The Doctor Calling by Meredith Appleyard

In brief: Laura has escaped to the small rural town of Potters Junction from a world of pain. When she becomes involved in the care of her next door neighbour Neill, a number of secrets are revealed. One: she’s a GP. Two: Neill’s family, especially his son Jake, have their own skeletons. Can they help each other?

The good: I adored this story, following Laura as she starts to regain confidence in herself.

The not-so-good: Neill’s deterioration – I knew it was coming but it was so sad.

Why I chose it: Thank you to Penguin Australia for the eARC.

Year: 2016

Pages: 384

Publisher: Penguin Australia

Setting: South Australia

My rating: 10 out of 10

I’m still mentally kicking myself as I write this review for not reading Meredith Appleyard sooner. If you don’t get anything else out of this review, remember this: go and read The Doctor Calling. It’s a wonderful story that ticks off the right boxes for a great read for me: personal growth of the heroine, friendship, a dash of romance, secrets, some medicine and a happy ending. I adored this story. If it were a person, I’d buy it dinner in gratitude and we’d probably become best friends. There’s just something intangible about the story that I just ‘got’ and the book ‘got’ me.

On the surface, there’s nothing earth-shattering about the content of The Doctor Calling, but it is written with such tenderness and understanding that the book can’t help but find its way into your heart. The protagonist is Laura, who has retreated to the cottage she inherited from her great aunt after a number of devastating losses. Laura feels like she’s lost everything from family to career and renovating the cottage is her way of trying to heal. Her main contact is with her neighbour Neill, who is terminally ill with metastatic cancer but she hides a secret even from him – she’s a GP from the city. Then Neill’s son Jake appears on the scene –he’s come to see Neill one last time, tie up some loose ends. Sparks fly between Laura and Jake, but it’s a slow burning relationship. The main focus of the story is Laura’s healing, returning to work, making friends and opening her heart to love.

It was heart-warming to see Laura grow and Meredith Appleyard handles each step of Laura’s return to society tenderly and with skill. The reader is there as she makes her first consult as a GP (once Laura’s profession is revealed, the local doctors are like a moth to a flame because of the dire shortage of rural GPs) and as she struggles with her feelings for Jake. Running parallel to this is the secrets of the Finlay family as Neill and Jake skirt around a decades-old issue and Jess (Jake’s sister) faces devastation as her own world collapses around her. It sounds callous, but another aspect of the book I really enjoyed was that there were no easy fixes for any of the characters. They all had to work through their problems and that look time, with stumbles along the way.

If you are looking for a story where romance is the primary focus, you may be disappointed with The Doctor Calling. I’d say the story is more rural fiction than rural romance. Sure, there’s some hot scenes between Laura and Jake but this story is about Laura. Deep down, she’s strong but she has suffered some horrible events that she needs to recover from. Looking after Neill (who is an absolute sweetheart) helps her to do so, as does working (and standing up to local GP Milt) and friendship with Jess. The story shows the many sources in our lives that we can draw strength on.

Meredith Appleyard also does brilliantly with the aspects of medicine in the story. I love reading medical stories, but I’m a harsh critic when it comes to getting it right. I couldn’t fault any of this – the language used when talking to Neill about palliative care was perfect, as was Laura’s diagnostic suspicions and discussions with her patients. Neill’s deterioration was also handled sensitively and realistically – so much so that his passing brought a tear (or three) to my eye.

The Doctor Calling is a perfect rural story, and if you’re after more of Meghan (the GP of Magpie Ridge), her story can be found in The Country Practice.

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