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review 2018-09-23 02:44
The Solace of Water by Elizabeth Byler Younts
The Solace of Water - Elizabeth Byler Younts

After leaving her son’s grave behind in Montgomery, Alabama, Delilah Evans has little faith that moving to her husband’s hometown in Pennsylvania will bring a fresh start. Enveloped by grief and doubt, the last thing Delilah imagines is becoming friends with her reclusive Amish neighbor, Emma Mullet—yet the secrets that keep Emma isolated from her own community bond her to Delilah in delicate and unexpected ways. Delilah’s eldest daughter, Sparrow, bears the brunt of her mother’s pain, never allowed for a moment to forget she is responsible for her brother’s death. When tensions at home become unbearable for her, she seeks peace at Emma’s house and becomes the daughter Emma has always wanted. Sparrow, however, is hiding secrets of her own—secrets that could devastate them all.

With the white, black, and Amish communities of Sinking Creek at their most divided, there seems to be little hope for reconciliation. But long-buried hurts have their way of surfacing, and Delilah and Emma find themselves facing their own self-deceptions. Together they must learn how to face the future through the healing power of forgiveness. Eminently relevant to the beauty and struggle in America today, The Solace of Water offers a glimpse into the turbulent 1950s and reminds us that friendship rises above religion, race, and custom—and has the power to transform a broken heart.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

 

POTENTIAL TRIGGER WARNING: This novel touches upon the topic of self harm.

 

 

After the death of their young son, Carver, African American couple Delilah Evans and her preacher husband, Malachi, decide to move the family from Montgomery, Alabama back to the small town community of Sinking Creek, PA near where Malachi grew up. Malachi gets to work settling in as the new preacher of a local church in the area, but he finds resistance in his congregation. When he sits down with a family member for perspective on the problem, it's explained to him that he's simply been gone from the community too long and people need their trust with him restored. 

 

Delilah blames Carver's death on her daughter, Sparrow, who was supposed to be watching Carver when tragedy struck. Right from the beginning of the story, it's obvious that Delilah takes out her grieving on Sparrow in cruel ways. Struggling with feelings of guilt and abandonment by her mother, Sparrow, over the course of the novel, turns to self harm to alleviate her inner pain, turning to things such as stinging nettles, glass, even a clothes wringer to leave marks on her physical body as a way to let off steam from inner turmoil. Sparrow comes to find comfort in the presence of Emma, a local Amish woman who knows a thing or two about loss herself.

 

She had this warm milk sort of way about her. A body just couldn't walk away from somebody like that. You just want to drink it in 'cause you don't know if you ever gonna meet anyone like that again.

>> Sparrow, on getting to know Emma

 

 

But once the interactions come to the attention of Delilah, both she and Malachi warn Sparrow that she should probably keep her distance. This novel is set in the racially tense times of the 1950s and interracial friendships (and relationships otherwise) play a big part in the novel's dramatic moments. Emma hears similar warnings from her Amish neighbors and even her husband, a head deacon within the Amish community. It doesn't concern them so much that their new neighbors are black, but simply that they are "Englishers", or non-Amish. In their own ways, both the African-American and Amish communities push on these characters the damaging idea that "we'll all do a lot better if we just stick to our own kind." But as we the readers know, the world doesn't really work like that. We either cultivate love, kindness and appreciation for a multi-cultural world, or our lives face potential implosion, just as the characters in The Solace of Water learn for themselves.

 

"Since when do you know them?" John asked (after he discovers Emma knows the Evans family)

 

"I met them when they moved in. They're a nice family."

 

"The bishop said to leave them all alone because there always seems to be trouble between them and the white Englishers. We aren't like either of them and need to keep to ourselves."

 

Within Emma, we see a vessel for change. She has a poet's soul, full of curiosity in the stories of others, a love of words and a desire for knowledge. But she struggles against the darker corners of her life that threaten to tamp out her light. Her husband's secret struggle with alcoholism, his dislike of her "fancy lines" (her habit of crafting her own bits of poetry) that he sees as a form of vanity, quite the sin in Amish culture. Emma is weighted down with heavy guilt from being an enabler for her husband's drinking. She knows it's not only wrong but dangerous as well. It's not addressed directly, but parts of Emma's story suggest that perhaps John turned to drinking as a way to cope with crippling social anxiety, but over the years his bouts of aggression seem to have escalated along with the amount of alcohol he needs to consume to feel able to function. 

