Friday, March 19, 2010

[Book Review] Back On Blossom Street by Debbie Macomber

Back on Blossom Street (Blossom Street, #4)Back on Blossom Street by Debbie Macomber
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Part 1: From The Book Cover

There's a new shop on Seattle's Blossom Street - a flower shop called Susannah's Garden. The owner, Susannah Nelson, has just hired a young widow named Colette Blake. Susannah and Colette both join Lydia Goetz's new knitting class. Lydia's previous classes have forged lasting friendships and this one is no exception.

Part 2: Recommendation

I've always seen books by Debbie Macomber but I get sidetracked by my favorite authors to read her books until I got a week-long email subscription to the Pikes Peak Library District's online book club featuring Back on Blossom Street by Debbie Macomber. The book clubs feature a book a week and that includes a couple preview pages. It was such an interesting week that I couldn't resist browsing the eBranch and checking out the ebook version.

Back on Blossom Street focuses mainly on what's happening in the lives of soon-to-be-married Alix Townsend, recently widowed Colette Blake, and of course owner of A Good Yarn, Lydia Goetz and her sister Margaret. For Colette Blake, working for Susannah's Garden is like starting a new life, hiding away from old friends and colleagues, an escape from her feelings of confusion for her growing attraction to her former boss, Christian, and still constantly worrying about the information she stumbled upon on Christian's computer and confronting her feelings of guilt stemming from that one night where she felt this overwhelming sense of betraying the memory of her dead husband and must now find the courage to face the consequences of her actions alone. For Alix Townsend, the best thing that ever happened to her was falling in love with Rev. Jordan Turner, who accepted and loved her despite her less than sterling past. Now that their wedding date is just a few months away, she's excited and counting down the days till she becomes Mrs. Jordan Turner but can she also be a pastor's wife? Jordan thinks that she's the perfect pastor's wife but Alix had a feeling that her future mother-in-law, Susan, thinks otherwise. Another source of frustration is the wedding itself. Alix envisioned a simple wedding with family and close friends in attendance but to her horror and utter discomfort, mentor and friend, Jacqueline Donovan, and Susan are going overboard with planning the wedding of the century without even bothering to ask the couple what they wanted. And asking Jordan what he thinks is not very helpful to say the least because it's easier for him to adhere to his mother's wishes than to go against it. In Alix's mind, the whole wedding is turning into a circus and she's not sure if she can go through with that plan. After battling and surviving cancer, Lydia thought her life is perfect until one day, one of her friends finally got pregnant after such a long time of trying for a baby and though she is happy for her friends, she can't help but feel that her arms will be forever empty of cradling a baby. Confused by her emotion, she confides to husband Brad saying, "I'm happy for Carol... But it hit me just now... I can't have children. I mean, I've known all along and it isn't like it's any surprise... so I don't understand why I should feel like this now." On top of that, she also feels like she's slowly loosing her mother to alzheimer's. To Lydia and Margaret, selling their mother's house "... meant letting go of our childhood and all the reminders of growing up there. It was the end of an era for us both, just as it was for our mother." Lydia's also worried because Margaret's family is going through a hard time when suddenly, Margaret's daughter Julia got car jacked and the thief is running around free because the police currently don't have a strong case to keep the thief in jail and this incident.

It is funny how a lot of people think they're not allowed to speak to the president of the company they're working for even to greet him (or her) a good morning but Colette thought otherwise thus having everyone stare at her in open-mouthed surprise and earning her a frantic whisper from an co-worker, telling her, "No one talks to Mr. Dempsey." But "Colette couldn't imagine why not. He was flesh and blood like everyone else. Wishing him a good day was just the polite thing to do" which turned out to be a good thing because when Mr. Dempsey called her into his office because of that little surprise greeting, instead of getting sacked like everyone led her to believe, she got promoted and a raise instead, now isn't that a very nice surprise?

Whatever art form or craft project a person is doing, I agree with Lydia when she said, "The projects I knit are an extension of me, an expression of my love for the person I'm knitting for." Not only does arts and craft do that, they also have a way of bringing strangers together, forming friendships and in Lydia's case, "each woman who signed up for one of my knitting classes taught me a valuable lesson... I was so focused on myself, I failed to notice other people as I should. The knowledge opened my eyes in any number of ways, and I've learned to listen to others... I've become much more tolerant, too. And I find myself reaching out more, getting involved in my neighborhood and business community." And though starting and running your own business without having taken any business class at all is daunting and risky, Lydia proved that it's not really a requirement in the sense that you can learn about running a business not only in school, "I'd never taken a single business class or even worked at a full-time job. Margaret was afraid I'd set myself up for failure; as it turned out, she was wrong. Later I could see how much I'd absorbed about business from my father... Our dad had his own business for years, and almost by osmosis I learned a lot from him without even realizing it."

