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The First Gardener Paperback – August 1, 2011
This month's Book With Buzz: "Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng
From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture - perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. See more
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International speaker and author Jones (Hurricanes in Paradise) crafts a heart-wrenchingly believable story that at times mirrors her own life. Mackenzie, the wife of Tennessee governor Gray London, has yearned for years for nothing else but a child. Mack finally conceives, and little Maddie becomes the center of this couple's world until a tragedy shatters the family. In the aftermath, an unremarkable man, a gardener named Jeremiah, begins to pierce the wall of Mack's pain and reach her soul through flowers. Each gift has a specific meaning and, while not always well received, Mack ultimately gets the messages God is communicating through Jeremiah's blooms. One blossom at a time, Mack's heartache mends under the tender ministrations of a master gardener who plants and prays in equal measure. Jones's novel offers comfort and challenge, and readers will find it lingering in their hearts and minds long after the last page has been turned. (Aug.) --Publishers Weekly, June 20, 2011
For over 25 years, Jeremiah Williams has been the head gardener at the Tennessee governor's mansion and has served many first families. But Governor Gray London and his wife, Mackenzie, have a special place in Jeremiah's heart. He watched the couple struggle for years to have a child. Now five years old, their adorable daughter, Maddie, is about to start kindergarten. When a crippling tragedy strikes the family, Jeremiah must offer Mackenzie the comfort she seeks to find her way out of her depression. ¬VERDICT This tender and uplifting read by the author of the Savannah series (Savannah from Savannah; Savannah Comes Undone; Savannah by the Sea) should find its way into the hands of readers who like the Southern novels of Rebecca Wells. --Library Journal, June 15, 2011
From the Back Cover
If heaven had a backyard, it would look like the gardens of the Tennessee governor’s mansion.
Jeremiah Williams has been tending those gardens for over twenty- five years. And like most first families who have come and gone, this one has stolen his heart.
Mackenzie and her husband, Governor Gray London, are enjoying a sweet season of life when a tragedy tears their world apart. As the entire state mourns, Mackenzie falls into a grief that threatens to swallow her whole.
Though his heart is also broken, Jeremiah realizes that his gift of gardening is about far more than pulling weeds and planting flowers. It’s about tending hearts as well. So he gently begins to cultivate the hard soil of Mackenzie’s heart, hoping to show her what it took him decades to discover.
A Southern tale of loss, love, and living, The First Gardener reminds us that all of life is a gift, but our heart is the most valuable gift of all.
Top customer reviews
Fans will get to see another side of this author’s creative talent as they read The First Gardner. This book is quite different from her others. A good different! It’s a brilliant different that shows a maturity in her writing and character development. Denise’s story is rich and illuminating as she peals back the layers of this couples life to show what’s really inside the human heart, when the rubber meets the road. Not everything comes up roses! Denise Hildreth Jones shows the reader God is with us even in our anger and pain!
I adored the gardener, Jeremiah. I liked how he described pain and our wounded heart, “A shut-down heart’s ‘bout the saddest thing ever I see. ‘Cause we all come out the womb with our hearts wide open. All sweet an trustin’ and close to God. It like we got this line runnin’ straight up to heaven.
But life can start cuttin’ into the line. Little cut when we little and sump’n sad happens or we find out somebody can do things better ‘an we can. More little cuts…all that just keep sawin’ at that line from heaven to that little alive heart. And finally it don’t want to stay open no more, so it just clench up!
That be to what a shut down heart look like-all sad and scared and bitter, all them things. But the real sad they is, it don’t have to shut down! Cause even with all them cuts, that line to heaven still there. If it go and close up, that our doing!”
I fell in love with five year old Maddie, Mackenzie and Grays daughter. Denise has the reader laughing out-loud one minute and their throat tightening up, and tears run down their faces the next. A scene that cracked me up was when Maddie approaches her dad about keeping a dog she loves. Gray says, “Puppies are a lot of responsibility, Maddie.”
“Tons, Daddy. And I’m so big, I’ll take good care of her. Feed her. Pee her. Poop her. All of it, Daddy.” I could just see her adorable eyes looking at her daddy pleading her case for a puppy.
Eugenia’s friends are a riot and made me laugh as well, they go to lunch and say to the waitress, “I’ll have a piece of your chess pie and a piece of your chocolate pie,…And Dimples here wants your mint fudge brownie and a piece of pecan pie. We have both decided that life is better if you lead with dessert.”
I loved this novel that reveals Denise’s pure honesty and willingness to be so vulnerable. She says, “I discovered as I began to write about Gray and Mackenzie’s pain over losing Maddie that I was able to use much of my own personal pain about not having children that had been a deep ache in my heart for so long!...I do know what it is to grieve the children I thought I would give birth to… I’ve learned God will give us beautiful companions on the journeys through our pain if we are willing to open our eyes and look for them.”
I loved the fact that Jeremiah sent flowers to Mackenzie every day. Each flower had its own meaning and he encouraged her without the use of a single word. I applaud Denise Hildreth Jones for her honest, refreshing way in which she looked at pain and the battle being waged against our souls. How do we fight the good fight on days we can’t even get out of bed? God says He’s the Glory and the lifter of our head!! My Hope and Refuge.
