A book with too much heart?

Several members of my book club had read and recommended Viola Shipman’s books and I’d put them on my digital reserve list at the library. (Don’t you just love the Libby app?) After many months of waiting, The Heirloom Garden finally became available, a testament to Viola’s popularity.

I found it to be a charming intergenerational story about hope and healing from trauma. We never know what someone else is going/has gone through unless we take the time to ask. The setting, a resort town along the shore of Lake Michigan was beautifully drawn. The timeline alternates between 1944 and 2003. The interactions between a reclusive elderly neighbor/landlady and the young family of a troubled Iraq war veteran compel the reader toward a hoped-for happy ending.

The daisies remind you to be happy. The hydrangeas inspire us to be colorful. The lilacs urge us to breathe deeply. The pansies reflect our own images back at us. The hollyhocks show us how to stand tall in this world. And the roses—oh, the roses!—they prove that beauty is always present even amongst the thorns.”


While I didn’t dislike the book, I found the author’s handling of the veteran’s engineer-wife’s workplace complaints–male co-workers and bosses disparaging her opinions and then taking credit for her work–a little too cliché. I understand that the conflict was necessary to push the character toward her own ambitions. However, while true, it was also too familiar and perhaps even a bit heavy-handed. “Novel” also means new and unexpected. Sadly, this wasn’t.

“Women do the work but men get the credit. Women do the work but men get the money. Women have a career and a family. We work all day and then work all night at home. Men golf, go to the club, work out, meet for happy hour, go to a game, and it’s deemed healthy, male bonding. Women want a few weeks of paid maternity leave, and we don’t get it.” When will it ever change? Will it ever change?

Here are a few quotes I highlighted in my digital copy before returning it to the library.

“The world is filled with too much ugliness—death, war, poverty, people just being plain mean to one another. But these flowers remind us there’s beauty all around us, if we just slow down to nurture and appreciate it.”

What I know is that war, sadly, is sometimes necessary not simply to protect a people but to save the world from evil. But too often war is used as a way to keep people in fear and, thus, in line. It is a false symbol of safety.

“I’ve come to believe that God lays out many paths for us. They’re not predetermined. The choices are ours. And each choice we make has a ripple effect on our lives and others’ lives.”

A good part of my life has been to study facts: What will make a plant more resistant to certain diseases? What crosses will yield the sturdiest stems? And yet so much of everything I have done—so much of life—comes down to pure faith.”

I think it’s safe to say that The Heirloom Garden has lots of heart. We do care what happens to the characters, but for me, it read as just a little too sappy. (I know, right? Too sappy for me?) Like the workplace equality issue, the heartfelt emotions were just a bit overdone. Obviously, I’m in the minority because Viola’s books sell like hotcakes.

Have you read any of Viola’s others? Can you recommend one I might like better?

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