With all the recent wintry weather, we’re more than ready for springtime. And while Punxsutawney Phil might have told us not to expect an early end to winter, literature offers us an opportunity to get an early dose of spring, with none of the annoying pollen. These lush books that feel like springtime practically have us smelling roses already.
Following five women living across three different times whose lives are all connected by one very special place, THE LAST GARDEN IN ENGLAND brings not only these women to life but also the garden they share. From 1907, when the beautiful garden was designed at an estate, to the dark days of 1944, when it is devastated by war, to present day, when this garden gets a second chance, author Julia Kelly weaves a tale in which the garden is not only a lush backdrop but a character in its own right.
From the author of the international bestseller The Light Over London and The Whispers of War comes a poignant and unforgettable tale of five women living across three different times whose lives are all connected by one very special place.
Present day: Emma Lovett, who has dedicated her career to breathing new life into long-neglected gardens, has just been given the opportunity of a lifetime: to restore the gardens of the famed Highbury House estate, designed in 1907 by her hero Venetia Smith. But as Emma dives deeper into the gardens’ past, she begins to uncover secrets that have long lain hidden.
1907: A talented artist with a growing reputation for her ambitious work, Venetia Smith has carved out a niche for herself as a garden designer to industrialists, solicitors, and bankers looking to show off their wealth with sumptuous country houses. When she is hired to design the gardens of Highbury House, she is determined to make them a triumph, but the gardens—and the people she meets—promise to change her life forever.
1944: When land girl Beth Pedley arrives at a farm on the outskirts of the village of Highbury, all she wants is to find a place she can call home. Cook Stella Adderton, on the other hand, is desperate to leave Highbury House to pursue her own dreams. And widow Diana Symonds, the mistress of the grand house, is anxiously trying to cling to her pre-war life now that her home has been requisitioned and transformed into a convalescent hospital for wounded soldiers. But when war threatens Highbury House’s treasured gardens, these three very different women are drawn together by a secret that will last for decades.
In this sweeping novel reminiscent of Kate Morton’s The Lake House and Kristin Harmel’s The Room on Rue Amélie, Julia Kelly explores the unexpected connections that cross time and the special places that bring people together forever.
In Mary Ellen Taylor’s HONEYSUCKLE SEASON, wedding photographer Libby McKenzie’s journey takes place in the blossoming of the grounds of the historic Woodmont estate. When Libby first arrives at Woodmont, she never guessed the owner would ask her to stay on and photograph the grounds as they are transformed by young widower Colton Reese. Still feeling adrift after her father’s death, the end of an unhappy marriage, and several miscarriages, Libby manages to form a bond with the overgrown property, which transforms her life and helps her move on.
THE LAKE HOUSE by Kate Morton has a different tie to the land than the others on this list. When Alice Edevane’s young brother, Theo, goes missing on the family estate, her family falls apart and they abandon the Edevane estate. When Detective Sadie Sparrow comes across the estate decades later, she is enchanted by the crumbling grounds, but even more so by the secrets she finds there. Morton brings the wilds of Cornwall’s coast and the untamed beauty of the English countryside to life.
Filled with mystery and spellbinding secrets, this novel is the perfect escape. Alice Edevane is only 16 years old when her 11-month-old brother vanishes from her family’s idyllic lakeside estate. Decades later, a detective stumbles upon the now crumbling estate and uncovers shocking truths about a past long gone ... yet more present than ever.
RED ISLAND HOUSE by Andrea Lee brings the tropics to your bookshelf. Shay is a Black American professor who marries Senna, an Italian businessman in Milan. Soon their life takes them to Madagascar, where Senna is building a vacation home. On the island nation, Shay gets swept up in the torrid affairs of the small community, the cultural clashes, and the magic of this tropical escape. However, while Shay is living in paradise, this oasis may lead to life-changing decisions for her and Senna.
From National Book Award–nominated writer Andrea Lee comes a gorgeously evocative epic about love, clashing cultures, and identity, set in the tropical African island nation of Madagascar.
