Title: Bush Bashin’
Author: N.J. Nielsen
Cover Art: Deana C. Jamroz
Publisher: MLR Press
Buy Link: Buy Link Bush Bashin’
Genre: Contemporary M/M romance/Western/Humor
Length: Novella/71 PDF pages/23,000 words
Rating: 3 stars out of 5
A guest review by LadyM
Review Summary: Decent, but undeveloped.
Blurb: G’day mate. For a true blue ripsnorter of a time, stop by and have a chin wag and some tucker at the annual Aussie Day barbie. I’ll even shout ya a stubbie or two if ya lucky.
My name is Jeremiah Haines, but most people call me Frog. This is the story of how I uprooted my life, moving from Brisbane to a small cattle station in Western Australia. Between the crocs in the yard, the station hands giving me the cold shoulder, and the neighbouring station recruiting me to put their Australia Day barbie together, it’s no wonder I’m in over my head. And that’s before I take into account my unexpected attraction to sexy cowboy Ren Fielding. What’re the chances I’ll make it through Australia Day with both my mind and heart intact?
There aren’t many stories in our little publishing niche that are set in Australia or feature Australian characters (though there are few very good ones), which is why I was initially attracted to this story. Bush Bashin’ is one of several stories published by MLR Press on the occasion of Australia Day (January 26th).
The story begins well enough, even if breaking of the fourth wall in the first chapter was a bit jarring. Jeremiah “Frog” Haines, a Brisbane chef, accepts a friend’s offer to move across country to take a job on her cattle station. His friends and family do not approve this move, but things start well enough for him. However, a careless remark by one of the hands lead to his isolation by male ranch employees and his crush on one of them – probably straight – doesn’t help his situation. Up to this point, I was fairly optimistic about the story and chapter titles really amused me, but then it started rushing towards the ending at breakneck speed, leaving me dissatisfied.
The way I see it, the story had a couple of problems. One is lack of character development. I’ve read much shorter stories that managed to capture the characters’ essence. In this story, Jeremiah – our first person narrator – is the only better developed character. Most of the other characters have maybe one defining characteristic: Lizzie, Jeremiah’s friend, is a strong-willed woman, Bo, one of the hands, is a bit rash and does and says things without thinking, etc. Ren, Jeremiah’s love interest, is so reserved that he barely has a personality. The mixed signals he gives Jeremiah could be a result of his reserve or potential homophobic reactions of his colleagues, but we never really get an explanation. Until his sister talks to Jeremiah, we are not even sure if he is really gay. I would have also appreciated if author had spent more time on the setting of an Australian ranch. A couple of glimpses we got were interesting enough that they made me want more.
The other problems include conflicting information and ease with which the problems are resolved in the end. At the beginning of the story, Jeremiah tells us that his family and friends thought that he was crazy to leave his old life behind and move across the country. When Jeremiah asks for their help with Australia Day barbeque, they not only immediately fly across Australia (because that is a sign of very good friends), but two of them decide to stay and start a new business, and Jeremiah’s younger brother Garreth decides to stay close to his brother and new boyfriend (that he just met). As for the resolution, it seems that it comes purely from outside forces. Jeremiah makes only two proactive decisions in the story (even his move comes at his friend’s urging) – to call his friends and fire the homophobic caterers. The resolution of his problems comes from someone else’s actions and this was one of the reasons for my dissatisfaction.
This is the first story I’ve read by this author and I hope the review isn’t too critical. In spite of my problems with the story, it is not without positives. I appreciated the humor (and Aussie slang with which I’m not familiar enough) and the author’s very decent writing. In fact, the story seemed to me like a draft for a much longer work and I believe that if this was a novel and N.J. Nielson had the opportunity to spread her wings, the results would be that much better. The readers that like their stories low on sex (or in this case without sex) will appreciate Bush Bashin’.