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Book Club: The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns

Today we are lucky to have Jillian Mcclennan, an artist, gardener, and true rose enthusiast, as guest reviewer for the new novel, The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns by Margaret Dilloway. Jillian was also kind enough to share some of her gorgeous rose photos with us which I have included in the review. Take it away, Jillian…


The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns Margaret Dilloway

I’m not one for novels about relationships (that don’t have at least one spaceship in them.) As for medical dramas, I stopped watching them on TV in the 90’s. And a book about the ins-and-outs of raising teens might make a good plant stand… The Care and Handling of Roses With Thorns looked like the complete opposite of anything I’d want to read.

Because of this, I was surprised to find myself thinking warmly of the characters in this novel, in between bouts of reading it. “Missing” them, as it were.

spray of compassion roses
spray of compassion roses by Jillian Mcclennan

Gal Garner is an alert, no-nonsense woman, who teaches biology to older teens, breeds roses competitively, and gets on with various aspects of her serious kidney disease. Each of these parts of her life is showcased to the reader via her wry sense of humour, each has an intriguing man in it, and no one aspect of the story dominates. Like a champion juggler, Dilloway balances all three narrative strands easily.

Hulthemia Rose
Hulthemia hybrid rose by mmmavocado on Flickr

As a gardener and casual-but-sometimes-obsessive rose grower, I was fascinated to learn about Hulthemia roses, Gal’s prize roses. I’d never heard of them. I looked them up online to be sure they weren’t fiction, for they sounded like a rose I could get into. Because they are fairly new, they aren’t yet bred to be “consumer friendly”. I like the idea of a rare, fussy rose, and enjoyed obsessing with Gal over her Hulthemias.

Despite her illness (“Roses?” No, kidney disease…) Gal does her best to care for her teenage niece, who unexpectedly comes to live with her in her southern California home. Other characters in Gal’s family are lightly sketched, with her parents coming across almost as caricatures, but it works. I found even the briefest mentions of Gal’s sister Becky effective and touching. No matter how few lines a character gets, Dilloway creates evocative moments that feel true.

compassion rose
compassion rose by Jillian Mcclennan

Even so, it remains a light read, often gently funny. I haven’t encountered quite this mix of substance and lightness in a storyteller before. A humane, lovely, graceful read.


Thanks to Jillian for her funny and thoughtful review of this latest book club selection. For more information on Garden Therapy Book Club, please click the tab at the top of the page.


  1. Thank you so much for the garden book on roses post. As an artist and avid rose lover this will be so helpful in keeping my roses healthy.

  2. Oops! I so enjoyed the rose photos I thought this was a book about keeping roses healthy. As an artist I always go for the visuals first then read the information. So, now that I have read the book review I am going to order the book as a fun read. I have to find out how the author blends roses into the story line and how the main character copes with her kidney disorder too.


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