Romance Novels are Ideal to Read When You Have to Read in Spurts
When it’s hot and I’m feeling a bit wilted, I tend to read romance novels that don’t demand too much from me. This is especially true when I have to spend a lot of time waiting. I had numerous computer problems this week. I used several tiny slices of time to read just a few pages while I was waiting for scans and reboots.
Light romance novels are just right when you have to read in spurts. A mystery or thriller I can’t put down tempts me not to go back to work when I should. So during my trouble shooting waiting times, I sometimes read romances.
All Romances Aren’t of Equal Quality
Many of what we consider the best romances aren’t romances at all. They are novels that include romance and we remember those romantic scenes, even though they may be only part of the plot. I think of Jane Erye and Gone with the Wind as examples. They are classics because they are about much more than romance.
If you Google “romance genre,” most sources agree that a romance novel focuses on the love relationship between the two main characters and that the ending satisfies the reader. In other words, there should be a happy ending. When people read romances, that’s what they usually expect.
The digital romances I read this week on my Kindle varied in quality. All were free, since they were daily promotions. Some were worth exactly what I paid for them. Some I enjoyed, even though it was obvious that the author stuck close to a typical formula.
When I read a romance, I’m happy if it’s clean if I care about the characters, and if the plot seems to evolve from who the characters are. I don’t expect much more when I’m reading for escape. I read romance novels when I want to have something to do during commercials, or while I wait for my computer to work. Romances or short stories are my choices when I don’t want to get involved with a novel I can’t put down when it’s time to get back to work.
Don’t Waste Your Time or Money on These
I normally enjoy mail order bride romances. I read quite a few of them. I thought I was getting a good deal when Mail Order Bride: Clean Romance and the Call of Marriagewas offered free during an Amazon promotion. It got some good reviews so I gave this 13 short story set a try. Amazon classified it as Western Christian Inspirational Historical Romance Short Stories. The stories did not inspire me. The first few weren’t too bad, but the more I read the worse they seemed to get.
As an ex-English teacher the spelling and grammatical errors bothered me a lot.The author really needed an editor to catch mistakes the spellcheck didn’t . I think what bothered me most among the mistakes was the use of the wrong pronoun. Too many times the author is talking about a woman, and then referring to her later in the sentence or in the next one as he. Or a man will later be referred to as a she. This leaves me going back to reread to see if I misunderstood. This happened many times over the course of these stories.
You may find some of these stories amusing, and they may keep you entertained for a few minutes, but in the end you will probably wish you’d spent your time reading something better. I certainly wouldn’t pay to buy this.
The Best Romance in the Bunch
My Father’s House by Rose C. Johnson is set mostly in rural Georgia. There are also scenes in New York, Canada, and Detroit. The settings in the novel are not just places where things happen. They take on personalities of their own in how they influence the protagonist, Lily Rose Cates. Georgia is where Lily Rose thrives. Detroit, and Manny who took her there, together kill her spirit.
Lily Rose was born in a small town in Georgia in 1964. She is a country girl in every way.Her mother fell into depression when Lily Rose was born and never recovered. Lily’s father brought Annie Ruth to come five days a week to help raise her. When her older brother James Michael left to become a missionary her mother’s spirit seemed to all but die.
Lily’s father, though, believed in her and made her world perfect. That helped her believe in herself. Her early years were idyllic. She was Daddy’s girl. When she was sixteen her world crashed when her father died of a heart attack while mowing the lawn. His last words to her were, “‘Lily Rose, you’re gonna be all right.'”
Annie Ruth continued to take care of her and her mother. Her father had provided for their support in his estate. Annie Ruth explained to Lily Rose what she needed to know just when she needed to know it. She did the real mothering. One theme of this book is the importance of support from family and friends when one faces life changes. Lily Rose faced many of them.
When Lily graduated from college, her closest friends moved on and married. She stayed in the cottage the three of them had shared. She got a part-time job in a flower store and wrote for the local paper. She felt very much alone. Then her cousin Maggie called and invited her for a visit in New York.
The visit with Maggie lifted her spirits, but it also led to some of the worse years of her life. On a Friday night they had dinner at Valenti’s — an iconic Italian restaurant. Their waiter, who introduced himself as Manuel, paid Lily Rose a great deal of attention. At the end of the meal, he asked for her phone number. She was sure she was in love.
