Copy courtesy of the publisher
Callie has been a drifter for the past 8 years. She’s spent some time in the Northern Territory and up around the northern coast down to Airlie Beach where she lives now, tending bar and sharing a house. When a letter finally tracks Callie down to her new address, she’s devastated to learn that her beloved Nanna has passed away and has already been buried. Callie, who already feels guilty because of the tragedy she ran away from now has even more guilt. She never got the chance to say goodbye to her Nanna, to apologise for leaving. Callie and her sister Hope spent weekends and school holidays on their Nanna and Poppy’s farm and to Callie, it was like home. She’s even more shocked when she’s informed that Nanna has left her property of Glenmore to Callie.
Intending to go back to do just the bare minimum before putting the house on the market, Callie finds that there’s more work to do than she thought. Obviously Nanna wasn’t able to keep up with the workload in her later years, something that makes Callie feel even more terrible. She gets a job in the local pub and decides to stay and put Glenmore to rights as best she can with a bit of help from the neighbour, Matt Hawkins who is learning to be a farmer after several tours in Afghanistan.
Despite the deep love she has for Glenmore, Callie wants to sell it so she can funnel the money into somewhere that she thinks might finally help her be free of the guilt that has plagued her. She didn’t expect to be distracted by the property and all that came with it – a warty horse, a cranky goose – because she thought she’d be in and out within days. But now an alternative future is calling to her, one that includes the place she has always loved and now the gorgeous man next door who is helping her be happy again. But before Callie can think about her new future, she needs to let go of all those bad feelings and believe that she deserves to be happy.
This was one of my most anticipated 2013 releases. I read The Heart of the Valley, Cathryn’s previous novel last year and quickly followed that up with Promises, her debut. They appeal to me in so many ways – damaged heroine in need of some loving, a strong but gentle hero who is perfect to provide that and horses. As a young girl, I desperately wanted a horse but my parents couldn’t afford it. I’ve taken my horse fix wherever I can – at the races with my dad, at my high school best friend’s father’s horse racing stables, at pony clubs with friends who rode. Now I take my horse fix from books and ones like these are perfect.
Callie left her home and her parents in Melbourne years ago after a tragedy tore them apart. She’s borne a burden of guilt and unhappiness ever since and her relationship with her parents has dwindled down to phone calls several times a year. She’s snapped back to reality when she realises her wanderings and lack of informing them that she’s moved on has meant that she’s missed her Nanna’s funeral. And even though Glenmore, her grandparents property sings to her, and it’s where her heart lies, she vows to sell it. Because she doesn’t feel that she deserves to be happy, or that she should benefit when others she loved cannot.
I felt for Callie immediately, her grief at her loss (both her Nanna and her earlier loss) leapt off the page. She’s almost punished herself, under the guise of “travelling” remaining away from her parents, who she thinks blame her, and away from the farm that means so much to her. Callie is afraid to be happy, crushed by her guilt. Enter Matt Hawkins, who was severely injured in Afghanistan and is now learning to be a farmer. Matt, despite a less-than-perfect upbringing is embracing life, even with its losses. He wants Callie to do the same, he encourages her to do the same and oh boy are they so perfect together! I love the Hein heroes – there are no aloof bad boys here. These are genuine country boys with dusty jeans, boots and manners you can take home to your mother. And they are lovely. I get a new crush with every book of hers – first Lachie and then Aaron and now Matt! What I love so much about these books is that the female characters are almost always troubled and damaged and they’re balanced out by these strong and gentle male characters who provide support in the form of friendship (that grows into more!). The love interests are also confidants, someone who listens and often provides the voice of reason that the heroine needs to hear. Matt was such a great character – he’s scarred from an incident in Afghanistan, which he is sometimes unknowingly self-conscious about but he’s so positive and so keen to live his life. He wants his own property and he’s prepared to wait to be able to learn and live his dream. He makes no secret of the fact that he wants Callie to stay but he doesn’t pressure her. He wants her to stay as much for herself as he does for his own happiness in being with her.
Animals are always a feature of Cathryn Hein’s novels and this one is no exception. We’re treated to some horses (of course!) but this one also contains a rather cranky “guard goose”. I hate geese, they are so angry and I’ve been chased by them before as a child. However, I found myself snorting with laughter at Honk and his crowing every time he managed to hunt someone down. He added just the right touch of humour to this novel, which does have rather serious overtones. Of course it made me cry, as The Heart of the Valley did! And it kept me up until 1am and let me tell you, with 2 kids, the days that I stay up reading until the wee hours of the morning these days are few and far between. It’s easy to overhype books in your mind sometimes, which can lead to them not living up to expectation. That was definitely not the case with this one – it was everything I thought it would be and more. It’s a beautiful story of finding courage to be happy and letting go of the past but without forgetting it. Callie had such a touching vulnerability and Matt such a gentle strength but that didn’t stop it from being plenty saucy either! Another fabulous rural romance release that just proves why this genre continues to grow in popularity.
Book #83 of 2013
Stay tuned for a Q&A with Cathryn, coming later today!
Heartland is book #37 read and reviewed for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013