I have never read anything from Denise Hildreth Jones before, but this was a nice introduction.
Although the book feels pretty slow-going for the first 100 pages, don't get discouraged and put it down (which I did for a few days). Once you get further into the story, you understand why the author laid such a painstaking foundation.
You'll see the gentle hand of God throughout the story, although sometimes that means leading His beloved through the fire of refinement, but always with enough love and grace to sustain.
As a child who grew up witnessing my mother's many miscarriages and now facing the same tragedies with my sister, this story of a powerful couple who seemingly have it all, but just want a house full of children to share it with, really it home with me. Although its only one aspect of the story, I loved the realism of that storyline. The fact that the picture-perfect main characters, the Governor and first lady of Tennessee, face problems just like "normal" people made the story more enjoyable and relate-able.
I also really enjoyed the setting of Nashville and Franklin, and the fact that the author chose to include many local sights and restaurants that I recognized from my many visits there.
If you're looking for a good summer read, with enough heart to moisten your eyes and a generous portion of humor (and just plain "southern-ness") to bring you a smile, this is a book for you.
This book is a slow tender story about how do you even go about healing after your heart is broken into a million pieces, when your worst nightmare becomes reality. I had a hard time reading this one I'll be honest it really crawled under my skin. Maybe it's because I was getting ready to send my sweet little girl off to kindergarten or something but this one really affected me.
The book was good just like her first book I read Hurricanes in Paradise. She has a great way of writing characters that you can really imagine and picture as you read. This one is a book that will stay with you long after you finish the book.
thank you tyndale for allowing me to read this book
Denise Hildreth Jones sets her emotionally powerful contemporary novel, First Gardener in the Tennessee Governor's mansion. Fictional first couple, Gray and Mackenzie London, appear to have it all - a solid, passionate marriage, a successful political life, and possibly a growing family. But all that changes one autumn afternoon, and both spouses are plunged into personal grief so deep that they cannot help each other.
The novel is named First Gardener which has a double meaning. God, as our Creator, is obviously First Gardener, and his presence throughout the book is most evident through the actions of Jeremiah, the Governor's Mansion gardener. Having been at the mansion for over twenty-five years, he has seen the comings and goings of several first families and has liked them all, but never has a family grabbed hold of his heart like the Londons. So when Mackenzie is so enveloped in grief that she cannot even dress or eat, Jeremiah sends one special flower a day as his message of love and support. Jeremiah will tell everyone what blossom he sends is always determined by the "tug" that God places on his heart. The special language of flowers will be part of the complicated healing that is the The First Gardener. Jeremiah is the one character who has a solid, consistant relationship with God throughout the book. He is the one who knows that God has not abandoned the London family, despite the depths of their pain. Just who this humble man is, will remain a partial secret until the end.
Despite knowing this was fiction from the time I read the first book review, I did NOT want Gray and Mackenzie to experience what they did. Knowing a little bit about the plot of the book before I read it, I even considered returning the book to the library without reading it. Why read about someone else's deep grief and pain, even if you know it was created in the author's imagination. But I started the book and my feelings for the couple were even stronger after reading the first chapter. By the time I got to that horrible autumn car ride, I just wanted to scream, "Don't write this! Make it a different story!".
I even wondered why Hildreth Jones would choose such a painful subject, and she must have anticipated that others would have the same question because she addresses this in the book's afterward. Despite being a story of loss ( and more loss), Hildreth Jones was able to infuse some humor, mainly through the antics of the Southern girl friend bunch who tag along wtih Mackenzie's mother, Eugenia. The author also does a solid job of creating a believable political/economic setting for this fictional time in Tennessee, and even weaves in some historical and recent Tennessee events. I recommend this book, but I will warn any mother or grandmother who reads it, you will feel pain along side of Mackenzie and Eugenia, and you will want to put the book down just to take a hug break -- just because you can (and should!)
Not having read any books written by Denise, I had no idea what to expect. I'm not a big fan of contemporary fiction. But being a southerner, the setting and the cover enticed me to choose this book. I am so glad!!!
With a myriad of characters, this is one emotional roller coaster ride. From a child's giddy laughter to a gardner's silent prayers you will be taken to depths and heights you cannot imagine in this jewel of a book!
I must admit when I began reading I realized fairly quickly what was going to happen. That being said, it took awhile for events to unfold and in that time my anger began to build toward Mackenzie. I thought she was too indulgent and that was going to be trouble. Basically, I was blaming her ahead of time for what I knew was going to happen. Yep. It did. Can you tell I'm involved in this book yet?!
What I ignored, in my humanity, is that God is the One in control! There is nothing we can do to thwart God's plan but when tragedy strikes we must not play the blame game (even toward ourselves) because there is no one to blame. God holds all things in His capable hands and He is the One we must lean on in our darkest hour!
Of course Mackenzie's husband, the governor, and her mom play important rolls in the book but Jeremiah, The First Gardner, is the one I fell in love with. He's an old man with a heart of gold! I only wish I had a tenth of the servant heart and green thumb that he does. His quiet strength, unwavering love and wisdom are treasures that make this book shine. Oh, that we all could have a Jeremiah in our lives!
Bravo Denise!!! I highly recommend this book to everyone! It is a must read from this reviewers point of view whether you like contemporary fiction or not. You won't be disappointed. You might laugh, and cry, and get mad but you'll come out the better for it! I fully intend on reading it again. The only thing that could have possibly made it better is if those lovely orchids on the cover had been embossed :)
I want to thank Tyndale House Publishers for providing me with this book for review purposes. I was not required to write a positive review. All opinions are my own.
This is one of those books that you just can't put down---it's almost as if you are living with the characters and feeling their pain and heartbreak. The First Gardener was the first book I've read by Denise Hildreth Jones but it won't be the last! She has the gift of story-telling and really draws the reader in to her story.
I felt so sad for Mackenzie and Gray with their attempts at having a family. To lose a child, especially in such a tragic event, must be the worst event in a mother's lifeâ€”it's understandable the emotions and reactions she goes through. However, she never could deal with her grief. Her family makes attempts to help her but until Mackenzie wants to help herself, nothing will work. As in real life, the first step is to admit you have trouble but Mackenzie doesn't even get that far. Pushing down the grief isn't healthy but having been in the same circumstance many years ago, it's the hardest experience to deal with. However, I was frustrated with how her family coddled her. At some point they should have intervened to help her climb out of her depression---her health, emotional and physical, was in jeopardy. Even if it was just to reignite her faith in God and his healing grace. Yes, it's hard, but she needed that grace.
Mackenzie's mom is just a hoot! And her friends even more so. They added that little relief of humor so necessary in a book like this. Even though they were an embarrassment at times, you gotta love their spunk during a time of need. And they truly cared about each other. Any negative comments to each other were always forgiven and dismissed as only good friends can do. Their belief in each other really touched my heart.
But my favorite character was the black gardener, Jeremiah. His deep faith in God and his garden (through God) is unshakeable. I loved how he used to language of flowers to speak to others when words just weren't enough. He took such good care of his "family" in the governor's mansion and became a confidant to those currently living there. Jeremiah is one of the people you meet and remember for the rest of your life. He reminded me of a big hug using only his words and flowers.
Even with the sadness and grief, I'd give this book a 4 out of 5 stars. The characters became my friends and I hurt along with them. It's a story of real life and undeniable faith. I'll definitely be reading more of Ms Jones' books in the future!
Tyndale House Publishers has provided me with a complimentary copy of The First Gardener in exchange for my personal, honest review.