 

Emma's teenage son, Johnny, has had years of spoiling from his father and is progressively drawing more and more toward English ways -- drinking, late night carousing, sneaking pornographic magazines, even befriending an out-and-out racist! What changes Johnny is the first sight of Sparrow, whom he describes as the prettiest, most interesting and different girl he's ever met. You can imagine the firestorm that develops for a man who simultaneously maintains a friendship with a racist AND secretly tries to court a black teenage girl!

 

**Sidenote: I wasn't all that impressed with Johnny as a character. I couldn't help but feel that he saw Sparrow as something exotic and interesting in his Amish life rather than someone he honestly wanted to have a deep loving friendship with... even if he does talk about running away together (I think that was more about "young man caught up in the moment" than anything) and tells his mother that "Sparrow taught me things I never knew before"... What? WHEN? Their interaction throughout the whole book added up to only a handful of rushed conversations in secret! I just didn't buy that his feelings ran as deep as he claimed.**

 

The novel is presented in alternating POVs, rotating between Delilah, daughter Sparrow, and Amish neighbor Emma. To date, the novel seems to have gotten solid 4-5 star ratings across the board but I just did not have the same reaction as so many others. To be honest, I actually struggled to get to the end of this book. I DID finish it but for a book this size (under 400 pages), it took me WEEKS to get there. Highly unusual for me, especially for a historical fiction novel -- one of my favorite genres! The pace felt molasses-slow... which is sometimes nice in a novel if the writer brings the right tone... but when you combine slow with a deeply depressing plot for most of the novel... that alone left me exhausted enough.

 

But then add in Delilah as a character. That woman had a personality that just came off as almost straight vinegar. Yes, it is explained later (through her conversations with Malachi and later, Emma) that much of her acidic demeanor is driven by a combination of fear and grieving, even fear that letting go of the grieving will somehow dishonor the memory of Carver. Full disclosure: I do not have children, have never personally experienced the loss of my own child. BUT, in my own circle of family and friends, there are a number of women who have had that experience in one form or another, whether through miscarriage, stillbirth, or tragedy. With that, I can say that none of the women in my circle have ever come anywhere near the unpleasantness of Delilah. They've known the sadness for sure, but they went on to live the best lives they could, full of love and appreciation for the people they still had around them. Delilah was just EXHAUSTING in the way she never gave anyone or anything a chance, she just assumed everything was more misery in disguise ... at least for a large part of the story.

 

So what kept me reading? Well, this is one of those stories that does have its important, moving moments, even if they are few and far between for some readers. But as I said, I stuck with it, and the plot's pace FINALLY picked up for me around the 250 page mark. But remember, the entire book is less than 400 pages. That's a long wait to a payoff. But readers who choose to stay with it do witness revelatory conversations, where women ask the important questions such as "Is that what you want --- to be separate?" and we come to realize that though the details and the POVs may differ, one commonality bonds these women together: they are all desperate for unconditional love and affectionate touch, something to remind them they are still important to others... yet their actions show just how scared all of them are to voice that need.

 

Aaron believed his arrival was a surprise, but I knew better. John's forgetfulness was getting worse the more he drank. His gentleness toward me was diminishing like dampness whisked away in a May breeze. And anytime he was gentle, I was filled with my own regrets and in my guilt I pushed him away. 

>> Emma

 

Good concepts for a novel, the problem for me mainly fell on the characters not having enough dimension for me to have much emotional investment in them.

 

 

FTC Disclaimer: TNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

 

 

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review 2018-09-13 02:24
Forever With Jesus (Sea Kids #7) by Lee Ann Mancini
Forever With Jesus - Lee Ann Mancini

In Forever With Jesus, the sea kids learn that Jesus died for their sins, and that by believing in Him they will live in heaven forever. The cousins visit their grandparents for Grandma Pinky's 80th birthday. During their visit, their grandparents' neighbor, Mr. Higgins, passes away. Grandma reads the Bible and tells her grandchildren how wonderful heaven is and how there will be no more tears, pain, or suffering. The children understand that they do not have to fear death because their belief in Jesus guarantees they will live forever with Him in heaven.

