Sunday, May 16, 2021

Sunday Salon: Remembering New Orleans through the pages of How to Mend a Broken Heart by Rachael Johns

Last night I finished reading How to Mend a Broken Heart by Rachael John which is set in New Orleans. It just so happens that this time two years ago we were in Tulsa but we had left New Orleans not long before, and I know that Rachael Johns was in New Orleans at the around the same time doing her research trip for this book. We missed each other by a week or so from memory.

Reading this book has been a walk down memory lane, and really interesting to look at the city through the eyes of a fellow visitor at the same time.

Before I start taking about this book, I thought I would talk about why we were in New Orleans. It was partially because New Orleans is one of the places that I always wanted to visit, but the main reason we were there was to meet up with a group of friends who I originally met in the forums on author Sara Donati's website. I am thinking that we have been friends now for at least 17 years. With the demise of forums, we reconvened in a private group on Facebook. Over the years we have celebrated births, marriages, engagements, divorces, trials and triumphs. 

When I went to the US in 2015 I met up with two of these ladies individually, one in San Francisco and I stayed with the other in Phoenix for a couple of days. Fast forward to 2017, and they were organising a girls weekend in Tuscon and we were able plan our US trip so that we spent a couple of days with them. In 2019 it was time for another girls weekend, this time in New Orleans.  We also then decided to choose a Caribbean cruise which left from the city.

Why get together in New Orleans? Because New Orleans. And because the fifth book in the Into the Wilderness series is set there, and by visiting the city we could follow in the authors footsteps and visit some of the places that she visited as part of her research.

We ended up having a day less than originally planned in New Orleans because our flight was cancelled, but we also happened to be there when there was a LOT of raining. There were rainstorms both before and while we were in the city, and the day we got back from our cruise there was flooding all over the city!

There were lot of things that the author wrote about that was very familiar. The humidity that hits you as soon as you land, the architecture and the food. However, there are some other things that we didn't get to see. For example, at one point there was a wedding band marching through the streets. Because of all the rain, we didn't even see many musicians on the street, let alone anything like that. 

I could see many of the places mentioned in the book from Pirates Alley to Jackson Square to sitting on the banks of the Mississippi and visiting Lafayette Cemetery. Of course, there's no way you can write a book set in New Orleans without mentioning getting beignets from Cafe Du Monde, and some of the other food mentioned.... yum! 

I had to laugh when I was talking to my husband about poboys. We had these as the last meal with our friends at a small place where we had to line up for a while to get in. He insisted that I must have done this with my friends because he definitely didn't line up with us and he definitely didn't have poboys and I was Eventually I was able to find a photo that he clearly took and he was like....oh there! Right!

In theory this year, the girls weekend was going to be in the Pacific NW which I was unlikely to have been able to go to, but given that we can't leave the country for at least another year I definitely won't be attending!

What about the book itself?

I am a big fan of Rachael Johns. Even when I wasn't really reading, I would still read her books and thoroughly enjoy them.  This book is not really a sequel to The Art of Keeping Secrets but it is linked to that book. Where the former was a book about a group of friends, who tell each other everything, travelling together to New York and finding out that actually they do keep lots of really big secrets from each other.

The central characters of How to Mend a Broken Heart are taxidermist Felicity Bell and her daughter Zoe. Felicity, known as Flick, has been divorced for four years. Her loved up friends are trying to convince her to start dating again but she isn't ready.  She has tried to stay friends with her ex, supporting her through gender transition, but when she finds out that Sofia is seeing someone new, it is the straw that breaks the camels back.

She answers a cry for help from a taxidermist in New Orleans who needs sometone to look after his shop in the French Quarter. Flick is not normally impulsive, but this is just the chance she needs. It will give her a couple of months away and the space that she needs. And when she meets the delicious barowner next door, she realises that maybe, just maybe, it is time for her to move on from her ex.

What she doesn't expect is that her daughter Zoe will end up joining her after her marriage to her childhood sweetheart breaks down. Zoe is devastated, quits her job in an art gallery, flees to New Orleans and starts out by trying to drink herself into oblivion. And she is a little oblivious to the fact that she is cramping her mother's style.

When Zoe does get back on her feet it is thanks in no small part to her developing relationship with Aurelia Harranibar, an eccentric artist that Zoe literally knocks off her feet. In the end, Miss H, who is clearly inspired by Miss Havisham from Great Expectations, provides Zoe with the opportunities that she needs both to develop personally and in her art.

For me, the addition of the Miss H eleveated this book. She is one of these eccentric characters who everyone knows and yet noone really knows why she is the way she is. There are stories, of course, but whether they are the truth or not is a different story.

It took me a little while to warm to Zoe, and I felt like both Zoe and Flick went full throttle and for Flick,  in particular, it seemed somewhat out of character.

As you can see, this book triggered a lot of memories for me, and I suspect that if I hadn't already been to New Orleans, I would have been adding NO to my list of places to visit. Rachael Johns clearly loves the city, and it shows.  

Rating 4/5

About the book

Summer in New Orleans means hot days, long nights, spooky stories and surprising new beginnings.

Felicity Bell has struggled to move on after her marriage broke down. Her ex has found love again, her children have their own lives, and it’s beginning to feel like her only comfort comes from her dog and her job as a taxidermist. So when Flick gets an offer to work in New Orleans for a few months, she’s drawn to the chance to make a fresh start.

Zoe is ready to start a family with her husband, but when he betrays her, she’s left shattered and desperate for a change of scenery. Joining her mother on the other side of the world to drown her sorrows seems the perfect solution.

Although both mother and daughter are wary of risking their hearts to love again, Theo, a jazz bar owner, and Jack, a local ghost hunter, offer fun, friendship and distraction. But all is not as it seems in New Orleans…

A chance meeting with Aurelia, a reclusive artist who surprises them with lessons from her life, prompts Flick and Zoe to reassess what they want too. Can all three women learn from the past in order to embrace their future?

An uplifting novel about three women joyously learning to move on after heartbreak by the bestselling author of The Patterson Girls and Flying The Nest.


  1. New Orleans is only a five-hour drive from where I live, but we have never been there. It's a city I would like to visit.

    How nice that you have a group that met online and that you are able to get together now and then. It makes the world a little smaller and a little more friendly.

    1. Isn't it funny how we can be so close to somewhere and then not visiting! Hope you get there one day Deb!

  2. I agree that New Orleans is a special place and I am glad you were able to visit although wish the weather had been better for you! My parents lived there for a semester while my father was a visiting professor at Tulane and I went down to see them for Thanksgiving. The weather was perfect and I have never had so much good food for four days in a row. My mother and I are fans of a mid-20th century bestselling author Frances Parkinson Keyes, who set several books there. Her home is now a museum and I recommend anyone going to New Orleans include a stop there. Before postage got so expensive, I used to pick up extra copies of her books and send them to their gift shop!

    I stopped reading the Into the Wilderness books after the second and I don't remember why. I should revisit. I have not really been engaged by the recent titles of hers I read, however.

    Rachael Johns is unknown to me but I will keep my eyes open.


    1. The second is my least favourite Sara Donati book CLM!

  3. I can feel your longing, I have itchy feet too.

    1. There's definitely longing there Lisa! Lucky we are going to NZ soon.

  4. I love that you’ve formed such genuine, long lasting friendships over a shared love of a book series. New Orleans is an intriguing city, I haven’t been but I thought Rachael Johns descriptions were evocative.

    Wishing you a great reading week

    1. I was definitely revisiting NO as I was reading the book Shelleyrae!