REVIEW: THE GARDEN OF SMALL BEGINNINGS, BY ABBI WAXMAN

 

Lilian Girvan has been a single mother for three years—ever since her husband died in a car accident. One mental breakdown and some random suicidal thoughts later, she’s just starting to get the hang of this widow thing. She can now get her two girls to school, show up to work, and watch TV like a pro. The only problem is she’s becoming overwhelmed with being underwhelmed.

At least her textbook illustrating job has some perks—like actually being called upon to draw whale genitalia. Oh, and there’s that vegetable-gardening class her boss signed her up for. Apparently, being the chosen illustrator for a series of boutique vegetable guides means getting your hands dirty, literally. Wallowing around in compost on a Saturday morning can’t be much worse than wallowing around in pajamas and self-pity.

After recruiting her kids and insanely supportive sister to join her, Lilian shows up at the Los Angeles botanical garden feeling out of her element. But what she’ll soon discover—with the help of a patient instructor and a quirky group of gardeners—is that into every life a little sun must shine, whether you want it to or not…

My Thoughts: The Garden of Small Beginnings reeled me in from the first page, as our first person narrator, Lilian, masks her pain with a comedic tone, describing how her dead husband is useful. Someone she can blame when things go wrong. Her conversations with him set the tone for this story of a thirty-something woman with small children who was so broken by his sudden death that she ended up in a mental health facility for a few months.

But now she is trying to move on. When she isn’t conversing with her deceased husband Dan, she has regular phone calls and texts with her sister Rachel. Her job as a freelance illustrator takes her to unusual places where her latest gig is a book about gardening. She joins a garden class as a foundation for her art, and what an interesting assortment of students show up there. Who knew that an ordinary class would suddenly morph into a life in the midst of an interesting community?

Classes turn into opportunities to create small gardens in backyards, with each character contributing his or her home as the venue each week. Picnics, barbecues, and interesting pairings, like the one developing between Lili and the instructor, Edward, carry us along on the journey to nourishing a garden and a family of friends. Each chapter ends with snippets on growing a specific vegetable.

Lili fights the developing feelings, and tells herself she is not ready. Will she discover that her reluctance has more to do with feelings of betrayal for Dan? Or could there be more going on?

Set in Los Angeles, the story takes us into the lives of the characters…and the emotional situations range from sadness to love and warmth. A 5 star read for me.

***

REVIEW: THE OBSESSION, BY NORA ROBERTS

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Eleven-year-old Naomi Bowes woke during a hot night in her West Virginia home…and when she heard a noise, she got up. She followed her father into the woods, curious. What she found in the root cellar after he came back up and left….would change her life forever.

Rescuing the young woman named Ashley and reporting her father’s crimes to the police could have haunted her forever. But she decided not to be the daughter of serial killer Thomas Bowes for the rest of her life. Taken in by her maternal uncle Seth and his partner Harry, along with her mother and brother Mason, she had a good life as Naomi Carson, moving from Washington, D.C. to New York…and then, alone, all around the country, staying ahead of the news reports and gossip. Until finally she landed in Sunrise Cove, Washington, where she optimistically believed she had outrun her ghosts.

I really loved the new life Naomi was creating in Sunrise Cove, renovating a big old mansion and gradually becoming a part of the community. The descriptions of the home interiors as they slowly came together, along with her vision of life on the water, made me love how a grim story could turn into moments of beauty. Naomi’s photography career also kept me engaged, as she showed the reader what she saw through her lens, and how she brought life and creativity into each shot.

Meeting Xander Keaton, the man who owned a garage in town, who was someone so much more than he appeared on the surface…that event was the final straw that turned her life of beauty into one that included the possibility of love.

But suddenly, something is happening all around the small, lovely town. Girls are going missing and turning up dead…and not far from Naomi’s haven. Who, if anyone, is targeting her and dumping bodies in places that are familiar to her? What, if anything, do the photos on Naomi’s website mean to the killer?

When her FBI agent brother Mason comes to town, the pieces begin to fall into place. Will they finally unmask and capture the killer? Who will it turn out to be?

The Obsession was a page-turning thriller that was also so much more. Totally engaging. 5 stars.