2017 Reviews · Australian · contemporary fiction · life lit · women's fiction

Double Feature Book Review: The Greatest Gift by Rachael Johns

Title: The Greatest Giftgreatest gift small

Author:  Rachael Johns

Published: October 23rd 2017

Publisher: Harlequin Books Australia

Pages: 448

Genres:  Fiction, Australian, Women’s Fiction/Life Lit

RRP: $32.99

Rating: 5 stars

Mother: female parent of a child

Mum: the woman who nurtures, raises and loves a child

Radio host Harper Drummond lives for her career. Every day she meets fascinating people doing extraordinary things, but has begun to wonder whether there could be something more for her out there. She’s financially secure, happily married to Samuel and has a great group of friends — what more could she want? It’s only when she interviews one special couple that she starts to think about whether she could make a different kind of contribution.

Claire and Jasper Lombard are passionate about their thriving hot air balloon business and know they’re lucky to find such joy in their work and in each other. But while Jasper has accepted that he will never be a father, Claire has found it hard to come to terms with her infertility. She doesn’t want Jasper to regret choosing her over a child in the years to come. Is there a way to give themselves a real chance at being a happy family? Can they find someone who will give them the greatest gift? Or will it come at a greater cost?

The poignant, heartwarming story of two women: one who wants nothing else than to be a mum, and one who never wanted to be a mother, from the bestselling, ABIA award-winning author of The Patterson Girls.

Mrs B’s review:

Well known Australian writer and recipient of an ABIA award, Rachael Johns, is a storyteller who continues to spread her wings further, as she settles comfortably into writing for the women’s fiction or life lit genre. The Greatest Gift, is a true gift to new readers of Johns and firm fans, such as this reader, it is one of my favourite novels of 2017, despite being a late entry! The Greatest Gift is unafraid to tackle some highly relevant and controversial contemporary issues such as IVF, egg donation and evolving forms of family. It is all wrapped up in an entertaining and poignant novel, featuring a set of wonderful characters that will be sure to stay in your heart.

The Greatest Gift begins with Harper Drummond, one of the leads of this novel. As a successful radio host, self confessed career woman but happily married to Samuel, children have never been part of Harper’s plans. When a particular radio segment she hosts gets under her skin, Harper begins to feel the urge to do something meaningful for a couple in need. It leads Harper to answer an advertisement put forward by childless couple, Claire and Jasper Lombard. The pathway to Claire becoming the mother she so desperately wants to be, along with Harper’s gift of life is a hard road travelled, filled with sorrow, hope and joy.

It is hard to know where to begin writing my review for The Greatest Gift. This is a book I adored so very much that to find the right words to express how excellent a read this novel truly is has proved quite difficult! I will state straight up that I highly recommend The Greatest Gift, it is the perfect novel choice for all readers, those new and old to Johns work. It also immediately struck me as the ideal choice for a book club (it was book club’s selection this month) due to the subject matter, themes and characters that fill the pages of The Greatest Gift. It will incite plenty of discussion and divided opinions on the main themes contained in this book.

For those not overly familiar with the process of childhood illnesses, infertility, IVF and egg donation, Johns approach to these topics was covered in an informative, comprehensive and sensitive manner. All bases seemed to be covered, showing all areas of these contentious issues. I came away from The Greatest Gift with a fuller appreciation of the effects of childhood illness, infertility, IVF and egg donation. It also made me appreciate my own fertility and pathway to becoming a mother, which paled in comparison to the lead character in this novel Claire’s experiences. The way in which these elements of the book is written really does allow the reader to step into the shoes of the characters in this novel. I was comfortably able to consider how I would respond to and what lengths I would be prepared to go to in order to live a lifelong dream.

At the heart of The Greatest Gift are the characters that fill the pages of this unforgettable novel. The story is told from viewpoint of leads, Claire, Harper and Claire’s husband Jasper. I immediately empathised with and genuinely liked Claire as a character. It took me much longer to warm to Harper and I will admit to be suspicious of her intentions to donate her eggs. I did think it was all a publicity stunt! Harper does redeem herself as the book progresses and in the end, I found myself caring deeply for her wellbeing. Especially after Harper’s less than loving family history is revealed.  Jasper, Claire’s husband, was a fine leading man of the story. I enjoyed following Jasper and Claire’s love story. Johns successfully embodies this male character in her latest novel and by the close of the book, I felt I knew Jasper as well as the women in the novel. Rounding off the character set in The Greatest Gift is a band of superb secondary protagonists. These include both the families of Claire and Harper, along with supportive friends such as Claire’s dear friend Polly and Harper’s loyal friend and work colleague Lilia. The only character I do not have kind words for is Samuel, Harper’s husband, who gave me a bad feeling from very early on the piece. My reservations about Samuel were validated by his actions towards the latter stages of the novel. Each of these characters propel the story forward.

