Widow Eliza struggles to raise her young daughter and run her Washington state flower farm. Julien, a charming amputee with a knack for business, stops his road trip to help her out of a tight situation. A Southern native, he has no intention of sticking around a sleepy farm town. Eliza’s grit and dedication warm Julien’s wounded heart, but can they look beyond a business partnership and see the beauty of second chances?
This book technically has a lot of elements I love in my favorite books–disabled characters, interesting family dynamics, and love interests falling in love and learning to work together. Unfortunately, it did not work for me. I am sure that this book would appeal to lots of other people, so I will do my best to highlight the parts others might enjoy, but please keep in mind this was not working for me as a reader. Also, there are mentions of suicide and death in a vehicular accident in this book, as part of the background for Eliza, one of the love interests. Eliza is a widow, running a flower farm and raising her young daughter in a small town in Washington. Julien is passing through said small town when he agrees to help Eliza out at her farm for a short time–at least to start.
Eliza has a fairly close community of family and friends. Her mother helps her take care of her young daughter, and she has friends scattered throughout the small town. But there are also people she is in contention with, particularly her teenage assistants and large neighboring landowners. These two conflicts felt a little odd to me for different reasons. The tension between Eliza and her teenager assistants is introduced first in the book–in the first chapter, practically on the first page. Usually, when a source of tension is introduced early on, it is more complicated than it appears, or it is dealt with quickly and the book moves onto something else. Neither of those things happened here, and honestly, the conflict did not grab me–I didn’t feel like it was super important to the plot development or to character development. I also didn’t feel that it was resolved very well, even though it nearly took the whole book to do so. The tension is between Eliza’s vision for her floral arrangements and her assistants’ ideas, mainly, and more broadly, Eliza’s plans for her business and her assistants’ interests. Why a grown woman is so invested in what her part-time employees think about her business plans, or whether they like her floral arrangement designs, is beyond me. Why it took nearly the whole book to come to some kind of a resolution to this is also beyond me. The resolution is a spoiler. The second conflict gets introduced later in the book and has to do with a larger landowner and his plans for the county—not the neighborhood. This one was resolved more quickly than the first conflict, even though I think it actually made more sense for it to take up more room in the book, as it is more closely tied to Eliza’s place in her community. Eliza is trying to move forward with her life after the death of her husband when the story takes place; he dies off the page but she does describe the accident and the aftermath. At first, it seems like she would be okay with a lowkey fling with Julien, but throughout the book, these allusions to wanting more keep being dropped by both characters, and not just in their internal thinking. I’ll come back to that in a bit. Eliza is balancing this interest in Julien with the potential emotional impact a relationship with him could have on her daughter, who is still dealing with the abrupt, scary death of her father. In that way, Eliza’s daughter isn’t a plot moppet, but sometimes she conveniently is not considered when you’d expect her to be considered by other characters. For instance, Eliza snuck out at night to visit Julien and stayed with him for a significant amount of time, enough that when her daughter woke up in the night to look for her, she couldn’t find her and got into a sticky situation. Why Eliza would expect her grieving daughter to sleep through the night when she repeatedly mentions she has nightmares at other points in the book does not make sense to me.
Julien is disabled. He had an accident off the page and is slowly putting himself back together, emotionally speaking. His family owns a sugar farm, so he has experience working on a large farm, but this is his first time being in charge of daily operations–at least, that is how I understood it. I don’t know much about flower farming, flower farming in Washington, or how skills in growing sugar would transfer to growing flowers in Washington. So I don’t know if this all technically made sense, but I chose to accept the premise and go with it. Julien is also very opinionated about Eliza’s business plans, but he wants her to grow out her business in a similar way that she wants to. He has his own family issues, which are sort of resolved by the end of the book, though I would have preferred more resolution. I’m really not feeling the trust-me-they-will-be-happy-in-all-aspects resolutions to emotional conflicts. Julien values Eliza’s family not just because they are important to her, but because he gets to know them and appreciates them for who they are, which was nice to read. And for the most part, Craig portrays Julien as unexceptional–not inspirational–even though he is an amputee. I love it when authors do this, while also making sure the character accounts for how their disability impacts the way they interact with their world.
Part of why this book did not work for me is the way in which it is written. The characters are constantly alluding to their point–whether it is about the farm, their feelings, or anything else–but don’t often actually say directly what they mean. They even do this while they’re thinking, not speaking aloud. And on top of that, the characters are also trying to make broader points about life in general while also alluding to what they’re talking about in the moment. So I guess you could call it two allusions at a time. I didn’t really enjoy reading this, because sometimes I had to wade through all of this to figure out what a character was trying to say or do, or had noticed. Here is a tiny excerpt of the book so you can see what I’m trying to describe. It is from the second chapter, so not filled with spoilers.
“Been on the road a long time?”
Without turning his head, he raised his pant leg and revealed the green metal prosthesis below his knee. He gave the clerk time to react, looked over his shoulder, and made eye contact, watching for signs of pity.
The man nodded and took a sip of his coffee. “Going to be slippery tonight.”
“I haven’t taken a spill in a while.”
The man jerked his heard toward the store’s curving windows and the drops of rain sliding down the plate glass. “I meant on the bike.”
Julien turned and stared at the high-end machine. “The bike has winter tires.”
“Only a fool rides a motorcycle in the middle of February.”
He clamped his lips together. “I prefer stubborn.”
The clerk shook his head. “That’s not a good excuse.”
“Do you ride?” Julien considered the man’s long gray beard and bedraggled ponytail.
The man shifted on his stool. “When the weather’s good.”
“Then you know how to adjust your machine. In conditions like this, I ride in a higher gear for better control,” he said.
The clerk looked out the window. “How do you operate the rear wheel brake?”
“The anti-lock brake system interconnects the front and rear brakes. I thought about installing a hand brake, but I found I didn’t need it.”
The man nodded. “My old bike has a toe lever.” He turned to Julien. “You got a leak?”
“Appears that way.”
The man tapped his chin. “You handy?”
“I can fix anything with the right set of tools.” He crossed his arms and raised his right eyebrow, daring the man to test his claim.
“Good. I have a feeling you’ll need it.” The clerk smiled and sipped his coffee.
Having said all of that, I enjoyed reading this story for its depictions of disabled characters–Julien is not the only one with a disability in the book. I also liked Craig’s descriptions of the family dynamics, and the descriptions of the part of Washington where this story is set. I’m sure this book would work for lots of other people, it just didn’t work for me.
You can buy a copy here.