What is most astonishing to see is that when a child is hurt, the mother is always the emotional one and it is up to the husband to comfort the wife and remind her that at least their child is alive and safe now. Take for instance when Julia got into a carjacking incident, at the hospital waiting room, Margaret paced, "snarling like a wounded beast, snapping at the staff, demanding answers and generally making a nuisance of herself... Matt handled the situation so tactfully..." reminding Margaret that Julia was alive again and again. And Matt was right in saying that "the loss of the car was of no consequence as long as their daughter had survived the attack. Insurance would replace the vehicle but nothing could ever replace their child." But surviving from such an attack like that doesn't end in the hospital emergency room. The trauma lingers and haunts not only the victim but the family as well, believing "the car thief had stolen more than their vehicle that day. He'd also taken Julia's innocent trust that the world was decent and safe." In this case, the family should be more supportive and attentive to help Julia recover but Margaret refused to let it go " wasn't getting the car back that was important to Margaret. It was justice she wanted... demanded. Margaret wasn't one to easily forgive and forget, and she was fiercely protective of her family, especially her daughters..." and the anger and vengeance she felt was consuming her so much so that Julia could not move on to the next stage of her recovery. "Julia herself was back in school but refused to talk about what happened, even to her mother. It was as if a giant boulder had crashed through the room; everyone had to walk around it and pretend it wasn't there. At any hint or mention of the carjacking, Julia disappeared into her room, plugged her iPod into her ears and zoned out for hours on end... [Margaret] wanted revenge and she wanted it badly enough to hound the authorities day and night... Margaret had made it her mission to see justice done -- more than justice, vengeance. The man responsible for hurting her daughter should be strung up, in her view, and left hanging in a public square...If he was ever arrested and brought to court, she'd sit through every minute of his trial and cheer when a guilty verdict was read... She also wanted him to suffer for what he'd done to Julia. She was obsessed with it..." and her obsession became apparent when she said, "This man needs to pay for his crimes and be prevented from ever doing it again. And if the police aren't going to see to that, then I am." And when the police informed her that they had to let the thief go because they don't have a strong case against him, word of Margaret's plan reached Lydia's ears. Worried that her "sister would end up in jail while Danny Chesterfield roamed free. But Margaret was already in a prison of her own making, confined by her hate and her unwillingness to come to terms with what happened," she confronted her and Margaret replied, "I refuse to rest while that man walks around free to hurt someone else's daughter. Since our justice system has seen fit to release him, I don't have any choice but to take matters in my own hands." Which I believe most mothers would feel but what they fail to realize is that their anger, hatred and hunger for vengeance is not helping the victim at all as Julia aptly puts it, "It wasn't you who went through this. It was me... You hate him enough to destroy all our lives? ... Your anger isn't helping me, mom. Don't you see that? It's hurting me. Each and every day I have to deal with my own pain, and yours and Dad's too. It can't go on... Mom... I was angry, too, so angry I wanted to die. I hated Danny Chesterfield the same way you do, but I've seen what that anger's done to you. I've seen what it's done to me... Anger takes too much energy, too much effort... I was obsessed with hurting him back... to make him suffer was how I got through those first few weeks... Then one day I was with some friends... My friends were raising money to save lives... and while they were making a positive difference, I was plotting, dreaming, thinking about vengeance... I understood then that I didn't like the person I was becoming... I probably won't ever be the same person I was before the carjacking and in some ways, that's good. But the one I'm worried about now is you... I need you to let go of your anger because I'm afraid I might never completely heal if you don't" which is a great eye-opener for any vengeance-seeking-obsessed mother. And when news of the thief's arrest and imprisonment, Margaret did something extraordinary. Margaret was telling the corrections officer, "I couldn't be happier that he's behind bars. I also know I can't allow my feelings toward this man to eat away at me any longer... It's a prayer shawl... I knit it myself. Give it to him and tell him... tell Mr. Chesterfield I'm trying very hard to forgive him for what he did to my daughter. I'm praying for him and I'm praying for me because it isn't easy..." Truly forgiving someone is the hardest thing a person can do but it's the only way to achieve inner peace.

