Down through the centuries, in times of inner undiluted angst and turmoil, millions of humans have cried out to God for help. And that help has always been forthcoming. Often in surprisingly unexpected and divergent ways.
Such beholden paths are beautifully examined in stellar Australian author, Rachael Johns’, latest effervescent, nuanced, (and at times rocky and searingly deep) romance novel, Talk to the Heart.
In the opening pages of the book, we find our heroine and central protagonist, the feisty and straight-talking, Adeline Walsh (a dog breeder and volunteer writer for the Walsh Whisperer newspaper), engulfed in a time of crisis, and at an indisputable crossroads in her life. Adeline, twenty-eight, a resident of the tiny town in country Western Australia, Walsh, (named after her forbears), has just had an unwise one-night-stand with country singer, Ryder O’Connell, only to be totally and humiliatingly rejected by him afterwards.
Crisis number two, for Adeline, is finding out (from reading her grandmother’s diary) that her grandmother, Penelope (recently deceased and extremely close to Adeline), was not the love of her grandfather’s, Henry’s, life. Furthermore, Penelope, in her diary, as good as confessed to murdering a lady called Eliza, when Penelope had found out that Henry intended on marrying Eliza. (Penelope’s terrible actions were not discovered in her lifetime. It was thought Eliza had taken her own life, at the time of her death).
Reeling from reading Penelope’s traitorous and shocking confession in her diary, Adeline is gutted and crestfallen. In a state of despair, she calls out to God, “Please God, give me a sign. Help me work out what to do now”.
Now the story really gets interesting, as Adeline finds herself (along with her dog, Bella) living with the Sisters of Grace, a convent of nuns living just outside the sparsely populated town of Smallton in Victoria.
The caring and wise Mother Catherine (the ‘head’ nun) knows all that goes on in the convent, or so it seems. In the convent, there is also Adeline’s roommate, postulant (yet to take her final vows) twenty-one-year-old Sister Michelle. Additionally, there are Sister Lola (nearing her final vows), and the frail and elderly Sister Josey (who works at a close town’s prison), Sister Rita (a nurse) and sister Mary (working at the nearby Catholic school).
Adeline feels that God has led her to the Sisters and convent life, and she resolves to ‘stay the course’ and seek God.
When Bella runs away one day to a nearby house, Adeline gives chase, only to discover Bella has ‘discovered’ the sprawling property of thirty-four year old tattooist and foster father, Holden Campbell, and his younger brother (a paraplegic in a wheelchair), Ford (as well as being a foster father, Ford works as a barber in Smallton).
The fiercely energetic and often gung-ho foster children, residing under the Campbell brothers’ watchful eyes, include the eager, but inwardly fragile, Rocky, as well as Sam and Toovs.
Holden and Adeline feel a spark with eachother from their first encounter, but Adeline finds Holden a trifle abrupt, and definitely anti-religion. When he finds out that Adeline is a ‘postulant’, with intentions of becoming a nun, he thinks to himself, “Why would someone as young and pretty as Adeline Walsh take a vow of chastity? What a waste”.
According to Holden, and what he expresses to Adeline is “The Catholic church is corrupt. All religion is. If you look at any of the trouble and conflict in the world, religion is usually at the core”. Adeline lets Holden know she vehemently disagrees with him.
As Adeline and Holden get to know one another, they find themselves deeply attracted to and drawn to eachother, despite their personality clashes. Yet both know that Adeline’s chosen vocation, to become a nun, prevents any romantic tryst from occurring between them. Also, Holden has a plethora of issues that make him not want a relationship with a woman, and Adeline finds Holden to be often rude and gruff.
Adeline’s life becomes practically entwined with Holden and Ford, as she offers to assist the brothers, and then goes about helping them write grant applications for finance to build ‘tiny houses’ on the boys’ property for foster kids who have turned eighteen or older (at eighteen foster kids are no longer the financial responsibility of foster parents and are normally ‘sent out’ on their own). Adeline also comes up with numerous fundraising ideas for the tiny houses to be financed.
When Holden and Adeline share a kiss one night, when both their guards are down, Adeline is filled with remorse, despite the fact that they both immensely enjoyed themselves while kissing eachother. Both parties resolve to never let it happen again.
Will Holden and Adeline be able to remain friends, and nothing more?
Why does Holden have such a burdensome chip on his shoulder?
Why is Holden so against having a relationship with Adeline, even if she were ‘available’?
Why is Ford in a wheelchair?
Will Adeline ever find peace over the fact that Penelope, whom she had idolised, was a murderer?
Will Adeline make peace with her own troubled past? Is Adeline destined to be a fully fledged nun, or does God have other plans?
Rachael has written a romance novel that overflows with intelligence, wisdom and insight. Her observations and descriptions of the human condition and psyche are superb. My heart alternatively broke and soared as I read this wonderful gift of a novel.
Themes of guilt, self-punishment, the mental and emotional burdens we often (needlessly) carry, and emotional, mental and physical abuse, are deftly examined and written about by Rachael.
Bravo Rachael! You have knocked it out of the ballpark with this one. I always find reading a Rachael Johns novel to be a balm for my spirit. Yes, there is heartbreak in the pages, but also lashings of hope and uplifting passages.
I loved Talk to the Heart, and am looking forward to reading Rachael’s next novel, The Other Bridget, due to be released in January 2024.’
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