Saturday 30 June 2018

BLOG TOUR: The Woolgrower's Companion - Joy Rhoades

Australia 1945. Until now Kate Dowd has led a sheltered life on her family's sprawling sheep station but, with her father's health in decline, the management of the farm is increasingly falling to her.

Kate is rising to the challenge when the arrival of two Italian POW labourers disrupts everything – especially when Kate finds herself drawn to the enigmatic Luca Canali.

Then she receives devastating news. The farm is near bankrupt and the bank is set to repossess. Given just eight weeks to pay the debt, Kate is now in a race to save everything she holds dear.

What did I think?

You could be forgiven for thinking that The Woolgrower's Companion would be what I call a 'Mammy's book' from looking at the cover but it has so much depth and emotion that it is far from the family saga I was initially expecting.  Each chapter starts with an extract from a sheep farmer's manual published in 1906: The Woolgrower's Companion; this is so authentic that I thought it was a real book and I was astonished to find that it was Joy Rhoades' very own creation.  

The story revolves around Kate: a woman in a man's world.  As her father becomes more and more incapable of running the farm, the responsibility falls to Kate but a lot of the men aren't willing to work for a sheila.  Some men don't have any choice, as they are Italian prisoners of war and have been shipped to Australia to work on the land until the war is over.

Unbeknown to Kate, her father has been running up debts with local traders and more importantly with the bank.  Now the bank are knocking at the door and demanding their money back.  Kate sells what little items of value that she has but she still falls short; there's only one thing of value left, a rare yellow sapphire, but Kate's father doesn't know where he has hidden it.  With time running out, Kate is set to lose more than the farm as she finds herself getting closer to Luca, one of the POWs.  With a husband she barely knows away at war, Kate could easily lose her heart to Luca if she's not careful.

This book is so beautifully written that it creeps into your heart so slowly at first but it very quickly takes root, culminating in an emotional explosion as events around Kate unfold.  I found the plight of the aborigines very moving and it's something I haven't thought about before but the way they were treated is shocking, after all, Australia was their country first.  I absolutely love learning something whilst I am reading fiction books and I found it fascinating that so many Italian prisoners of war were sent to Australia.  I suppose returning home after the war must have been daunting for the Italian soldiers, with many having no families left, so some Australians sponsored the Italians to return; it's so lovely to think that those who were once enemies became friends. 

What an exceptional debut from Joy Rhoades and an absolute joy to read.  The Woolgrower's Companion is a beautiful, authentic and multi-faceted historical novel that has more depth than the Pacific Ocean.  I am delighted that this is only the beginning of Kate's story and I am already looking forward to the sequel.

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

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About the author:

About me? I grew up in a small town in the bush in Queensland, Australia. I spent my time with my head in a book, or outdoors – climbing trees, playing in dry creek beds, or fishing for yabbies in the railway dam under the big sky. Some of my favourite memories were visiting my grandmother’s sheep farm in rural New South Wales where my father had grown up. She was a fifth generation grazier, a lover of history, and a great and gentle teller of stories. My childhood gave me two passions: a love of the Australian landscape and a fascination with words and stories.

I left the bush at 13 when I went to boarding school in Brisbane. I stayed on there to study law and literature at the University of Queensland. After, my work as a lawyer took me first to Sydney and then all over the world, to London, Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo and New York. But I always carried in my head a strong sense of my childhood: the people, the history, the light and the landscape. Those images have never left me and they would eventually become The Woolgrower’s Companion. It’s a story I’ve felt I had to tell.

I currently live in London with my husband and our two young children. But I miss the Australian sky.

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