Review – The History of Us

The History of UsThere’s that saying that you can’t pick your family. You know the one and have probably marveled at its truthfulness at one family event or another over the years. You know, when that weird cousin brings a stripper to a wedding and no one can stop staring.* Anyway, that’s sort of the point of The History of Us. It’s all about family, and all the great and annoying qualities you wouldn’t trade for the world mostly because those defining moments in life become great blog fodder. Yes, that.

Eloise Hemple is a newly minted college professor when she receives a call informing her that her sister and brother-in-law have died in an accident. She rushes home and somehow never leaves; staying to raise children that aren’t hers but children she can’t live without — the only part of her sister she has left. Life veers into the unfamiliar and instead of writing well-received research papers on her topic of choice, she’s struggling to pay the heating bills, ballet lessons, and save for college for three children that were not part of the future she imaged, and so carefully planned, for herself.

I wanted to feel sorry for Eloise but I couldn’t because she wouldn’t let you. She knew from the moment she took that call that her life would never be what she thought, and hoped, it would be. Her three children (and they are her children), Theo, Josh, and Claire, are a different story though. Her niece Theo is a self-righteous, annoying person who thinks she’s been slighted her whole life. Yes, she lost parents but Eloise went out of her way to ensure she never lacked for anything giving up any hope of a life she might have had for Theo’s sake. When Eloise finally starts to want a life of her own after raising the three siblings, Theo balks and does everything she can to blame her for any bit of unhappiness she feels or has ever felt. Josh, well, he copes like he always does. Claire throws every plan on its head with a decision no one saw coming. All in all, life in most families.

There are the ones you feel sad for, the ones you get annoyed by, and the ones you just like no matter what. Stewart manages all the personalities well and doesn’t let you like or dislike anyone of these characters too much. It’s a heartwarming story and if you happen to like family drama, I’d give this one a try. You’ll be annoyed, you’ll possibly want to yell at a character or two, then you’ll finish the book, grab a glass of wine and head back in that room with your family knowing it will all work out somehow. Or at the very least, you’ll come out of it with a story to tell.

* Stripper at wedding is a true family story. I kid you not.

The History of Us

By Leah Stewart

Simon & Schuster

ISBN: 9781451672626

Review – The Gathering

The Gathering is a sad book and several times I had to put it down for my own sanity but it was so good I had to pick it up again. It’s a heart wrenching ordeal of a book and I felt like I was getting kicked repeatedly while reading this one.

Veronica’s brother, Liam, has committed suicide. She is the one who has to retrieve his body from London and bring it back home to Ireland for burial. On the way, she contemplates her life, her marriage, which she knows is failing, and her grief for a life she wants and the life she has. Her grief takes on incredible highs and lows and she comes to the realization that there are no right answers for her, in fact, there may not be any answers at all which makes her want to run even further from everything in her life. She doesn’t know what to do or think and takes to blaming family, loved ones, and everyone in between.

If I didn’t get this across earlier, the book is profoundly sad but realistic in the portrayal of grief and its many forms. There’s a mother paralyzed by every decision she must make. There are numerous brothers and sisters drinking their way through the burial preparations and the funeral. Veronica begins writing again in the midst of everything falling down around her but it brings her no solace or any closer to the answers she wants. Her children are a small grace in her life but she can’t be with them and enjoy those moments of peace. She spends her days overcome with hatred for her husband that she can’t appreciate any bright spot in her life.

There are some happy flashes of remembrance in this book, as there always are in times of grief. Getting family together is always a gamble and tensions are always so much higher when a death is the reason for the gathering. What I liked about this book was the authenticity of the people involved and their emotions. Not everyone grieves in the same way and Enright made this all feel very real. There were no overly joyous or crazy sad moments in this book. Even a sad book needs a few light moments to keep it going and there were no jumps in this book that struck me as odd.

I gave this book 5 stars and I don’t have much more to say about it. I’m slightly speechless because it was so good but also too much in many respects. It’s one of those books that truly has a time and a place. I wouldn’t recommend picking this one up on a whim as I did. I bought this one months ago and came across it while looking for something new to read. I wasn’t prepared in any way for a book that stunned me with the raw emotion this one did.

The Gathering

By Anne Enright

Black Cat New York

ISBN-13: 9780802170392

5 stars

Review – Garden Spells

Garden Spells

By Sarah Addison Allen

A Bantam Book

eISBN: 9780553904123

5 stars

Sarah Addison Allen is a new to me author but I don’t foresee that being the case for very long.  Her style is lyrical, almost poetic, and her characters are amazing creatures of habit that make you love their ways.

Claire Waverly enjoys her quiet life in her family’s old Victorian house in North Carolina, she loves even more the garden out back which produces flowers and herbs and when incorporated into family recipes, can bring about certain feelings in people.  A caterer in town, she’s happy to live her quiet life but when her long lost sister Sydney shows up with her five year old daughter, Bay, her life is thrown into a new orbit.  She’s no longer the sole keeper of the house, her sister is keeping some secret she won’t share, and Bay shows budding family traits of the Waverly women — magical powers of a sort with flowers and an ability to know where everything and everyone belongs.  Sydney keeps fighting her Waverly roots but soon starts to realize that she’s going to need to embrace who she is.

I don’t want to gush all over this book but I’m going to.  Claire and Sydney are sisters who don’t act like it but there is a love between them and when it grows it’s almost as lovely as the garden.  Next door, a new neighbor, Tyler, brings love to Claire and she’s a woman whose life is sorely in need of human contact, even if he is a little bit too pushy for my taste.  Sydney is a woman hurting from an abusive relationship and she doesn’t want to share anything for fear that she and her daughter might be found.  It’s a story of family, love, strength, and learning to embrace life and who you are.  It doesn’t feel odd even for all of its magical elements.  Addison Allen infuses just enough to make it work but she doesn’t make it overbearing or the focus of the story.  It all works.  Magical realism can sometimes over compensate for other story elements but here is all feels right; just life with a little extra.

This is one I highly recommend.  If Sarah Addison Allen is a new to you author, read this one.