#aww2019 · 2019 Reviews · Australian · contemporary fiction · round-up

Book Review: Two Heartbeats by Rhonda Forrest

Title: Two Heartbeatstwo heartbeats small

Author: Rhonda Forrest

Published: October 12th 2018

Publisher: Valeena Press

Pages: 306

Genres:  Fiction, Contemporary

RRP: $25.00

Rating: 4 stars

When Jess heads west for a fresh start in a small mining town, the dusty, outback plains are a far cry from her former life in the city. Despite having no knowledge of country life, she finds herself loving the isolation and local people who she lives with. All she has to do is keep her head down and work hard to create a better life for herself and Johnno, the only person she has ever truly cared about. 

As relationships develop and change, Jess discovers the caring warmth of a welcoming family and a circle of friends who look out for her. She begins to feel that maybe for once, her life is heading in the right direction. 

However, problems arise when her temper and stubborn nature collide with her new boss Daniel, who is suspicious of her background story. Has Jess told him everything, or is there a hidden secret to justify his earlier distrust of her?

With a cast of eclectic characters, set amidst the rugged outback of Australia, Two Heartbeats is a story of friendship, resilience and the hope that ultimately loving relationships may triumph over obstacles defined by the past.

Review:

‘This was her chance, a break from the past hardships, and no matter how much she wanted to be with him, she knew deep down that this was an opportunity for her to get somewhere in life.’

I think it has been almost two years since I last set eyes on the work of Rhonda Forrest (also known as Lea Davey). It was a most welcome experience to return to her writing. Two Heartbeats is stunning Australian feel story, rich in emotion and relationships. It is a book that I was easily able to consume from cover to cover.

Two Heartbeats is the story of Jess, a young woman who decides to make a change in her life and bravely take on a career change in a small mining town  – in the heart of the outback. The new life Jess has carved out for herself proves to be vastly different to her former city life existence. Jess is unprepared for what the wild outback holds, she has no previous experience to draw on and she doesn’t know a soul. But Jess is determined to make this new sea change work, she sets herself some goals, which includes supporting Johnno, the only person who has been a permanent fixture in Jess’ difficult life. It doesn’t take long before Jess is embraced by the welcoming community of her new town. She begins to settle in to her new home and job. With life looking up, the only complication that arises is her boss, Daniel. They have come to blows more than once and Daniel is unsure of Jess. He knows she is hiding something, but he can’t put his finger on it. Two Heartbeats is a journey of trust, instinct, love, friendship, hope and survival. It offers a heartfelt story of overcoming the odds and learning to place trust in people, when you have remained guarded for the good part of your life.

Two Heartbeats is an emotional tug of war tale. There were so many conflicting feelings to deal with that I soon got caught up in Jess’s world. I developed a deep sense of compassion for Jess, she had a hard life, but this isn’t revealed straight away. Jess has plenty of walls around her and it took same time to penetrate these barriers to uncover who Jess was and the heart of her problems.

Rhonda Forrest has a good grasp of the human condition and an aptitude for conveying a bevy of emotions. She works hard to draw out a story that encompasses so many feelings. We have bravery, fear, excitement, love, loyalty, trust and hope. All of these complex feelings swirl around Jess and the characters featured in Two Heartbeats.

I have commented before on the sense of place Rhonda Forrest is able to express. Two Heartbeats is another prime example of Forrest’s skill in this area of her writing. From the moment we step into the pages of this novel, the setting comes alive before our eyes. I have to say this was by far my favourite aspect of the novel.

‘Everything is brown, the sky is huge, the stars are so bright, and the paddocks just stretch forever. Everytime I drive out here I’m amazed by what I see, the endless paddocks, the dry riverbed, the windy track I follow, even things like this old style of house. I’d never seen anything like it or even imagined that something like this ever existed.’

Connected to the setting is of course the focus on the mining way of life and the Australian outback mode of living. I can never get enough of these types of books, so Two Heartbeats was a winner in my eyes. The mining culture is still big here in Western Australia, so reading this book reminded me of the feelings and experiences many workers may hold when they launch into work in our remote mining institutions. Forrest gives a voice to these hardworking folk and the common situations that they are faced with. There are positives and negatives about the FIFO industry, which Forrest draws out well in her novel.

Another side thread that I feel Forrest was able to successfully capture was a very current day issue, drug abuse and addiction. This is linked to the background of the lead and explains why Jess behaves in the manner she does. Forrest puts a face and story to addiction – in an insightful manner. I am sure these highly relevant social issues will strike a chord with many readers who have also been touched by drug and addiction in their own lives.

A book with the title Two Heartbeats, definitely hints at some form of romance – for me anyway! I would lean towards attaching the label of contemporary fiction to this novel, with elements of romance. The romance is definitely a slow burn style, but that’s just how I like it! It developed gradually and it was heart-warming to watch on as Jess was able to learn to trust and open herself up to others. The friendships Jess forms are just as heartening to observe, as much as her love story! It almost brought a tear to my eye, that a woman so hurt in the past, could find the support she deserves.

Two Heartbeats closes off with a slightly open ending. For me, this was acceptable and was in line with the behaviour of the lead character, Jess. All in all, the latest novel penned by Rhonda Forrest was finely executed, offering plenty of truth about remote Australia, our current societal issues, complete with a love story wrapped around a hopeful narrative.

Two Heartbeats by Rhonda Forrest was published on 12th October 2019 by Valeena Press. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.

To learn more about the author of Two Heartbeats, Rhonda Forrest, visit here.

*With thanks to the author, Rhonda Forrest, for providing me with a copy of this novel, in exchange for an honest review.

Two Heartbeats is book #19 of the 2019 Australian Women Writers Challenge 

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