REVIEW: HEARTLAND BY CATHRYN HEIN

HEARTLAND

Author: Cathryn Hein
Michael Joseph RRP $29.99
Review: Monique Mulligan 

Book Cover:  Heartland

Australian rural fiction writer Cathryn Hein’s third book Heartland is the first I’ve read by this talented writer, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. On her website, Hein says she writes “romantic fiction featuring sexy rural men who fall hard for strong-minded women … (who) … have to jump a few obstacles before they reach their happily ever afters”, which pretty much sums up Heartland. If reading about sexy farmers and sassy women is your thing, I’d encourage you to stock up on Hein’s books. You’ll thank me, even if your purse doesn’t.

The phrase ‘home is where the heart is’ doesn’t mean a lot to Callie Reynolds – for her, home is where she is … and that changes regularly. She’s been on the move since her older sister, Hope, died; guilt-ridden (and somewhat stubborn), she resists commitment, avoids contact with her parents, and allows few people to know who she really is. Her roommates in Airlie Beach think she’s fun – in fact, one thinks she could do with more fun – but neither have managed to learn anything about Callie’s sad past. Even her love life has been characterised by short-term flings, rather than long-term, committed relationships. When the book starts, Callie has not yet learnt the meaning of the saying, ‘Wherever you go, there you are’ – you might be able to run away, but you (and all your baggage) will always tag along.

When Callie inherits her grandmother’s property, Glenmore, she has a fool-proof plan in mind – clean, sell and move on. It sounds so easy (and she can ease her guilt by donating the proceeds to the foundation set up in her sister’s name). What Callie doesn’t count on is a warty horse, a batty goose and an injured and belligerent neighbour to contend with. Or Matt Hawkins, an ex-soldier with dreams of owning his own land and, someday, raising a family. Callie remains determined to break these new, uninvited, ties and regain her freedom, but the longer things take to get sorted, the harder it is for her not to acknowledge the hold the land and Matt has on her. Should she continue to drift through life, or has Callie finally discovered where her heart is?

The ‘coming home’ theme is one I’ve come across in a number of rural romances I’ve read recently, such as Silver Clouds by Fleur McDonald and Currawong Creek by Jennifer Scoullar. In fact, there are a number of similarities between Heartland and Silver Clouds – the protagonists have each inherited a house/land, neither intends to stay, but the whisper of the land and the man is too strong. Both have similar sub-themes of courage, love, loss, addiction and hope, to a greater or lesser degree; both have a woman running from her past forced to face it. The ‘coming home’ theme is a good choice because it allows the character to undergo quite a marked change from start to finish. Heartland did this beautifully; I really believed in Callie’s growth as a character – over time, she allows her vulnerabilities to surface, and, rather than remain afraid or ashamed of them, she accepted them as part of who she is.

The romance between Matt and Callie was teased out perfectly. Both have reasons to be reserved, but Callie, set on leaving Glenmore, is more so than Matt. His patience, sincerity and gentleness as he allowed Callie to work through her baggage highlighted a number of feature I find beautiful (and sexy) in a man; he was Callie’s much-needed voice of reason and, having a man like that myself, it was completely obvious that he was just what she needed (I did send her mental messages throughout just in case). The two brought out the best in each other – I never doubted that they were meant to be.

What I love about rural fiction like Heartland is the strong sense that I get of the author’s love for the land, animals and the lifestyle. This deep love shines through the characters, animals (when I move to the country, I want a guard goose!), the events depicted, and the, at times, poetic landscape descriptions. What I love even more is that I know when reading such books is that I know this is my country – the tastes, colours, sounds and smells of Australia leap off the page, bringing a comfortable familiarity that never fails to satisfy. Would readers in other countries love it as much? Why not? They may not completely relate to the location (then again, I’ve never lived in Paris, London or New York and I still love books set in those cities), but the regardless of the setting, it’s still a terrific character-driven story that will hold its own against other books in the genre.

Heartland is a wonderful example of rural fiction, with engaging characters, a true-blue love story, showing readers that there is much more to our wonderful sunburnt country than beaches and cities. It made me smile, it made me teary, but most of all, it left me with the contented feeling that comes from reading a really good book. I can’t wait to read more of Hein’s books.

Available from good bookstores and Penguin Books Australia. This copy was courtesy of Penguin Books Australia.

Bookish treat: I’m tossing up between damper and lamingtons. One problem … I don’t have any.