Rocking Horse Hill
Penguin Books AUS
Copy courtesy of the publisher
Ever since she was a child, Emily Wallace-Jones has loved the family property Rocking Horse Hill. Even though her brother Digby inherited the property and technically owns it, he has promised Em that it will always be her home and that she need never fear losing it. Emily lives there with her assortment of animals including horses, donkeys, chooks, a duck and her beloved Miss Muffet, a Smithfield collie.
When Emily hears that her brother is engaged, she is happy for him. Digby deserves happiness and even though none of them know Felicity, the family makes a big attempt to welcome her with open arms. Only Emily’s eccentric grandmother doesn’t quite see the news as a happy occasion, making her suspicions about Felicity’s past known to Emily, who doesn’t want to hear it. It seems Felicity is slipping right into the family, almost too easily. She leaves Emily feeling a bit left out when she begins learning to cook with Emily’s mother, starts wearing the family jewellery and when Digby brings her out to Rocking Horse Hill, Felicty is delighted with it. Perhaps a little too delighted. And when Digby agrees to let Felicity buy and keep a horse there without consulting Emily, she begins to wonder just how much she can see Rocking Horse Hill as her permanent home.
But Emily once made a big mistake with snobbery, ending a relationship with her first love in a way that devastated him and made him feel as if he wasn’t good enough for one of the esteemed Wallace-Jones family. Now Josh has returned to the local area and he seems willing to give Emily a second chance. When even he seems to have suspicions about Felicity, Emily feels compelled to stand up for her, to back her brother and his fiancee all the way, determined that no one should judge her for being poor or from a bad area. In her choices, Emily could not only be making a huge mistake for her and Josh but she could also be putting her own life at risk.
Rocking Horse Hill is Cathryn Hein’s fourth novel and this book blends a delicious rural romance story with a healthy sprinkling of suspense and family drama as well. Emily is a member of a very esteemed and also quite wealthy family (although she herself is not wealthy really, given the way the family structure and inheritance works). She does have a home to live in courtesy of her brother and she’s passionate about the property and she also has a very deep love for her family. Emily is somewhat shocked when she gets hit by two pieces of news at once – her first love is back in town to support his mother through an illness and also, her brother has become engaged to a woman no one in the family has ever met before.
Cathryn Hein creates some stellar heroes in her books (I still have a girly sigh and a soft spot for Aaron in Promises, her first novel) and the lovely Josh is no exception here. Although he’s still a bit bitter towards Emily and the savage way she ended their relationship when they were younger (with good reason), the two of them find that the old attraction is still simmering away and they fall into what is totally a relationship again, even if they’re both trying not to label it. The two of them are very easy together, even when a bit uncertain about what’s going on, there’s a comfortableness in their interactions. They know each other and they are quite perfectly suited but they do need to deal with their past together and make sure they can both move forward cleanly.
I really felt the suspense was built very well throughout this book – I kept dithering back and forth about whether or not Felicity could be trusted, if she just seemed a bit sinister because they were looking at her through suspicious eyes or if she was really causing the family to begin rotting from the inside out. It kept me guessing right up until the moment that revealed all but I also loved how it wasn’t quite so black and white in that was she evil or was she not. Despite the fact that she’s only really a peripheral character and there are very few interactions with her in the novel one on one, she’s fleshed out very well and evokes everything from frustration to sympathy.
Rocking Horse Hill is full of such beautiful descriptions, especially of the property and the landscape that surrounds it as well as the homestead in ‘town’ that Emily’s mother and grandmother reside in. Emily is a bit of a foodie (much like the author) and the meals she prepares for herself and her two friends or herself and Josh are mouth-wateringly to die for! There’s also lovely imagery of Emily’s passion of recreating old manuscripts and Josh’s cabinetry and wood-working skills. And if Cathryn Hein ever decides to try her hand at stepping back in time for a bit, maybe to the 40s or 50s then I think there’s definitely a story in the character of Granny B! I know that several ‘spin off’ novels are planned after this one, perhaps for Emily’s two friends and maybe another character or two. I think that Granny B has potential for her own story too one day, should it ever decide to make itself known!
I think with each novel, Hein takes a step forward. Hers have always contained exploration of family dramas and emotions but she’s refining her skills and creating more depth and trying new things. The romance is strong in every book but it’s never just the focus – there’s always so much more going on and the talent is that everything blends together seamlessly without feeling crowded and the focus never feels uneven. I think that without a doubt, this is her best book yet.
Book #79 of 2014
Rocking Horse Hill is the 33rd book read that qualifies for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014
Thank you to the fabulous people at Penguin Australia, I am giving away a copy of Rocking Horse Hill to two lucky readers! All you need to do is fill out the form below. Australian residents only please. Entries will close May 5th and winners will be notified by email and have 48 hours to respond. If I do not receive a response, I will draw another winner, same rules apply. Thank you to everyone who enters!