“People do mysterious things when they think they’ve found paradise,” reflects Shay, the heroine of Red Island House. When Shay, a Black American professor who’s always had an adventurous streak, marries Senna, an Italian businessman, she doesn’t imagine that her life’s greatest adventure will carry her far beyond their home in Milan to an idyllic stretch of beach in Madagascar, where Senna builds a flamboyant vacation villa. Before she knows it, Shay has become the somewhat reluctant mistress of a sprawling household, caught between her privileged American upbringing and her connection to the continent of her ancestors.
At first, she’s content to be an observer of the passionate affairs and fierce rivalries around her, but over twenty tumultuous years of marriage, as she and Senna raise children and establish their own rituals at the house, Shay finds herself drawn ever deeper into a place where a blend of magic, sexual intrigue, and transgression forms a modern-day parable of colonial conquest. Soon the collision of cultures comes right to Shay’s door, forcing her to make a life-altering decision that will change her and Senna’s lives forever.
A captivating, powerful, and profoundly moving novel about marriage and loyalty, identity and freedom, Red Island House showcases an extraordinary literary voice and an extravagantly lush, enchanted world.
From Champagne, 1940, to New York, 2019, Kristin Harmel takes us on an adventure in THE WINEMAKER’S WIFE. Harmel brings the countryside of Champagne to life, and you can practically smell the grapes of the Maison Chauveau winery. However, Harmel’s book isn’t all champagne daydreams. Inès has just married Michel, owner of Maison Chauveau, as the Germans invade France during World War II. Soon, Michel is using the winery to hide munitions for the Résistance. In present-day New York, Liv goes on a trip with her French grandmother that takes them to the caves of Maison Chauveau and the memories that still reside there.
The author of the “engrossing” (People) international bestseller The Room on Rue Amélie returns with a moving story set amid the champagne vineyards of France during the darkest days of World War II, perfect for fans of Heather Morris’s The Tattooist of Auschwitz.
Champagne, 1940: Inès has just married Michel, the owner of storied champagne house Maison Chauveau, when the Germans invade. As the danger mounts, Michel turns his back on his marriage to begin hiding munitions for the Résistance. Inès fears they’ll be exposed, but for Céline, the French-Jewish wife of Chauveau’s chef de cave, the risk is even greater—rumors abound of Jews being shipped east to an unspeakable fate.
When Céline recklessly follows her heart in one desperate bid for happiness, and Inès makes a dangerous mistake with a Nazi collaborator, they risk the lives of those they love—and the vineyard that ties them together.
New York, 2019: Recently divorced, Liv Kent is at rock bottom when her feisty, eccentric French grandmother shows up unannounced, insisting on a trip to France. But the older woman has an ulterior motive—and a tragic, decades-old story to share. When past and present finally collide, Liv finds herself on a road to salvation that leads right to the caves of the Maison Chauveau.
In Heidi Swain’s SUNSHINE AND SWEET PEAS IN NIGHTINGALE SQUARE, a little cottage in Norwich on Nightingale Square is the perfect place for Kate to hide away from her London life . . . and her almost-ex-husband. Soon, Kate finds herself pulled out of her hiding place and into village life. She takes on the task of campaigning the council to turn the green into a community garden. If idyllic village life doesn’t get you ready for spring, it’s hard to imagine what will!
~*~ ‘Pour out the Pimm’s, pull out the deckchair and lose yourself in this lovely, sweet, summery story!’ MILLY JOHNSON ~*~
The heart-warming new novel from the Sunday Times bestselling author, perfect for fans of Carole Matthews, Milly Johnson and Cathy Bramley
Kate is on the run from her almost-divorced husband who is determined to have her back, and she has found the perfect place to hide... a little cottage on Nightingale Square in Norwich, far away from her old life in London. But the residents of Nightingale Square don't take no for an answer, and Kate soon finds herself pulled into a friendship with Lisa, her bossy but lovely new neighbour.
Within a matter of days Kate is landed with the job of campaigning the council to turn the green into a community garden, meanwhile all the residents of Nightingale Square are horrified to discover that the Victorian mansion house on the other side of the square has been bought by developers. But when all hope is lost, the arrival of a handsome stranger is sure to turn things around!
