The life Bethany Quinn has built for herself in Chicago is the exact opposite of the trailer-park childhood she spent in the small Iowa town she loathes. An up-and-coming architect with a prestigious firm, Bethany hasn't been back to her hometown in years – and wouldn't be going now if not for tragedies that have befallen the two people in Iowa she cares for most. Determined to stay no longer than courtesy demands, Bethany plans to return to her successful life, but then she finds herself the recipient of an unexpected inheritance: 500 acres of Iowa farmland.
The farm has been under the care of handsome Evan Price for the past several years and it's his dream to continue farming it indefinitely. But if she sells the land to a developer Bethany could finance a dream of her own: opening her own architectural firm. When her carefully wrought life in Chicago begins to disintegrate, however, staying in Iowa, while no more attractive than ever, becomes necessary until the pieces of her life fall back in line.
Evan isn't happy with Bethany's plan to sell the farm – and his dreams along with it – and he can't help but see her as selfish and cold when she refuses to consider other options. Yet there is something vulnerable under the surface of Bethany's heart that draws him. As much as she infuriates him, he can barely deny the impulse to draw her into his arms.
With memories of small-town judgments and religion's betrayal lurking around every corner, Bethany can hardly wait to sell the farm and get out of Iowa for good. But with nothing immediate drawing her back to Chicago – and a growing attachment to the people and happenings around her – Bethany may find that the only way to move beyond the pain of her losses is to surrender her heart.
HITS & MISSES
The novel begins with a prologue written in the first-person point-of-view in which Bethany remembers a piece of her life at age 12. The majority of the rest of the book, however, is told in varying third-person points-of-view, but the story occasionally – and somewhat unexpectedly – dips back into telling first-person memories from her childhood every now and then. The switches are a little difficult to navigate at first, but it doesn't take long to figure out what's going on.
The insertion of scenes shown from Evan's viewpoint (and a spare few from another person) seem to flow a little more naturally than the first few dips back into Bethany's childhood and, although the alternating points of view lack a bit of symmetry when viewed from above, there is a syncopated sort of rhythm to the POV switches that allows the reader to better engage in what each character is going through.
Katie Ganshert manages to skirt the temptation to allow her characters to preach at one another in order to speed up their coping processes. In this way she artfully allows the reader to form her own opinions and sympathies as the story progresses while remaining fully aware of Bethany's set-in-stone perceptions. There are no cardboard cutout characters or plotlines in this book, but there are a few Bethany sees that way and the reader knows it. It's a tricky bit of magic, but Ganshert made it work.
Ganshert tackles the issue of religious abuse with a delicate clarity that does not apologize for illuminating the shadows of legalistic religion. Tenderly showing the faith-crippling consequences of judgment-based theology, she paints a clear portrait of how the influence of a prideful preacher can destroy a family and mask the evidence of a grace-offering God to those who survive the fallout of such an abuse of power.
Evan and Bethany fight their attraction for different reasons and, even though they both keep the gloves up for a long time, the romantic tension is well played and the physicality of their magnetism sizzles beneath the surface of every scene. When they finally give in to that kiss … it's well worth the wait.
TO READ... OR NOT?
Katie Ganshert knows how to wring the heart of a scene in order to place her reader within a character's pain and wonder. (And I'm not ashamed to admit that one particularly beautiful scene brought me to tears.) Contemporary with a somewhat prickly sense of nostalgia, Wildflowers from Winter is a romantic beauty-from-ashes story – and a promising series starter from this debut author.
This review first appeared at USA Today's romance fiction blog Happy Ever After.
Make sure you check back later this week for my exclusive OUTSIDE THE AUTHOR'S STUDIO interview with Katie Ganshert -- and watch for details on how you could win my autographed ARC of this lovely book!