Title: Cross My Heart
Author: Pamela Cook
Published: September 26th 2019
Publisher: Wildwords Publishing
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary
Rating: 4.5 stars
When a promise kept means a life is broken …
Tessa De Santis’s child-free marriage in inner-city Sydney is ordered and comfortable, and she likes it that way.
When tragedy strikes and her childhood friend Skye Whittaker dies, Tess is bound to honour a promise to become foster-mother to Skye’s ten-year-old daughter, Grace, changing her life irrevocably.
Leaving her husband and successful career behind, Tess travels to an isolated property where the realities of her friend’s life – and death – hit hard. The idyllic landscape and an unexpected form of therapy ease her fears, and her relationship with Grace begins to blossom.
But a secret from her earlier life with Skye refuses to remain hidden, and Tess is forced into a decision that will either right the wrongs of the past, or completely destroy her future.
Cross My Heart is a haunting story of guilt, redemption and friendship set in the beautiful central west of New South Wales.
‘And yet, for her it seemed almost like a gift. A second chance at getting things right. Whatever it was, she couldn’t let Skye down again.’
Cross My Heart is the latest release by established Australian rural fiction author Pamela Cook, and it signifies Cook’s first venture into the field of contemporary women’s fiction. Cross My Heart is a story of promises, friendship, sacrifice, recovery and atonement.
Career focused Tess De Santis finds her life irrevocably changed when she returns home after an overseas work trip to the news that her childhood best friend has passed away. Although Tess hasn’t seen Skye for over five years, she mourns the loss of her oldest friend. Tess is confronted with the reality that Skye left her estate and her only child in her care. Taking on the care of a ten year old child was never in Tess’s life plan, but she feels she cannot ignore a promise she made all those years ago. Tess decides to put her new foster daughter’s needs ahead of her own, and she abandons her job, as well as her unhelpful husband for the country – Grace’s former home. In Weerilla, Tess is confronted with the harsh reality of her friend’s struggles. She is also dealing with her own grief, and trying to support Grace. Together, the two begin to make tentative steps towards a relationship. The healing power of the landscape, along with an alternative form of therapy proves to be the tonic both Tess and Grace need. As Grace and Tess try to overcome the shock of losing a mother and a friend, a secret from Skye’s past surfaces. Tess must do all she can to protect Grace from harm, while at the same time she is compelled to seek justice for past wrongs.
Pamela Cook has been one of my go-to authors in the rural fiction genre since I read her debut novel, Blackwattle Lake. It is fabulous to see Pamela surge ahead with her writing and delve into the world of contemporary women’s fiction. Cook doesn’t stray too far from her rural roots, in Cross My Heart we see the bulk of the story set in a small country township, around four hours away from Sydney. We also see Cook delve into a unique form of equine therapy in one of the storylines of this novel. I know Cook has a passion for horses and she channels this into her latest piece of fiction.
I was really absorbed in this story from the onset. It is an emotional but moving tale, that carefully considers life’s unexpected turns, accepting responsibility, altering your purpose in life and learning to love in different ways. Cross My Heart is a book that delves into the psyche of relationships. It pulls apart the complexities of a tenuous mother/daughter relationship, a marriage under strain from differing ideals, the regret of a lost friendship, the formation of new attachments and the bond between a parent and a fostered child. In every single relationship highlighted in this novel Cook is considerate of the emotional strains placed on each of these bonds. The emotions and experiences of characters are realistic, as well as relatable. At many times I felt my heart sink in my chest for the protagonists of Cross My Heart, they certainly went through quite an emotional upheaval. However, I promise there are flashes of light and hope in this tender story.
Rural settings are Pamela Cook’s forte and she again showcases the beauty of country based Australia in Cross My Heart. Although the story begins in the city, it soon travels into the depths of the countryside. The small rural township of Weerilla, around four hours drive from Sydney, forms the appealing backdrop for Tess and Grace’s recovery process. Cook introduces the wonderful character of Jules to the mix through this small town setting. I really appreciated the art based sequences and the soothing healing power Jules carried with her each time she entered the pages of this novel. It was a nice touch.
There is a nice blend of mystery and suspense in Cross my Heart. The initial confusion over Skye’s death adds an early serving of mystery to the book. When Tess receives Skye’s coroner’s report she is unsatisfied with the findings, and she sets about to uncover what really happened to her friend. It is a process that proves to be uncomfortable and difficult. It also becomes dangerous as Tess delves deeper into her friend’s demise. Cook’s treatment of this issue is incredibly mindful and factual. Included in the back of the novel is a helpline and online support point for those who have been affected by family violence, domestic abuse, or sexual assault. This book may provide a sense of support, understanding or encouragement to seek help.
Cross My Heart is a story of grief and loss. Cook pays particular attention to grief experienced by a child mourning the loss of her only parent. Skye and Grace only had each other, so when Skye passes away, Grace becomes an orphan. Pamela Cook is insightful and sensitive in her approach to child based grief. Within this thread, Cook examines the psychosis of a child experiencing the loss of her mother. She reveals the impact on the behaviour and the emotions experienced by Grace, which at times was misunderstood by some adults. I thought Cook did a very good job of portraying the feelings of child experiencing loss.
A side thread involving equine assisted therapy forms another significant part of Cross My Heart. I found these sequences to be informative and enlightening. It also opened my eyes up to a very different form of grief and loss assistance. The bond between a human and horse can be very powerful in helping to overcome hard times, which is directly witnessed in this book. Both Tess and Grace feel the impact of this alternative form of therapy, it challenges them, but also changes them. Tess and Grace come out of this experience with a renewed appreciation for life, a greater sense of resiliency and inner strength. It was a joy to oversee this process.
Cross My Heart is a powerful and emotional story that reminds us of the need to cultivate our friendships, tend to our beliefs, stand up for what is right and take each day as gift – as life is precious. Pamela Cook has successfully made the transition to compelling women’s contemporary fiction with Cross My Heart.
Cross My Heart by Pamela Cook was published on 26th September 2019. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of Cross My Heart, Pamela Cook, visit here.
*I wish to thank the author, Pamela Cook, for providing me with a free copy of this book for review purposes.
Cross My Heart is book #128 of the 2019 Australian Women Writers Challenge