Title: Once Burnt, Twice Shy
Author: Karly Lane
Published: November 2021
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Genre: Fiction (Romance)
Content warnings: bushfires, property destruction, death of animals, unplanned pregnancy
I received a copy of Once Burnt, Twice Shy from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
From the best-selling Karly Lane comes a pitch-perfect story of rural tragedy, old flames reawakened and the meaning of home. A tribute to the Rural Fire Service and the work they selflessly do.
Jack Cameron was in love with Sam when they were teenagers, and she broke his heart when she left town at eighteen. Their lives moved along similar paths-both marrying, having families and getting divorced-but in very different locations. Now that Sam is back, they begin to realise that there are unresolved feelings between them.
As catastrophic fires roar destructively through the local farming community, Sam has no choice but to evacuate her parents’ farm. But worse is still to come: Jack is reported missing and Sam is forced to prepare for the worst news.
A heartwarming story of second chances, of loss and rebuilding, and of finally coming home.
Once Burnt, Twice Shy is the eleventh book by Karly Lane that I’ve read and reviewed since 2018, and every time she releases a new book I’m always eager to pick it up. There’s something inherently calming and comforting about her stories – they trigger memories from my childhood about growing up in Australia and spending time in rural areas during my school holidays. I may not have grown up in rural Australia, but I spent a lot of time there and the locations that she writes about invokes an intense nostalgia when I read about those places that feel so familiar.
This book is a little different in that it not only reminds me of the wonderful times I had spending time up at the farms belonging to relatives, but also the understanding that I know have as an adult of how hard it is to run these properties in Australia. It’s a harsh country and drought and fires are never far off, and Once Burnt, Twice Shy deals with that reality as two teenage sweethearts rekindle their relationship nearly 30 years later amidst a bushfire season that is utterly devastating to their community.
Sam Murphy has returned to her hometown in rural NSW to look after her parents’ property while they’re overseas – only to have to face the out-of-control fires in their absence. She’s only just rekindled her relationship with Jack, the owner of the neighbouring property and her childhood sweetheart whom she left at 18 in an effort to escape and live a life of her own. The fires bring them closer together, but the complexities of having lived full lives before coming back together threatens to test the tentative new relationship.
There’s a lot to appreciate in this book, not the least of which is that both Sam and Jack are in their late forties and have lived their lives. Both have two children and are divorced and dealing with the change in their circumstances. Sam’s at a crossroads – her girls are off at university and she’s been left on her own, she’s sold her business and suddenly the life she escaped at 18 is beginning to look appealing as she tries to find herself. Jack’s dealing with his teenage daughters growing up hours away from him, the stress of working on a property and working shifts for the Regional Fire Service, and the aftermath of the fires that are devastating to his home. Both of them are complex, nuanced characters who can’t just drop everything and make a relationship work – they have to work at it and it’s hard.
Australia, and in particular country Australia, is a character in its own right in this book. The harshness of the land and the impact of the fire season is clear and it creates an intense atmosphere as you’re reading. But despite that intensity, Karly Lane is truly writing about the amazing work that people who live in these communities do when under threat – from the RFS to the local community who band together to protect properties, livestock and each other under the toughest of circumstances. There were points in the book that were absolutely heart-wrenching to read about and it was all handled so deftly and beautifully. Lane has an intimate knowledge of living through the fires (and has a wonderful acknowledgement at the back of the book) and you can tell as you turn each page in the book.
And, amongst it all, people having to keep living their lives and to rebuild. Life doesn’t just stop after a tragedy like the bushfires and that’s also included in the book.
This book has a huge amount of hope after loss and it was a wonderful read.