The first book in the Flowers of Eden series introduced readers to Bryony Linwood, an orphan trying desperately to provide for her sisters in the shadow of the Great Depression. In Castles in the Clouds, we meet one of those sisters—Larkspur Linwood, a young woman who has a passion for teaching but yearns for something more than life as a small-town Arkansas schoolmarm.
Young and impressionable, Lark mistakes a college professor’s interest for romantic love. When he offers her the chance to join his efforts to start a school in Kenya, she pictures herself bringing the light of knowledge to hundreds of African children eager to learn. But the menial tasks she’s assigned at the school aren’t so different from life on the farm where she grew up. Miserable and deflated, with her fragile heart broken, she gives up and returns home.
Enter Professor Anson Schafer, whom she met briefly in Kenya. Partially blinded from an eye infection he contracted there, Professor Schafer cannot return to Africa. He has come to Lark’s school to recruit teachers like her for a more modest venture—the founding of schools and relief efforts here in the U.S. for those struggling through the Depression.
Still stinging from her experience in Kenya, Lark is reluctant to risk leaving her familiar surroundings, but she knows how great the need has become, and—although this isn’t the exciting life she’d envisioned—she finally agrees. As they work side by side, Lark begins to realize that the deepest satisfaction comes not so much from what you do, or where you do it, but from the attitude of your heart.
She glanced his way, a curious smile tilting her lips. “Yes?”
“Do you think perhaps we might see each other again after today?”
The smile faded. Anson didn’t require perfect vision to notice the veil of reserve fall across her face. Steps quickening, she stated crisply, “It’s barely over a month until the spring term begins at Henderson. Once classes start, I’ll have little time for anything else.”
“Lark.” He spoke her name more firmly this time, then took her hand and drew her to a stop. When she hesitantly raised her chin to look at him, he said softly, “I am not Franklin Keene. I am nothing even remotely like him.”
She blinked several times. “I-I know. Believe me, I know.”
“Then also believe me when I say how very much I enjoy your company.” A light breeze toyed with her hair, and Anson couldn’t resist smoothing it behind her ear. His fingertips tingled at the feel of the silky strands. When she stiffened, he abruptly lowered his hands to his sides. “I’ve been entirely too forward. Please forgive me.”
“No…no,” she murmured, staring off into the distance. “But it doesn’t change the fact that I’ll soon be in Arkadelphia, and you’ll be traipsing all over Arkansas drumming up support for your foundation.”
He chewed the inside of his lip. “It would mean a great deal to me if I could count on your involvement as well.”
Now it was clear he’d misspoken. Lark’s chin shot higher, and she started walking again. “I know I expressed an interest after your lecture at Henderson, but since I’m not a teacher yet and have no money to donate to your cause, certainly you can appreciate how limited my support would be.”
Anson didn’t know what frustrated him more, the fortress Lark Linwood had erected around her fragile dignity, or his own ineptitude at voicing his true feelings. It would help tremendously if he could even identify those feelings. He only knew that the more time he spent with Lark, the dearer she became to him.
As they marched toward the farmhouse, he tried one last time. “Please, Lark, I know you need to finish school, but there’s still so much you could do. I watched you in Kenya – your gentle way with the children, the joy on your face while you helped Jata with her reading.”
Lark’s steps faltered. “Those moments reminded me why I want so badly to be a teacher.”
“And you know the need is equally great here.” Anson edged in front of her, forcing her to a stop once again. “But don’t mistake this for one more recruitment speech. I’m asking you – you, Lark Linwood – not with words of idle flattery but because I respect and admire you and want very much to have you join me in this important work.”
Hands clasped, she glanced away. “I’m honored that you would ask, truly, but I don’t see how-”
“I know there are complications,” Anson interrupted, “but I’m confident we can work through them. Tell me you’ll at least think about it.”
I am so pleased I discovered this series! Reading the first two books in this series has felt like a breath of fresh air – an uncommon setting with a historically relevant plot, endearing characters, and a gentle, yet engaging style of writing.
The Flowers of Eden series tells the story of three sisters – Bryony, Larkspur, and Rose Linwood – who live with their grandfather on his tenant farm in Arkansas in the 1930s. The era comes to life in the details of day to day life woven through the story, not to mention the struggles and choices the sisters face as they try to provide for their small family unit through the Great Depression. While each book in the series focuses on a particular sister and could be read as a stand-alone, each sister’s story is threaded throughout the series, so some readers may prefer to read the series in order.
I was initially surprised that the situation in Kenya took up a relatively small part of the book, but it set the scene well for everything that followed. Both Anson and Lark have had the rug pulled out from under their dreams, but while Anson soon finds purpose again with a plan to provide educational opportunities to Arkansas’s disadvantaged children, Lark struggles to know what her next step should be. She is trying to be more circumspect about her decisions following her Kenyan experience and is hesitant about getting swept up in Anson’s new project, especially when she realizes the racial tensions that will be stirred up by his decision to open the school to both white and black students. Even Anson begins to have doubts when he experiences the racial tensions for himself.
I loved that neither Anson nor Lark felt like your average ‘off-the-rack’ historical romance character, and that their friendship (and their deeper feelings for each other) developed with a quiet sincerity. Even so, Lark is hesitant to give full reign to her feelings so soon after her experience with Professor Keene. Not only that, but she has at least two more years of study in Arkadelphia before she can graduate, and she can see that her grandfather and her sister are struggling to keep up the farm on their own, even if they won’t admit it. Maybe it’s time to stop chasing after her own dreams and put her family first, but how can she know for sure which is the right path to take?
This was a heartfelt and tender story, bringing both sorrow and joy for Lark and her sisters. I am very much looking forward to joining them again for Rose’s story.
I received a complimentary copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.
Buy from US: Amazon
Buy from AU: Amazon
Release date: 26 August 2016
Pages: 304 pages
Publisher: Franciscan Media
Author’s website: http://myrajohnson.com/