Aussie Book Review & Giveaway: The Sunnyvale Girls by Fiona Palmer
“Three generations of Stewart women share a deep connection to their family farm, but a secret from the past threatens to tear them apart.
Widowed matriarch Maggie remembers a time when the Italian prisoners of war came to work on their land, changing her heart and her home forever. Single mum Toni has been tied to the place for as long as she can recall, although farming was never her dream. And Flick is as passionate about the farm as a girl could be, despite the limited opportunities for love.
When a letter from 1946 is unearthed in an old cottage on the property, the Sunnyvale girls find themselves on a journey into their own hearts and across the world to Italy. Their quest to solve a mystery leads to incredible discoveries about each other, and about themselves.”
Fiona Palmer’s latest novel skilfully combines rural romance with a dual timeline that explores a decades-old forbidden romance that impacts all three of The Sunnyvale Girls.
Having grown up on Sunnyvale, and then managed the farm with her deceased husband, Sunnyvale is Maggie’s life and she enjoys pottering around in her garden, cooking and baking a delicious assortment of goodies, ensuring that her daughter Toni, grand-daughter Flick and farm manager Jim, are well-nourished. In her seventies, Maggie is the glue that holds the Sunnyvale Girls together, but she carries a burden that no-one has ever guessed.
Flick, her twenty year old grand-daughter dotes on her grandmother who can do no wrong in her eyes. A girl with an absolute love for the land that she lives and works on, Sunnyvale is her chosen life, no matter how hard her mother, Toni, protests and tries to get her to travel the world. All she needs in her world besides Maggie and Toni are Sunnyvale, her horse Contractor, her dog Fella and their farm manager, Jim, who has become a sort of surrogate father to her.
At fifty-three, the best thing that has ever happened to Toni, is her daughter, even if she isn’t good at showing her emotions and her family finds her even harder to live with. She’s always wanted to travel and so desperately wants Flick to have that experience - after all, it's what she most wanted to do when she was younger but circumstances didn’t afford her the opportunity. Toni is just like her dad – stubborn - and Flick seems to have inherited this same trait.
But all these traits come into question when Flick finds a stack of old letters under the floorboards of the old homestead that she is renovating with Jim’s help which in turn leads to Maggie revealing a long-held secret, painful secret. The discovery of these letters, whilst creating much discord, pain and anguish between Maggie and Toni, will lead both Toni and Flick on a journey to Italy where mother and daughter will begin to re-discover the things that make each other tick, might just pre-empt the romance which has been simmering in Toni’s periphery for the last three years but ultimately will lead to what is a happily ever after for all.
For a long while now, Fiona Palmer has been one of my go-to authors for rural-romance. I always know what I’m going to get when I read one of her stories and The Sunnyvale Girls did not disappoint.
Inspired by the Italian prisoners of war who were stationed on some Australian farms in Western Australia during WWII, along with a true story told to her by a friend and a three-week long research trip to Italy, Fiona Palmer bring us this story of love, loss, family, hope and second chances,
In a recent interview with Fiona, I asked her what she wanted her readers to take away from this story. Her response was “That hope is important. Life may not turn out as we expected but it doesn’t mean you can’t make the most of it. People make mistakes, do wrong things to protect the ones they love, but we wouldn’t be human if we were perfect.” (the full interview here)
And that’s exactly what the characters of Maggie, Toni and Flick set out to teach us – that there is always, always hope, no matter how dark you think your life may be - her characters pick themselves up in the face of adversity, a leaf which a lot of us could take out of their book.
Family and farming traditions along with life, add colourful facets to a beautifully written novel which captures time and place perfectly. In particular, the narration of Maggie’s past memories were like a time-lapse and I found myself drawn into her own beautifully rendered but sad story of forbidden and lost first love. Toni too resonated with me as she displayed her stubbornness which I can all too easily relate to and Flick allowed me to see the inner side of the young girl I used to be
As Fiona effortlessly leads us between past and present, she captivates her audience with her storytelling ability. Her characters are realistic and flawed, the story real and warm and I found that there were at least two scenes that had my tears welling – not only from sadness, but from the warmth that she put into them and the love that the Sunnyvale Girls have for one another.
Having always wanted to have an Australian farm experience (be it sheep or cattle), I particularly enjoyed these aspects which reveals Fiona’s extensive farming knowledge to this born-and-bred City of Durban (South Africa) chick who now lives in Regional Australia and I absolutely loved the interactions between her main characters and those of the sheep shearers, finding myself transported into the timeless effect that shearing sheds have on me.
This is another exceptional yarn from the pen of Fiona Palmer, which could quite easily have another two stories drawn from it, and I so look forward to reading more from her.
I wish to thank Penguin Australia and The Reading Room for providing me with a copy of this heartwarming novel.
A Little About the Author
Fiona Palmer was raised in Pingaring - her Dad and Mum are contractors in town who cart grain, spread fertiliser and spray for the farmers.
The majority of her childhood weekends were spent on her Uncle and Aunty’s farm ‘Gumlea’ with her two cousins Tammy and Sandy, and her younger brother Chad.
They attended the Pingaring Primary School which closed its doors a few years later because of small numbers. Fiona went off to Narrogin High School where she boarded at the Narrogin Residential College. She left school after year eleven, itching to start work and begin her life.
Fiona was a third generation speedway driver, racing cars from the age of 16 right up until she was pregnant with her first child.
After doing odd jobs, rouseabouting, tractor driving and working on the CBH bins, where she met her husband-to-be, she went to Alexander College for a secretarial course. (Luckily they taught her how to type really fast, which comes in handy when typing up long stories.)
She then got a job at the Shire of Lake Grace as a secretary for three years and then changed to a Teachers Assistant before getting married to her husband Darryl and having her daughter Mackenzie and son, Blake.
It was while running the local shop in Pingaring in 2006, in a partnership with her Mum, that Fiona began writing down a story that was roaming around in her head. Lo and behold, this was the start of her writing career.
The Family Farm is Fiona's first book followed by Heart of Gold, 2011, The Road Home 2012, The Sunburnt Country 2013, The Outback Heart 2013 and The Empty Nest (ebook), 2013. The Sunnyvale Girls is Fiona's seventh book.
In conjunction with this review, I've decided to give away a copy of The Sunnyvale Girls.
All you have to do is follow the instructions using the Rafflecopter entry form below. Best of luck!
Apologies, but this competition is only open to Australian residents due to high postage costs.
There is also currently a competition being held by Penguin Books for the chance to win a holiday for 2 to Italy. All you have to do is submit a review of no more than 150 words. The closing date is Friday, 16 January 2015.
For more information on that giveaway and to enter, please click here.