Author: Fiona Palmer
Publisher: Hachette
Publication Date: August 27, 2019
Copy: Courtesy of the Publisher and Beauty and Lace
RRP: $29.99

Fiona Palmer is an Australian author that I have long loved, though over the years I have missed more of her releases than I care to admit. They are always on the list of books to catch up on when I have the chance though, and I will get to them.

The news of a new Fiona Palmer title is always very exciting and when I heard that this one was a modern retelling of the classic Pride and Prejudice I was definitely intrigued. I have read Pride and Prejudice, a couple of times I think, and maybe a retelling or two; I have also watched more than one screen adaptation. My memory isn’t what it once was so I couldn’t give you a rundown of the plotline but I can tell you that it was a story I loved.

In the beginning, when I first started reading Matters of the Heart, I was torn between trying to work out what was familiar and tied to Pride and Prejudice and engaging with Palmer’s characters. It didn’t take me long to be swept up in the storytelling and characters of Matters of the Heart and carried away to Coodardy.

There has been a lot of talk about the connection between Matters of the Heart and Pride and Prejudice, which is not unexpected, but I think it sells the book short. I’m sure there are people out there who either aren’t familiar with Jane Austen or who didn’t like her work and I would hate for them to miss out on this one because of that.

Matters of the Heart is a contemporary tale of family, relationships, farming, small town communities and everything that goes along with them.

The Bennets are a farming family who have seen a few hard years on the land and are working hard to bring things around to secure the future of the farm. They are a colourful family who are sure to give you a laugh. John and Margaret are parents to five daughters, four still at home with the eldest away at University.

Lizzy Bennet is passionate about the family farm and determined to see it a success, she is terminally single and happy to be married to the farm. Jane runs the local child care centre, lives at home to help out and is the beauty of the family. Lydia and Kitty are the teens trying desperately to spread their wings and Mary is the talented pianist away at University.

Mrs Bennet is single-mindedly focused on finding a suitable husband for each of her daughters, though hoping to find matches for the elder three before time runs out. She is forward and a little brash, quite a contrast to her elder daughters; and the cause of more than a little mortification.

The characters in Matters of the Heart definitely make the story; they are colourful, contemporary and a complete study in contrasts. They also bring the element of comedy that is present in so many of the interactions.

Coodardy is quite a small town, part of a wider community of small towns that all know one another, and add up to a limited number of eligible bachelors for Mrs Bennet to marry off her girls to.

The district is aflutter when the handsome and wealthy Mr Charles Bingley buys Netherfield Park, the property neighbouring the Bennets. Everyone wants to get to know him and there are many who would like to have a hand in marrying him off. Often seen with Charles are his sister Caroline and his best friend Will Darcy, neither of whom are as willing to immerse themselves in the community as Charles.

Lizzy and Will get off on the wrong foot because first impressions make a lasting impact and theirs was not a favourable one. It sets the tone for a fiery war of wills, verbal sparring at every meeting and the measured pace of getting to know one another, in more than just the superficial way you get to know your neighbours. This is also where you will find a lot of the humour, especially as you watch the infuriation slowly turn to infatuation.

Matters of the Heart explores the class distinctions that are still very much in place in the current day, and the ease with which social media and public personas can create a bias that will stand between people coming together. A struggling family farm is immediate cause to question the sincerity of affection, and it is such a sad reflection on society that this is what happens.

I absolutely adored Matters of the Heart, and found Lizzy Bennet to be a strong and determined woman who would make a great role model. Always follow your dreams, hard work and a good support network will see you go far.

There was so much to love about this book but I think one of the things I loved the most is watching Lizzy hold her own when every new person she met was determined not to take her seriously as a farmer, because she was a woman.

The romantic elements of the story explored a range of very different relationships, all special in their own way and complete with their own set of challenges.

Palmer explores the very real challenges for people in farming communities with sensitivity and first-hand experience.

Matters of the Heart is engaging and entertaining reading that I would recommend unreservedly.

Thank you to the Publisher for a copy of the book in return for an honest review.

You can find Fiona on FacebookTwitter, her Website and Goodreads.

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