Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Review: Under the Mercy Trees

Summary: Thirty years ago, Martin Owenby came to New York City with dreams of becoming a writer. Now his existence revolves around cheap Scotch and weekend flings with equally damaged men. When he learns that his older brother, Leon, has gone missing, he must return to the Owenby farm in Solace Fork, North Carolina, to assist in the search. But that means facing a past filled with regrets, the family that never understood him, the girl whose heart he broke, and the best friend who has faithfully kept the home fires burning. As the mystery surrounding Leon's disappearance deepens, so too does the weight of decades-long unresolved differences and unspoken feelings—forcing Martin to deal with the hardest lessons about home, duty, and love.-- Harper

UNDER THE MERCY TREES by Heather Newton was such a terrific read for me! I had read quite a few wonderful reviews of this novel in the blogosphere and I knew that I wanted to read it, but I kept finding that I had books that I had to read first. (Like many of you, I tend to over commit!) It's just that this book looked so good and I had a feeling that I was going to like it. So I thought, "What the heck? Why do I even blog if it's not to read good books?" So, I decided to drop everything and just read UNDER THE MERCY TREES. And boy am I glad I did!

UNDER THE MERCY TREES is an excellent novel and one that doesn't deserve to languish on a bookshelf. It was incredibly well written from the dialogue to the character development to the establishment of the setting. And, if I'm being honest, I thought it was one of the best books that I've read recently about family dynamics. It was so good!

UNDER THE MERCY TREES' description pulled me in, but I'm not sure it does justice to the depth of this novel. When Leon Owenby suddenly goes missing, the entire family pulls together (well... sort of) to try to find him. That includes his sister Ivy (who just happens to see ghosts), his brother James and his wife Bertie, and Martin, Leon's youngest brother. The entire Owenby family, from Leon and his siblings (and even their children), were interesting in their own right; and I loved how complicated their relationships were. Of course, all of those secrets that they were hiding certainly helped to make things interesting too.

One of the things that I most adored about this novel was how the story was written. The chapters alternated between four characters, Ivy, Bertie, Martin and Liza (Martin's childhood sweetheart); and I thought the choice of characters was so interesting. By hearing from a sister-in-law and a family friend, I felt as if I was able to get a better understanding of the members of the family as well as the entire family entity.

I also thought it was so smart how the characters' stories were presented. While most of the chapters were written in third person, Ivy's story was told in first person narrative. Since Ivy was such a  complex (and interesting) character with her state-of-mind as well as her visions, I felt fortunate to be able to see what was really going on inside her head.

I also appreciated how the author used flashbacks so effectively to tell the story. Each of the chapters went back-and-forth between the present and the past, and the story unfolds at the perfect pace. I loved being able to gain insight into the various characters' through these memories and actually see how they became who they are.

There is no doubt that many of my favorite parts of this story were the ones that dealt with family dynamics; however, in  many ways, I also liked the mysteries within this novel. In fact, I guess this book could be classified as a mystery of sorts. The events surrounding Leon's disappearance were unclear and the author did a great job of hooking me in. I was very interested in knowing what happened to Leon, and I loved how the story unfolded. But I have to admit that the family saga took on a more important role for me than figuring out the mystery!

UNDER THE MERCY TREES would make an excellent book club pick. The book is just terrific, and I know my friends always seem to enjoy a good book about family dynamics. There is a reading guide available which touches upon so many of the important issues in this novel. Some of the topics you might want to discuss include family, loss, secrets, ghosts, special places, forgiveness, redemption, and regret. I thought this reading guide was excellent and give definitely give you some food for thought!

I highly recommend UNDER THE MERCY TREES! And if you are interested in learning more about the book and the author, then check out Book Club Girl's BlogTalk Radio show tonight.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this novel.


Beth F said...

I'm so glad I have this one here to read. I love books told in alternating voices.

bermudaonion said...

I loved this book too and am really looking forward to tonight's show. I agree that this would make a great book club pick!

Sandy Nawrot said...

Kathy donated this signed book to my ALL auction, and perhaps I'll just have to bid on it myself. No bad reviews of this one out there so far.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

This sounds great, especially the character of Ivy!

Rebecca Rasmussen said...

Yay for Heather!!! I am so happy that everyone is just loving her wonderful book! :)

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this book so much. I'm looking forward to the show this afternoon (it's afternoon here on the west coast). I loved Ivy's perspective, as well as Bertie's stories. See you this afternoon for the show.