For over twenty-five years Jeremiah Williams has tended the award-winning gardens that grace the Tennessee governor's mansion. He's seen First families come and go, but this one has captured his heart in a special way. First lady Mackenzie London and her husband, Governor Gray London, have struggled for a decade to have a child. Though in the midst of starting a re-election campaign and enduring new political struggles, nothing could be sweeter than their current state of life--because they are sending their five year-old daughter, Maddie, off to kindergarten. But tragedy soon rips their world apart, sending the state of Tennessee into mourning, and Mackenzie into a grief and blackness so deep that it nearly chokes the life from her. Jeremiah realizes God hasn't just called him to tend the gardens of the governor's mansion, but the decaying garden within Mackenzie's heart. As he and her friends fight for her, Jeremiah works diligently to help her understand what has taken him years to discover. The Fist Gardener is a heart-wrenching southern tale of love, grief, and hope. Denise Hildreth Jones crafts an excellent story that, in my opinion, earns her a place alongside renowned authors such as Liz Curtis Higgs and Francine Rivers, as she masters almost every area of creating a story that moves the reader's heart and stirs the emotions, while displaying brilliant and clever literary technique. She blends complex emotions and messages into a thought-provoking story while seamlessly mixing in comedy and southern flare. Her brilliance in capturing Jeremiah's voice brings him to life and endears him to the reader. In fact, she brings each character to life in a such a way that they are no longer just characters, but friends that you find yourself rooting for as they struggle. For those who have walked through the same grief as Mackenzie, you will find this story exposing pieces of your heart and making them vulnerable. But you will also find healing. This book is especially great for book clubs and church reading groups as they can enjoy digging through the deeper literary devices of the story and discussing them--I personally loved the entire gardening symbol and found the spiritual impact so touching that I just bawled. I'm still bawling! This book is not for those who seek a light-hearted, entertaining read. This novel will challenge you to summon the most vulnerable areas of your heart--yet it's so worth it. In a five out five star rating I give The First Gardner a six!
Denise Hildreth Jones is novelist and a speaker. She has spent the last six years writing fiction that has been hailed as both "smart and witty." Her ability to express the heart of the Southern voice has led her to being featured twice in Southern Living and receiving the accolades of readers and reviewers alike, but it is the simple of joy of writing stories that keeps them coming. Her previous books include Hurricanes in Paradise, The Will of Wisteria, Flies on the Butter, and the Savannah series. Denise lives in Franklin, Tennessee, with her husband and five children.