Heat Factor: It’s a slowish burn but hooo boy, it gets steamy.
Character Chemistry: It’s pretty instantaneous but there are SO MANY WALLS
Plot: Julien’s bike breaks down in Eliza’s small town at the exact moment she desperately needs help to keep her flower farm going–it’s like kismet. But both Julien and Eliza have so many legitimate barriers to being together (and surviving!) that it’s hard to see how they’re going to make it work.
Overall: Such a fantastically written book, just expertly knit together.
Angsty romances, man. I do not envy writers who take these on. As a reader you want to feel that struggle, but there’s such a fine line between characters working to find their way and characters who just refuse to help themselves.
In A Winter Rose the author pins you right up against that line. Eliza is running a fragment of the farm she inherited from her gambler father, filling it with farm-to-vase local flowers. It’s winter, and she’s preparing an order for a wedding when her foreman (and virtually her only real help on the farm) is deported. When she runs to town to get some supplies to prepare for an impending frost, the local hardware store owner essentially throws Julien into her path as a fill-in foreman. Julien is simply stopping to repair his motorcycle, but he’s drawn to Eliza and since he’s stuck due to the frost, he agrees to fill in temporarily.
The tension in this book is both obvious and oh-so-subtle. Eliza is determined to do the farm HER way, and she has a gaping lack of support. A bigtime developer is trying to force her to sell the farm, and they’re not doing it quietly. Her mom and her employees are constantly and sneakily undermining her and doubting her. And there’s an undercurrent of desperation as she’s pinned between two generations as a provider–her daughter is grieving the traumatic loss of her father/Eliza’s husband in motorcycle crash and her mother has suffered a series of small strokes, limiting her movement.
Julien lost his leg in an oil field accident (ok, full disclosure here–I have always thought that was a foxy job, sorrynotsorry) and during his painful recovery, his girlfriend marries his brother, who inherited their family’s booming sugar operation in Louisiana. So he’s displaced and adrift, but he’s gentle and good-humored. He’s patient, but he’s a straight shooter. As he steps in to support prickly Eliza, he quickly realizes he’s not just drawn to her beauty and her difficult situation, he’s also soaking up her fierce independence and courage and healing from it.
Normally, the sheer amount of bad luck and bad choices in a book like this would be difficult to tolerate. It is hard to watch characters sit in a rut and refuse to help themselves. But in Eliza’s case, it’s impossible not to sympathize with her position. She’s not trying to be stuck, she’s spread incredibly thin and is refusing to give up on her vision. She’s not crying in a corner, and she’s not letting anyone convince her she’s in over her head. She might be a bit prickly, but after being abandoned by his girlfriend, Julien seems to need someone who doesn’t finesse the truth or dodge uncomfortable conversations. And Eliza needs someone who will tell her the truth but respect her autonomy and back her up when needed. This unfolds slowly and through small actions and choices, so there’s this undercurrent of hope and progress despite the almost overpowering challenges before them.
There are two teenagers and one young child in this book, and I have to say that these characters had the most realistically done non-adult dialogue I’ve read in a long time. It’s very difficult to write youngsters as age-appropriate and not one-dimensional or annoying. The teens tested boundaries and pushed their developing need for independence sloppily and with a hint of insecurity. It was fabulously done. And Skye, Eliza’s daughter…that relationship almost knocked me over. You could see throughout the book and interwoven in the dialogue Skye’s vulnerability and budding independence. The waves of childhood emotion and the impatience. Seeming so grown up one moment and impulsive and lacking manners the next. Eliza was so relatable as a mother–worrying about her choices, feeling that gut punch of never being able to fully handle anything. There were a couple moments where Eliza offered an unsolicited explanation for a seemingly questionable parenting choice and I laughed out loud, because it felt so realistic.
I loved the slow burn between Julien and Eliza–it was just drawn out enough. I loved the way they started out like they were just “scratching an itch” and it developed into this steamy and capable dream-team dynamic. I adored that Julien was focused on supporting a strong woman without saving her. And I loved that Eliza saw Julien as a whole person deserving of respect and independence, too.
My only issue is that I spent several hours afterward online shopping at the Tractor Supply Co., and I don’t have room for a greenhouse.
I voluntarily read and reviewed a complimentary copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. We disclose this in accordance with 16 CFR §255.
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