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Aussie Book Review: Flame Tree Hill by Mandy Magro

Flame Tree Hill

My Rating:              3 / 5
Format:                  e-Book courtesy of Penguin Books
                              via NetGalley
Publication Date:    22 May 2013
Category:               Modern & Contemporary Fiction
ISBN:                      9781921901324
Extent:                    280 pages
RRP:                      AU$29.99




The Blurb

“Kirsty Mitchell is ready to come home.  After a tragic accident that left her scarred, she fled overseas.  Now, three years later, she’s finally returning to Flame Tree Hill, her beloved family farm.

But at twenty-five Kirsty isn’t prepared for the terrifying new challenge ahead: breast cancer.

Kirsty’s never been a quitter and that’s not about to change.  But can her budding romance with local vet Aden bear the strain?

As she battles with chemotherapy and as her past threatens to overwhelm her, Kirsty realises you can never take anything – or anyone – for granted.  Drawing strength from her family and the beauty of Far North Queensland, Kirsty finally understands what she must do.

A lyrical and heart-warming testament to the power of love – and forgiveness.”

Summary and Thoughts

Kirsty Mitchell ran away from her home town of Hidden Valley three years ago, after a tragic accident left her both mentally and physically scarred.  Suffering with survivor’s guilt, she has found some solace in studying and travelling, but with her UK work visa about to expire, she’s on her way back to face the haunting memories of her past.

On arrival at the airport, the last person she’s expecting to see is Aden Maloney, the man who once took her breath away and for whom she felt an all-consuming love.  A further shock is delivered when she learns that he’s living at Flame Tree Hill, her family’s homestead.

Aden has accomplished much in the time he’s been gone.  No longer the reckless boy of his youth, still a keen bull-rider who is passionate about the sport, but with a failed marriage and the big city having become somewhat tiresome, he’s back home to set up a mobile veterinary business.

As Kirsty tries to make the most of life back on the family farm, she realises that while she needs to try and forget her past, she isn’t sure whether she has the courage to do so.  It becomes quite obvious that there’s a strong mutual attraction between her and Aden and each new day she spends with him finds her standing dangerously close to an edge which threatens to tip her over.  When the intensity of their long-buried feelings for one another become too hard to contain, Kirsty begins to wage an inner war, feeling that there is no way a relationship between them could ever develop into something more – not when he finds out what she’s hiding!

While out mustering one day, she feels a sharp pain in her right breast, but thinks nothing further of it until a check-up at the doctor has her mind spinning into overdrive and, after further tests have been carried out, she comes away with the diagnosis of breast cancer.

As Kirsty begins to feel that the cancer is devouring her body and sapping her of all her strength, she also comes to the conclusion that she can no longer live with the guilt that has assailed her since the accident and makes the decision to tell Aden the truth.

It has taken me a while to articulate this review (having read the book during April) in view of the fact that I was a bit torn over how the characters’ resolution of the heart of the story made me feel.

While their emotional experiences touched my heart, calling to mind deeply embedded memories of my own grandmother’s suffering and demise from cancer of the colon, I struggled a little with Ms Magro’s inclusion of an unsound decision made by the characters.  I am not going to go into any detail for fear of spoiling it for the rest of you, but I will say that yes, reading is a subjective experience with each reader having their own life experiences and emotions on which to compare the story they are reading at the time, but this is one I couldn’t envision in reality and were it real life, the consequences would have been far more serious.

However, that being said, Mandy Magrowrites with compassion and her sense of humour, evident in the dialogue, capably manages to blunt the edges of what could otherwise be a sombre subject.  Coming from a rural background herself, she quite clearly writes what she knows and gives us insight into small town dynamics and life on a homestead, with her passion for the landscape, animals and spirit of the land shining through her prose.  The description of the rodeo grounds, in particular – “families were sprawled on picnic blankets eating and drinking, children were high on fairy floss, and couples sat on the bum-numbing benches in the grandstands …” – is spot on and conjures up all the sights, smells and sounds which prevail at events of this nature.

There is also an overwhelming sense of strong family relationships and friendship in this novel and, drawing on her best friend’s personal struggle with breast cancer, Ms Magro has delved into the psyche of a cancer sufferer by punctuating Kirsty’s story with some diary entries containing her hopes, dreams, doubts, fears, anger and hopelessness, as she is forced to rely on those she loves to take care of her.

All in all, this was an enjoyable read and kudos goes to Ms Magro for tackling a subject which affects more and more families in today’s society.

A Little About the Author (adapted from her website)

Mandy lives on the family farm in the picturesque country town of Mareeba, which is situated in beautiful Far North Queensland, with her adorable little girl, Chloe Rose.

She considers herself to be a country girl through and through, with a passion for wide open spaces, fields full of horses and cattle, rodeos, country music, and the fair dinkum Aussie way of life.  She’s also been known to sniff the air madly when a cattle train goes by – “I just love the smell of the cattle on board”!
Mandy decided to put pen to paper about 4 years ago, writing about the many memorable adventures she had experienced on the land, from being a station cook, helping behind the chutes at rodeos, to being a fruit farmer.  Little did she know that this would be the beginning of her fantastic writing career with Penguin Australia and now also writes for Harlequin Books Australia!

Rosalee Station was Mandy’s first rural romance novel and her second, Jacaranda, hit the shelves in 2012.  Her fourth novel, Driftwood, in which Adam Brand makes a small appearance, will be out on 1 November 2013.

Mandy is now working on her fifth novel, Country at Heart.


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