The Rosemont series has characters you can love and some you might hate. You will meet strong women, fatherless children, single moms, pets, a gay couple, Christians, crooks, gangsters, and lots of hurting people.
Most characters are middle class professional people, but some are victims of circumstance and are just getting by. Themes include heartbreak, redemption, forgiveness, small town spirit, and some solid family values. Not all the family values are traditional. The pets play important roles in healing their human friends.
The genres are mixed. The series contains mystery, romance, intrigue, murder, arson, suicide, and political corruption. If I had to put a genre label on it, I’d call it a political thriller. The protagonist Maggie Martin and her friends in government try to unravel the corruption and nearly get killed in the process.
There are five books. I will review them as one because after the first one, I downloaded all the rest from Kindle Unlimited and kept reading until the end. The main characters remain the same and the plot continues from book to book until the end of the series. These are the five books in the Rosemont Series:
Maggie Martin inherits Rosemont, an estate mansion in the midwestern small town of Westbury, when her husband Paul dies. She had no idea he owned it before his death. After his death she also discovers his long-term affair. He had embezzled from Windsor College when he was its president, and she hadn’t known that, either. He had lived quite a secret life.
Maggie moves to Rosemont and becomes an active citizen. She is a forensic accountant and volunteers to help when she learns that someone has been embezzling from the city’s employee pension fund. Paul and Maggie have two adult children, Susan and Mike.
The Rosemont Cast of Characters
Frank Haynes: Cold and calculating when we meet him, but shows his soft side with animals. Runs Forever Friends, a no kill animal shelter. Westbury City Council member caught in a web of corruption he doesn’t know how to escape.
William Wheeler: Mayor of Westbury and fall guy for the corruption and embezzlement.
David Wheeler: William Wheeler’s tween son
Chuck Delgado: Also on Westbury City Council. Suspected of being gang connected.
Ron Delgado: Chuck’s brother who has been in charge of the investments for the pension fund
Sam Torres (wife Joan): handyman, Christian, always willing to help those in need.
Loretta: Mother to Sean, Marissa, and Nicole. Moved to Westbury from Scottsdale to work for Frank as his assistant in his fast food company. Was a mistress to Paul Martin before he died.
Tonya Holmes: Member of Westbury City Council who is trying to get to the bottom of the corruption.
Dr. John Allen: The veterinarian who cares for all the animals we meet in the book.
Alex Scanlon: Lawyer and former prosecutor.
Aaron Scanlon: Brother of Alex, an orthopedic surgeon.
Marc: A pianist and the partner of Alex
Many dogs and cats who belong to the main characters.
My Thoughts after Reading the Entire Rosemont Series
I only meant to read the first book in the series, but I couldn’t stop. I went on a three-day reading binge to finish all the books. The well-developed characters were engaging and I cared greatly about what would happen to Maggie, her children, John Allen, Loretta and her children, and David Wheeler, among others. I appreciated watching the personal growth in both Maggie and Frank. Even the dogs were important characters as they helped heal their owners.
Although there were some Christian elements in the book, the behavior of some characters did not seem biblical to me. People said grace and prayed when they were in trouble, but many were also friends with benefits. Sam and Joan Torres seemed to be the most consistent in living out a Biblical faith. There is no explicit sex, but the gangsters act like gangsters. I was glad there was no vividly described violence included with the acts of murder and arson.
I would recommend this book to anyone who cares about relationships in families or enjoys a clean romance, mystery, or political thriller. Those who have been betrayed by a spouse will be able to identify with Maggie as she comes to grips with the extent of Paul’s betrayal.
Those who want to avoid lurid sexual scenes or graphic violence won’t see them in these books. I enjoyed the light romance elements, the family problem solving, the community spirit, and the race to catch the guilty politicians and their cronies.
Animal lovers will delight in seeing the dogs as major characters who bring people together and help heal their emotional wounds. When I met Frank I believed that his love for animals was a redeeming quality in an otherwise selfish personality. It showed there might be hope for him. I hope those who love animals or people will take a chance on this book. I read all these books free on Kindle Unlimited. Start your own free trial here.