Denise gives a peek into how God works in our lives in unexpected ways. I highly recommend this story which gives the reader a visual on the attributes of God and so much more. These characters will stay in your heart and mine long after the last page is read!
I’m thankful for the review copy of a book that answers the question, “What does it mean when someone says; God has healed me from the inside out? How can I let God touch the hurts in my heart and be healed?”
Denise says, “You can only live with your heart shut down for so long. Eventually you will fight for your healing or you will die… Some even find God when their lives fall apart!....Sometimes a person has to die in order to really live. ..Hungry for something real?.. (tired of just going through the motions of life and feeling numb inside?) Want to feel alive? Seek whatever helps you rediscover that carefree childlike heart I know is in there somewhere – that is what you should be doing to Feel Alive!”
This is a walk Denise’s characters have gone on and/or just started down the path. I enjoyed this cast so much, they are fun, bold and each have been knocked around by life. Each has a different result and story to tell.
Scarlett Jo is a Pastor’s wife that’s fun and doesn’t care what people think about her. Denise writes, “Scarlett Jo hadn’t simply survived her life. She had learned how to live in spite of it- and not to worry too much about the perceptions of others.”
Scarlett Jo is fun loving, free spirited and an inspirational person! I loved her voice and her outlook on life she says, “Oh, child do you not know about couponing?...I’m feeding a pack of wolves at my house. If I didn’t know how to coupon, my children would have had to eat me by now. But if you ever want to learn how to do it, you just let me know. It is crazy girl! I can go to a store and leave and they’ve paid me money.” (I want to learn – teach me! Teach Me! Grin!)
The characters in this novel welcome you in as family. They’re situations will tug at your heart. What I love about Denise’s books are this, you’ll be having a good time reading then all of a sudden she cleverly interweaves spiritual truths that pierce your heart, make you stop and think. Denise will help you “See lies you believe.” You’ll laugh out loud and get teary eyed in parts of this story, a winning combination.
I really liked Scarlett Jo’s husband too he says, “I watch people. I take in people. And to be honest, I learn a great deal about them by what they don’t say.”
I highly recommend this novel and the non-fiction companion book called Reclaiming your Heart! It’s a win win combination. A book you’ll want to put on your summer reading list. Did I mention I just love the cover of this book too! It’s a keeper!
Disclosure of Material Connection:
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”
Nora St Laurent
TBCN Where Book Fun Begins www.bookfun.org
The Book Club Network blog www.psalm516.blogspot.com
Book Fun Magazine www.bookfunmagazine.com
The First Gardener is set in Franklin, Tennessee, at the governor's mansion. The main characters are Gray and Mackenzie London, but the supporting characters added much to the story.
Mackenzie had suffered from infertility for several years before giving to birth to Maddie, who is five years old and entering kindergarten when the book begins. Infertility problems continue to plague Tennessee's first couple and treatments are ongoing to try to give them another pregnancy.
We meet Jeremiah, the old black gardener who spends his days tending the garden at the mansion, and Eugenia, Mackenzie's mother, along with her quirky senior adult friends. We learn about some of the pressures that politicians have to face and community work that the first lady does. Jeremiah narrates in between chapters with his home-spun philosophy of life, especially the lives of Mackenzie, Gray, and little Maddie.
When tragedy strikes suddenly after Maddie had attended kindergarten only a week, the blow is almost more than Gray, Mackenzie, and their friends can stand. Then, about six weeks after Maddie's death in a car accident, the Londons discover that Mackenzie is pregnant. She rebounds quickly, thinking that this is a gift from God in recompense for their loss. She rushes back into her busy life, decorates and furnishes the new nursery, and pushes grief far from her mind until diaster strikes again in the form of a miscarriage, the 5th one she had experienced. Six pregnancies, one baby, and that one was gone.
I wondered, because the book was only half finished, what else the author would have to say. But she said plenty. She dealt with deep depression, heavy grief, and the temptation and isolation that comes when people have such deep problems. Since one of our daughters experienced infertility, I knew something of the heartache described in the book. I could feel her grief and loss as I read with tears in my eyes.
The old gardener tells us much about flowers as he presents Mackenzie with a flower every day--one that he said God told him to give her. Each flower had a special meaning. There is humor, too, as Eugenia, Mackinzie's mother, tries to tell Jeremiah how to garden, since she, too, was a gardener in earlier years. Her three friends also lend plenty of humor.
This book would appeal to anyone. The experiences of infertility speak to the those who have been through this. The characterization of the mother-in-law and her friends would appeal to senior citizens. The stresses and temptations that come to Gray London are like those that come to many young and middle age people as they struggle with life. The deep devotion that sustains Jeremiah are helpful to anyone, as he depends on God to help him. And the surprise ending leaves the reader with a punch, one that was totally unexpected.
I also reviewed this wonderful book on my blog: [...] if you care to read it and other book and author reviews there.
Most recent customer reviews
It is a heart breaking story yet in the end you see how God works through everything and He is with you...Read more