RITA Reader Challenge Review

RITA Reader Challenge: Zoe’s Muster by Barbara Hannay


Title: Zoe's Muster
Author: Barbara Hannay
Publication Info: Penguin Australia 2012
ISBN: 9781921901126
Genre: Contemporary Romance

Book Zoe's Muster This RITA® Reader Challenge 2013 review was written by boogenhagen. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Contemporary Single Title category.

The summary:     

When Zoe, restless black sheep of the Porter family, discovers that her biological father is a North Queensland cattleman, Peter Fairburn, her deep desire to meet him takes her from inner-city Brisbane to a job as a stockcamp cook.

Zoe's mother, Claire, is wrestling with guilt over Zoe's discovery. She swears Zoe to secrecy, fearing that the truth could ruin the career of her high-profile politician husband. But when she is forced to confront her past, Claire also reassesses her marriage.

Virginia Fairburn is happily married to Peter, but she's always lived with the shadow of the other woman her husband loved and lost. On the muster at Mullinjim, Zoe meets brooding cattleman Mac McKinnon, who knows from painful experience that city girls can't cope in the bush. Every instinct tells Mac that Zoe is hiding something. As the pressure to reveal her mother's secret builds, Zoe fears she must confide in Mac or burst.

The truth has the potential to destroy two families. Or can it clear the way for new beginnings?

And here is boogenhagen's review:

I gave this story a A+. If you're into category romances you will love this book, as it is a category expanded to a mega level with a dive to the depths of character discovery. Fortunately for me, category sweet romance is a long time favorite of mine. Ms. Hannay blows all previous precedents out of the water with this one. Just about every category trope you ever wanted is in here. A secret baby so secret even the mum doesn't know it. The young woman building her life. The threat of a past love overshadowing the present love for not one but two women (and one of the past loves is a ghost to boot). Secret identities, potential forbidden relationships and as an added bonus, the second chance story where an older woman has to re-evaluate her long term marriage commitment as opposed to a restart of her career and the potential new relationship with someone who may be much more compatible and provide the love she feels is missing in her current relationship.

All of this is set out with a pace and timing that is impeccable in it's delivery. Ms. Hannay keeps the energy rolling and the drama high but without the sense of frustration of just wanting to “get on with the good parts” that a lot of writers inadvertently convey when they get lost in the minutia of detailing complex plots and relationships. The story moves quickly but not so quickly you can't get a real grasp of the characters and their problems and not so lightly that you don't develop a lot of empathy for each of the ladies in their respective situations.

The premise of the story is that Zoe, a young woman with a high profile catered tea business she is unenthusiastically running because of her father's insistence on conformation to his standards, finds out that her mum had a brief affair before marrying and that she is actually not her father's child but the lover's. No one figures this out until a blood type discrepancy shows Zoe couldn't possibly be the child of her mum's husband. Since Zoe's father is a major political figure, her mum, Claire, makes her promise to keep her identity secret when she decides to accept a muster (cattle round up) cook position with the lover's family to find out more about them.

Peter Fairburn is the lost lover and it is Peter's son Luke who invites Zoe to accept the position. The Fairburns know nothing about Zoe's history, but Peter's wife Virginia has long harbored fears that Peter only married her because of her “suitablity” to be cattlelman's wife and this concern that Peter really loves the woman he lost has plagued her all through her marriage. When Zoe shows up on the scene, a whole host of tangles ensue–including Luke's romantic attraction to Zoe (with Virginia's encouragement) and Zoe's attraction to Mac, Luke's friend and neighbor, who is attracted right back but has no use for “city girls” who can't adapt to the rough and tumble of life in the wild Outback. Mac has his own ghosts with the spectre of a dead fiancee he feels responsible for and Zoe herself has never been so challenged in a job. The difficulties of being a trail cook for a bunch of ravenous cattle workers in outside camping conditions leads to several amusing incidents that inject just the right amount of humor in a high drama situation. There are tense situations, stolen moments of passion (very well done) and a lot of dissembling to keep the truth under wraps.

Meanwhile, Claire is having to decide what to do about her increasingly emotionally distant husband in a failing marraige and the opportunity to revive her abandoned musicial career. Claire also meets a man who seems to be much more suited to her newly reclaimed interests and the resultant conflict is riveting as Claire makes her choices and has to decide what to reveal about her secrets. All the tangled plot lines come together in a big explosion, as these things are wont to do, and the attendant revelations and decisions lead up to a very satisfying conclusion for all the parties involved.

This story has the drama of Category with the exploratory depth of Women's fiction in the development of all the characters, but the growth and changes for Zoe, Claire and Virginia are what will keep this book on the permanent re-read shelf in my collection. Ms. Hannay manages to adroitly switch between the ideas, values and mores of two very different generations — the young untried woman starting to make her way in the world and the more considered choices of ladies “of a certain age” with all the consequences those choices invoke. Her touch is deft, her pacing perfect and it all adds up to a gem of story that certainly deserves a RITA in my view.

This book is available from Goodreads | Amazon | BN | Kobo | iBooks.

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  1. 1
    Iola says:

    Excellent review and the book sounds really good, but $10.19 on Kindle? Really, Penguin? Maybe if it wins…

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