Garden of her Heart is an exceptional historical romance that goes far beyond the typical affairs and courtship central to most romance plots, delving into a difficult subject matter in American history: the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. Garden of her Heart is the first in Shanna Hatfield’s Hearts of the War series and so far, the reviews have been stellar.
Captain Rock Laroux is dying and the hospital staff isn’t able to explain his mysterious illness. Recently injured in a plane crash, Rock was discharged and sent home but only made it as far as the hospital. While under good care, he wasn’t getting well and his prognosis was poor. Rather than dying in hospital, Rock left to reach his family farm and die on his own terms in a familiar setting.
Miko Nishimura Is a young Japanese American who had been out of town when the news came that all Japanese Americans were ordered to check themselves in at Portland’s Assembly Center. Her family told her to get home quick so they could all go together, but she didn’t make the deadline when a hasty bus driver kicked her off far from home for being Japanese. She makes her way home alone and on foot but finds an empty house. She also finds an unconscious uniformed man on the ground.
Miko needs to report to the assembly center because if she doesn’t soon and is discovered, she risks a jail sentence. But there is no way she can leave this man in the condition he’s in. Out of honor and respect for this American patriot, she takes care of him and nurses him back to health.
When Rock returns to the land of the living, he realizes what Miko has done for him. She has risked her freedom to make sure he didn’t die. And for some reason, he was still alive. The doctors were wrong – he was most certainly going to live. He attributed his remarkable comeback to Miko who took such good care of him. He’s honor bound to take care of Miko and protect her from the vultures who are coming.
Rock’s family farm is close by and he remembers Miko from childhood. Her family owned the farm he was now at, and his father used to buy food from the Nishimura farm stand. His family home was rented out and with his parents gone, he has nowhere to go. But he has a plan. With someone trying to get his hands on the Nishimura farmland, Rock visits Miko’s parents at the Assembly Center and gets the deed to property. He assures them all that he will take good care of the land, continue the business, protect Miko, and sign it back over to them when it was all over.
Miko is entirely grateful but wary. As the two develop feelings, she doesn’t trust those feelings. And when things get dangerous, she’s worried that Rock will end up resenting her in the long run. While Rock is patient with her hesitation, he doesn’t quite grasp the reason why, and Miko doesn’t fully recognize his true love. Neither understand the deadly measures one bigot is willing to take in the name of greed.
I’ve never been a big romance reader. But I was all too curious about this book because of the premise and I’m a general sucker for World War II reads. Admittedly, I’ve never read anything that tackles the internment of Japanese Americans. While Garden of her Heart doesn’t focus on life in the actual camps, we do catch a glimpse when Rock visits the Nishimura family: the over-crowded facility, the heat, the inhumane conditions, the lack of basic necessities, the dishonor, the humiliation. Stripped of almost all possessions, it was similar to the initial isolation of German Jews into the ghettos prior to the “final solution”.
Countering the negative aspect of the internment and some of the more nefarious characters, we have a whole host of good characters. A community gathers to protect Rock and Miko and people you might expect to report Miko instead show kindness, understanding, and neighborly love. There are some moments that will make your heart swell, and perhaps a new hero to love in the form of an eight-year-old, red-headed scout with a slingshot and a heart of gold.
As I said before, I’m not your typical romance reader and I absolutely loved this story – and the romance! I adored it because it was real. Whenever I come across reluctant romance, the reasons are typically insipid, naive, or feel forced. This is not the case in Garden of her Heart. Miko’s reluctance to fully accept Rock’s love is perfectly believable and understandable once you put yourself in her shoes. It’s emotionally honest and that’s a rare feat. Miko never denies her feelings for Rock, she only denies herself the luxury letting him love her because she thinks its a farce. A show to save the farm for Miko’s sake because he’s an honorable man.
Garden of her Heart goes beyond a typical romance novel to showcase a difficult time period, American community spirit, honor, and a slow burning, clean romance fit for any reader. An incredible five star read.
Garden of Her Heart
by Shanna Hatfield