In 2018 I’ve probably read at least 200 novels from cover to cover . A few I decided not to finish. Many were entertaining but not outstanding. Some were excellent, but I didn’t have time to review them. Here are the books that had the deepest impact on me in 2018 with links to their reviews:
These are the books I’ve read during the first four days of 2019. I will include some brief thoughts on each.
Until Now by Cristin Cooper
Billy met Bridget when she came into the diner he had unwillingly inherited. She was pregnant at 16 and homeless. She was hungry for the love her father never gave, and he kicked her out when he discovered she was pregnant. The college boy who seduced her thinking she was over 18 was not ready for marriage and told her to get an abortion. She had refused. It was in this situation she sought a warm place and a bit of food in Billy’s diner.
Billy was also lonely and unhappy, searching for love in the wrong way. He, too, had been rejected by one he thought loved him. Once Billy and the waitress Diane were aware of Bridget’s situation, they took her in and gave her work and a place to live above the diner. She raises her daughter Katie there and never marries. Billy hasn’t married any of his women friends, either. He wants to marry Bridget and she wants to marry him, but both are afraid to confess their love so they keep their relationship platonic. They center their attention on raising Katie, the one who brought them together.
The book opens on the day Katie is about to leave for college. Both Bridget and Billy wonder what will happen to their friendship then. The book jumps back and forth between time periods and relationships that both Bridget and Billy have as Katie grows up. I found the book engaging, but like most romances, a bit unrealistic. The ending, however, satisfied me.
Alert: There is some adult content.
The Rogue Reporter (A Police Procedural Mystery)
Written by Thomas Fincham (a pseudonym for Mobashar Qureshi, this is #2 in the Hyder Ali Series I started in 2014 with The Silent Reporter. The Rogue Reporter has many of the same characters, and I couldn’t put either book down. Fincham uses many of the same techniques he did in the first book. You can read my review of The Silent Reporter here. If you like suspense this author will keep you turning the pages.
Although I couldn’t stop reading this book, I had a tough time with a couple of torture scenes. They were brief, but it was hard to get through them. I don’t remember such scenes in the first book and I’m hoping the next books won’t have more than the normal violence and suspense you would expect to find in a detective novel. As I write this, the entire series is available in Kindle Unlimited where you can read it for free. You could probably finish it during the free trial period.
Eleventh Street: A Story of Redemption by Steven K Bowling
We first meet Lucas as he fights the Japanese Imperial Army and reminisces about the attack on Pearl Harbor he survived. We continue to see him fighting for his life in battlefield after battlefield throughout World War Two as he experiences the continual horrors of war. He had prayed plenty of genuine foxhole prayers, but after leaving the service he didn’t even go to church.
His older sister had married the brother of their church’s pastor, Buck Johnson, who simply called himself Pastor. As jobs got scarce in Kentucky, Pastor and most of those in his church, including Lucas’ other surviving siblings, moved to Hamilton Ohio to find work in the steel mills. Pastor converted the East Side Dance Hall into a church.
When he went to war, Lucas had left Maggie, the girl he loved, behind. She would not date him because she wanted to marry a God-fearing man and he didn’t appear to be one. When he returned to Hamilton, he sought Saturday night amusement at the East Side Dance Hall, since friends had recommended it. But it was quiet — except for a voice he recognized from the past: “Do you know the Lord today?…”
Maggie’s love had motivated Lucas to try to act like a Christian, but it was the Holy Spirit and Pastor that finally made him give his life to Christ at what had become the Eleventh Street Church. Lucas met the power of God through the ministry of Pastor. Pastor had no formal theological training, but it was obvious the Holy Spirit had called and equipped him.
We follow Lucas’s life and the life of Eleventh Street Church through three very different pastors. After Pastor’s death there was a gradual transition as new members joined the church and and older ones left. It becomes apparent to readers that the third pastor of the church after Pastor retired is a wolf in sheep’s clothing who is leading the flock astray.
