Author: Rachael Johns
The Road To Hope is the highly anticipated sequel to Johns’ first rural romance and her first print book, Jilted. It was the second chance at first love story of Flynn and soap star Ellie. If you haven’t read it I suggest you get yourself a copy, it has just been re-released with a hot new cover. I reviewed it when it was first released. If you haven’t read it and you don’t want Jilted spoilers then perhaps you need to come back after you’ve read it because I can’t leave them all out.
Jilted introduced us to Lauren Simpson, born and raised in Hope Junction and a hot topic of conversation with the local gossips. I didn’t mention her in my Jilted review but she was the hot nurse trying to exorcise the memories of Flynn’s first love, unsuccessfully. She wasn’t painted very sympathetically but many readers contacted Rachael begging for a follow up to Jilted and voicing a desire to see which direction Lauren’s life took.
The Road To Hope is set in the tiny West Australian town of Hope Junction, where everyone knows your business – sometimes even before you do, and everyone is more than happy to jump to conclusions. Lauren has spent most of her life in town, having left only for uni and then returned to work in the Hope Junction Hospital. Often when we hear of small town in novels the grapevine and the small town gossip is a major factor but Johns’ also explores the tight knit community and the pulling together of Hope Junction which is the desirable side of living in a small town.
We pick up not that long after Jilted ends with Lauren living through her worst nightmare. Living in a small town would be hell on the broken hearted, how do you escape? Everything you do would be so conspicuous and that is how Lauren finds herself opening the novel in church watching the man she has loved since primary school marry someone else.
Lauren is reaching that age where all her friends are starting to settle down, get married and start families while Lauren is terminally single, and over it. She decides, while watching her heart break in church, that things aren’t going to change for her in Hope Junction so if she really wants a fresh start it’s going to have to be somewhere else.
Armed with resolution Lauren marches into the hospital managers office and hands in her resignation but due to terrible timing is convinced to stay until after Christmas, it’s only a couple of extra weeks and it is extremely difficult to find replacements at that time of year.
We are aware of Lauren’s reputation, Lauren herself is fully aware and quite candid about it. She understands where it came from but that doesn’t mean she deserves it, no-one knows where her heart or her head were.
We get to know Lauren in The Road To Hope and Rachael takes us beyond the reputation, beyond the Lauren the town knows, to the Lauren just waiting for her time to shine. She quickly becomes a much more sympathetic heroine than we ever could have imagined. Lauren could be any number of people I know who start making some misguided decisions when they are young which end up forming a pattern. Lauren’s situation wouldn’t have been half as bad had she been living somewhere larger, where news didn’t travel quite so fast.
There are no eligible options for Lauren left in Hope Junction so of course Johns’ had to throw a new man into the mix. Dr Tom Lewis is the locum filling in while the town doctor is away on holiday, and best friends with Lauren’s absent brother Frank. Not only is he a hunk, who isn’t an arrogant pig, but Frank offered to let him stay at his place – with Lauren.
We spend a lot of time at the Hope Junction Hospital, in the residents wing with the old people, and this demonstrates the size of Lauren’s heart. She is attentive and caring and she always does that bit extra for the residents. Some of the nurses see them as just the oldies seeing out their days but Lauren really sees them, and still treats them with respect and tries to bring joy to their last days.
Dr Lewis is running too and he arrives in Hope Junction just as Lauren prepares to run. His family are in Adelaide reeling from some devastating news and instead of staying to work through it with them he packs up his ute and heads out to see the country, working as a locum in short term posts where ever he may be needed.
Yet again Johns’ tackles some big issues with the utmost sensitivity and helps to bring awareness to issues that plague many of us these days. I won’t go into all of them because it really does need to be discovered organically or it will ruin the pace.
The Road To Hope is an apt title because the novel starts with both our leads feeling like there is very little hope for them. Lauren is ready to run away and leave the only home she’s ever known for the great unknown, she has no plan and no direction but knows that anywhere has to be better than Hope Junction. Tom can’t picture a future for himself, he is too busy running from his family and chalking up marks on his bedpost to allow himself to think about it.
I actually managed to get through this one without needing the tissues but they were definitely on hand, and very nearly required. I think if my reading wasn’t on its current trend and I read The Road To Hope without some of my other recent reads I would have been beside myself.
Johns’ does a beautiful job of painting all facets of Lauren and building to the point where she is shown that not everyone can’t see past her reputation. The town may talk but she is a valued member of the community and they think highly of her.
Flynn and Ellie are present throughout the novel but they don’t get a lot of page time. We follow their progress from a distance but the limelight is most definitely on Lauren and the hunky new doctor Tom.
Another fantastic read that highlights the issues some of us have to face and puts a very human face on some debilitating illnesses many of us will come in contact with. Johns’ shows us that you can never know what’s in store for you so you need to make the most of what time you have so you don’t end up living a life of regret.
The Road To Hope is Book #11 for the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2015
I devour books, vampires and supernatural creatures are my genre of choice but over the past couple of years, I have broadened my horizons considerably. In a nutshell – I love to write! I love interacting with a diverse range of artists to bring you interviews. Perhaps we were perfect before – I LOVE WORDS!