If you heard shouts of “Hallelujah!” “Yay!” and “Great! Thank heavens!” from my house the morning of September 15, it was me and my assistants celebrating that I reached the end of Gil McNeil’s 2014 novel, A Good Year for the Roses. The author is best known for a series of British mysteries about knitting, and other romances. I discovered the book when my local library featured a large display of fiction and nonfiction about gardening. Since I love roses of all kinds (although yellow ones are my special favorite) I was immediately hooked.
It became something of a running joke at home, because it took me FOREVER to finish it. One of my helpers started asking, with a grin, “Are you ever going to return this? I’m sick of seeing it!” My to-be-read pile, always humongous, often prevented me from going back to it regularly. But I’m glad I stuck with it. It’s a great story, very funny and touching. When you are not feeling all that fabulous and need to relax and enjoy yourself, this is the read to choose. Here’s a bit of the story.
Molly Taylor hasn’t been having a wonderful time lately. Newly divorced and living in London with three growing sons–Dan, Ben, and Alfie–she feels at loose ends, even though she enjoys her teaching job. Molly has primary custody of the boys, and their jerk of a dad is mostly absent. She would like to move for a new start, but is having a hard time finding the right place. To make matters worse, Molly’s beloved Aunt Helena dies. So as the story opens, the family is traveling to the Devon coast for the funeral. Molly isn’t sure how she feels about being back with her eccentric family and in the place where she grew up. But she misses Helena and enjoys seeing her Uncle Bertie, Helena’s widower, again.
Imagine Molly’s shock (and the rest of the family, who owns a hotel in the area) when Helena’s will is read. Her aunt has left her the house that she and Bertie shared–Harrington Hall–complete with massive, well-loved, and well-tended gardens. But what is she going to do with it?
Ultimately, Molly decides to quit her job and move the family (and their dog, Tess) to Devon and make Harrington Hall into a bed-and-breakfast inn. I really admire this character for her spirit and spunk. From the get-go, Molly realizes how much work it will be, but she is determined. She wants the B&B to be a place of safety, restoration, and healing. Still, there are days when she hides in the linen closet awhile to regroup.
Bertie will continue to live in the house. A former British Navy man, Bertie’s pride and joy is his pet parrot, Betty, who swears a lot. Bertie also does nightly safety patrols of the property. Often without warning, he sets off an ancient cannon, which makes everyone in the house feel like they’re experiencing an earthquake. The noise is also the cause of many a household accident. Ivy and Dennis, a husband-wife team, are the housekeeping and gardening staff, respectively. Lola is Molly’s best friend who calls and visits occasionally and shakes things up. Molly and the boys have to get used to tending the chickens every day and helping Dennis keep the wild rabbits out of the vegetable garden. Bubble and Squeak, the piglets Alfie won in a local raffle, join the menagerie later. A subsequent guest brings her dog along…to Betty’s chagrin. And always–always–everybody tracks in mud.
The book moves at a delightfully leisurely pace with tons of British charm. I did learn a new slang word. And I did catch myself saying “bloody hell!” a bit too much when I got irritated with situations in my own life. At its heart, it’s a family story–a single mom raising her sons and being part of an extended family and community. Readers also see the B&B and the characters grow and change.A Good Year for the Roses is also unique in the way it is structured–each section is organized into seasons of the year. At the beginning of each section, descriptions of various roses are included.
A beautiful read!