Heidi Swain is the perfect summer read - you'll want to find your own green space, stretch out in the sun and dive into life at Nightingale Square.
‘Wise, warm and wonderful – a real summertreat!’ heat magazine
'A fabulous feel good read – a ray of reading sunshine!’ LAURA KEMP, author of A Year of Surprising Acts of Kindness
'This book had it all for me! A beautiful setting, likeable characters and a wonderful plot. I was captivated from the first chapter. A charming book you will not want to put down!' NetGalley Reviewer
‘I loved Sunshine and Sweet Peas in Nightingale Square. I always want to be best mates with the characters in Heidi’s books and this was no exception. A lovely summer read for fans of women’s fiction’ Bookworm Alice
'Absolutely delightful. There were so many twists and yet, it never went over the top, that's what I loved about it. I would absolutely recommend it to those who want to spend time with a lovely book in the summer. Get your cosiest spot and your choice of drink and read this book!' NetGalley Reviewer
'Worth far more than five stars - it's an amazing book, so well written and I just couldn't put it down. Has amazing characters and wonderful settling and plot to the story with many twists and turns' NetGalley Reviewer
'I’d love to live in Nightingale Square and be part of the community garden.I want to be friends with the characters. A lovely read for a spring/ summer evening' NetGalley Reviewer
~*~ What everyone is saying about Heidi Swain's other novels ~*~
‘Sparkling and romantic’ My Weekly
'Sprinkled with Christmas sparkle' Trisha Ashley, author of The LIttle Teashop of Lost and Found
'A big, fat, cosy hug of a read... it will leave you with a warm glow!' Mandy Baggot, author of Those Summer Nights
'A story that captures your heart - engaging characters, a gorgeous setting and chickens! A winning formula' Chrissie Barlow, author of Evie's Year of Taking Chances
When Annie Marlow finds her own patch of sunshine in a seaside cottage, it seems like the perfect winter escape; however, the escape is in need of a little repair. Enter Keaton, a local painter who helps her fix up her new home. Soon gardens are planted and the smell of fresh fruit trees fill the air in this slice of small-town life that author Debbie Macomber paints for us. COTTAGE BY THE SEA also gives us bountiful characters to fall for, like Annie’s reclusive landlady, Mellie, and Britt, the teenager with a secret.
The adventures in THE ENCHANTED APRIL by Elizabeth von Arnim all begin with a discreet advertisement in the Times, addressed “To Those Who Appreciate Wistaria and Sunshine.” If you’re a reader who appreciates those natural wonders, you’ll love this classic novel of four women who are drawn to the shores of the Mediterranean and blossom under the Italian springtime sun—wouldn’t we all?
THE GARDEN OF EVENING MISTS by Tan Twan Eng takes us to Malaya in 1951. Yun Ling Teoh is scarred by her experience as the lone survivor of a brutal Japanese wartime camp. However, among the tea plantations of Cameron Highlands she finds solace in Yugiri, the only Japanese garden in Malaya, and its owner and creator, the enigmatic Aritomo. Yun Ling becomes Aritomo’s apprentice and learns the art of gardening in order to create a garden in memory of her sister, who died in the camp. Yun Ling processes her grief through her garden and is able to turn it into a thing of beauty, while battling against her own secrets and those of Aritomo.
For Yun Ling Teoh, gardening is a way to rediscover her sense of self and try to atone for the survivor’s guilt she feels after losing her sister during their time in a Japanese internment camp. Brimming with intrigue, Tan Twan Eng’s second novel delves into the history, cultures, and injustices of World War II, and how life goes on for some in the aftermath.
For anyone who labels themselves a proud “plant parent,” you’ll have lots in common with May Attaway in RULES FOR VISITING by Jessica Francis Kane. May finds that while she loves her work as a gardener, she might just have more in common with plants than people, so when she is unexpectedly granted leave from her job, she takes herself on an adventure to reconnect with four former friends. This book is all about appreciating the simple pleasures and the beauty of friendship.
Photo credit: Scribner Books