This book’s message is relevant for today’s church. Often pastor search committees may be more interested in a candidate’s advanced degrees and administrative abilities than in his dependence upon God. So many churches today that want to grow look to new music, new methods, and even new doctrine, to attract new members. They sometimes begin to depend more on these new ideas than on the Holy Spirit.
What happened to the Eleventh Street Church could happen to any church that begins to depend upon and follow a charismatic leader more than Christ himself. This thought-provoking novel will be of most interest to Christians.
Agnes Hopper Shakes Up Sweetbriar by Carol Guthrie Heilman
Agnus Hopper did not move to Sweetbriar Manor retirement home willingly. But when her forgetfulness causes the home she had shared with her late husband Charlie to burn down, she became homeless. She moved in with her daughter, Betty Jo, but Betty Jo could only handle that for three months. She then took Agnus to Sweetbriar, assuming that she would make friends and soon be happy there. Agnus knew better.
Within a few days Agnus knows something is very wrong with Sweetbriar and that the manager is hiding something. She is determined to find out what is really going on as she gets to know the other residents. She is especially concerned about her best friend from high school, Pearl, who no longer recognizes her.
Throughout this book and its sequel, which I’m still reading, you’ll meet a quirky cast of senior citizens trying to make the best of where life has put them. Agnus and her friends do their best to bring down their crooked manager so they can live in peace. In the sequel, Agnus finds the body of one of her husband’s friends not far from his grave. She is determined to find out who killed him and why.
A Christian Romance Series for the Christmas Season
During the busy Christmas season, these historical Christmas Romances by Shanna Hatfield will entertain you and engage your brain. You will meet delightful families, and watch their children grow older and some of them court and marry. There’s enough suspense to keep you reading, but not so much that you can’t put the book down to do necessary chores.
One thing I really appreciated about the books in the Hardman Holidays Romance Series were the clues the author left for me. I like to try to figure out what will happen as a the book unfolds. Shanna Hatfield dropped enough hints for me to make reasonable guesses that turned out to be very close to what did happen. There is enough suspense to keep me reading, but not enough to keep me awake all night if I don’t finish the book before bedtime. There are also no dramatic twists at the end that have no foreshadowing. One can see cause and effect.
The Setting : Hardman, Oregon
The small town of Hardman still exists, but it’s been a ghost town town since a railroad to Heppner was completed in the 1920’s. In the book Hardman was the center of social life and commerce for the farmers and related tradespeople who supplied the needs of the community.
Luke and Filly Granger
We first meet Luke Granger, owner and manager of the Hardman bank, in Book 1: The Christmas Bargain. He has a big heart — so big that he reluctantly accepts a disreputable farmer’s daughter in payment for an overdue loan — mostly for the daughter’s sake. Then he marries her. Luke and Filly’ home is often a scene in most of the books that follow, since most characters have some connection with the Granger family.
Ginny Granger, Blake Stratton, and Their Parents
In The Christmas Token we meet Ginny Granger, Luke’s sister. She lives with Luke and Filly when she wants to get away from an unwise romantic entanglement with Nigel in New York. He’s from a wealthy family, but has no love for Ginny or anyone but himself. Unfortunately, he tricked her into signing an engagement contract before she left for Hardman to escape him.
Meanwhile it seems everyone in Hardman is trying to get Ginny and her ex-love, Blake Stratton, back together. They had fallen in love when Ginny and her parents Greg and Dora Granger had lived in Hardman. Dora was a snob who like to wear ridiculous hats. She believed Blake Stratton wasn’t good enough for Ginny and the move to New York was designed to separate the two, breaking both their hearts. Just as it appears Ginny and Blake may finally be headed for happiness, Nigel reappears to claim Ginny as his bride. All Ginny and Blake’s friends work together to thwart his scheme.
