Aussie Book Review: Rocking Horse Hill by Cathryn Hein

My Rating:              4 / 5
Format:                   ARC courtesy of Penguin Books
Publication Date:    23 April 2014
Category:               Adult & Contemporary
ISBN:                      9781921901980
Publisher:               Penguin Australia
Imprint:                   Michael Joseph
RRP:                      AU$29.99

From the Cover

“Ever since she was a little girl, Emily Wallace-Jones has loved Rocking Horse Hill. The beautiful family property is steeped in history. Everything important in Em's life has happened there. And even though Em's brother Digby has inherited the property, he has promised Em it will be her home for as long as she wishes.

When Digby falls in love with sweet Felicity Townsend, a girl from the wrong side of the tracks, Em worries about the future. But she is determined not to treat Felicity with the same teenage snobbery that tore apart her relationship with her first love, Josh Sinclair. A man who has now sauntered sexily back into Em's life and given her a chance for redemption.

But as Felicity settles in, the once tightly knitted Wallace-Jones family begins to fray. Suspicions are raised, Josh voices his distrust, and even Em's closest friends question where Felicity's motives lie. Conflicted but determined to make up for the damage caused by her past prejudices, Em sides with her brother and his fiancée until a near tragedy forces the entire family to see things in a new light.”

Summary and Thoughts

They say that “the kitchen is the heart of the home”!  Cathryn Hein, who has become one of Australia’s most loved rural romance authors, is an avid foodie to boot, and she succeeds in Rocking Horse Hill to prove that there is no myth in the above quote.  As you turn each page of this suspenseful but heartfelt novel steeped in tradition, your senses are sure to be aroused with taunting aromas, crackling warmth, sizzling romance and a dollop of suspense.

Emily (Em), our protagonist, is from the prestigious Wallace-Jones family.  We are introduced to her on a cold rainy night as she locks up her shop, PaperPassion, ready to head to Camrick, the family’s ancestral estate, for their traditional Tuesday evening family dinner.

Arriving at Camrick, she is told that Digby, her brother, and heir to the Camrick fortune, has a “surprise” as well as an announcement to make.  His surprise arrives in the form of Felicity (Flick) Townsend and, when he reveals that they are engaged, Em and her family are somewhat taken aback at the girl he has chosen. However, Em is determined to make Flick feel welcome.

While Em goes out of her way to make Felicity feel comfortable and tries to get to know her better, it’s not long after that she begins to fear for her own place within the family and worries that her brother’s promise of long-term tenancy at the farm nestled at the foot of her cherished Rocking Horse Hill will disappear from her life.

Despite some serious misgivings from the illustrious grand dame of Camrick, Granny B, and her best friends Teagan and Jasmine, there’s another dimension to Em’s commitment to doing all she can to make Flick feel welcome and that is the pain and anguish she knows all too well from a snobbish decision she made thirteen years before when she walked away from Josh Sinclair.

Josh, after the break-up of his marriage, is back home with his ordinary working class family to lend support to his warm and loving mother, Michelle, stricken with a terminal illness.  He’s been told that PaperPassion is owned by Em, but when he walks into the shop to make a purchase for Michelle and comes face-to-face with Em, all the old feelings of hurt and resentment come bubbling to the surface, as he recalls that the only sin he ever committed was by loving her too much.

The passion between her and Josh is soon reignited, but as Flick continues to make subtle in-roads into the family and begins to emulate both Em and Adrienne, Em’s only solace is at Rocking Horse Hill with her menagerie of animals which include Muffet, her aging Smithfield Collie, a few horses, Chelsea, the Indian Runner duck and her two naughty donkeys, Kicki and Cutie who are hell-bent on escape.

However, when a seemingly innocuous incident involving Granny B sees her being rushed to hospital and Adrienne’s state of mind begins to deteriorate, it appears that not is all as it should be at Camrick!  But, Rocking Horse Hill, it seems, will not allow its guardians to be thwarted!

