Jillian Galloway has everything she's ever dreamed of. Her syndicated radio show, "Recipes for Marriage," has just reached record ratings. She is about to leave on a publicity tour promoting her first book, She Said, He Heard, which is already generating great buzz. To top it off, she's been married for over 20 years to a faithful husband who loves her and is behind her every step of the way.
Or so she thought.
Just moments before Jill and her husband, Jack, are to leave for the airport to fly to the West Coast for her five-week publicity tour and long-overdue vacation, Jack delivers a verbal blow. He no longer loves her and wants a divorce. He then insists she go on the tour without him. He refuses to talk about their issues and says he needs this time away from her. Jill is devastated. Not only is she in shock, but her career as a marriage expert is now in question. How can she promote her book and offer marital advice when her own marriage has fallen apart?
Once on the West Coast, Jill tries to focus on her tour, but she can't. She escapes to her sister and brother-in-law's, hoping to regroup. There, she experiences a myriad of emotions, including denial, anger and even aloofness. Her sister Viv offers a shoulder to cry on and tries to encourage her, but she's having a hard time accepting Viv's advice. She feels Viv's relationship with husband Marty is as far from her teaching as you can get. What she's starting to realize, however, is that maybe there is no formula for a great marriage.
Jill ends up at her parents' home in the California desert, which really represents her marriage --- dry and dying. Although with the town name Sweetwater Springs, the double message is clear. It is there in the desert where God meets Jill and challenges her to face issues she's been ignoring for far too long.
Meanwhile, Jack is fighting his own emotions. He doesn't understand why he feels the way he does and tries to determine exactly when things changed for him. He is confused and disheartened, but is more certain than ever that he no longer wants to be married to Jill.
Author Sally John is a wonderful storyteller. DESERT GIFT offers three-dimensional characters, an entertaining plot, and some nice twists along the way. I adored the group of senior citizens that Viv transports around town. The relationship between Jill and the elderly Agnes was precious, heartfelt and often amusing. I also loved the whole recipe theme for seasons of marriage: Crunchy Casserole, Sizzlin' Spinach, Rockin' Roast, Indigo Ice Cream, Pristine Pie, and Ecstatic Eggplant. Another clever inclusion was choosing Jack and Jill as the names for the main characters and referencing the nursery rhyme throughout. While some might see this as cheesy, I thought it was a fun addition to offset the seriousness of the topic.
DESERT GIFT is not a fast, action-packed read, but rather a thought-provoking story about real life. It's about the ups and downs of marriage and the changes we go through, as couples and as individuals. It's about the temptation to run away when the going gets tough instead of stay and confront the problem head-on. It's about taking a good look at ourselves and how we can change instead of pointing the finger at our spouse. It's about forgiveness and healing. And most of all, it's about true commitment and unconditional love --- two things marriages could definitely use more of today.
Reviewed by Lynda Schab on May 18, 2011