The Welcome Home Garden Club
by Lori Wilde, contemporary (2011)
Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-198843-1

The Welcome Home Garden Club has a plot with a secret baby and a teenage lovers reunited motive, just like every other small town contemporary romance out there, but unlike many of those books, this one actually handles those tired themes in a refreshingly sensible and drama-free manner. Unfortunately, another problem looms - the heroine is creepy, unintentionally so.

Eight years ago, Caitlyn Marsh and Gideon Garza were star-crossed teenage lovers, even if he's the illegitimate son of the local rich toff and she's the daughter of Twilight's local judge and the whole world didn't understand how they were meant to be. Forever. Alas, everything came to an end when he burned down his father's barn (long story, don't ask) and her father pulled off a stunt worthy of an evil parent in a Bollywood movie to make sure that these two will never see each other again. Caitlyn and the rest of Twilight believe that Gideon joined the army and eventually died in service while Gideon is convinced that Caitlyn doesn't care because she never wrote back. Of course, not content with having torn his daughter from her boyfriend's baby-maker bazooka, Caitlyn's father refused to acknowledge his grandson, causing father and daughter to become estranged over the years despite the two of them living in the same small town.

When the story opens, Gideon is back because his father died and, in a twist only found in romance novels, left most of the nice things to him while leaving Gideon's half-brothers high and dry. When Gideon realizes that he's the father of Caitlyn's son, he decides to accept his inheritance, therefore making permanent enemies of his cartoon villain half-brothers. Guess how these cartoon villains decide to get back at Gideon. Oh, and while Gideon has no problems boinking other women when he's not trying to be a Troubleshooter in Iraq (saving kids and what not), Caitlyn proceeded to marry a much older man who only wanted to give her and her son some degree of security. Kevin conveniently died six months before Gideon shows up again, but he may as well not existed given how obsessed Caitlyn is over Gideon.

Seriously, that woman is insane. The man who spent eight years giving her and her son a home died just six months ago, but she mourns Gideon every single day, thinking of him and seeing him in handsome men that walk past her. Apart from Kevin, she's never had any other lover because it's all Gideon, Gideon, Gideon to her. When Gideon shows up, she's pretty much delirious with the idea that they can finally be together again as a family. To her, Gideon is her soulmate, destiny, and more. And yes, she does use these words to describe him. Considering how she had been mooning over a dead man in the last eight years, she comes off as pretty deranged. It doesn't help that Caitlyn is a special snowflake heroine. In the last eight years, she has not developed any marketable skills. Apparently she helps Kevin in his flower shop, but I guess she's too busy dry humping effigies of Gideon to really pay attention to things. Now that Kevin is dead, she's predictably broke and unable to get a job to save her own life. Luckily, the good ladies of Twilight put her in charge of building a memorial garden to Gideon (remember, they all thought at first that he was dead), and she suddenly discovers that she is really good at... deciding which flower should go where. Everybody, let's give this snowflake a huge round of applause - she's getting there, people, she's getting there! Of course, when things get tough, she chokes and Gideon has to step in to save the day. Caitlyn Marsh, ladies and gentlemen - snowflake darling of the year. Let's hope Gideon outlives her, because she seems exactly that kind who couldn't survive being alone.

Caitlyn makes me feel so sorry for dear departed Kevin. Only once, and that is late in the story, does she acknowledge that Kevin is a good man who has done so much for her and her son. The man has just been buried when she's back to pining over Gideon. When Gideon is back in her life, she can only sigh in rapture about how Kevin can never kiss her or make her explode in orgasm like Gideon. Poor Kevin - he's found wanting when compared to a teenage boy. That has to hurt. Even Kevin's habit of leaving crumbs on the table doesn't sit well with Caitlyn. Gideon cleans up everything! Poor Kevin. I can only imagine how crappy Caitlyn must have been as his wife, since that woman doesn't even hide the fact that she'd rather hump Gideon's rotting corpse than to spare a dear thought to the man who selflessly sheltered, fed, and protected her and her daughter - and even felt offended on her behalf at her father's treatment of her - in the last eight years. Being a nice man only gets Alex as far as a discardable plot device, a stepping stone in Caitlyn's obsessive sparkly devotion to Gideon. But at least he got to have sex with Caitlyn when he was alive, I guess, although knowing Caitlyn, she probably burst into tears afterward and spent three hours in the bathroom clawing at the mirror and wailing out Gideon's name.

Gideon is an action hero, cynical and jaded after having seen everything, which makes his romance with the backward small town idiot Caitlyn even more disconcerting. How is he going to be happy living with such a useless twit who needs a man around her all the time? Well, maybe he likes marrying poison ivy, who knows. But he and Caitlyn are embarking on a love of a lifetime based on romanticized memories of their teenage boinking. They barely know each other by the end of this book, so I can only roll up my eyes and wish them good luck for the future - they will definitely need all the luck they can get, I suspect.

As I've said, the secret baby plot actually develops in a sensible, calm, and scream-free manner. Both Gideon and Caitlyn reconnect without having to jump into silly conclusions or worse. They actually talk. And to give Caitlyn credit, she may be a complete loon, but she has the guts to give her father the finger for treating her really badly. It's just that the rest of the story is nowhere as refreshingly sensible. The author has the good characters in this story bending over backwards to accommodate Caitlyn when she's being utterly useless and insipid, and she also doesn't seem to have any idea as to how terrifyingly insane Caitlyn often comes off as here. Oh, and there's that wince-inducing and really shoddy treatment of Kevin, who never got the acknowledgment he deserved for the things he had done for the self-absorbed and incapable Caitlyn. Add in plenty of really cloying schmaltz and over the top sentimental mawkishness, and I get The Welcome Home Garden Club, a terrifying horror story that tries to pass itself off as a Debbie Macomber tale - let's just pretend that the heroine isn't the Bride of Chuckie waiting to stab kittens with her knife.

Rating: 57

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