Goodreads.com

 

 

 

The Sea Kids gang returns with another important life lesson to share with all young readers following their underwater adventures! Fish siblings Guy and Lena meet up with their cousins Luke, Zachary, Christopher and Isabella at their grandparents' house to celebrate Grandma Pinky's 80th birthday.

 

 

 

The day of the party is naturally a celebratory one, full of reunions, cake, playtime and sleepover fun. The next morning however, the kids wake to the sad news that their grandparents' neighbor, Mr. Higgins, has passed away.

 

Grandma Pinky uses the news as an opportunity to sit with her little blessings and discuss the topic of death and heavenly afterlife. She wants to assure the young ones that death is not something to fear, because Heaven is a place free of any kind of pain, suffering, or sadness. It's a place full of only love and light. 

 

 

The story here is a good one, approaching a tough topic in an age-appropriate way that will be easy for little ones to digest. As far as general excitement though... I mean, it's a story about death, so clearly it won't be quite as light in tone as the previous books... but just in general, the writing and engagement factor here fell a tad flatter than earlier installments of this series. Though it's always great to have books like this available to help open conversation for the sadder subjects of life, the execution here was just slightly repetitive. 

 

This series continues to be enhanced with the wonderfully colorful, movement-filled illustrations of Dan Sharp. There's not quite as much little detail worked into the scenes here as in some of the previous books, but Sharp is a master at delightful facial expressions for these characters (I love how the grandfather here has an almost Buddy Hackett look!).

 

 

As in all the other books, the spot-the-cross game is incorporated throughout all the illustrations and characters from previous Sea Kids books can be spotted in background artwork in the grandparents' home. Some also make an appearance as attendees of Mr. Higgins' funeral.

 

 

FTC Disclaimer: BookCrash.com and GLM Publishing kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

 

 

------------------------------

 

My reviews for the previous books in this series:

 

#1 Fast Freddy

 

#2 What A Bragger

 

#3 I'm Not Afraid! 

 

#4 A Servant Like Jesus

 

#5 God's Gift

 

#6 God's Easter Miracles

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-09-08 18:21
When Mountains Move (Free #2) by Julie Cantrell
When Mountains Move - Julie Cantrell

In a few hours, Millie will say “I do” to Bump Anderson, a man who loves her through and through. But would he love her if he knew the secret she keeps? Millie’s mind is racing and there seems to be no clear line between right and wrong. Either path leads to pain, and she’ll do anything to protect the ones she loves. So she decides to bury the truth and begin again, helping Bump launch a ranch in the wilds of Colorado. But just when she thinks she’s left her old Mississippi life behind, the facts surface in the most challenging way. That’s when Millie’s grandmother, Oka, arrives to help. Relying on her age-old Choctaw traditions, Oka teaches Millie the power of second chances. Millie resists, believing redemption is about as likely as moving mountains. But Oka stands strong, modeling forgiveness as the only true path to freedom. Together, Bump, Millie, and Oka fight against all odds to create a sustainable ranch, all while learning that the important lessons of their pasts can be used to build a beautiful future.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

* WARNING: If you haven't read the first book in this duology, INTO THE FREE, there are spoilers below. 

 

 

So here we are in the second book and Millie has made a choice regarding a direction for her life. She remains unsure if it's the right choice, but it is a choice nonetheless. She knows she loves Bump, but does she love him enough to make it last forever? She's at least willing to give things a try. 

 

Moving forward as newlyweds, they relocate from Mississippi to Colorado, where Bump's Mississippi boss owns a ranch. Bump is hired as the ranch manager, his boss hoping that Bump's skills with  horses will turn the property into a thriving livestock business. In return, Bump hopes to set aside start up money for his own veterinary practice. The Andersons are getting the property to live on rent free, but the house on site is, to put it mildly, ROUGH.

 

While Millie is elbows deep in Suzy Homemaker mode, she struggles with a secret from her old life in Mississippi that she hesitates to reveal to Bump. Almost as if on cue, who makes a surprise arrival at the new homestead by Millie's Choctaw grandmother, Oka. Oka knows a thing or two about secrets and facing hardships head-on. Her presence becomes a much needed ballast for Millie while she gathers strength to face her fears and have that all-important but tough conversation with her husband.

 

To complicate things though, Bump seems to be a little too friendly (in Millie's opinion) with their new redheaded neighbor, Kat. Millie begins to wonder if Bump regrets his decision to start this new life with Millie, which once again leads her down the path of thoughts of whether she herself was too hasty in her own choices. 

