...peppered by a few moments when everything is on the line.
Visiting with the Shipleys and going back to Sarina Bowen's Vermont is always a little bit like coming home. Everything feels familiar, cozy, warm.
In HEARTLAND we get to know Dylan better, the youngest Shipley brother, who is now twenty and in college. Chastity is also a familiar character - she is the girl Zach (KEEPSAKE) made out with which got him kicked out from the weirdo cult at Paradise Ranch. Chastity was also punished for her transgression - she was allowed to stay but was treated like a pariah. One day she escapred and found shelter with her cousin Leah and her husband Isaac, who are the Shipley's neighbors. She's now in college, the same one Dylan is in. You still with me? ;)
Dylan lives his best life in school. Random hookups? Check. Booze? Check. Commitment-phobe? Yes, sirree. So when he actually has a girlfriend everyone is surprised, most of all his best friend Chastity who has been carrying a torch for him since she met Dylan. He is the guy whose bad decisions make you feel really awkward and, not gonna lie, there were some situations that made me wince. Like having sex in the room next to your best friend and she can hear every little noise? Ugh. Letting said girlfriend talk trash about your best friend? Big no-no. It was clear that he cared deeply about Chastity so I didn't get it.
However, he wouldn't be a Shipley if he didn't have their inherent good-naturedness. He is the embodiment of sweetness and eventually makes up for his screw-ups big time. My favorite things about him were how he brought Chastity little treats, how he found joy in feeding her, how he was such a hard worker and so reliable. His bear hugs, loyalty and friendships. And he has goats and loves them!
Chastity is a little socially awkward - she is still adjusting to the life outside of the cult. I loved Sarina Bowen's portrayal of her - she had courage, was loyal and had this dichotomy of being sweetly innocent yet utterly sensual. She was tolerant of people's mistakes, very forgiving and super easy to love. Their feelings really snuck up on them - while Chastity yearned for a deeper connection with Dylan, he had a couple of hangups to overcome and he definitely didn't see his best friend coming until she was deep under his skin. Their slow-burn, sizzling love was exciting.
There were two things that I didn't quite connect with. Griffin is a real jerk in HEARTLAND. While we do know how he is quite a grump I thought that he was way too hard on Dylan and even a little hypocritical. There was a resolution to his conflict with Dylan so I was easily swayed and loved him again. Then there is Kaitlyn - her character development wasn't quite as believable. I hated her for the way she treated Chastity and I still couldn't muster any kind of positive feeling for her in the end even though the author tried.
HEARTLAND is the seventh installment in the True North series and I have enjoyed every single one. Sarina Bowen's writing is simply beautiful. I admit that this wasn't my favorite in this series but that doesn't mean it wasn't an awesome addition to it as my 4-star rating indicates. I loved Chastity and I swooned over Dylan and adored the friends-to-lovers romance. There is a side character I'd love to get a story about, so we'll see what the author has for us in store next time we return to Vermont.