Have you ever read a novel that you found sound engaging that you immediately bought and read the sequel?
That’s what I did with Stephanie Grace Whitson’s A Garden in Paris and A Hilltop in Tuscany. They’re romance novels, but in the same sense that the Shetland and Scottish novels of Michael Phillips are romance novels. At one point, I even suspected that Phillips had written these two books under a pseudonym – these two romances by Whitson have a similar sense of place and a sweeping story that the novels of Phillips has.
A Garden in Paris tells the story of Mary McKibbin Davis and her adult daughter Elizabeth. They live in Omaha, and Mary is recently widowed. Her husband Sam had been something of a control freak – sweeping her away from where they met in France, organizing her life (and his own), discouraging her playing of the violin. He operated a property development firm, which is now being run by Elizabeth, who appears to be just as hard-charging and controlling as her father. Elizabeth, who feels no closeness to her mother, is engaged to Jeff Scott, an attorney who genuinely likes his prospective mother-in-law and has growing concerns about his driven fiancée.
Mary sets into motion a series of events that will lead to a general unraveling of the family. For starters, she challenges her daughter over a contract at the family foundation. More significantly, she writes to her first love, Jean-Marc David, at the last address she knew for him, and asks him to meet her in Paris on Christmas Eve. She hasn’t seen or talked with him in almost 30 years. The story becomes something of a family saga, as Mary begins to rediscover love and Elizabeth learns there is far more to her mother than she ever knew, or that her father ever allowed her to know.
In the sequel, A Hilltop in Italy, Mary’s love life is growing more complex, with both Jean-Marc David and his close friend Luca Santo falling in love with her. Elizabeth is planning her wedding and her future life in the same hard-charging way she’s run the business founded by her father, and she’s running right over her fiancée. Elizabeth is also having to deal with collapsing illusions about her late father, her mother’s romances, and the real possibility of her own relationship to Jeff collapsing.
|Stephanie Grace Whitson|
Much of the story is set in Florence and Tuscany, the home of Luca Santo and his large, extended family. And the reader wonders how Mary’s and Elizabeth’s love lives are going to resolve itself without major wreckage for everyone involved.
Whitson has published 29 Christian fiction books, most in the Christian romance genre, as well as two non-fiction books. She’s also a speaker and seminar leader, teaching groups on writing, Christian faith, and women’s history. She holds a master’s degree in history.
A Garden in Paris and A Hilltop in Tuscany fall into that proverbial “difficult to put down” category of novels.
Top photograph of the Montmartre District in Paris by Guiseppe Mondi via . Used with permission.