weight on the farm but is expected to wait on them hand and foot at home. An out of character night at a school reunion sees Faith decide it’s time to make some changes, and do something worthwhile with her life.
Monty on the other hand is just getting to the point where he is about to make his dreams come true and sign the papers on a farm of his own, years of hard work are finally paying off. Odd jobs and helping out everyone in the town he loves, working hard instead of partying, saving instead of holidaying and finally the figures are adding up and the farm of his dreams is within reach.
Faith pledges to raise funds for a charity and instead of making the obvious choice, Breast Cancer after having lost her mother a decade earlier, she chooses Dogs for Autism. Starting work on the Barking Ball and bringing Autism to the forefront of the minds of the town brings out lots of information about the affects Autism has on the families and eventually sees some of these issues resolved. The Dogs for Autism charity is fictional but there are Autism dogs in Australia and they are fabulously therapeutic but understandably expensive to train so out of reach of many people who would benefit the most.
This is the second book recently that has featured therapy tools for children on the autism spectrum that I had never heard of and I love having these things brought to my attention. I don’t have a child on the spectrum but I do have one with some very challenging behaviours that sometimes make me wonder, so I like to learn about these new things.
Bunyip Bay is a small town where everyone knows each other which means that new people to town are quite a commodity and immediately attract the attention of other singles. They also all come together and work as a community to make the Barking Ball a raving success.
Alongside small town life, farming and the organisation of the ball is still a blossoming romance, with moments that made me cry, and a classic romance plot-line.
The romance hook may have been a classic and one that’s been done before but Rachael Johns did it well and I was left wondering about whether there was going to be a Happily Ever After, more than once.
As I always find in a Rachael Johns book the secondary characters were interesting and well enough developed to leave me wanting to know more about them, and in this case at least I know I will get my chance with the forthcoming Bunyip Bay books.
Family issues and insecurities are exacerbated and then addressed, bringing people closer to together than they ever thought possible.
These characters are so easy to fall in love with. Faith is one of the boys, she’s always been one of the boys so is it any wonder that she’s still looking for love as she comes up on 30. When you spend your whole life being and behaving like one of the boys it’s hard to be seen as a girl. It certainly makes the night she arrives at the pub in a short dress and knee high boots a real eye opener for some of the other boys in town.
Ruby is a relatively new face in town, her parents have been around for quite a while but Ruby was living in the city. Now she’s home, working in her parents store and teaching the girls in town horse riding. She’s always rubbed Faith up the wrong way and doesn’t know why. She’s quiet and painfully shy but has caught the eye of every single male in town and Monty is one of them. He has his heart set on her and he doesn’t give up easy. We don’t know a lot about Ruby and how she came to be back in Bunyip Bay but there is quite a bit of speculation. I think her mystery is part of her appeal.
A growing female friendship is as heart warming as a blossoming romance and it was wonderful to see that bond grow between Ruby and Faith. The other downfall of being one of the boys is that sometimes it precludes the growth of close female friendships and that was certainly the case with Faith, the only really close friendship she had truly cultivated was the one with Monty. Ruby’s offer to help organise the Barking Ball is at first greeted unenthusiastically but a chance day out on their own sees the balance shift between them and the chance to actually get to know one another blossom.
Monty has been so focused on the goal of a farm that nothing else has really factored in his priorities and now that the goal is in sight he is beginning to think about settling down with a partner and his sights are set on Ruby, but what will happen if the sparks don’t fly? Will the farm be enough?
Rachael Johns has written another heartwarming and enveloping story of love, family and the community spirit of small towns. She has written characters who are realistic and endearing, the sort of people I would love to meet and has left me wanting to know what comes next for all of them. I just wish I didn’t have to wait until May 2014 to find out more about them.
Find out more about the book here: http://www.harlequinbooks.com.au/product/9781743644706