Arlan Guthry and Alexandra Janowski
Luke Granger’s assistant manager at the bank lives an orderly life and is engaged to the town’s school teacher, Edna Bevins. His future is all laid out for him until he’s riding up a hill and hears what appears to be an argument, a woman’s angry cry, and a loud slap. He spurs on his horse Orion until he sees a very fancy wagon with a broken wheel and a beautiful woman wearing pants holding a top hat. She is Alex the Amazing, trying to escape a murderer who is after her. The elaborate wagon is where she presents her traveling magic show. But now she begins to work her magic on Arlan’s heart.
When Edna leaves town to care for her mother who had been struck by a runaway buggy, the town convinces Alex, a trained teacher, to substitute for Edna until she returns in a few months. Alex is stuck in town anyway while her wagon is being repaired.
Meanwhile she uses her magic skills to advantage in her classroom. She enchants both her students and Arlan. But what will happen when Edna Bevins returns? See her story, one of my favorites in this series, in the book below.
Adam Guthry and Tia Devereux
We meet Arlan’s brother Adam and Tia Devereux when Adam, a Columbia River pilot, returns to Hardman for the funeral of a close mutual friend. Tia had broken Adam’s heart. While he was planning to propose, Tia ran off and married the son of a prominent judge in Portland. There she had all the advantages of wealth.
Now Tia was a widow with a young son. She had returned to Hardman when her grandmother died and decided to stay and raise her son Toby in the town she loved, away from his elite grandparents.
Now all Adam wanted to do was get away from Tia before she could hurt him again. But before he could escape back to Portland, little Toby won his heart. When Tia’s father-in-law filed to take custody of Toby on the pretext that Tia was alone in the world and couldn’t properly raise him, Adam stepped in to help. He did still love her.
The only way Tia can legally retain custody is being married, and so Adam proposed a marriage of convenience. Would it ever become the real marriage both wanted and wouldn’t admit? Or would Toby’s influential grandfather’s thugs succeed in getting them out of his way and grabbing Toby? How will Adam protect protect them all? Find out in The Christmas Vow.
Tom Grove and Fred Decker
We first meet Tom Grove and Fred Decker in the class Alex is teaching in the book The Christmas Calamity. Both the teen boys had caused problems for the previous teacher. Alex had better control of the class. She stood up to Fred, the ringleader of the older boys, and Tom started to behave. Fred continued to be a problem, even when he ditched school.
Later in that book Alex saves Fred’s life after his father had beaten him almost to death. In the next book we follow the boys’ lives as they grow up. In books 5 and 6 in the Hardman Holidays Christmas Romance series we watch as each falls in love and courts a wife. Neither boy thinks he’s worthy of the woman he loves, but the women disagree.
Naturally the course of love doesn’t run smoothly for either young man. The woman Tom loves is already engaged to a man she left back east. Can he win her away from him?
Fred loves Elsa, a bakery owner new to Hardman. Unfortunately an outlaw believes she’s really a woman of ill repute who disappeared years ago from the infamous Red Lantern Saloon. The two women resemble each other. The outlaw believes Elsa can lead him to the treasure hidden by Fred’s father’s old gang. It’s up to Fred and the town to find and rescue her when the outlaws kidnap her.
Grayson Carter and Claire Baker
The next book in the seven book series, The Christmas Melody, will be released on December 28. You can preorder it now and meet two new characters. Grayson Carter wants to be left alone with his daughter Maddie on his thousand acres, and the lovely Claire Baker determines to draw him into the holiday festivities. Will Christmas magic draw them to each other?
My Review of the Hardman Holidays: Christmas Romances
Overall, I enjoyed reading this series as light escape fiction. Although pegged as a Christian series, it seems we saw a lot more sensual thoughts than spiritual ones. There were plenty of Christian trappings — church activities, blessings before meals, and prayers when people were in trouble or needed something. Neighbors did help each other out and in that way demonstrated their faith. But I didn’t see people struggling with the hard questions in life and applying their faith to them as much as I’ve seen this in the work of many other Christian romance writers. (Beverly Lewis, Janette Oke, etc.)
