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Hope Blooms Eternal

August 8, 2012

Fans of How to Be an American Housewife will not be disappointed in Dilloway’s sophomore novel. It has the same heart, complex characters and nuanced family relationships.  For those readers new to Margaret Dilloway, you’re in for a treat as well. I loved the first book, and after meeting Margaret last January at a book club convention (The Pulpwood Queen’s annual Girlfriends’ Weekend—best book party ever) I fell in love with her too—she’s absolutely adorable! (But I digress, so back to the book…)

Summary: Gal Garner is that tough science teacher you had in high school. But she doesn’t just teach. She also is an amateur rose breeder in her spare time and wants to win “Queen of Show” in a major competition someday. Oh, yeah, and she’d like to get a new kidney—this would be her third new kidney—and until this is accomplished she must spend every other night in the hospital undergoing dialysis. So between school, dialysis, and her green house she leads an extremely busy (if structured) life. Or so she thinks until her sister ships off her niece, Riley, to stay with Aunt Gal without warning. How will Gal handle this additional (and most chaotic) responsibility in her life? And who will have the most ‘thorns’?

Characters: Although Gal is the definite queen of our show, Dilloway develops an interesting supporting cast including Gal’s delightful niece Riley, Gal’s artsy best friend Dara, fellow kidney sufferer Mark, and fellow science teacher and single parent, George. And none of these folks are exactly what they seem.

So who was the rose with thorns that needs such careful handling? Before reading, I assumed it would be Riley (personal bias here—I’ve raised a teenager before) but then as I got into the story, I changed my mind and decided it was definitely Gal, herself. (Who needs more ‘careful handing than a dialysis patient?) But after reading the whole novel, I think the correct answer could just as well be “All of the Above.”

Some Favorite Passages: As with its predecessor,each chapter begins with a quote from a fictitious book—this one is appropriately called “Winslow Blythe’s Complete Rose Guide (SoCal Edition)”. It got me thinking that we could all use a guide book to life—whether it’s about being an American Housewife or growing roses…

The language is accessible and the realistic dialogue helps us get to know the characters, but Dilloway’s descriptive passages are the real stand-out.

Here’s a description Gal gives us of herself (Page 3, Advanced Readers’ Copy (ARC)):

“Difficult and obstinate. Thriving under a set of specific and limited condition. That pretty much describes me. Maybe that’s why I like these roses so much.”

Here’s how we meet her niece Riley for the first time (Page 43, ARC):

“Someone sits in the guest chair opposite O’Malley’s desk. It is not a parent, out for blood. It’s a kid, a teenaged girl, with long, dyed black hair and too-white makeup on. Raccoon eyeshadow. She wears a polo shirt, orange with a big pink horse on the chest, the collar turned up like it’s 1985, with torn and safety-pinned black jeans, flocked pink Doc Martens, and a black overcoat. She looks like the lead singer of the Cure, by way of Ralph Lauren. I’m reminded of the judge from the rose show for a second in a weird way. Someone wearing a mask, someone who doesn’t want us to see who she really is.

‘Who’s this? What’s going on?’

The headmaster sits down and nods at her.

She lifts a hand covered in silver skull rings and spikes. ‘Hi, Aunt Gal’.”

And here is Gal describing the scent of one of her new roses (Page 321/2, ARC):

“I sniff the bloom nearest me. This scent has also matured. Green apples, vanilla, and an undertone of cayenne. Like being in the spice aisle of the grocery store, holding an apple pie in your hands. Sweet, but not too sweet.

Like Riley, herself.”

Discussable Themes: Aside from the obvious rose-breeding analogies (TLC, Tenacity, Life’s thorns, etc.) the book also introduces such universal themes as: Hope, Healing, and Humanity (with the unique spin on Dealing with Chronic illness); Family dynamics; Teenage Angst; Education; The Power of Love, and finally, Redemption and Forgiveness.

Why Book Clubs will love it: With great character development, beautiful language, and a plethora of discussable issues, book clubs will eat up this one with a spoon. Just don’t forget to step out into your garden to snip some fresh roses for your centerpiece! Just be careful of the thorns—they are everywhere!



Details and Links:

The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns, by Margaret Dilloway

G.P. Putnam’s Sons; 368 pgs; August 2012

Purchase The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns

Read Margaret Dilloway’s Blog

Read an interview with Margaret Dilloway on Reading Group

Listen to Margaret talk about her new book at the American Library Association

Visit the G.P. Putnam’s Sons website

Read Book Club Cheerleader feature on Margaret’s first novel, How to Be an American Housewife

Purchase How to Be an American Housewife

Live in NorCal and want to see Margaret Dilloway in person on September 29? She’s speaking at the Yolo Fliers Club in Woodland at Omega Nu’s Annual Author’s Luncheon at 11 AM. For tickets, contact Kay Hodges.

Disclaimer: I received an advanced readers copy of this book from the publisher for review, however, the opinions expressed in this blog are entirely my own. I do not receive any compensation for any feature or recommendation that appears on my website or recommendation I make to my book clubs. I am a member of Amazon Associates program, which means that I get a small amount of money if you buy a book using my links. So far, I’ve earned enough to buy a bag of Meow Mix® for Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid—so keep your clicks coming—they’d like some Greenies®, too…You can review my entire Book Features & Book Club Recommendation Policy on my website at


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