 

Though this story is supposed to take place during the years of World War 2, it didn't have much of that feel for me. Minus the occasional mention of food rations, dreaded telegrams from the War Dept. or use of pickup trucks, this could easily be set a hundred years earlier. I was a little disappointed by this, as I'm a huge historical fiction junkie who looks forward to being immersed in the time period I'm promised as the reader, but in this case I could overlook it because of the good story and the important themes behind it.

 

Once again (as she did with Into The Free), Cantrell illustrates the power of having a good support system around you as you move through life, people who honestly believe in you and truly want to encourage you to pursue your dreams. With Bump and Millie, it's also a pretty honest look at the rougher edges of marriage. How do you hang in there when the rosy glow fades a bit and real life sets in? It's tough because Bump was pretty likeable in the first book, but here he gets progressively less so. When Kat comes on scene, Bump's actions get slyly more and more disrespectful toward Millie, the way he dismisses her hard work or knocks her cooking in front of others, just as an example. Meanwhile, Millie is silently showing / battling symptoms of PTSD... but when your husband gets to where he seems annoyed by your very presence, how do you talk about such things?

 

Millie hangs in there though and eventually finds the means to craft a moderately happy life for herself. Personally, I don't really buy what Bump has to say near the end of the book. I'd even go so far as to say she settled. And it irked me that Bump makes himself out to be so innocent and Millie ends up being the apologetic one... Sure, Millie has moments where she catches herself wondering about River, but looking at Bump... there are some scenes in this story that looked seriously shady from a wife's perspective. I do kind of get Millie's line of thought when she explains why she's made these choices, but I couldn't help but close the book feeling that there had to be something so much more fulfilling out there for her than what she ended up with.

 

* For book groups: the most recent edition of the paperback includes discussion guide and writing prompts. 

 

Something else to note -- while another of Cantrell's books, The Feathered Bone, has been packaged to match the new covers of Into The Free and its sequel When Mountains Move, I believe The Feathered Bone is actually not tied to Millie's story, but in fact its own separate story. 

 

 

 

FTC DisclaimerTNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

 

----------------

 

My reviews for Julie Cantrell's other books:

 

Into the Free (Free #1)

The Feathered Bone 

Perennials

 

 

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-09-08 15:54
Into The Free (Free #1) by Julie Cantrell
Into the Free - Julie Cantrell

In Depression-era Mississippi, Millie Reynolds longs to escape the madness that marks her world. With an abusive father and a “nothing mama,” she struggles to find a place where she really belongs. For answers, Millie turns to the Gypsies who caravan through town each spring. The travelers lead Millie to a key that unlocks generations of shocking family secrets. When tragedy strikes, the mysterious contents of the box give Millie the tools she needs to break her family’s longstanding cycle of madness and abuse. Through it all, Millie experiences the thrill of first love while fighting to trust the God she believes has abandoned her. With the power of forgiveness, can Millie finally make her way into the free?

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

POTENTIAL TRIGGER WARNING: This novel includes scenes of domestic abuse, rape, suicide and violence towards animals. 

 

 

In Depression Era Mississippi, Millie Reynolds is a young girl dreaming of the day when she can escape her oppressive life with an abusive, alcoholic father and and a mother who refuses to stand up to him. Millie is of mixed race, her father being Choctaw, her white mother disowned by her well-off family for marrying him. 

 

For six years straight, Millie watches a band of Travelers roll through town each spring, but one year she plucks up the courage to actually speak with them. She ends up befriending River, a young man within the group. Millie grows increasingly drawn to him, especially his deep love for nature and literature. One day, River suggests Millie go with the Traveler group (most referred to as gypsies in this story, but see the note at the bottom of this review) when they get ready to leave again. Just as she's about to take him up on the offer, tragedy strikes and within just a few short months, Millie (still under age, btw) finds herself orphaned. 

 

"She's not crazy. She's just sad. You would be too. How would you feel? If they hauled you off. In a straight jacket. Just because -- you needed -- to cry -- for a little while?"

