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Aussie Book Review: Outback Dreams by Rachael Johns

My Rating:              5 / 5
Format:                   ARC courtesy of Harlequin Books Aus
Publication Date:    1 October 2013
Category:               Adult and Contemporary Romance
ISBN:                      9781743564608
Publisher:               Harlequin Books Australia
Imprint:                   Harlequin Mira
RRP:                      AU$29.99

The Blurb

“Faith and Monty are both looking for love…but they’re looking in the wrong direction.

Faith Forrester is at a crossroads. Single, thirty and living on a farm in a small Western Australian town, she’s sick of being treated like a kitchen slave by her brother and father. Ten years ago, her mother died of breast cancer, and Faith has been treading water ever since. She wants to get her hands dirty on the family farm. She wants to prove to herself that she’s done something worthwhile with her life. And she wants to find a man…??

For as long as he can remember, Daniel ‘Monty’ Montgomery has been Faith’s best friend. When he was ten, his parents sold the family property and moved to Perth, and ever since, Monty’s dreamed of having his own farm. So for the last ten years, he’s been back on the land, working odd jobs and saving every dollar to put toward his dream. Now he finally has the deposit. But there’s still something missing…??

So when Faith embarks on a mission to raise money for a charity close to her heart, and Monty’s dream property comes on the market, things seem like they are falling into place for them both. Until a drunken night out ends with them sleeping together. Suddenly, the best friends are faced with a new load of challenges…

Monty and Faith are both ready to find a life partner and settle down, but have they both been looking in all the wrong places?”
Summary and Thoughts
Best friends Faith and Monty know everything there is to know about one another … or do they!
Faith Forrester is in a bit of a quandary.  Thirty years old, more comfortable in sloppy t-shirts and jeans and still living on the family farm with her widowed father and brother, she’s become a slave to them since her mother passed away.  Having abandoned her agricultural degree to come home and take care of her mother ten years before, she’s recently started thinking that there has to be more to life than what she’s getting out of it.  She loves the farm, but it seems her father believes that the only place for her to be is in the house, not allowing her to get her hands dirty and help out with the daily farm work. 
Attending her fancy boarding school old girls reunion in Perth, she notices that most of her former peers appear to be either successful, married or settled (or all three) and begins to consider doing something constructive with her life instead of just pandering to her father and brother’s whims.  As she gets caught up in the midst of the celebrations for the winner of that year’s Miss Alumna charity award and knows that these “old girls” will think she’s just another small town hick, when she is asked about her relationship status, she finds herself telling the girls that she too has a boyfriend and inadvertently blurts out the name of her best friend, Monty.
Faith and Monty have been best friends forever, so when she gets back home, she fills him in on all the happenings at the reunion including the fact that she told them that he was her boyfriend.  They share so much history with one another and she has nothing to hide from him – he even knows of her unhappy home life.  Her announcement on their supposed relationship status doesn’t appear to phase Monty in the least, but for Faith, her faux pas makes her see him in a different light and she begins to wonder how she could never have noticed that her best friend is also a man!
Daniel Montgomery, fondly known as Monty, has always wanted to own his own farm.  As a ten year old boy, Daniel’s parents sold up in Bunyip Bay to move to the city so that they could be closer to doctors and new treatments for his autistic brother, Will.  While Monty is caring, considerate and the epitome of everything any girl could want in a man, his inner resentment at the fact that his parents sold the farm which he was supposed to one day inherit, is evident.
Over the last ten years, he’s worked his butt off and has finally saved enough money, bringing him closer to the dream of owning a farm and nothing and no-one is going to stand in his way.  The only problem is that something is missing and he’s trying his damndest to rectify that in his pursuit of Ruby Jones, a former resident of Bunyip Bay who has come back to live.  Now, if only he could get the visions of that night in the pub when a totally different, sexier Faith walked in.
When Faith comes across an advertisement for a charitable cause close to her heart, training companion dogs for autism, she decides that this could be her one chance to prove herself and decides to enter the following year’s Miss Alumna competition by hosting a ball to put her in the running.  It appears that things are also falling into place for Monty when the sale of a property some hours away from Bunyip Bay, piques his interest and he invites Faith to go along to visit the property so that he can get his best friend’s opinion.
After spending a wonderful day talking, dining and consuming way too much alcohol with the current owners of the property, when Faith and Monty return to their tent for the night, the distinction between friends and lovers crosses a steamy line – and suddenly, nothing is the same.
I don’t know where to begin in writing this review, but how about “wow, I loved it”!  This story has everything I look for in a novel, including strong main characters, plausible conflicts, passionate romance, and some mystery and intrigue surrounding a few of the secondary characters who made a significant impact on me – specifically Ruby who initially rubbed me up the wrong way!
This novel is the first in a new series about the small fictional town of Bunyip Bay in Western Australia and, if it’s anything to go by, I am eagerly anticipating the release of Outback Blaze and Outback Ghost.  But, back to Outback Dreams
Rachael Johns has not only skilfully laid the groundwork for her two future novels by leaving those threads open-ended, but created a firm sense of place, community and friendship, by giving us the sights and smells of farm life, the laughter and camaraderie of friends gathered at the local pub, the gossip-mongering that almost always abounds in a small town, that feeling of achievement when a community pulls together to support a good cause and some sizzling hot romance.
Of course, along with a great sense of place, characters are the lifeblood of any story and Ms Johns has created some very memorable ones in Monty and Faith, both of whom I connected with emotionally. 
Monty is dynamically drawn and, throughout the narrative, we see him trying to overcome the circumstances surrounding the sale of the farm that should have been his, while at the same time still finding it in his heart to love a brother that his resentment prevented him from getting to really know and respecting the decisions that his somewhat eccentric parents made.  In seeking a resolution to his personal issues, Rachael has added depth to the story by aligning the crux of Monty’s worries to Faith’s charity event, thus setting the basis for a lot of their emotional conflict and Monty’s final revelation of a fatal flaw – one which threatens to tear him and Faith apart forever.
Faith is one of those girls with whom I immediately connected and I could just picture myself sitting with her in the pub having a few pots of beer and a good old yarn about how far she and Monty had come, her unexpected friendship with one of the secondary characters, the absolute frustration she felt towards her father in his treatment of her and their inevitable confrontation with one another, which had my anger at him dissipating once I learned the reasons behind his unjustified behaviour towards her.
This was a thoroughly satisfying read and it’s quite apparent that Rachael has evolved her plot from her characters’ lives, giving us a credible storyline with solid characters and I can’t wait to discover the subsidiary plot lines alluded to, such as the reasons behind Ruby Jones’ return to Bunyip Bay, the secret that the gorgeous new cop, Drew, may be running from and the suspense and romance surrounding Adam and his missing sister.
I wish to thank Harlequin Books Australia for providing me with an Advance Reading Copy of this fabulous read.
A Little About the Author
Rachael Johns is an English teacher by trade, a mum 24/7, a supermarket owner by day, a chronic arachnophobic and a writer by night.
She’s been writing since she was 17 after breaking up with her first boyfriend and needing a form of therapy for her broken heart.  Luckily she realised that with writing, she could create whatever ending she liked.
Almost a decade later, after many attempts at writing different types of novels, she joined Romance Writers of Australia and finally learnt that there were was more to writing a book than just typing out random thoughts.  She also learnt that she loved contemporary romance and that was what she wanted to write.
Rachael lives in rural Western Australia with her hyperactive husband and three mostly-gorgeous heroes-in-training.

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