She's a mum, a vet, a farmer - and a rom-com ace, finds Nicky Pellegrino.
Although there's a steady flow of New Zealand literary fiction being published, Kiwi chick lit barely manages a trickle. I suspect this is because literary writers get grants and residencies to help them complete their books, but authors of popular fiction have to box on with their day jobs and fit in the writing somehow. So big ups to Otorohanga vet and sheep farmer Danielle Hawkins (she also has two small children), who has managed to find time to write an entertaining comedy romance that's infused with Kiwi-ness from start to finish
Set in the fictional King Country town of Waimanu, Dinner At Rose's (A&U, $35) is the story of spirited but heartbroken physiotherapist Jo Connelly, who has fled back from Melbourne after catching her boyfriend having sex with her best friend.
Hometown life has the potential to be deadly dull but, fortunately, there are two people around to liven things up: Jo's eccentric Aunty Rose, who lives in a draughty old villa with a menagerie of pets, and her childhood friend, hunky dairy farmer Matt King, which whom she once had a night of passion that neither of them has mentioned since.
It's classic romance fodder, with a will-they-won't they scenario developing between Jo and Matt, but what lifts this book above the rest is its heart and humour. There's plenty of pathos - when Rose is diagnosed with breast cancer, Jo moves in to help her through the chemo and the whole whanau rallies round. Rose's illness is central to the plot, and treated with a respectable amount of grit, but the book stays light-hearted for the most part, thanks to heaps of amusing banter.
A large part of the success of Dinner At Rose's is because Hawkins sets the book in a place she understands and peoples it with a wonderful cast of rural Kiwi characters. There's Matt's snooty mum, his troublesome kid sister and his hot ute-driving girlfriend, there's the unsuitable local guys that hit on Jo and tries to tempt her out for wine and cheese nights at the Cossie club, there are old friends, oddball flatmates and creepy patients at the physio clinic. The book never feels overcrowded though; Hawkins has fun with every single one of them.
There's lots of talk in literary circles about our writers needing to tell New Zealand stories. Well, from the setting to the hard-core humour, they don't come much more Kiwi than this one.
Unpretentious and refreshing, Dinner At Rose's put a smile on my face and tears in my eyes. It's written with flair (Hawkins writes at night when the kids are asleep, apparently), palpable energy and lots of love.
It's great to see a new Kiwi talent who's producing popular women's fiction to match the best of what's imported from overseas. Let's just hope the kids continue to sleep well and she has time to crack on with the next one.