I did appreciate that the main male characters loved and respected their wives and behaved playfully with their children. The children of the main characters respected their parents and other adults in authority over them and were for the most part kind to their siblings. Both adults and children tended to tease others in their age group or family in a healthy way.
Some of the romantic scenes were quite sensual (definitely at least PG). The characters just reigned in their emotions before they got too far out of control. I personally would have liked less sensuality and more discussion of real issues in the relationships. Your preference may be different.
The plots were not realistic, but I’m willing to go along with the author in this kind of light reading. There were a few misuses of words an editor should have caught. And the author was much too fond of the word “waggle.”
The author also used another technique that personally jars me. The characters put up their own obstacles to their dreams coming true. As they longingly look at the ones they love, THEY decide the love is hopeless and can never be. They then accept this as fact and repeat constantly lines such as these:
From The Christmas Confection:
“It was crazy to ask her to go with him. Stupid to allow his dreams to surface when he knew they’d never come true.” Chapter Six
“He knew she only saw him as a friend, one she could depend on when the rest of her world crumbled around her. And that’s all he could ever hope to be.” Chapter Nine
As the characters continued to falsely read each other’s minds, they themselves built the walls that separated them. Without these walls, the author would have few obstacles for the characters to overcome in their romance. Shanna Hatfield is by no means alone in using this literary device. Far too many romance writers do it.
That being said, I enjoyed getting to know the characters, even if some seemed too good to be true. I liked watching the children grow older and the adults experience some personal growth. I loved seeing some solid family relationships. The books had enough suspense to hold my interest and the endings were all happy.
Books of Special Interest to Families with Adolescent Girls
These Christian books can lead to great discussions between adolescent girls and their mothers. The themes are rarely presented as well in the other books for adolescent girls I’ve read. The heroines develop deeper Christian character as they deal with social issues, peer pressure, faith, obedience, and friends.
A Room of My Own by Ann Tatlock.
A Room of my Own is set during the Depression, and Virginia, the daughter of a prominent physician, does not feel the Depression personally at first. Her family is well-off, and physicians are never laid off. But suddenly, her Uncle Jim loses his job at the grain mill, and Virginia must give up her room and share a bed with her younger sisters so that Uncle Jim, Aunt Sally, and their children can live with them — in HER room.
This makes the Depression more personal, and it becomes even more alarming when Uncle Jim becomes involved in organizing a labor union for the mill workers (which finally results in a violent strike). Virginia’s father begins to take her along on his calls to “Soo City” — a shantytown populated by the newly homeless along with the older hobo residents. The climax occurs when Virginia must choose between saving her father from sure danger and warning the residents of “Soo City” that the sheriff is going to burn their homes.
I suggest this book because it introduces many important themes. One is how blind we can be to the needs of others, blaming them for their needs, when we ourselves are not hurting. This can be especially evident in adolescent lives.
We can also see that personal knowledge can chase away prejudices and generalizations about people. Here are some of the historic/economic themes in this book worth discussing:
how to best help the poor
why labor unions were formed
whether violence is ever justified in trying to correct social ills
the effects of the Great Depression.
Though the central character of this book is a girl, there is much here for boys, as well. There are plenty of male characters for them to identify with, including the good doctor himself.
Because there is violence in the book, parents should only give it to children of at least adolescent age who can handle mature themes. It would make a wonderful read-aloud for families with adolescent girls.
The first is The Tender Years. Strangely enough, the protagonist of this book is also named Virgina. She has a persistent problem with peer pressure. The exciting Jenny, who leads the “in” group at Virginia’s school, has picked Virginia as her special friend. Virginia doesn’t want to lose that favored position even though Jenny’s schemes often get her in trouble with her parents.
Virginia’s supportive but firm Christian family provides appropriate consequences when she breaks the rules, so Virginia tries to obey. She succeeds for a time, but one day the pressure is too great. She lets herself be talked into a very risky situation — a ride in a “borrowed” raft with the gang. Virginia’s father had warned her that the creek was high and very dangerous. Virginia knew if she wanted to stay Jenny’s best friend she’d better show up for the raft ride. So, instead of going directly home from school as she was told, with heavy heart Virginia went to the creek.