Another aspect of The Greatest Gift that I feel is imperative to mention is the background of the characters in the novel. From Harper’s glamorous role in the media as a presenter on her own radio show, Afternoons with Harper, Johns characters do not have conventional occupations! This also extends to Jasper and eventually Claire’s business, a  hot air ballooning. This segment of the novel was as entertaining, as it was fascinating and enlightening. I welcomed the opportunity to learn about the trade of hot air ballooning, the history and to debunk some myths I had about it. However, it wasn’t enough to convince me to try it one day, I’m still too scared of heights to embark on a trip in the air!

I will say due to the pleasure of the school holidays, I was able to enjoy the bulk of this novel in an afternoon! The pages of this four hundred plus page book seemed to pass by, without a glance. I was completely lost inside the fold of The Greatest Gift – especially when Johns delivered a whopper of twist around the half way point of the novel, which left me in pieces. After reading and sniffing my way through this novel, when I reached the end, my heart was full. The added bonus of the moving epilogue closed this novel off in the most bittersweet way. I extend my thanks to Rachael Johns, forever my auto buy author, for delivering into my hands one of the greatest book gifts of 2017, The Greatest Gift.

Mrs R’s review:

The Greatest Gift is Rachael Johns third contemporary women’s fiction book. It very well could be her best book to date! Set in the Hunter Valley and Sydney in New South Wales, it is told in the third person from three perspectives; Harper, Jasper and Claire’s. Jasper and Claire’s romance begins in 2011 and merges with Harper’s search for meaning in 2016. The Greatest Gift deals with many topical issues such as egg donation, infertility, grief, marriage and childless couples.

Of the four main characters, the person I could most relate to and connect with was the man whose perspective is unexplored. That’s Samuel. When I met Rachael Johns she said that didn’t know if Samuel was a good or bad character. Personally, I though Samuel was neither. He is a man who has chosen not to have children. That’s a choice I have made too. Samuel has put his career first and foremost in his life because he has grown up in a large family which made him crave the opposite as an adult. I didn’t think it was right that Samuel put his career first as the cracks appear early on in his marriage to Harper. Even if Harper didn’t decide to donate her eggs I don’t believe that they would have survived as a couple because they didn’t put each other or their marriage first. After Harper donated her eggs, I admired Samuel for supporting most of the way. Even when circumstances changed, he stuck to his guns of not having children despite the consequences. While there were many moments I thought that Samuel could have been a better husband and made better choices I think he is ultimately a man who sees everything is black and white. He knows exactly what he wants and there’s nothing wrong with that.

In Claire’s shoes, I lived a life unlike mine as we are total opposites in many ways. Claire is a part time florist who also works with her husband, Jasper. I cannot imagine working and living with my husband lol Jasper was born into a family that runs a hot air ballooning company. Claire fit right into the family business when she first fell in love with Jasper as a young woman. Life was good to them until it came to having children. Claire provided me with perspective and insight into the yearning for children as it is something both she and her husband have always wanted. Even though I’m married, it’s not something I crave. They’ve helped me understand with my head their longing and I felt so much empathy for their situation. However, it’s still something my heart doesn’t comprehend.

With their journey into parenthood, Harper’s role comes into play. At times I thought Harper was too good to be true but then I realized it’s because, unlike myself, Harper has a hole in her life that she is trying to fill. Being more social or taking up a hobby is not the answer as Samuel suggests so I felt for Harper as she tried to work out what was missing. When Harper realizes that being a donor was how she could make a difference in someone’s life, my eyes were opened about the world of egg donations. I didn’t know it was altruistic within Australia, that the rules can be negotiated between everyone involved or that so many questions would be raised when it comes to choosing a donor. The perfect scene was when Harper invited her friends and family over to help her go through the candidates to give her eggs to. Age, homosexual couples and single parents are some of the issues are sensitively discussed. The lesson I took away from this is that for Harper and everyone else is that egg donation is a very personal choice. As is the choice to have children or not.

So thank you Rachael Johns for writing a thoughtful, sensitive and honest book that explores not just the need to have children but also takes the reader on a journey of choosing to remain child free.

The Greatest Gift by Rachael Johns was published on October 23rd by Harlequin Books Australia. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.

To learn more about the author of The Greatest Gift, Rachael Johns, visit here.



3 thoughts on “Double Feature Book Review: The Greatest Gift by Rachael Johns

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