When she got home, he did call. Often. She learned that he was a lawyer in Detroit — not a waiter in New York. He had only been visiting his brother who owned Valenti’s the night they met. They had a whirlwind courtship. It seemed almost enchanted. Manuel wined and dined Lily Rose and brought her diamonds. The only thing that put a damper on it was was a visit home to Annie Ruth so she could meet him. The instant Annie Ruth met him, her smile vanished.
Once they were alone, Annie Ruth warned Lily Rose that he was trouble. When she found out Manny had proposed, she said privately, “‘Don’t get tangled up in the briers with that man.'”
The author offers many clues to foreshadow what will happen in the marriage, and there is enough complexity in the plot to hold your interest to the end. Although I started reading in spurts, I went back to the book when I had larger blocks of time and I was just too hot to enjoy more demanding reading.
I recommend this book as a Christian romance that is inspirational, but not preachy. You will be able to predict what will happen in the marriage, but not how the characters will solve their problems. This book will especially appeal to those who have lived in small towns and those who appreciate clean rather than explicit romances. I hope you will enjoy In My Father’s House as much as I did.
Rose C. Johnson also wrote a devotional I’m hoping to read soon — God, Me, and Sweet Iced Tea.
In Greening of a Heart, Stepheny Houghtlin shows us not just one heart, but several that need healing. All of them are part of or tied to the restoration of the garden of the vicarage of St. John the Baptist Church in the Catswold Village of Burford. Burford and the church are real. You might want to check out the websites linked to so you can picture the setting before you read this. These sites say nothing about a garden. The church, however is the setting for some important scenes, since Hannah and Martin live in the vicarage.
Tom Bastin took the picture of the church St. John The Baptist Church you see above. You can also see many other scenes from Burford in his Flicker Album Burford.
The Cast of Major Characters
Hannah Winchester, an American: The vicars’ wife and mother of Anne and Christopher
The Reverend Martin Winchester: Vicar of St. John the Baptist Church, father of Anne and Christopher
Malcolm Thomas: Martin’s old college friend, now also his Bishop
Brother Gregory: Monk at St. Edward’s House and spiritual counselor to Martin
Anne: Daughter of Hannah and Martin, wife of Geoffrey Bentley, mother of James and Kate
Geoffrey Charles Bentley IV: Anne’s husband and father of James and Kate
Christopher: Brother of Anne and son of Martin and Hannah, single
Henry Bernard: On a research sabbatical from Kew Gardens in London. Hannah hired him to help with the heavy work in the garden during its restoration. Single
Madeline Thompson, widow: An old college friend of Hannah’s who is Hannah’s sounding board in the book. She is a catalyst in helping many characters find direction
Christine Bennett: Never married, older parishioner, critical of Hannah’s garden restoration. Lives across the road from the vicarage and has her own garden. She is no longer speaking to Hannah since garden work began.
Robert K Myers: Deceased former Vicar of St. John the Baptist Church, who originally designed the garden Hannah is restoring. Close friend of Christine.
Emma Barksdale: Another parishioner, close friend of Christine and Hannah. She doesn’t understand why Christine is so critical of Hannah’s garden restoration project
Samuel White: Senior Warden at St. John the Baptist Church, single, close friend of Martin and Hannah. He appears to be secretly in love with Hannah
Lucy and Randy Talbot: Henry lives with them in Burford while he works for Hannah
Many men who are working to restore the garden and coach house, and their wives and children
Other parishioners, including Lynn Spencer, who likes to make trouble with her gossip, and her husband Mark, who is much kinder
Margaret Clover: New in town, just bought the Bay Tree Inn. She plans to use it to serve healthy meals such as those that helped cure her cancer. Divorced
Caroline Clover: Margaret’s daughter, who will be the chef at the Bay Tree Inn
A Troubled Marriage
As the book opens, we learn that Hannah and Martin Winchester have a troubled marriage. Martin is burned out as a priest and a husband, since he has let his work dominate their lives. Hannah is wondering what happened to the man who courted her and laughed with her when they were first married. Now he rarely laughs at all. They now sleep in separate bedrooms. The author describes it this way:
“The image of one of her garden walls, where stacked stone had shifted and sagged over time, reminded her of their relationship.”
Although they shared a common faith as members of the Church of England, they did not express it the same way. Hannah’s family had been “high church” with services closer to those in the Catholic Church. Martin was “low church” and did not believe in icons and incense, or “smells and bells.” This was occasionally a source of conflict.
