2013 Book #11 – Zoe’s Muster, by Barbara Hannay

I recently started writing a Contemporary Romance set in Australia, so what better book to read for homework than a Contemporary Romance set in Australia! On top of that, Zoe’s Muster, by Barbara Hannay is nominated for a RITA this year, so it was exactly what I was looking to read.

zoes muster

I’ll cut to the chase. I liked this book. The characters were realistic and engaging, the plot was interesting and took turns I didn’t expect. The writing was good in so many ways. There was just one problem. I was aggravated about the way one of the plots turned out because it touched on some issues from my own life.

And that’s the difference between Contemporary and Historical Romance.

It would be nice if I lived in a world where balls were the main form of socialization between men and women. It would be awesome if I got to wear pretty dresses and make calls all day. I would love to learn dancing and music and be considered accomplished if I was artistic. I love the world of Historical Romance, no matter what the era.

Ah, but the modern world is full of so many more real challenges. The topics you read about in Contemporary Romance are so much more similar to the realities we face in everyday life. And I’m not gonna lie … sometimes it’s uncomfortable.

In Zoe’s Muster, our heroine, Zoe, accidentally discovers that her father, Rex, is not her biological father. Furthermore, her mother hadn’t figured it out either until Zoe pointed out that it was impossible for her to have the blood-type she has and still be the natural daughter of both of her parents. Of course, as soon as the truth is pointed out to Zoe’s mom, Claire, Claire knows who Zoe’s real father is. He’s a cattleman on a ranch way out in the middle of nowhere. So Zoe sets out incognito to meet her birth father.

I thoroughly enjoyed the story of Zoe taking the job of cook on the muster – which, as I understand it, is more or less an Australian cattle drive – and both avoiding the flirtations of her half-brother and falling madly in love with his best friend, Mac. Mac is everything a romance novel hero should be: handsome, brooding, noble, and haunted by his past. In fact, slap a pair of breeches on him and he could be a Historical Romance hero. That aspect of the novel was great.

What threw me was the sub-plot involving the relationship between Zoe’s parents, Claire and Rex.

First of all, the fact that there was such a strong sub-plot was awesome. It was as close to a “two-fer” as I’ve read in ages. It made me wonder why we don’t have more romance novels about older women. I could completely understand Claire’s struggles, hopes, fears, and dreams. She was as fantastic a heroine as Zoe.

Rex, on the other hand, was a complete jerk. And this is where my personal biases enter the picture. Because I’m sure Barbara Hannay intended for him to come out of the whole thing looking okay. Me? Nope. I didn’t buy it. Dude was a politician who spent most of the years of his marriage and of his daughters’ lives absent. Kind of like how my dad abandoned us when I was six and has only made token appearances and given crap excuses since then. Yep, sometimes the plots of Contemporary Romance hit way close to home.

It’s not being too spoilery to report that Claire has a chance to stray. And yes, I was cheering her on the whole time. I wanted her to be with someone who would appreciate her and want to be with her, not someone who saw her as an accessory that would look good for the media. The thing is, I can’t honestly say that I was reading the character of Rex right. I certainly wasn’t willing to forgive him in the end.

Ah yes, Contemporary Romance. I think that people read Historical Romance for the glorious escape of it all. We want to read about something so foreign to the world we know that it feels safe. I suspect people read Contemporary Romance because it mirrors what we see in the world immediately around us, but promises us a happy ending. Those are the tropes of Romance, after all: the hero and heroine must get together at the end and it must be an emotionally satisfying ending.

If only life were like that! And yet, I think that’s exactly the appeal of a story like Zoe’s Muster. It gives us hope that if someone with a problem so similar to what we know or have seen can come out of it okay, maybe we can too.

I think I’ll read more Contemporary Romance. It’s more of a challenge to me at this phase of my life, but a good challenge. And I always like to hear that love conquers all for heroines in blue jeans as well as those in crinolines.

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