Monday, September 22, 2008

Review: House & Home

Summary: The story of a woman who loves her house so much that she’ll do just about anything to keep it.

Ellen Flanagan has two precious girls to raise, a cozy neighborhood coffee shop to run, terrific friends, and a sexy husband. She adores her house, a yellow Cape Cod filled with quirky antiques, beloved nooks and dents, and a million memories. But now, at forty-four, she’s about to lose it all.

After eighteen roller-coaster years of marriage, Ellen’s husband, Sam—who’s charismatic, spontaneous, and utterly irresponsible—has disappointed her in more ways than she can live with, and they’re getting divorced. Her daughters are miserable about losing their daddy. Worst of all, the house that Ellen loves with all her heart must now be sold.

Ellen’s life is further complicated by a lovely and unexpected relationship with the husband of the shrewish, social-climbing woman who has purchased the house. Add to that the confusion over how she really feels about her almost-ex-husband, and you have the makings of a delicious novel about what matters most in the end . . .

Set in the gorgeous surroundings of Portland, Oregon, Kathleen McCleary’s funny, poignant, curl-up-and-read debut strikes a deep emotional chord and explores the very notion of what makes a house a home. -- Hyperion/Voice

I first heard about HOUSE & HOME by Kathleen McCleary when I read Lisa's review on Books on the Brain. Then I started seeing it featured on Every Woman's Voice; and I immediately knew that it was a book that I wanted to read. When TLC Book Tours announced that they were having a book blog tour for this book, I couldn't sign up for it fast enough! (Fortunately, they allowed me to participate.)

I should probably preface this review with why I wanted to read this book so much. The first sentence of the book description pretty much grabbed my attention, "The story of a woman who loves her house so much that she’ll do just about anything to keep it." I just couldn't comprehend how someone could love a house that much. Don't get me wrong, I like my house and how I've decorated it, and I do try to keep it neat and tidy; but it's just a building where we live. I think that my family and the memories we create actually make our house a home -- not the building itself. My feeling definitely made me wonder, how could a character have feelings this intense about a house? Needless to say, I was very intrigued.

You see, I moved around a lot as a child -- sometimes every year or two. I'm sure this has more than a little something to do with why I had such a hard time comprehending Ellen's passion. I have always considered a house just to be a shell for our stuff! I have fond memories of what occurred in my various houses, but I just have never felt an attachment to a structure. As I started reading this book, I wondered if I were the one who was way out in left field on this one. While I didn't understand the extreme nature of Ellen's feelings (actually, I thought she was going off the deep end a few times), I did start to understand why Ellen didn't want to leave her house. And, I actually felt some compassion towards her for not being able to accept that a new family would be living in her home and making their own, entirely new memories.

I actually really liked Ellen (even if I didn't like all of her actions), but I found myself getting frustrated with her at times. I can't imagine how difficult it would be to end my marriage and break up my family -- to really have to start over again in my 40s; however, she was so upset by everything going on in her life that she couldn't see what she still had to be grateful for. I think what was always in the back of my mind, and that I realized very early on in the story, was that Ellen wasn't exactly clinging on to her house because she wanted to keep the physical structure. She was actually trying to handle all of her emotions over losing her life and her family as she knew it -- wanting to keep the house was just a physical manifestation of all her emotions. When I focused on this aspect of her personality, I could accept Ellen and her behavior so much better. I kept reading with the hope that Ellen would figure this out about herself!

I was very impressed with Ms. McCleary's writing style. I was surprised to learn that this was her first novel. The book was very easy to read and the story moved right along -- I actually didn't want to put the book down and ended up reading it in one day. I thought Ms. McCleary did a very good job developing the characters, especially Ellen. Ellen was an extremely complex character that definitely caused me to think. If you would like to learn more about Ms. McCleary and HOUSE & HOME, you can read this conversation with the author.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading HOUSE & HOME, and I think it would make a wonderful book club pick. I realize that I'm a little extreme with my opinion of a "House" versus a "Home", so I would be fascinated to hear some other women's views. In addition, it would be very interesting to hear what all my friends think of Ellen and her behavior. There are discussion questions available here if you want a few ideas to get your conversation moving. However, I don't think book clubs will have any problems finding things to talk about from this book.

I have lived in my current house for seven years. It's actually the longest that I've ever lived in any one house (or even town for that matter.) After reading this book, I asked myself if it would be more difficult to leave this house since it's the one that my children have grown up in. I have to think that it would be a little hard, but I really think I'd be okay with it (except for the work involved in moving!) If I had to list one thing that I'd really miss, it would probably be my kids' rooms. So much has happened in them -- nursing my son in the middle of the night, tending to both of them when they were sick, and even reading books to them every night before bed.

What would you miss most about your home?


Anonymous said...

I've never had trouble leaving a house, but the longest I've ever lived in one is 8 years. I will have to say that the one we live in now (for the past year) is my favorite one so far, so things might change.

Jill said...

Agreed...I'm not very sentimental about houses. In fact, anyone who knows me knows that I would move tomorrow. Don't get me wrong...I like my house, but I'm always up for a change of scenery. I'm very comfortable being "at home," wherever that may be. It's just that the particular space is largely interchangeable to me.

Serena said...

What would I miss about my home? Hmm, I guess that would depend on where I was moving to! I would miss the merlot red wall in my living room because I'm quite sure that no other apartment complex would offer to paint an accent wall and not charge me to cover it up when I left. I would also miss my laundry room with the full-size washer and dryer if it didn't exist in the new apartment. This is a tough question for someone living in apartments.

Lisa (Southern Girl Reads) said...

Unlike many of you, I had to leave a home I grew up in and it was extremely difficult. Our family lived in the home my father built from age 3 until I was 14. Not only was it the house itself, but it was a farm, so we gave up much more than just a house. Like Ellen, my father put everything into the house. That said, I still had a difficult time with Ellen and her actions. I did like her character, however the choices she made frustrated me at times. I didn't feel she gave her marriage enough of an effort for the sake of her children and there is no way I could ever burn our beloved family home down. No matter what. In my situation, a neighboring family bought our home and although I hated the thought of someone else living there, I could never destroy something my father designed, built and loved.

S. Krishna said...

I'm actually pretty sentimental about my house, which is why this book is on my TBR pile! I'd probably miss just the serenity of my home. I kind of see it as my sanctuary away from all the craziness of life.

Robin said...

I'm almost embarrassed to say that I'm sort of in love with my house. It's quiet, and relaxing, and has beautiful views from the windows in back. It's my haven with a lot of wonderful memories. I want to live here forever. I'm reading this book. I have a strange feeling I'll totally relate to Ellen.

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

I absolutely loved your review! I just put it on my wish list lol not that i needed anymore books on it lol. I've only been in my house for 2 years, I don't think I'd have a problem leaving it if we had too. Like you said, it's the memories in the house that I would miss.