I am always hesitant to dive into anthology-style books, because the stories tend to be too short and not as appealing as full-length novels. However, The Kissing Tree completely blew past my expectations and really set the standard going forward for novella collections. What made it so unique was that each story connected to each other, starting with the oldest story set in the mid-1800s and ending with a modern-day tale, all centered around the Kissing Tree in the quiet town of Oak Springs, Texas. The authors connected characters so that when one story ended, the next picked up a generation or two later where you hear of old names and see familiar faces in some cases. I was enchanted from beginning to end, and when the end did finally arrive, I was almost in tears when thinking on all that I had read. It all felt very real and made me want to read even more. For that reason, this book is solidly in my Favorite Books of 2020 list and would highly recommend it to all.
And now for the individual reviews for each story...
Broken Limbs, Mended Hearts by Regina Jennings (1871)
Bella Eden was humiliated in front of Adam Fisher three years ago when he witnessed her being rejected by her crush. Climbing the tree where he was hiding, she fell and injured herself, and unbeknownst to Adam, she was never able to follow her dream of becoming a seamstress. Now she is the teacher at the local school, and after a long absence, Adam is back and poses a threat to her livelihood. Adam had been harboring feelings for Bella for years, and now that he is back in town, he is determined to win her over. But things become complicated, and it will take a truce to see that love will find a way. I enjoyed this story a lot! The character development was spot on and very believable. I was on the edge of my seat waiting to see what would happen next. The origins of the Kissing Tree were set in stone and set the mood for the remainder of the book.
Inn for a Surprise by Karen Witemeyer (1891)
Phoebe Woodward is determined to turn the Kissing Tree Inn into a magically romantic place where couples can come to retreat in their abiding love for each other. Having grown up hearing stores of the Kissing Tree, and witnessing her father carving his and her mother's initials into the tree, she believes in the spirit of the place and wants to honor their love. Barnabas Ackerly has no romantic ideas at all about life and resents being sent by his employer to oversee his spoiled daughter's pet project. But when he arrives and sees her passion for the inn, he becomes gradually sucked into her dreams and begins to see a future where not only her inn flourishes but so does their relationship. This was probably my favorite of the four books, mainly because there was so much romantic tension throughout the story. It drew me in so much that I read it in one sitting. The characters were enjoyable and the story melted my heart.
From Roots to Sky by Amanda Dykes (1944)
Hannah Garland saves Luke Hampstead's life, and she doesn't know it. When Luke begins to write to Hannah at the behest of her brother while they are overseas at war, he becomes fond of her. When his plane is shot down in the dead of winter, he is left out in the cold without a hope of survival, and he begins to write her a letter to keep himself awake. Eventually he is rescued and goes home to America, and his first stop is to meet the girl who saved him. Hannah doesn't know who Luke is at first, but when she realizes, they immediately bond together. He extends his stay longer and longer as they get closer, and soon they can't imagine a life apart from one another. Oh my gosh, people, how do you not fall in love with this story? It was so emotional on many levels, and I couldn't help but wring my hands in concern the entire book, knowing they would be together but worried something would happen. I loved this couple. So much love between them.
Heartwood by Nicole Deese (Present Day)
Much time has passed since the Kissing Tree Inn was established, and now it is kept preserved by Abby Brookshire, the groundskeeper and protector of the Kissing Tree. Heart broken long ago after her father's passing, she has thrown herself into her work and never looked back. Except when the past returns in the form of Griffin Malone, her employer's brother and the man who broke her heart. Griffin has never stopped loving Abby and sees this as an opportunity to win her back. It will be an uphill battle to regain her trust and soothe old hurts, but it's worth it in the end. This was the hardest to get through for me, because I knew it was the ending story. I felt so terrible for Abby and Griffin, all they went through, and then to see that the poor Kissing Tree was suffering. To see how many people the tree impacted was amazing and made me wish the tree was real. It was a wonderfully bittersweet ending.
**I received a free copy via NetGalley and this is my honest review.**