 

Though tempted to stay, River makes the choice to carry on with his group. Millie can't bring herself to go but hopes opportunity will arise soon to bring River back her way. In the meantime, Millie agrees to move in with Diana Miller, the nurse who looked after Millie's mother in the hospital prior to her death. Shortly after moving in, Millie is stunned to find that this one small choice proves pivotal in her finally finding answers to long buried secrets within her own family. Here, of all places! As one of the characters in this duology likes to say, no such thing as coincidence (or so it would seem)!

 

I'm  certain I have never seen such a perfect house in all my life. Everything in its place. No dust on the floor. No broken hinges, hole-punched walls, or mildewed windowpanes. I am intimidated by the sudden lack of chaos. Knowing that life could be like this. That home could mean something secure and safe. 

 

As Millie works through these discoveries and mourns the absence of River, she meets another young man, Kenneth "Bump" Anderson, a skilled veterinarian and horse breaker who worked the same rodeo circuit as Millie's father. Almost immediately, Bump seems enamored with Millie, but of course wants to play it cool. Bump places himself in Millie's path as an honest, reliable, caring friend who gets her a job at the same rodeo. Not only does she get a chance to work with the horses she loves and gain some free therapy out of it, but Bump has an excuse to be around her that much more! While his feelings for her intensify, she's just a big ol' emotional mess inside, unsure of what she really wants out of life anymore. Millie sees and appreciates Bump's steadiness and kind heart, but is that enough when compared to the fire River used to bring out in her?

 

If only we didn't have to go to church. It's the only time Diana lets me leave the house, and she insists I join their family every Sunday morning. At nine o'clock sharp, we all pile into the third pew to the right... It's the longest hour of my week. Sitting on the cold, hard bench, all dressed up in a fancy new dress, acting a certain way to impress the churchgoers. I do as expected and play the part of a "fine young Christian girl".

 

But everything about the sermons, the customs, the tithing -- it all seems so hypocritical. Especially when the preacher talks about Indians and how they worship false gods. Says they will burn in hell for eternity, as their ancestors have done before them. Same goes for Mormons, Jews, Catholics. Of course, he also counts unwed mothers and those who have divorced. Negroes, even if they do go to a Christian church. From what I can tell, anyone not white-skinned, baptized, married and putting money into this very offering plate every Sunday is destined to infinite torture. "Heaven must not be a very big place," I whisper to Camille. She laughs and Diana gives us a look. 

 

Of course, suicide results in eternal damnation. And consuming alcohol too. Dancing. Swearing. Even thinking of sin is as bad as committing sin, according to this guy. So, the way I figure it, with Choctaw blood, an alcoholic father, and a mother who used a secret stash of morphine to take her own life, I have no choice but to burn in hell too. Pretty dresses and shiny shoes won't help me.

 

Despite all that, some folks still hold out hope to save my soul. My name is on the prayer list every week, which means families like Diana's are talking about me over supper, lifting me up to the heavens. The rodeo-trash half-breed. 

 

Though the plot is tinged in sadness and deals with some heavy topics, there is still a pervasive warmth and sense of comfort to the overall tone of the story. Maybe it's Millie's hopefulness that one day all this craziness will make sense. Maybe it's the idea that family doesn't necessarily have to be blood-related. One just finds themselves matching Millie's emotions as they read: you feel for her, struggle with her, yet you can't help but feel optimism for her because it's undeniable that she's got a good support crew around her, even if she doesn't always notice them in the darker moments.

 

I don't want to end up like Mama, weak and submissive. I also don't want to turn out like Diana, with a lack of trust due to secrets untold. I sure don't want to follow Jack's course, abusive and aggressive, fighting against love and loss even after the chance for a fresh new start. And I don't want to spin out of control like Bill Miller, bitter and vicious because I didn't get my way. Maybe there is another choice... I am here. I am here for a reason. For something more than to just breathe, blink, swallow. I am worthy of happiness and love. Worthy of a good life filled with good people who love me in return. And no one, no one has the right to rob me of that peace.

 

 

Our main girl is an admirably, honestly flawed character. Her emotions run hot, she second-guesses herself pretty regularly, she has struggles with faith and gets frustrated with God. But through it all her heart is in the right place. She honestly cares for everyone in her life, even those who wrong her. Millie's story is an illustration of learning to never let anyone tamp out your inner light, steal your smile, etc. Through Millie's experiences, author Julie Cantrell also lightly plays with the topic of afterlife and the thin veil between those we've lost and how they continue to help us on this plane. An additional reminder to readers that you're never quite as alone as you might sometimes feel. 

