Monday, May 4, 2020

Review & Excerpt of The Heirloom Garden by Viola Shipman

Author: Viola Shipman 
ISBN: 9781525804618
Publication Date: April 28, 2020

Publisher: Graydon House

In this heartwarming and feel-good novel filled with echoes of Dorothea Benton Frank, Debbie Macomber and Elizabeth Berg, two women separated by a generation but equally scarred by war find hope, meaning – and each other – through a garden of heirloom flowers.

Iris Maynard lost her husband in World War II, her daughter to loneliness and, finally, her reason to live. Walled off from the world for decades behind a towering fence surrounding her home and gardens, the former botanist has built a new family...of flowers. Iris propagates her own daylilies and roses while tending to an heirloom garden filled with starts – and memories – of her own mother, grandmother, husband and daughter.

When Abby Peterson moves to Grand Haven, Michigan, with her family – a husband traumatized during his service in the Iraq War and a young daughter searching for stability – they find themselves next door to Iris, and are slowly drawn into her reclusive neighbour's life where, united by loss and a love of flowers, Iris and Abby slowly unearth their secrets to each other. Eventually, the two teach one another that the earth grounds us all, gardens are a grand healer, and as flowers bloom so do our hopes and dreams.


My thoughts:

The Heirloom Garden follows Abby, who moves with her daughter and veteran husband who is suffering from PTSD for a fresh start. Their neighbor and landlord is Iris, who has been living as a recluse since the 50s after she lost her husband in WWII and her daughter to polio. The two women form a bond that end up healing open and sore wounds.

For the most part, I enjoyed the book. It was heartwarming and I ended up liking the bond between all of the Peterson family and Iris. The ending was bittersweet and leaves the reader with hope. It was a little predictable, but I think most contemporary readers will enjoy this book. I had a couple of issues with it. I didn't like the emphasis that Abby put on her and her husband not wanting to take any medication for anxiety. Instead saying that they want to do it in a "healthy" way. I felt like that was stigmatizing medication where it shouldn't be. I also didn't love the "women are oppressed in the workplace" storyline. It has been overdone and wasn't necessary. Despite that, I would recommend picking this one up. It's a quick read.

Enjoy this excerpt:

We are an army, too.
I stop, lean against my hoe and watch the other women working the earth. We are all dressed in the same outfits—overalls and sunhats—all in uniforms just like our husbands and sons overseas.
Fighting for the same cause, just in different ways.
A soft summer breeze wafts down Lake Avenue in Grand Haven, Michigan, gently rustling rows of tomatoes, carrots, lettuce, beets and peas. I analyze my tiny plot of earth at the end of my boots in our neighborhood’s little Victory Garden, admiring the simple beauty of the red arteries running through the Swiss chard’s bright green leaves and the kale-like leaves sprouting from the bulbs of kohlrabi. I smile with satisfaction at their bounty and my own ingenuity. I had suggested our little Victory Garden utilize these vegetables, since they are easy-to-grow staples.
“Easier to grow without weeds.” 
I look up, and Betty Wiggins is standing before me.
If you put a gray wig on Winston Churchill, I think, you’d have Betty Wiggins, the self-appointed commander of our Victory Garden.
“Just thinking,” I say.
“You can do that at home,” she says with a frown.
I pick up my hoe and dig at a weed. “Yes, Betty.”
She stares at me, before eyeing the front of my overalls. “Nice rose,” Betty says, her frown drooping even farther. “Do we think we’re Vivien Leigh today?”
“No, ma’am,” I say. “Just wanted to lift my spirits.”
“Lift them at home,” she says, a glower on her face. Her eyes stop on the hyacinth brooch I have pinned on my overalls and then move ever so slowly to the Bakelite daisy earrings on my earlobes.
I look at Betty, hoping she might understand I need to be enveloped by things that make me feel safe, happy and warm, but she walks away with a “Hrumph!”
I hear stifled laughter. I look over to see my friend Shirley mimicking Betty’s ample behind and lumbering gait. The women around her titter.
“Do we think we’re Vivien Leigh today?” Shirley mimics in Betty’s baritone. “She wishes.”
“Stop it,” I say.
“It’s true, Iris,” Shirley continues in a Shakespearian whisper. “The back ends of the horses in Gone with the Wind are prettier than Betty.”
“She’s right,” I say. “I’m not paying enough attention today.”
I suddenly grab the rose I had plucked from my garden this morning and tucked into the front pocket of my overalls, and I toss it into the air. Shirley leaps, stomping a tomato plant in front of her, and grabs the rose midair.
“Stop it,” she says. “Don’t you listen to her.”
She sniffs the rose before tucking the peach-colored petals into my pocket again. 
“Nice catch,” I say.
“Remember?” Shirley asks with a wink.
The sunlight glints through leaves and limbs of the thick oaks and pretty sugar maples that line the small plot that once served as our cottage association’s baseball diamond in our beachfront park. I am standing roughly where third base used to be, the place I first locked eyes with my husband, Jonathan. He had caught a towering pop fly right in front of the makeshift bleachers and tossed it to me after making the catch.
“Wasn’t the sunlight that blinded me,” he had said with a wink. “It was your beauty.”
I thought he was full of beans, but Shirley gave him my number. I was home from college at Michigan State for the summer, he was still in high school, and the last thing I needed was a boyfriend, much less one younger than I was. But I can still remember his face in the sunlight, his perfect skin and a light fuzz on his cheeks that were the color of a summer peach.
In the light, soft white floaties dance in the air like miniature clouds. I follow their flight. My daughter, Mary, is holding a handful of dandelions and blowing their seeds into the air.
For one brief moment, my mind is as clear as the sky. There is no war, only summer, and a little girl playing.
“You know more about plants than anybody here,” Shirley continues, knocking me from my thoughts. “You should be in charge here, not Betty. You’re the one that had us grow all these strange plants.”
“Flowers,” I say. “Not plants. My specialty is really flowers.”
“Oh, don’t be such a fuddy-duddy, Iris,” Shirley says. “You’re the only woman I know who went to college. You should be using that flower degree.”
“It’s botany. Actually, plant biology with a specialty in botanical gardens and nurseries,” I say. I stop, feeling guilty. “I need to be at home,” I say, changing course. “I need to be here.”
Shirley stops hoeing and looks at me, her eyes blazing. Sheglances around to ensure the coast is clear and then whispers, “Snap your cap, Iris. I know you think that’s what you should be saying and doing, but we all know better.” She stares at me for a long time. “The war will be over soon. These war gardens will go away, too. What are you going to do with the rest of your life? Use your brain. That’s why God gave it to you.” She grins. “I mean, your own garden looks like a lab experiment.” She stops and laughs. “You’re not only wearing one of your own flowers, you’re even named after one! It’s in your genes.

About the author:

Viola Shipman is the pen name for Wade Rouse, a popular, award-winning memoirist. Rouse chose his grandmother's name, Viola Shipman, to honor the woman whose heirlooms and family stories inspire his writing. Rouse is the author of The Summer Cottage, as well as The Charm Bracelet and The Hope Chest which have been translated into more than a dozen languages and become international bestsellers. He lives in Saugatuck, Michigan and Palm Springs, California, and has written for People, Coastal Living, Good Housekeeping, and Taste of Home, along with other publications, and is a contributor to All Things Considered.

TWITTER: @viola_shipman

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