In the two years since her husband, Sam, died, Mary Davis has done little but go through the motions of life. Not that she had done much more than that during nearly thirty years of marriage – a complacency for which her daughter, Elizabeth, is ill-inclined to forgive her. Liz, who was left as head of her father's philanthropic society, expects her mother to help plan social functions for Davis Enterprises but to otherwise take a hands-off approach to the family business as she has always done. It is therefore a huge surprise when Mary shows up at a board meeting to insist that a down-on-his-luck family friend be given the architectural contract currently up for bid. It's an even bigger surprise when Elizabeth learns that her mother has disappeared to Paris shortly before the planned Christmas benefit the organization is hosting.
For her part, Mary has decided to act on her recently-adopted motto: It is never too late to be what you might have been. For Mary, that means writing to Jean-Marc, the old friend – the old lover - she left behind in Paris so many years ago, asking him to meet her on Christmas Eve. It seems like a crazy thing to do, but she has to know, after all these years, if he can forgive her for leaving with Sam. Mary has no way of knowing if Jean-Marc will even receive the letter or if he will be at sea on his yacht, the Sea-Cloud. But she follows her heart and her hope; and along the way she finds a part of herself that she thought lost forever.
This book is a romance, but in no way does it follow the normal stereotypical plot line that one would expect to find in pulp romance fiction today. It is a story of faith, but it offers no homiletic monologues and no pat answers. Mary is seeking to find restoration and acceptance with not only her former love interest and her daughter, but also within herself. Meanwhile, Jean-Marc has his own past to contend with, and Elizabeth must come to terms with the idea that the facts of her life are not necessarily what she thought they were.
Each of the main characters is gently guided to a deeper understanding of themselves and their situation by the secondary characters – most of whom are more interesting than background characters usually are. Elizabeth has her fiancé, Jeff, who appreciates and understands Mary in a way that Elizabeth is unable to. Mary has her life-long friend and housekeeper, Irene, to help keep her on-track, as well as a young cellist she meets in Paris who reminds her of herself in younger days. Jean-Marc has his old friend Luca, who now keeps a Bible on his table and seems to have developed a confidence that Jean-Marc can't quite explain.
A Garden in Paris is, on the one hand, a quick, light, entertaining read about a woman seeking the life she thought she had walked away from. On the other hand, for those looking for more depth, this book is woven-through with simple truths about honesty and friendship, faith and trust, and learning to be true to who you are and who you want to be. This book is listed a Christian romance, but could easily be enjoyed even by those who don't profess a personal faith. I genuinely enjoyed reading A Garden in Paris and will make a point of seeking out more books by Stephanie Grace Whitson.