#aww2018 · 2018 Reviews · Australian · historical fiction · new release · romance

New Release Book Review: Burning Fields by Alli Sinclair

Title: Burning Fieldsburning fields small

Author: Alli Sinclair

Published: May 21st 2018

Publisher: Harlequin Mira

Pages: 320

Genres:  Fiction, Australian, Historical, Romance

RRP: $29.99

Rating: 5 stars

Romeo and Juliet set in Queensland’s sugar cane fields in 1948, as the daughter of an Anglo-Australian family falls for an Italian immigrant against the wishes of her family.

1948. The world is struggling to regain a sense of balance after the devastation of World War II, and the sugar cane–growing community of Piri River in northern Queensland is no exception. 
As returned servicemen endeavour to adjust to their pre–war lives, women who had worked for the war effort are expected to embrace traditional roles once more.

Rosie Stanton finds it difficult to return to the family farm after years working for the Australian Women’s Army Service. Reminders are everywhere of the brothers she lost in the war and she is unable to understand her father’s contempt for Italians, especially the Conti family next door. When her father takes ill, Rosie challenges tradition by managing the farm, but outside influences are determined to see her fail.

Desperate to leave his turbulent history behind, Tomas Conti has left Italy to join his family in Piri River. Tomas struggles to adapt in Australia–until he meets Rosie. Her easygoing nature and positive outlook help him forget the life he’s escaped. But as their relationship grows, so do tensions between the two families until the situation becomes explosive.

When a long–hidden family secret is discovered and Tomas’s mysterious past is revealed, everything Rosie believes is shattered. Will she risk all to rebuild her family or will she lose the only man she’s ever loved?

My review:

Burning Fields, the latest novel from Australian author Alli Sinclair, melds together love, the past, war and sacrifice, all within the one involving tale. Sinclair takes her novel to the sugar cane fields of Queensland, just after the close of World War II. The tale that emerges is a powerful one that echoes Australia of times past.

Burning Fields takes the reader to a time of great flux, the year 1948. The action of this novel is set in the sugar cane fields of Northern Queensland. While many in this region, across the country and the globe are coming to terms with the devastation of the World War II, Rosie Stanton is making the journey home. After being away from the family sugar cane farm for a number of years while serving in the Australian Women’s Army Services, Rosie Stanton makes the difficult trek home. With her brothers lost to the war, Rosie is the only remaining Stanton left to help manage her family’s fledging farm. But Rosie struggles trying to assert her place at home again. Her father is unwilling to let her take on the reins of the property and she clashes with him over his attitude to the Italian family that neighbour their farm. But when Rosie’s father’s health takes a turn for the worst, Rosie steps up and begins to take over the operations of the family farm. Despite the misgivings and oppositions from many, including her own father, Rosie is determined to succeed. Linked to Rosie’s story is that of Tomas Conti, a young Italian man who has survived the war and now works with his family on their farm, which is situated next door to the Stanton farm. Tension and attraction arises between Rosie and Tomas when their worlds collide. However, the secrets each has, their past and the opposition from their respective families means this couple may never get their happy ever after.

Burning Fields marks another stellar new release that I have been eagerly anticipating with bated breath. I have loved each and every one of Alli Sinclair’s novels. She always manages to transport her reader to a different historical landscape and fully immerse her audience in her unfolding narrative. Burning Fields is no exception and I loved how Sinclair combined the Italian World War II experience, to Australia’s not too distant past, with our current climate. I was extremely impressed with Alli’s latest effort.

Burning Fields has a fantastic and highly engaging narrative structure. It works on a double time frame narrative and both storylines draw the reader in with complete ease. We first travel with Rosie, the leading lady of this tale, from Brisbane to her home town, which is situated in Northern Queensland, near the Piri River. We are also taken via flashbacks to Italy in the heat of the war, as we unearth Tomas Conti, the lead male protagonist in this novel’s past. Each storyline is carefully composed and rich in detail. I was fully immersed in each storyline that featured in Burning Fields.

All Sinclair shows us what she is made of and yet again composes a setting that is fully entrenched in the time and place of the locale in which she is presenting to her readership. I am always in awe of Sinclair’s ability to so easily transport her reader to a specific historical panorama and Burning Fields is no exception. We effortlessly move from the perilous and suspicious times of World War II Italy, to post World War II Australia. In moving the reader to the year 1948, Sinclair works to highlight the social climate of this time. She puts the spotlight on racial prejudice (particularly for Italians), expectations of women and the intense feelings of loss experienced by those on the home front. For me personally, the starring feature of this book was the focus on women’s history and the challenges women faced adjusting to roles on the domestic front after committing to jobs of great responsibility, or man’s work during the war. Sinclair does an absolutely superb job of outlining a feminist history of Australian women during the post World War II period.

Another wonderful feature of Burning Fields are the rich descriptions of the sugar cane fields and the farms that keep this industry ticking over. There are some healthy descriptions contained in this novel of the process of sugar cane farming, which I found enlightening. There were many times during my reading of this novel that I could feel myself walking through the cane fields. Sinclair has obviously completed her homework on this aspect of her novel and it shines through her novel.

Sinclair’s main character, Rosie Stanton was a real trailblazer and clearly well ahead of her time. This fierce heroine left quite the impression on me. I appreciated the secret that followed Rosie and why she left her lucrative position in Brisbane with the Women’s Army, to return to her family’s farm. Her first interaction with Tomas on the bus was spellbinding and I found myself completed invested in their potential romance from the very beginning. Romance is Sinclair’s forte and she nails it in this novel. I loved the mix of romance, secrets, past hindrances and family opposition that followed this couple. It wasn’t a standard pathway to love, but when it finally reached its destination, I was over the moon with the final result.

There are some fantastic themes covered in Burning Fields. From racial discrimination, sexism, misogyny, alcoholism, grief, loss, PTSD, addiction, forbidden love and family traditions/culture. If you are a lover of all things Italian expect to be dazzled by the scenes involving Tomas’ family and their delectable food, as well as traditional Italian customs. There is also a rich historical element to this novel. Sinclair explores fascism, the influence of Mussolini, the treatment of the Italian people in Australia and she highlights the experience of internment camps. Finally, I must mention the flooring secret twist towards the close of the novel, it made me gasp! I didn’t see it coming, but it added another great layer to this tale.

I know in reading a recent piece on this novel by the very talented author Alli Sinclair that she wanted to write a story that would resonate with readers today. Sinclair also intended for Burning Fields to spark some talk around the conditions for women, as well as immigrants and how these stigmas have changed or remained the same. Well Alli, I think you have fulfilled this expectation and more. I implore all readers to seek out Burning Fields, the latest historical fiction title from Alli Sinclair.

Burning Fields by Alli Sinclair was published on 21st May 2018 by Harlequin-Mira. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.

To learn more about the author of Burning Fields, Alli Sinclair, visit here.

*I wish to thank Harlequin-Mira for providing me with a free copy of this book for review purposes.

Burning Fields is book #53 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge

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