 

* Note on the term "gypsy": At the end of this book, author Julie Cantrell includes a note which explains that while the term "gypsy" is actually considered derogatory throughout most of Traveler or Romany culture, for historical accuracy she decided to keep it in the text. 

 

* For Book Groups: the most recently published paperback edition includes pages of in-depth discussion questions, an author interview, and a "Just For Book Groups" section where Cantrell encourages groups to reach out to her (via social media) with requests for video chats / interviews.

 

Something else to note -- while another of Cantrell's books, The Feathered Bone, has been packaged to match the new covers of Into The Free and its sequel When Mountains Move, I believe The Feathered Bone is actually not tied to Millie's story, but in fact its own separate story. 

 

 

 

FTC DisclaimerTNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

 

_____________

 

My reviews for Julie Cantrell's other books:

 

When Mountains Move (Free #2)

The Feathered Bone 

Perennials

 

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review 2018-09-07 13:35
Perennials by Julie Cantrell
Perennials - Julie Cantrell

Eva Sutherland—known to all as Lovey—grew up safe and secure in Oxford, Mississippi, surrounded by a rich literary history and her mother’s stunning flower gardens. But a shed fire, and the injuries it caused, changed everything. Her older sister, Bitsy, blamed Lovey for the irreparable damage. Bitsy became the homecoming queen and the perfect Southern belle who could do no wrong. All the while, Lovey served as the family scapegoat, always bearing the brunt when Bitsy threw blame her way. At eighteen, suffocating in her sister’s shadow, Lovey turned down a marriage proposal and fled to Arizona. Free from Bitsy’s vicious lies, she became a successful advertising executive and a weekend yoga instructor, carving a satisfying life for herself. But at forty-five, Lovey is feeling more alone than ever and questioning the choices that led her here. When her father calls insisting she come home three weeks early for her parents’ 50th anniversary, Lovey is at her wits’ end. She’s about to close the biggest contract of her career, and there’s a lot on the line. But despite the risks, her father’s words, “Family First,” draw her back to the red-dirt roads of Mississippi. Lovey is drawn in to a secret project—a memory garden her father has planned as an anniversary surprise. As she helps create this sacred space, Lovey begins to rediscover her roots, learning how to live perennially in spite of life’s many trials and tragedies.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

Eva "Lovey" Sutherland and her estranged older sister Bitsy are asked by their parents to put differences aside and come together for the parents' 50th wedding anniversary.

 

As small children, Lovey and Bitsy were actually quite close, playing in the woods around their Mississippi home, catching fireflies, etc... you know, all the classic markers of a Southern childhood. That changed the year a new girl moved into the neighborhood and made one comment that forever after had Bitsy feeling self-conscious about possibly being perceived as "trash". From then on, it was all about appearances for her -- no more playing in the dirt, nails / hair / outfits kept obsessively pristine, even a run in the beauty pageant scene. But Lovey never wanted any of that for herself, so Bitsy grows to resent this embarrassment of a sister. Tensions come to a head one night when their mother's gardening shed catches fire. Lovey's friend, Finn, is pulled from the blaze, surviving, but physically scarred for the rest of his life. Bitsy immediately calls out Lovey as the suspected arsonist and from that point on Lovey is made to feel the redheaded stepchild of the family. 

 

By the age of 18, tired of being the scapegoat for all of Bitsy's bad behavior (as well as the target of her most severe bullying), Lovey hightails it out of the South, finding a new home in the arid lands of Arizona. Now in her 40s and a successful ad exec / part-time yoga instructor, Lovey gets a call from her father right in the middle of perhaps the most important advertising contract of her career, pressing her to rush back home and visit with her mother for a few weeks. Lovey hears urgency in his voice, but he's notably evasive about his reasons for asking for a rushed arrival, only claiming that Lovey's mother needs "emotional support" during the stress of the party planning. Lovey rightly assumes there's plenty not being said here but figures she can get the full story once everyone meets up face to face. After some juggling around with the staff, she manages to make time for the trip, though the decision puts her career on the line. 

 

"When it all comes down to it, it's the only real job we've been given," Mother continues. "Get this one spirit through to the end. And still be willing to love and be loved in spite of all the hurts we endure along the way."

