Published September 2012
Trade paperback, 384 pages
I love reading a book synopsis that accurately describes the story but leaves a lot of room for the unexpected. When I picked up this book, I liked the synopsis but didn't really know what to expect. What unfolded was the captivating story of two troubled souls who forged an unlikely friendship that eventually turned to love.
Widowed Tilly Silverberg is an English woman now living in North Carolina and still grieving over the loss of her American husband of twelve years. But she feels guilty about his death and this tortures her. James Nealy is a forty-five year-old retired and successful software developer who has OCD--Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. He is determined to finally conquer his fears and he feels that Tilly can help him by teaching him about gardening.
There are many things I liked about this novel. The characters are complex and felt real. So did their dilemmas and their daily mental struggles. Both Tilly and James are parents and I connected with them easily on this level. Tilly has an eight-year-old blond son who is fascinated by nature and science and snakes. So is my son. Tilly has an s-shaped scoliosis and suffers from back pain when she gardens. So do I. Tilly is not intimidated by someone with a mental illness. Neither am I.
James is strong, weak, determined, obsessive and loyal. I liked him straightaway. He is such an unforgettable character! The author succeeded in making us see the person behind the disorder. So many times people see only the disorder. They will say, “She's bipolar,” instead of “She is a person with bipolar disorder.” Although I don't suffer from OCD, I could understand some of James' fears. Being the type of person who loves psychology, getting a deep picture of someone with OCD was fascinating to me, and kept me turning the pages fast. Having a son with OCD, the author knew this topic intimately.
Besides doing such a great job of bringing these characters to life, the author is a good writer, describing the fauna and flora of both settings in North Carolina and Tilly's childhood village in England. The narrative is rich with metaphors and similes that were unique, with gardening being the most powerful metaphor. Referring to their relationship, Tilly states: “The English author H.E. Bates said that a finished garden is a dead garden. A garden's a work in progress without end.” I simply loved that line!
This book had only one downfall for me. It was filled with f-words. I found that the profanity marred the beauty of this book. However, it was otherwise clean with no sex scenes. Now that surprised me. It just goes to show that a gifted writer can still create sexual tension and sexy characters without including bedroom scenes. So if you can tolerate profanity, and you love gardening, English settings, and exploring complex characters, this book is a worthy read.
Note: This book is rated P = Profanity. There were lots of f-words, religious expletives, and some crude language and British expressions.
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About the author:Barbara Claypole White grew up in the English village of Turvey with big dreams of becoming a novelist. After a detour through women’s and medieval history at York University, she landed a job promoting London fashion. She was part of the first British Designer Show, measured celebrities in their underwear, and worked for the queen of the international rag trade, Dame Vivienne Westwood.
One day her boss sent her to New York, and she fell in love with an American professor who followed her around JFK Airport. Eighteen months later she was a faculty spouse, freelance writer, and marketing director in Champaign, Illinois, a small Midwest college town. She also started writing her first novel—a love story set against the world of eighties fashion and AIDS.
Five years passed; then Barbara learned she was pregnant, and her husband was offered a distinguished professorship at UNC Chapel Hill. The family moved to the North Carolina forest, and Barbara became a stay-at-home mom and a woodland gardener—factors that would shape her writing voice. She returned to her manuscript, took evening classes in writing at the local arts center, and slammed into another detour: her young son developed obsessive-compulsive disorder.
From that moment, fascination with mental illness framed her life. She ditched her first novel and began writing Dogwood Days, which turned into The Unfinished Garden. She also joined a nonfiction project for parents of children with invisible disabilities and blogs through the highs and lows of OCD at www.easytolovebut.com. (Her son is now an award-winning teen poet.)
Barbara is consistently drawn to the theme that people who need each other find each other, and is hard at work on her next novel…when she’s not gardening.
Connect with Barbara at her website.
Reviewed by Laura
Disclosure: Thanks to the publisher and TLC Book Tours for sending me this book for review. I was not compensated in any other way, nor told how to rate or review this product.
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