I’m a bit of a sucker for a suspenseful story and this reviewer especially liked that Cathryn has, for the first time, interwoven these elements into one of her stories.  While the taunting aromas of good food and wine permeate the pages, as the plot is juggled brilliantly with the dramatic conflict building at a steady pace, we 
get to know all the characters, their baggage and the familial issues surrounding them.

Em’s story takes place in the beautiful south-east corner of South Australia, with Rocking Horse Hill, the extinct volcano in this story, being inspired by both Mount Elephant in Victoria and Mount Schank, sister to Mount Gambier, where Cathryn Hein grew up.

Its majestic but austere presence along with its abandoned quarry seeps ever so effectively into the storyline so that it almost becomes a character in itself, and I thought it especially ingenious when a severe storm sees one of the decades old cypresses leaving a gaping hole in the farm's Avenue of Honour - like an omen of things to come – atmospherically adding to our protagonist’s hopes, fears and anguish.

While on the subject of characters, Cathryn knows how to build them into well-rounded, likeable people, from Em who is still guilt-ridden for the manner in which she treated Josh in their late teenage years, Felicity who is from the wrong side of the tracks and a mystery to all, to Josh, our disfigured but oh so sexy, charming and gentle hero who has always felt that he wasn’t good enough for Em due to her wealthy background.  Her secondary characters are just as well developed, adding layers to the story and I couldn’t help falling in love with Josh’s mom who is warm and motherly, while Granny B, steals the show with her wry sense of humour and a hint of snobbery.  Of course, Cathryn's delightfully endearing animal characters always lend a bit of comic relief, this time with Kicki and Cutie keeping our protagonist on her toes.

Populated with real life problems, which Cathryn always handles with skill and compassion, this is a story about families whose homes are not only built by bricks and mortar but also by love, loss, betrayal, forgiveness, second chances and mouth-watering  home cooked meals.

All in all, Cathryn has given us a great winter read that is sure to tug at your heartstrings and tickle your tastebuds while you warm yourself next to a crackling warm fire.

I wish to thank Penguin Australia for providing me with a hard copy of this novel.

A Little About the Author

Cathryn Hein was born in South Australia’s rural south-east.  With three generations of jockeys in the family it was little wonder she grew up horse mad, finally obtaining her first horse at age 10.  So began years of pony club, eventing, dressage and showjumping until university beckoned.

Armed with a shiny Bachelor of Applied Science (Agriculture) from Roseworthy College she moved to Melbourne and later Newcastle, working in the agricultural and turf seeds industry. Her partner’s posting to France took Cathryn overseas for three years in Provence where she finally gave in to her life-long desire to write. Her short fiction has been recognised in numerous contests, and published in Woman’s Day.

Cathryn’s first three novels, Promises, Heart of the Valley and Heartland were finalists in the 2011, 2012 and 2013 Australian Romance Readers Awards. Rocking Horse Hill is her fourth rural romance novel.  In September she will release The French Prize, her first romantic adventure story.

Cathryn currently lives at the base of the Blue Mountains in Sydney’s far west with her partner of many years, Jim. When she’s not writing, she plays golf (ineptly), cooks (well), and in football season barracks (rowdily) for her beloved Sydney Swans AFL team.

If you would like to know more about Cathryn Hein and Rocking Horse Hill, please click here for an interview held with her recently in which she talks about the novel and writing.

*Please note that the owner of this blog claims no rights to the artwork displayed in this post.


  1. Love the picture of the donkeys Marcia..a perfect portrait!

    1. Thanks Shellyrae - been trying to think of different things to do with the book reviews and when I found this picture, I just had to include it!

  2. I'm reading this now Marcia. I'm only just into it and Em has just cooked dinner for her two friends after finding out about Felicity & Digby. I've decided this isn't a book to be read on an empty stomach! This is the first of Cathryn's books I've read. (I love that donkey & bike photo too by the way).

    1. Oooh Lily, you're going to start feeling that build up of tension soon! And we won't mention more delicious cooking - just make sure you don't read the rest on an empty stomach. Yeah, I love that picture - just don't know who took it, but I thought it was so apt for this story.


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