 

Once home, Lovey finds that not much has changed, at least on the surface. Her mother is still ever the classic Southern Belle type, perfect posture, fine clothes, pristinely coiffed and draped in Chanel No. 5 and just crazy about her flower beds.  Lovey's parents still speak glowingly of golden child Bitsy, much to Lovey's annoyance. Adult Lovey is still struggling with barely processed, long-buried hurts from her childhood, hurts that seem to be resurfacing now that she's at the scene of the crime, so to speak. How can one family be so blind to the pain of a loved one directly in front of them, she wonders. They're either blind to it or blatantly dismissive! Lovey struggles with the realization of the truth of all these years, the core of the emotional lacerations: Her parents failed to defend / protect her from the evil of the world. They failed to protect their child. The bad people of the world who made her life hell were never held accountable. In fact, the blame was often placed on Lovey's shoulders, in some form or another. There are some pretty serious topics touched upon in this novel, but let me say, IMO they were addressed in a VERY mild manner. Still, I could feel for Lovey on this front, having gone through similar struggles myself with my own family. 

 

 

"She's been jealous her whole life, Lovey. You're bound to know that much." (Lovey's friend, Fisher / Finn's brother talking about Bitsy)

 

"Jealous of me? Oh, come on. That's ridiculous. She's the golden girl. Homecoming queen. You name it."

 

"She may wear the crown, but she's never had half the heart you have. That's why she tries to break yours."

 

 

Cantrell could've taken this story so much deeper, I think. So many of us are struggling with the familial strains she only lightly skims the surface of in this book. But because she only mildly skirted around these tensions, this novel didn't have quite as much punch as I was expecting. Some of the places where it fell short for me:

 

* I sometimes got a little bored with Cantrell's interpretation of New Age themes, though I will admit Marian, the Sedona yogi, does give the readers some gems of dialogue from time to time:

 

 -- "Just remember, Eva. The harsher the winter, the more vibrant the bloom come spring."

 

-- "It doesn't matter what people call me. Fact of the matter is, I'm all that encompasses this human journey, and change is constant. That can't possibly be summed up in one little word."

 

* I felt Bitsy's bitterness was carried out a bit over-long in the story. 

 

* The plot overall is a little predictable. That phone call between Lovey and her father at the beginning of the book -- the 1st time he hesitates when she asks him what the rush is about, I knew where Cantrell was likely taking the story (because it's where SO many authors in this genre tend to want to take family dramas nowadays).

 

Where this book DOES shine though:

 

* Cantrell's story illustrating the danger in thinking that there'll always be time later on to tell loved ones how special they are to you, time to resolve differences etc. We're all guilty of it, but this story reminds readers that there's no time like the present to say your peace and share the love among family & friends.

 

* Cantrell NAILS the "life is like a garden" type analogies. Seriously, some of the imagery she thinks up for her characters to speak had me like "Oh wow, that's good!"

 

 

"Think of it this way." Mother leans to pull one of her bright pink zinnia to hand. "When a flower blooms, its seeds will scatter. Right? Well, let's say some of those seeds land in a parking lot. Others land in a fertile field. Is that fair? No. Some will have real disadvantages, greater challenges."

 

"But they can all grow," Finn says. "As long as they find a healthy place to root."

 

"Bingo!" Mother points Finn's way, giving him the win. "Some may have to settle for a crack in the pavement. But once a seed takes root, it can find its way to the light. Become all it was born to be."

 

Bitsy looks at us with frustration, as if we still don't understand. "Don't you see? Even if the flower manages to bloom, some people will stomp it to bits just because they can."

 

"But others will go out of their way to water it," Fisher counters. Finn nods.

 

 

* I kept thinking this story could make a pretty good Southern drama movie, or at the very least an idea for a country music video LOL. There's even one scene in the book that illustrates how music can bring people together when nothing else will. 

 

* Cantrell shows some love for classic Southern literature: plenty of Faulkner references; as you can imagine, but I especially loved the Eudora Welty bits. Reminded me I need to get into some of her stuff again sometime soon! 

 

For book clubs --- or maybe garden clubs who also like to do reading on the side? -- there are discussion questions included in the back of the book, as well as an "Activity Sparks" page with prompts for creative projects inspired by scenes / characters from this novel.  

 

 

FTC DisclaimerTNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

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