As the gang waited for Jenny, their ringleader, to arrive, Virginia became more and more concerned about the time. When Jenny finally arrived, Virginia got into an argument with her, stood her ground, and left. Later, when Virginia hears that the raft overturned in the swift current, she is consumed with guilt — especially when one of her friends dies as a result and Jenny is badly injured.
The rest of the book deals with the healing process — not only for Virginia but for her friend Jenny. Virginia’s parents want her to reach out to Jenny with the love of Christ since Jenny has no home life. She has no mother at home and her father is an alcoholic.
There are many subplots that add interest to this book, and I found it difficult to put it down. The main themes are obedience and peer pressure and the conflicts between the two in the mind of an adolescent. This book would be good to read with preteen girls and up, for there is much to discuss.
The Tender Years is the first of four books in the Prairie Legacy Series. I’ve read all four because I became very interested in Virginia’s life. I think you won’t want to stop after you read the first book either, so you might want to get them all at once. There are links to the individual books if you click the image above.
Return to Harmony by Janette Oke
Return to Harmonyis another of my favorite Janette Oke books (with T. David Bunn). It is the story of the friendship between Bethan and Jodie, two Christian girls, as they grow into young women.
The book begins in Harmony, North Carolina in 1915. Harmony is a very small town. The population was under 350 back then. It was and still is primarily a community of small farms. Bethan was very content to live there. Jodie was hoping to leave someday.
Bethan and Jodie became friends the day Bethan had found a puppy and was sobbing because her mother said she couldn’t keep it. Then the school bully, Kirsten, tried to torment the puppy and Bethan, her favorite victim. Jodie sprang to Bethan’s defense, and from then on the girls were fast friends. Jodie knew just the person who really needed a puppy and led Bethan to Mr. Russel, a Civil War veteran who lived alone. He said the girls could visit the puppy anytime, and they often did.
Jodie was protective of her smaller friend, who was often picked on at school because she had a lazy eye. She knew Bethan hated having to wear her dreaded eye patch — especially at school. On the days she had to wear it, she also had to carry a spare. When Jodie saw how unhappy Bethan was on the day of the school spelling bee, Jodie wore the spare patch during the spelling bee, which she won, to show her solidarity with Bethan.
Jodie and Bethan were very different. Jodie was academically gifted and loved school. Bethan’s eye problem made reading hard for her and she didn’t do well in school at all. Just before the spelling bee Jodie had overheard her teacher and Bethan’s talking in the hallway. Bethan’s teacher was afraid she’d have to hold Bethan back at the end of the year. Jodie interceded for her friend and said she would tutor her, and her teacher agreed to try that.
Tragically, Jodie’s mother Louise catches polio not too long after that. Bethan stayed by her side during the period when Jodie was not allowed in to see her mother. Day after day the two girls sat together in silence at Jodie’s, gazing through her mother’s window in the afternoons, watching her struggle to breathe.
On the ninth day, Louise expresses her love to Jodie and her father and dies. After that, Jodie tells Bethan God let her down when He took her mother and she stops praying and won’t let Bethan talk to her about faith anymore. Her grieving is long and hard, but Bethan is with her through it. Bethan never stops praying for Jodie.
By this time Jodie’s father, who was always quiet except with Louise, has retreated into his own world and hardly ever says a word to Jodie. Were it not for Bethan and her family, Jodie would be completely alone. Neither had any other real friends.
As it became apparent that war would soon break out in Europe, Bethan’s family became concerned that Bethan’s brother Dylan would soon reach the age of conscription. The girls were also growing up. They were now sixteen. Though Bethan loved living in Harmony and desired nothing more than to find a loving husband and spend her life there, Jodie wanted to go to college and become a scientist. She also wanted to be a city girl.
