Fragrant blossoms heralded spring, but the orchard was also a place of secrets, or heartaches....
A deep yearning for home had led Eliza to Wyatt Orchards ten years ago. Now widowed with three young children, she faces mounting debts and the realization it is all up to her. But she has no idea how she will run an orchard alone.
When a stranger appears at her doorstep, Eliza guesses he is no different than the other out-of-luck characters searching for work during the Depression. But the familiarity with which Gabe tends to the farm raises unanswered questions. With a vulnerable heart, she is unwittingly drawn to his gentle ways. But Eliza also fears Gabe hides a past and motives that could jeopardize all she has fought to attain for herself and her children.
This is one of my favourite books by my very favourite author, Lynn Austin. (I used to say it was my favourite of all her books, but I'm not entirely sure now because While We're Far Apart is dangerously close to becoming my #1.) It is the story of Eliza Rose Wyatt, a widow with three young children trying to run her family's orchard by herself during the Great Depression.
What I love most about this book is how it goes back and forth between two different eras- three, actually- all intertwined together in the same story. I actually like the parts where the different characters are telling their stories better than the actual story set in the 1930s, even though I love the whole thing. My favourite parts are Lydia's Story and Aunt Batty's Story, because they were set back in the 1890s, and plus I just loved reading about Aunt Batty as a young woman. All the characters have become very dear to me, just like old friends. (After all, I have read it four times...) : )
Eliza Rose Wyatt-- Eliza is not one of my favourite of Lynn Austin's heroines, and she actually really annoys me sometimes, but I really admire her hard work and strong personality. Reading about her life as a child made me like her a great deal more, I think, because I felt like I knew her that much better after reading about her early life. She is very stubborn and somewhat headstrong, which sometimes makes her kind of irritable, but she genuinely wants what is best for her children and is a very good mother. She is very independent after her husband Sam dies and very determined to run the orchard on her own (without any help from her nosy neighbours), and I admire her for her determination. She's actually quite a bit like me- willful, stubborn, sometimes impatient. Overall I do really like her character, and the fact that she is sometimes irritating makes her even more believable as a person.
Gabriel Harper/ Matthew Willis-- I just love Gabe. He's one of my favourite Lynn Austin characters. I love his gentleness, his quiet earnestness, and how he can be just as stubborn as Eliza to do what's right. Before coming to Wyatt Orchards, he was a reporter in Chicago, and before that he served in the Great War with Matthew Wyatt. His background isn't told in as much detail as Aunt Batty's or Eliza's, but after he leaves Eliza finds a notebook in the shed where he stayed that contains a recount of his childhood, which I found interesting and helpful. His father was in many ways similar to Frank Wyatt, if not quite so horrible, because as hard as Gabe tried, he could never win his approval. I like books that allow you to know the characters in great depth, as this helps me to understand them more, and knowing Gabe's childhood made me love him even more.
Aunt Batty-- I think Aunt Batty is possibly the character I found the most interesting. At least, I enjoyed reading her story the most. She is Eliza's father-in-law's sister-in-law, her late husband's Aunt, who comes to stay with Eliza and her children when the roof of her cottage collapses in the winter. She is known for being a little odd, and at first Eliza is irritated by her constant talk about God and the power of prayer, because she has lost almost all faith in God, but soon she grows to love Aunt Batty and her strange ways. Reading about Aunt Batty as a young girl was like meeting a kindred spirit, because I found her so much like me! I can identify with her fascination with Nellie Bly, her love of books and writing, and her somewhat solitary personality. Her relationship with Walter was one of the sweetest I have ever read. In most of Lynn Austin's books there is a wise, somewhat odd old lady character who has an influence on most everyone throughout the story: for example, Lily in Wonderland Creek, Delia in A Light to my Path. I think, however, of all those characters Aunt Batty is most likely the one I have come to love most.
I love how this story is set in rural America. Since I've grown up on a farm myself, I also liked that the story took place on an orchard. I also love reading about small towns during the 1930s, because towns like Deer Springs sound like such quaint, happy places to live. I can completely understand Eliza's longing to live in a town like that, where everyone knew everyone else and all the neighbours knew her name. : )
I really liked the way the author weaved everyone's stories into the picture, so that we got to know all the characters better by the end of the book. It gave me more of an understanding of all of them, especially Eliza, and that is the main reason why I love this book so much.
Overall I find Hidden Places completely wonderful. It made me laugh, it made me cry, and it made me homesick for a time before I was even born. (Lynn Austin's books do that...) The story is so intricate and well thought out, and I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves historical fiction or a good story.
There was a movie made of Hidden Places several years ago, but I haven't bothered watching it because a) I don't think I would approve of the cast ( I know everyone always says that when a book is made into a movie, but still...) b) from what I've heard, it's not very true to the book (the character of Jimmy is completely cut out), and c) because it's a Hallmark movie. Yes, I admit I'm a bit prejudiced. : P
P.S. My darling sister Sadie has recently posted a nineteenth-century hair tutorial on her lovely blog, which I encourage you all to go check out!