3 out of 5 stars
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Visionary gardener Tammy Hollins is making a new life for herself and her children after a tragic marriage. Plants she understands, but men…well, they’re of the weed variety. She’s started her own landscaping business, catering to her country music rock star brother’s friends. Her first client is sexy, soulful, Alpha hero material, and the one man who tantalizes her and scares her to death.
John Parker McGuiness is a man of many talents, working as a songwriter and lawyer for country music’s biggest stars. He’s drawn to Tammy like no other and hires her as his landscaper, wanting to show her they’re made for each other. When Tammy learns he’s a professed chocoholic, she fashions a magical garden for him—a chocolate garden.
As the garden comes to life, their love for each other grows. When tragedy strikes Tammy’s home, John Parker is willing to move mountains to protect her and her children. Tammy struggles to guard her newfound independence as they use the magic of the chocolate garden to help her children feel safe again. But when secrets from Tammy’s past resurface, can their love and passion survive the memories haunting her? (Source: Goodreads)
The Chocolate Garden by Ava Miles is the second book in the Dare River series. The Dare River series is my favorite series. The book itself is mostly well-written with great characters and a wonderful setting. And for the most part, I absolutely loved Tammy & John Parker’s story, but I find I cannot give this book 5 or even 4 stars because I’m so incredibly disappointed in how the author handled the beginning of their physical relationship.
I think Ms. Miles missed a perfect opportunity to discuss the PTSD that domestic violence victims go through. While it makes for much less of a romantic story, I was hoping that Ms. Miles would address all the things that come up when someone who’s been abused re-enters into a physical relationship. There are flashbacks. There are times when one has to stop in the middle of sex because of said flashbacks. There’s dealing with self-loathing that comes from being upset with yourself for having to stop. There’s dealing with being frustrated with yourself because logically, you KNOW that the new person you’re with is not anything like your abusive ex, but yet your body still occasionally reacts as if they’re exactly like that abusive ex and it interferes with being able to be intimate. However, instead of a more realistic version where Tammy has to deal with flashbacks and self-loathing and being frustrated with herself, we get a less realistic version where she simply “pushes through” her fears and suddenly everything’s miraculously okay and amazing. John Parker’s quiet support, gentleness, and tenderness would’ve made him the perfect one to help Tammy know that it was okay that she had to stop because of flashbacks and that she didn’t have to be upset with herself for those things. To help her realize that it takes a long time to heal from those traumatic experiences, even with the love of a good man. Instead, we end up with a much less believable, almost trite version where she doesn’t even deal with these issues. I was extremely disappointed.
However, on a positive note, the whole “chocolate garden” and “chocolate fairies” story to help the children feel safe again after a particularly traumatizing night in the book. The children are so wonderful and it’s a great, imaginative way to get them feeling safe again.
Also, the fact that reconciliations are starting to happen in this family is just fabulous. The first book, Country Heaven, found the family splintered apart and only the most tentative of connections being made. But, in this book, the reconciliations are starting to happen and it’s wonderful to see.
Overall, I still enjoyed the book and look forward to continuing on with the series in “Fireflies & Magnolias”.