I think if you are a fan of Elizabeth Moon you will like Sandra McDonald's books, particularly because of the military aspects. If you like Linnea Sinclair and Ann Aguirre you may like this as well. The author was an officer in the U.S. Navy and her knowledge of the day to day workings of he military seems to really show in this novel. In The Outback Stars Jodenny has to deal with a mix of personalities both below and above her in the chain of command. Not everyone is a hard worker and trying to get the bad seeds working in harmony with everyone else is a challenge. However, it was refreshing to see Jodenny tackle the challenge with creativity and toughness, which didn't always help her make friends, but did make me respect her. She's a very competent character who knows her job and is good at it. I also liked seeing how she reserved judgement on people until she saw things for herself - particularly with Terry, an accused rapist. It was also interesting to read a book where the main culture was Australian, not American (even though the writer is American!), but there was a also a big mix of races and religions and ethnicities on the ship too. The romance itself was satisfying to read - it wasn't the main focus, and is slow-building. The tension comes from the fact that Jodenny is interested in a subordinate, which is a no-no within the milirary, so she spends most of the book supressing her feelings. I sighed a happy sigh at the end of this book. Although it seems like it will continue in The Stars Down Under, this book ended in a good place, without cliffhangers. I didn't feel like major strings were left undone, but there is enough undiscovered territory to keep me wanting to read book 2.
The romance was predictable and contrived. The aboriginal deus ex machina was an interesting twist, but the outcomes fit a familiar pattern. I was much more interested in the operations of the ship stores and the alien transportation system than in the romance and intrigue. Something tells me McDondald felt the same while writing them. Still, it was rather pleasant brain candy.
By page four I knew this book was a keeper for me. I immediately liked the characters and became engrossed in the world. It's unique because it bases the entire future space race on Australian and Aboriginal culture and mythology.
This book kept me up at night because I didn't want to stop reading. I immediately started on the sequel and have ordered the third book.