In the heart of bustling modern Dublin is a littered, overgrown garden of tangled weeds and a stagnant, hidden pond. Belonging to an iron-willed elderly lady named Mrs. Prendergast, who is rumored to have murdered and buried her husband there, the garden draws Eva Madigan, a young mother struggling to move on from the pain of her past. Eva is joined by Emily, a beautiful but withdrawn college dropout; Uri, an old-world immigrant; Seth, his all-too-handsome son; and occasionally even Mrs. Prendergast herself. But what drives Eva to transform the neglected urban wilderness? What makes the others want to help her? Even as Mrs. Prendergast puts the land up for sale, the thorny lives of all the gardeners are revealed and slowly start to untangle. Overgrown secrets are dug up and shared. Choices are made; a little pruning is in order.
Simply because the title was Winter Bloom, I pulled this for my December TBR. It's a relatively simple story of Eva Madigan discovering the overgrown walled garden space belonging to prickly Mrs. Prendergast and Eva wanting to bring the space back to life. At first, Mrs Prendergrast informs Eva of her intentions to sell the space for development but decides to let Eva try her green thumb, with the understanding that the space may yet be sold. Eva, along with neighborhood recruits Emily, Uri and Uri's son, Seth, revive the soil and return it to the magical garden it once was. Each character uses their time in the garden to mentally work through their own personal traumas and demons, hoping to find healing in their respective lives in the process of bringing life back to these plants. Their progress in the garden also seems to invigorate the neighborhood as a whole. People start picking up their trash more, treating each other with more kindness, and the garden's fruit and vegetable patch even manages to create extra produce for the local market, bringing additional income to the store's owner.
I was really enjoying this story initially, but by story's end, I was a little disappointed. Given the description and the cover image, I had the impression that this story would have a more magical, light-hearted tone but it actually ended up being more on the dark, depressing side. The plot addresses some pretty heavy topics such as abusive relationships, struggles within motherhood / conceiving a child/ single parenting, unplanned pregnancies, alcoholism, anti-Semitism. One character struggles to come to terms with their spouse coming out as homosexual.
There were no major plot surprises for me. Conflicts seemed a little too easily and too quickly resolved. The whole thing just seemed to be a little heavy on the "after-school special" feel.
I also found that over the course of the story, the main character Eva grew pretty irritating -- she seemed pretty high strung, a little melodramatic. She thinks she's in love. Then she's not. Then she is. Then she's not. But wait, maybe though... Ugh. It just got tiring and made the story drag for me. The other issue I had was the fact that I didn't feel there was a definitive sense of Irish culture within the storyline. These characters are suppose to be living in Dublin, they mention County Mayo here and there, they occassionally drop a "feckin eedgit", oh and one guy mentions growing up in a thatched cottage... but if you took that away, this book could seriously be taking place in any metropolitan area anywhere, it seemed. Heck, I often had to remind myself that they were in Ireland. I kept picturing a New York brownstone neighborhood.
That being said, I did get some enjoyment out of the story... it just didn't end up being as strong and memorable a tale as I had hoped. My favorite character backstories were those of Mrs. Prendergast and Uri. Those kept me reading to see how they connected to the storyline in the present time. I also liked the character of Seth, though I couldn't understand his having such a strong interest in Eva -- why do so many books push the idea that two people are perfect for each other just because they are both single parents? I didn't see much common ground between those two besides that. Yeah, in the end, just a so-so read for me.