There’s often a bit of a discussion online in relation to the use of ‘women’s fiction’ to group books that mostly target female readers. I’ve got a long-buried post about the weirdness of it, given that we don’t say ‘men’s fiction’. And quite frankly I’d be insulted if many of my favourite crime fiction novels or thrillers were labelled thus. In some ways I’m torn about the issue*. I know some male readers and reviewers who do read books predominantly about women and women’s issues but at the same time recognise books like How to Mend a Broken Heart by Rachael Johns predominantly target female readers.
And here Johns offers us two leads for the price of one, with her latest novel centred equally around a mother and daughter at very different stages of their lives. She also introduces an older woman, who I very much enjoyed meeting.
How to Mend a Broken Heart
by Rachael Johns
Published by Harlequin Enterprises (Australia) Pty Ltd
Genres: Women's Fiction, General Fiction, Romance
Felicity Bell has struggled to move on after her marriage broke down. Her ex has found love again, her children have their own lives, and it’s beginning to feel like her only comfort comes from her dog and her job as a taxidermist. So when Flick gets an offer to work in New Orleans for a few months, she’s drawn to the chance to make a fresh start.
Zoe is ready to start a family with her husband, but when he betrays her, she’s left shattered and desperate for a change of scenery. Joining her mother on the other side of the world to drown her sorrows seems the perfect solution.
Although both mother and daughter are wary of risking their hearts to love again, Theo, a jazz bar owner, and Jack, a local ghost hunter, offer fun, friendship and distraction. But all is not as it seems in New Orleans…
A chance meeting with Aurelia, a reclusive artist who surprises them with lessons from her life, prompts Flick and Zoe to reassess what they want too. Can all three women learn from the past in order to embrace their future?
I really liked this book and loved the last two-thirds but the pacing of the first part was off a little for me. I think that’s possibly because Johns takes some time to introduce us to New Orleans. I realise many readers would probably like to learn about the place’s history and its food and culture but it felt like a bit too much information for me. I would probably have preferred a smattering of subtle references to reflect the fact Johns had done her homework but less detail, which would also shave some of the length off this book.
That focus on scene-setting also meant that (Felicity) Flick’s relationship with Theo – which I was enjoying – felt a little rushed. I hadn’t realised it would be threatened (a couple of times) after that, so it felt a little anticlimactic that they were kinda circling each other with interest and suddenly full-on ‘together’. Of course Johns does throw the couple some curveballs so…
However, though I wasn’t really wedded to the focus on ‘place’ I really enjoyed the plot once Zoe arrived in New Orleans. It was a surprise as the Flick we initially meet is feeling quite despondent that her daughter and closest friends have found love and she’s been ‘betrayed’ (in a sense) by her former husband. I loved the plot line around Flick’s ex husband and Sofia and think it’s done really deftly but also with honesty and uncertainty – particularly on Flick’s behalf.
When Zoe settles down I really liked her and loved the direction in which Johns takes her character as well as the introduction of Aurelia (Miss H) and her whole backstory. I had a real sense of seeing the world through their very disparate eyes and liked the relationship they developed. In fact I became totally engrossed in their story and the backdrop of town’s ghostly history and long-buried (metaphorically!) mysteries. In some ways I didn’t want this element to end.
I should mention though I said earlier it felt rushed I liked Theo, Flick’s love interest, and he seemed like such a genuine and kind soul. (Related: Where do I buy one like that?!)
I really enjoyed this latest release by Johns. I think it will have wide appeal as readers will be able to relate to a number of characters and she manages to reflect the different stages of life with sadness, wistfulness and joy.
How to Mend a Broken Heart by Rachael Johns was published in Australia by HQ Fiction / Harper Collins and is now available.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.
* PS. I also don’t think defining something as women’s fiction, or crime fiction, or romance, or fantasy should be a negative thing. It’s just a category, but am conscious it’s rare to see men’s fiction or bloke lit. (Other than for books by the likes of Nick Hornby for eg.)