For a bride, Alix Townsend was having serious doubts about whether she'd be a good pastor's wife but "more than anything Alix wanted to be Jordan's wife. She'd fallen in love with him when they were in the sixth grade; he'd embodied everything she'd ever longed for in life. Then she'd met him again three years ago, shortly after she'd joined the knitting class. She remembered every single fact about Jordan from grade school. She remembered what she'd learned about his family, too. His mom and dad loved each other and cared for their children... They had regular meals, during which the entire family sat down at the table and talked about their day." And because Alix feels her wedding plans are getting out of control, she suggested to Jordan for them to just get married by themselves but Jordan replied, "...there'd be talk... I work in a church... Eloping isn't a good example to pass along to the kids in the congregation. You might not realize it, but they watch everything we say and do." With mounting frustration over wedding plans, as much as Alix appreciated Jacqueline's help, Jacqueline and Susan Turner were taking control of her wedding, "it was as if her opinion no longer mattered and conferring with her was merely an afterthought" which made it all worse for the bride. It is bad enough that Alix felt "Susan didn't think she was the right wife for her son. Alix had suspected as much and now her suspicions were confirmed" when she overheard Jacqueline on the phone saying, "You don't need to tell me Alix is unconventional... That doesn't mean she won't make Jordan a good wife." To be fair to Susan, "it was a question she'd asked herself a dozen times since the engagement... what kind of pastor's wife would she be... Jordan was the only one who seemed convinced that she was perfect for him and his ministry..." thinking that "good things don't last. Not for women like her... Women like her girls with her background and her past, weren't destined for a decent life." As the wedding date draw near, wedding plans became more and more elaborate and all Alix wanted was a simple wedding with family and close friends in attendance but no one, not even Jordan, was listening to what she wanted. Making up her mind, Alix talks to Jordan saying, "This isn't our wedding anymore. It never has been. Your mother and Jacqueline have turned it into a... circus... I know they mean well and I appreciate their efforts... I've tried to pretend everything would be fine. I wanted to do this for you and your family and for Jacqueline and Reese, too. But I can't go through with the wedding as it stands. I just can't... It's far too important to you to make everyone else happy, Jordan... There's nothing I want more in this world than to be your wife, but I can't become someone I'm not. I can't marry a man who's so willing to ignore me and listen to what everyone else wants... I'm sorry more than anything. I wish I could be the woman you and everyone else want me to be. I tried, but it's not going to work." It was at that moment when Alix decided to leave town and was bidding Colette farewell, mentioning how Susan felt about her, Colette disagreed saying, "Don't you understand how comfortable you make people feel? You're the perfect wife for Jordan and if he doesn't figured that out, he isn't half the man I thought he was... I'll be shocked if Jordan let's you leave the neighborhood. He's smart enough to know what he has" which Jordan proved Colette's words to be true when Jordan finally found Alix and said, "I love you... Alix, I can't let you walk out of my life. I'd be the biggest fool who ever lived if I did. You tried to tell me how unhappy you were, only I wasn't listening... The wedding's nothing... You're all that matters. You don't want the big wedding, then it's out... But please marry me. I need you... You belong with me, and I belong with you... Nothing's more important to me than being with you." And he further proves his love for Alix when Jordan explained to his mother, "It takes a pretty incredible woman to rise above the life Alix was forced into... Only someone who's learned to forgive great pain can help someone else who's still hurting... That's one of the reasons Alix is going to be such an asset to me, in church and outside of it... People aren't afraid to talk to her about anything. That's the gift she brings to my ministry... Having been raised in the church, I have a hard time reaching street kids. They don't think I can identify with their problems and they're right, I can't. I've never spent a night sleeping in some alley. But Alix has and she's risen above it... they look at Alix and see someone who's changed her life. Who do you think they're going to listen to? Me, who's lived a comfortable life, or Alix who's been where they are? ... I couldn't have chosen a woman with a kinder heart. She cares about people and they see that and love her. She doesn't judge them, she listens with love and understanding and tells them there's a better way." And finally when Susan apologizes to Alix for the way she's been treating her, Alix replies, "You love your son and you want the best wife for him. I can't be upset about that... Isn't that what the Lord's Prayer is all about? ... Asking God to forgive us our trespasses as we forgive others?" to which Susan admits, "I've been married to Larry for thirty-eight years and been a pastor's wife all that time, yet it seems I have much to learn from you." And so with all the issues resolved, Alix's final thoughts were "Husband...she had never realized how intimate it sounded. Intimate and yet public -- a declaration of love and belonging" remembering Pastor Downey's words, "the grass wasn't greener on the other side of the fence; it was greener where it was watered."

This is the first book I've ever read from Debbie Macomber and I how I wish I had read her years ago. That's how much I enjoyed her writing, her characters, her story and I'm looking forward to reading more from Ms. Macomber.

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