Whereas Hannah had been an independent American woman while in college, now, with an empty nest, Martin seems to think she is incapable of managing her life without his input. He has become stern and impatient with her. He is no longer interested in sharing memories of their courting days and other carefree times, as they had in the early years of their marriage. There had been no intimacy for so long that Hannah had begun to think of Martin almost as a guest in her home, more a priest than a husband.
The Role of The Garden In Greening of the Heart
Hannah’s Garden Restoration Project
The book begins in the vicarage garden, with Hannah pulling weeds. She aspires to gain recognition as an authority on plants someday. She has accumulated a library of gardening books and has visited other gardens whenever there was time.
She is in the process of restoring the garden the late previous vicar, Robert Myers, designed and planted. She is hoping that as she works on the garden restoration, it will bring her closer to Martin again. She expected they would make decisions together, but he shows little interest, preferring to let Hannah make the decisions.
Martin’s Dreaded Lunch Date
Martin is about to leave for a lunch date with Malcolm, his friend and bishop. Malcolm had called Hannah earlier with concerns about Martin’s health and state of mind. Hannah knows Malcolm is going to tell Martin to take a leave of absence. She also knows Martin will be disconsolate after the meeting.
Henry Arrives in Burford
Meanwhile, Henry Bernard is on his way to Burford from London to meet Hannah. He hopes she will hire him to help with the garden restoration. He is also looking for information about a photograph he’d found while cleaning up his grandmother’s home after she died. The photo is of a young priest who is his own mirror image. He arrives in time to have a quick look inside the church before meeting Hannah, but Hannah is already there watering the altar flowers and she had seen him come in. She noticed he was touching a remembrance plaque on the wall, which she later discovered was for Robert Myers.
She engages Henry in conversation and he says he’s her 2 pm appointment. Henry tells her he’s taking a sabbatical from his work at Kew Gardens to study the influence of clergy gardeners on the development of English gardens. People believed Robert Myers had integrated spiritual elements into his gardening activities. Henry said many clergymen considered gardening both work and prayer.
Henry impresses Hannah she and hires him after negotiating terms of employment. Hannah tells Henry he’s an answer to her prayers. He silently disagrees, thinking that it wasn’t her prayers, but his own detective work that brought him to her.
Martin Returns Home after Lunch Date
After Henry leaves, Hannah returns home to find Martin is back from his lunch date and he’s devastated, as she expected him to be. Malcolm has sent him to take a course in Jerusalem that will be part of a three-month leave from his ministry. Malcolm hopes this will restore Martin’s health, energy, and heart for preaching again. Hannah hopes it will restore her husband to her.
Who is Henry Really?
Why did he want to come to Burford? More than one character in the book raises this question. Anne seemed not to trust Henry. Lynn Spencer chided Hannah for hiring someone she knew nothing about. Hannah, however, had no reason to be suspicious and she let the criticism roll off her. A savvy reader will have a pretty good idea early in the book who Henry is, but the author does not completely reveal it until much later.
The Garden Party
Will There Be Trouble?
Hannah goes back to preparations for her garden party the next Saturday. She has invited everyone to the Winchesters’ Garden Opening. Hannah is hoping there will not be trouble since she knows some parishioners have been upset with her project. Christine Bennett, usually not a critical person, has been most vocal in her complaints. She had accused Hannah of ruining Robert Myers’ garden, and Hannah had reminded her that it no longer belonged to Robert Myers. Christine had not spoken to her since. Emma Barksdale, a friend of both, had told Christine to behave at the party. Madeline has warned Henry to steer clear of Christine.
For the most part, the party turns out to be a success as, Madeline, Hannah’s oldest friend, had come to help. A few incidents had marred it, however. She and Martin had quarreled just before the party because he thought he needed to tell her how to act with the guests. Henry has impressed Madeline, but Hannah’s daughter Anne wants him fired because she had dated him years ago and he had left her alone at a party he’d invited her to.
Hannah Speaks, Martin Prays, but Not Everyone Is Happy
Hannah welcomes everyone. She explains that she restored the garden to honor the memory of her mother who had died ten years ago and that her inheritance from her mother was helping to pay for the restoration. The guests applaud, but Christine does not join in. Martin prays for everyone involved with the garden restoration and for the future ministry of the church.