Dylan is finally drafted, but the war is almost over, so he really doesn’t see the fighting. Instead, he repairs engines and decides he wants a career in the new automotive industry. It’s not long before he’s home again. At his welcome home party, he notices that Jodie is now a young lady, no longer just a kid. The two fall in love and get engaged.
It is apparent to Bethan and her mother, though, that Jodie has abandoned her Christian faith. Dylan is still a committed Christian. At the request of her mother, Bethan talks to her brother about their concerns. Dylan, who was trying not to face this issue, finally admits he has also seen this. He breaks the engagement and broken-hearted Jodie won’t forgive Bethan. Instead, she walks out of her life saying she never wants to see Bethan again.
Jodie takes the train to Raleigh to study chemistry at the university on a scholarship. Bethan is devastated by the separation. Jodie also feels completely alone since she is the only girl studying chemistry and she is ostracized by her male classmates. Fortunately, the story doesn’t end there.
This book can be a catalyst for discussion on complicated issues. These include the meaning and responsibilities of Christian friendship, why God lets bad things happen to good people, how to help a grieving person, and the importance of being equally yoked in a marriage. I’d like to see this book in the hands of all Christian adolescent girls.
Elderberry Croft: A Place of Refuge for a Hurting Soul
When Willow Goodhope moved into the old cottage in the Coach House Trailer Park, she named it Elderberry Croft. She had chosen it because she had seen the little elderberry tree growing along the creek near her cottage. It had reminded her of a Bible verse about a tree planted by the water that sent its shoots out and did not need to fear heat or drought. Its leaves would remain green, and it would continue to bear fruit.
As Willow told her neighbor Kathy, ‘I’m like that tree. I’m in a place right now where growing seems almost impossible, but God is teaching me to send my roots toward the water, to choose life, and maybe to bloom where I’m planted, even to bear fruit. For now, this is where I’m planted.’
As soon as Willow got out of her old Toyota truck and started unpacking, her nearest neighbors Kathy and Myra started spying on her. They watched as she transformed the old cottage they both knew was a shack into a hanging garden with her potted plants.
Not only Kathy and Myra but also the rest of the Southern California trailer park residents were curious to see what the young redhead would be like. They couldn’t imagine why someone so young would live at their trailer park. Most of the residents were much older. Most believed they and their neighbors had come to the Coach House Trailer Park to remain until they died. Willow didn’t seem to fit.
Willow was a mystery, an enigma. She managed to find out her neighbors’ secrets as she helped heal their wounded spirits with her goody baskets and tasty things made of elderberries. She somehow managed to help physically and emotionally isolated residents to form healthy and supportive relationships with other residents they knew only as names.
Willow knew everyone’s problems. No one knew Willow’s. Occasionally someone heard her plaintive singing by the creek or saw her tears. Rumors were that she had a husband but was not living with him. No one could pry the reason she was hiding at Elderberry Croft out of Willow until almost the end of the book.
No Spoilers Here
The author gave me a free download for this book with no strings attached. I did not even have to promise to review the book. I decided to read it when I came home from a trip exhausted and didn’t feel like anything heavy. It was the perfect book to keep me curious to the end without taxing my brain too much.
I loved getting to know all the residents of the trailer park and I began to care about all of them. Although the plot was light, the residents all dealt with heavy problems. They ranged from substance abuse, childhood abuse, and PTSD to serious relationship problems that tore families apart.
Until Willow came and reached out to them with her healing baskets of baked goods, teas, jams, and salves made of herbs and elderberries, the Coach House residents nursed their hurts in isolation. Willow gave to others to keep from facing her deepest hurt. In the end, it’s the hurt of another that forces her to confront her own pain.
I did not want this inspirational novel to end. It appeared that Willow was on the way to healing at the conclusion, but I still bought the sequel because I wanted to know more. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Willow yet. If you read Elderberry Croft, you probably won’t want to say goodbye either.
I recommend that you start with the complete collection because once you start reading, you won’t want to stop. The characters’ stories develop together until the end. If you don’t have all the parts, you will be left hanging.
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.