Today’s post is near and dear to my heart because it’s based on the area in which I grew up! And any day we get to visit with Courtney Walsh is a good day, right? 🙂
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Courtney Walsh returns with a hopeful and emotional new book about seizing second chances, finding yourself, and forging your own path.
Beth Whitaker isn’t supposed to be a small-town girl. She’s always dreamed of leaving Willow Grove, Illinois, for the big city, but she feels trapped, struggling to make up for a mistake that’s haunted her for years. Just when Beth is finally ready to break free, her sister impulsively buys a beloved but run-down farm on the outskirts of town, and she begs Beth to help with the restoration. Reluctantly, Beth agrees to help—and puts her own dreams on hold once again.
Drew Barlow hasn’t been back to Fairwind Farm since he was a boy, and he’s spent all these years trying to outrun the pain of a past he thought he buried long ago. When he learns that the owner has passed away, his heart knows it’s finally time to do the right thing. Returning to Willow Grove, Drew revisits the old farm, where he attempts to piece together his memories and the puzzle of the crime he witnessed so long ago.
Both on a journey to find peace, Beth and Drew are surprised when they begin to experience a restoration of their own. But when long-buried secrets break through the soil and the truth unfurls, will it threaten their budding relationship—and the very future of the farm?
Hometown Girl takes place in a small fictional town called Willow Grove, Illinois. The town was loosely inspired by one of my favorite Illinois towns—Galena:
Sometimes when I’m writing, I think “Oh, but is this plausible—that a place could actually be this charming and this quaint? And then I visit somewhere like Galena and I know that the places I’m describing absolutely do exist. (That always makes me pretty happy!)
For my purposes, I wanted this small town feel, but I also wanted to travel just a few miles out of the main downtown area—out to an old apple orchard that has been largely abandoned and left mostly in disarray.
This place, Fairwind Farm, was named after my friend Natalie’s farm. And it was largely inspired by one of my favorite hometown spots—Edwards Apple Orchard.
Sidenote from Carrie: This is one of MY fave hometown spots too! In fact, I was just there last weekend for the first time in 10 years 😀
If you live in or around Rockford, Illinois, you know Edwards, and if you’re anything like me, you always plan at least a few trips to this beautiful, delicious spot.
When I was writing Hometown Girl, I imagined a place like Edwards, an orchard that is a part of so many people’s lives. It’s part of our fall tradition, like so many Midwestern orchards are. There are pumpkin patches and apple picking. There’s a petting zoo, live music, a big play area for kids. Then I imagined how sad it would be if a place like that, a place with so much potential, fell into disrepair.
No more adorable indoor store…
No more pony rides or folksy singers or barrels and barrels of apples (always best in October!)
And worst of all… no more apple cider donuts. (This is the real tragedy!)
(This is my daughter and I on our first trip to Edwards this year.) And yes, those donuts were still warm.
Sidenote from Carrie: Being without Edwards’ donuts really IS the real tragedy. Trust me. I’ve been trying for 26 years to find some that even came close.
(This is me and my friend since 2nd grade at Edwards last weekend. First stop was warm donuts! Ok I’ll let Courtney take over again! lol)
In my Fairwind Farm, it wasn’t only the orchard and farm that needed repairing, but the big, white farmhouse as well. This was inspired by a bunch of Pinterest photos but also by my great-grandparents’ farm, which I think I remember very differently than what it actually looked like.
Beth and Molly’s new old farmhouse looks a little like this:
Can we pause a moment while I swoon over that porch?
Or maybe a little like this:
(Also totally swoony!)
And the best part? Hidden at the back of the property, Beth discovers something most people don’t know about. A beautiful chapel that’s been in the family of the previous owners since the farm and orchard were first built.
Here, she finds something truly priceless—a journal filled with handwritten prayers of the women who lived at Fairwind before her.
In my mind, this chapel looks a lot like the one my friend Tonia found when she was vacationing in Wisconsin…how beautiful is this?
All in all, Fairwind Farm is a beautiful place to visit…that is, if Beth and Molly can get everything back in working order. But in order to do that, they’ll need the help of a handsome stranger named Drew Barlow, a pair of dogs, a sheep named Blue, a crazy barn squatter named Birdie and a wealth of other eclectic characters that teach Beth that being a hometown girl isn’t so bad after all.
Courtney Walsh is a novelist, artist, theater director, and playwright. Change of Heart is her fifth novel and is set in the same town as Paper Hearts. Her debut novel, A Sweethaven Summer, hit the New York Times and USA Today e-book bestseller lists and was a Carol Award finalist in the debut author category. She has written two additional books in the Sweethaven series, as well as two craft books and several full-length musicals. Courtney lives in Illinois where she and her husband own a performing and visual arts studio. They have three children.
Well, I don’t know about y’all but I’m still swooning over the donuts and those porches! Thank you so much, Courtney, for such a fun post! Do you have a favorite hometown spot to visit?