Hannah then joins Lynn and Mark Spencer at the punch table and Lynn immediately gets on Hannah’s case about hiring “a complete stranger” to work for her. Mark tries to intervene, but Lynn keeps meddling. Hannah justifies her decision to hire Henry by explaining his qualifications. Lynn still thinks Hannah shouldn’t have hired someone she knows nothing about.
The guests stop to shake Martin’s hand as they are leaving, and Christine isn’t able to hide her negative feelings. The other guests seem pleased.
The day after the party, Henry takes a bouquet of daffodils to Christine’s house to try to get acquainted with her and try to find out why she is so negative. The reader sees a new side of Christine during this visit.
More Than the Garden Grows
Madeline’s words act as catalysts to the ideas and actions of many characters in the book. Madeline was the one who encouraged Hannah to restore the garden. At one point before the garden party, Hannah tells Madeline, “I’ve lost touch with my own dreams and it scares me. Growing old is bad enough, but I wake up and think of wasted days where nothing I’ve done is of any consequence…. I need to reinvent myself.”
Madeline spins a tale about a driver telling a couple of strangers he is lost. One of the men responded, ‘No, you’re not, you’re here.’
Madeline adds, “If we spend our days always thinking of what we’ve missed, what might have been, we miss the now of our lives, too. You aren’t lost, Hannah, you’re here. In this moment, we’re here, looking at this beautiful garden emerging around us. Perhaps …being lost is not a bad thing, but an opportunity to notice new places you have never been, actually looking at the things you pass by. “
Characters Grow as Part of the Community
Greening of the Heart is a story of people interacting and growing through the process. The church community and those in the wider community of the village around it begin to know themselves better. They make decisions, face unacknowledged truths about themselves, and find solutions to their problems through their conversations with others and by observing their behavior.
An example of this is Anne’s marriage to Geoffrey. The reader sees immediately that the marriage has severe problems. It is only as Anne observes the relationship between other couples that she realizes how troubled her marriage is. Geoffrey is a snob who has tried to keep Anne from her family and any friends that won’t enhance his social standing. He also stifles Anne and their children.
Although Anne has observed the growing distance between her parents, she realizes that Geoffrey’s life is all about impressing people he considers important, whereas her father’s life is about serving his congregation to the extent there’s nothing left for his wife. Geoffrey is harsh with her and with the children, who withdraw in his presence. Anne has smiled through Geoffrey’s rants and cried when she was alone. Anne never saw her father even say a harsh word to her mother.
She decides to seek counsel from her mother and she finally reconciles with Henry for the sake of her mother. It is her brother Christopher that motivates her to heed Madeline’s advice to get a job so she can be self-sufficient. She decides to do it.
Anne sees how loving the relationships between the workmen and their wives are. She observes the other young couples expressing affection and treating their spouses with respect. Anne’s observations and conversations with her new friends and her mother help her see that she must change her interactions with Geoffrey. How that relationship will turn out is still up in the air at the end of the book.
We see more examples of growth during interaction throughout the book. The relationship between Henry and Christine leads to the reconciliation between Christine and Hannah. Madeline’s words influence almost all the main characters.
Madeline is good at discerning who can help whom and then doing her best to bring them together and plant scenarios in their minds until they see new possibilities. This results in the idea that the garden might produce the vegetables used by the Clovers in the kitchen at the Bay Tree Inn. Later Hannah comes up with the idea of using that relationship between the inn and the vicarage garden to gain added revenue for both by giving garden tours in cooperation with Margaret Clover, ending with lunch back at the inn.
Meanwhile, in Jerusalem, Martin is interacting with a new community of people. Their influence, and a frank letter from Hannah, are helping him see himself and his marriage in a new light, and he wants to save it.
I got very involved in this book. I began to really care about these new book friends. If you enjoy books that are more character than plot based, if you like watching people examine their lives with a mind to understand themselves and others, you will find this a rewarding read. You will see people falling in love, reconciling their differences, and experiencing spiritual and marital renewal through relationships begun in a garden.
If you thrive on relationships with people and like to observe positive changes in their lives, you will want to read Greening of the Heart. It will make you think about your own life and relationships as you watch the drama unfold. If you are also a gardener, this book will have an added layer of meaning for you. If you enjoyed reading the Mitford Series or Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven by Fanny Flagg, I would also expect you to find Greening of the Heart appealing. If you haven’t read any of these, what are you waiting for? You won’t want to miss any of these books.