Wild Mint Tea is the second in Valerie Comer’s A Farm Fresh Romance series, and both builds on the first and stands alone. Claire and Noel are very different people than Jo and Zack with their own hang-ups and expectations.
Claire is the quiet sort, at least where her own needs are concerned, but she’s quick to help all others, and proves quite good at it. Sometimes it feels like she needs to listen to her own advice, something she learns when measuring what standing firm costs her. Claire has a clear vision of what God wants from her and where her place is in the world. She’s not an evangelist for her causes like Jo. She explains the importance of God and good, local food if asked, but she doesn’t press the way Jo did. Instead, she leaves people to their own choices and doesn’t force them to her way. A little dose of Jo wouldn’t have gone so wrong in her case as she learns through the story, though. Sometimes confidence can mask the true path as easily as ignorance, and fighting for what you need is better than blind acceptance of what you have.
Noel is a mess of family history and thinks of life in two stages: before settling down when life is fun and fascinating, and old age when you can make your peace with God and the world. His father abandoned them when Noel was just a kid, so he’s determined not to put down roots that would open him to being abandoned once again. The trouble is that he’s holding himself back from caring for his sister and mother, much less the wonderful, if quirky, woman God has put in his path. Noel’s journey, like Claire’s, begins with trust, but his growth in that area comes not from distrust but rather from believing he’s got it all figured out.
That they’re attracted to each other is evident from the first moment they meet. Instead of embracing it, though, each withdraws as quickly as they can manage, albeit in different ways. The choice to walk away proves something neither can uphold for long, though, and Noel’s efforts to win another chance offers opportunities both to expand the value of the farm into a celebration venue for Claire and gives Noel the opening to make a stronger connection with his sister.
To faith and farm-fresh food, Wild Mint Tea adds the importance of family in a way Raspberries and Vinegar did not, looking at a broken family as something in need of healing rather than giving up hope.
This book is, in a lot of ways, a more complex journey for both Noel and Claire than the first book in the series. The faith journey is not so much a lack of faith but rather a lack of listening, and the life journey is the same. Both Noel and Claire come to the story with strong opinions on what’s important and how they want their life to be. Both hold to those opinions when they’d be wiser to re-evaluate. This makes for difficult moments because it’s not exactly that they’re wrong in holding to their convictions but rather that they’re short sighted. What starts as protecting themselves twists into protecting each other, which is not as good as it sounds since for them protection means staying away.
There’s a lot to identify with in this story, from financial struggles to making the hard decisions and seeing them through, but for me, the most important piece was the need to be flexible even when that means taking risks. Characters have always been Valerie’s strength, and if anything, I think her characters have grown stronger in this novel, but it’s more than that. Wild Mint Tea shows a development of her storytelling in a wonderful way.
Wild Mint Tea attains a more perfect balance between faith, the environment, and the personal journeys the characters must follow to reach a point where they are open, not just to God and caring for the Earth, but also to love in this lifetime. If this is a measure of what’s to come, I can’t wait to see the third in the series.