There’s something really warm and familiar about Rachael Johns’ writing and characters. I’ve not read any of her rural romance novels, but I’ve enjoyed her recent contemporary novels and each time I turn the first page I settle into a comfortable reverie of sorts. I could be reading about people I know. Friends, family. They’re authentic and – even if not always completely likeable – they’re relatable.
Lost Without You
by Rachael Johns
Published by Harlequin Enterprises (Australia) Pty Ltd
on October 29th 2018
Genres: Women's Fiction
Four women, one dress, and the secret that binds them all...
On a special night that is supposed to be a celebration of new beginnings, Paige MacRitchie's joy quickly falls away when her mother collapses during the speeches at her book launch. In the aftermath, and terrified of losing her, Paige decides she wants to make the ultimate tribute to her parents' perfect marriage: she will wear her mother's wedding dress for her own big day.
There's just one problem - her mum, Rebecca, no longer has the dress.
As Paige tries to track down the elusive gown, she discovers that Rebecca has a long-hidden secret that, if revealed, could blow her whole family apart. Her new friend Josie is at a crossroads too. She met her husband Nik when she was singing in an eighties-themed bar, but now she's lonely, yearning for a family and wondering if Nik understands her at all.
And then there's nurse Clara. When she married Rob Jones, an up-and-coming rock star, she thought she was in it forever. But now Clara needs to make a new life for herself and Rob can't seem to understand that it's over.
When the fates of these four women intertwine in an unexpected and powerful way, none of their lives will ever be the same again.
I’ve met Rachael Johns a few times in person and she’s exactly as you’d imagine from her writing. Warm and friendly. I enjoy her plots and can appreciate underlying themes of her novels – often about love, relationships, secrets, trust and so forth, but all of that emanates from the characters she grows and I think it’s the interplay between them that make her books so enjoyable.
I loved the women we meet in this book. Rebecca and Clara are of a similar age to me (slightly older… ahem, of course!). And though I’ve not been married or had kids – I could relate to much of their lives, including Clara’s devastation over her lack of children – as well as Josie’s of course. Initially both Clara and Josie feel kinda displaced, as if they don’t fit in with those around them. In Clara’s case she SHOULD have a partner and grown children by now, and in Josie’s: children (and playing happy families).
I appreciated that, when we first meet her, Josie’s grappling with her demons and I actually thought the story was going to go in a different direction for a while, but think Johns gives both Josie and Paige AMAZING partners – and I’m insanely jealous of both of them for that reason. (As an aside, I also liked the sound of Gregg, Clara’s love interest!)
All four women (and the men we meet incidentally) are complex and felt very real. As I said, I could appreciate Josie’s issues when we first meet her, I LOVED the sound of Paige’s passion and her picture book. Clara came across like a truly decent person and I was keen for her to get on with her life, and Rebecca just seemed lovely – albeit with her long-kept secret.
I did get somewhat frustrated with the attitude of the other three women towards Rebecca when her secret is uncovered. I think Clara’s reaction in particular annoyed the crap out of me, though in fairness her character does confess to a certain amount of jealousy or envy… so it’s not as if she’s hiding anything from us. But a bit more sympathy wouldn’t have gone astray. And I particularly liked the inclusion of Paige’s partner (Solomon) and his role in playing ‘foil’ to her black / white thinking at that point.
Johns again touches on (and skirts around) fraught and sensitive issues – about families and relationships and love and loss. Very specifically also again (as in her last book) about miscarriage, fertility and a woman’s ability (or not) to carry a child / give birth… the ease with which some take it all for granted and extent to which it burdens another’s life. And of course there’s a reminder that loving and parenting a child doesn’t necessarily mean they’re biologically your own.
I was also interested in the reflections on romantic love here. I’ve mentioned the love interests of Paige, Josie (and even Clara) but Rebecca eventually surprised me as there’s initially a sense that she’s ‘settled’ for less than she wanted.
This would make a great bookclub book. There’s an obvious discussion around the coincidence of all of these women meeting in the first place and I think it’s important to get past that and realise there’d be no book otherwise. I can imagine discussions around Rebecca’s motivations for digging into her past – because I was initially cynical about her justification; Clara’s involvement with Josie and her own ex-husband (despite previously being adamant about getting him out of her life); Rebecca’s husband’s and daughter’s reactions to her secret; and Josie’s response.
There’s also a strong sense of (perceptions of) blame and blamelessness and I think it’d be interesting to have that discussion.
All in all, a lot to think about and a wonderful read.
Lost Without You by Rachael Johns was published in Australia by (Harper Collins) Harlequin and is now available.
I received an electronic copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.