Talk of the Town by Rachael Johns

In brief: When Lawson and son Ned get a flat tyre in a deserted country town, the last thing they expected was to find a woman living there alone! Can Megan and Lawson mend each other’s hearts?

The good: It’s Rachael Johns! Plus, there’s ice cream, love, hope throughout the book with a mystery added in.

The not-so-good: Some very sad bits.

Why I chose it: Because it’s a Rachael Johns book! Thanks to Harlequin for sending me a copy pre-launch.

Year: 2017

Pages: 402

Publisher: Harlequin Mira

Setting: Rural south-west Western Australia

Rating: 10 out of 10

Rachael Johns’ novels are always awesome reads for me. I love how she makes her writing sparkle off the pages, combining heartbreak with wit, happiness and love. I always learn something new from her books, whether it be the life of a dairy farmer or how to knit one handed. If you’re not reading her already, you should be – there is something for everyone in her writing!

Talk of the Town is rural fiction/romance, moving away from her previous setting of Midwest Western Australia in the Outback series to south west W.A. This means a whole new cast of characters with a load of secrets to tell. It’s absolutely delicious and won’t disappoint. The story opens in the ghost town of Rose Hill, where Megan has moved to be away from everyone on purpose. Five days after she moves in, she finds a man and his son out the front in the scorching summer heat changing a tyre. It’s dairy farmer Lawson Cooper-Jones and his son Ned. What neither person knows is that they are hiding their loss from the rest of the world. The pair strike up a friendship, and then something more. But Megan and Lawson haven’t revealed the whole truth to each other, and a scheming townsperson is more than happy to join the dots to reveal all… Can Megan move on from her past and will her future be with Lawson?

The novel deals with some serious issues, but also adds some wonderfully light moments (the best one liners often coming from Ned). We’re also introduced to Lawson’s sister Tab, who makes the best sounding ice cream ever (milk chocolate orange) and has some of her own battles to share. (We need to know Tab’s story in further detail – she’s a brave, independent character who says it how it is and definitely worthy of a whole book. Just sayin’). In contrast, there’s Adeline who is Miss Country Town Perfect except for her mean streak. She is truly nasty, with her own agenda at front and centre (and to hell with everyone else’s). I also loved how so many of the men in the small town of Walsh had those indescribable country nicknames, like Funky. It gave the whole story a warm, welcoming feel and love for the rural setting.

Lawson is a dairy farmer, which kind of curtails his daily agenda and dating life. He’s up at sunrise to milk the cows and then again towards the end of the day. It’s not overly glamourous (except for the ice cream and feeding calves bit) but it was very interesting to read about it. Talk of the Town also raises the issue of buying local, where contracts with big dairy chains/supermarkets can be terminated with short notice, leaving farmers with few options to survive. Tab also raises another issue, which is done in such a normal, quiet way that I had to read over the sentence a few times to make sure I’d understood correctly. Kudos to Rachael Johns for raising the profile of country people and disability within her work!

While we’re still talking issues, Megan has the biggest of all. I’m going to try to discuss it without spoilers, but…wow. This is handled so well. It’s revealed to the reader gradually and in quiet, natural ways of understanding. At one point, I had no idea how Megan was going to be redeemed in the eyes of the reader and the people of Walsh. What I thought was incredibly talented was that another roadblock, complicating Megan and Lawson’s past was thrown into the plot. It would have been so easy to delete or change Lawson’s history to make it more compatible and easier for him to forgive Megan, but Rachael Johns didn’t shy away from it. Is Megan redeemed? I would say yes, and I’d consider myself to be pretty harsh in this field. So yes, Rachael Johns goes up another level in my admiration. The plot and characterisation is so tight, I’m just in awe of her skill.

Talk of the Town is a wonderful book, so multi-layered and interesting. It’s got so much to offer and I hope to return to Walsh soon!

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