Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Garden of Happy Endings: A Little of Everything for Nearly Everyone

I love it when Barbara O'Neal writes books specifically for me. It's like we email weekly and she pops out with these delightful prizes that are exactly what I needed. Of course, we've never spoken, so it's not so much that she knows me so well as she's clairvoyant.

THE GARDEN OF HAPPY ENDINGS is from April of 2012, but I had read her other books that were similar in this vein. Family relationship dynamics, cooking or gardening in some form, women's fiction with lots of growth, but a little romance for the rest of us. I'm pretty sure I've written ecstatically about the others as well--Barbara O'Neal's voice is just like that. She could write the phone book to you in such a way, you'd have a great time reading it.

In this one, besides the family dynamics, the gardening, and the romance, there is a crisis of faith. And boy howdy, do you understand how this could happen for the woman. The first time she turned her back on God--well, that one is important to read as it happens in the story--but the SECOND time she has a crisis of faith, it was because her boyfriend, whom she has walked all over the better part of Spain with, suddenly says, "I can't marry you because I need to become a priest." I. Would. Be. Unglued.

Now many, many years later, she and this ex-fiance are still good friends, the best of friends. And it's when she has her third crisis of faith that the man steps back into her life and forces them both to deal with the past they've still not really reconciled, jealousies, the fact they still love each other, etc, etc. If this woman didn't have enough problems of her own, her own sister finds out--rather abruptly--that her husband had orchestrated a Ponzi scheme and now she has nothing. Not a thing. And being the pampered wife of a multi-millionaire to a poor, shopping at a second hand store is a difficult transition for her. (You want to slap her quite a few times. I was all, "You can't be this shallow!" and then again, I've never been that rich, so quite frankly I could very well be that shallow if given the opportunity. Don't worry. The sister is quite likable and pulls her own weight; it just takes her a while to transition.)

There are a couple romances--both are rather surprising. I just wasn't sure either of them would work out, just due to the conflicts created by the characters and the story, but happily they both do work out. Not in a contrived sort of way, but in a "that was how it was supposed to happen" sort of way.

The unfortunate aspect of the book is that you never get to shank that woman's husband who did the Ponzi scheme. I did find it extremely fascinating that Barbara was able to make us feel compassionate for the sister and the man's daughter, when you were secretly wondering, "How did they not know?" because I know after watching some Ponzi schemes in the news in the last few years, I'm never real concerned how the immediate family members are going to survive day to day. "Oh, boo-hoo, they'll have to eat ramen noodles like the rest of us." Yeah, it's a little more complicated than that. So applaud to Barbara for at least making me see the other side of the horse here, but a boo that we never got to shank him for causing this great big fat mess. Oh, well, there's always the next book. This particular book belonged more to the other sister anyway. Hers was the story that needed to truly resolve.

Oh, and when my Dad asked what this book was about, I said, "It's about a woman who helps a priest make a community garden in an empty lot behind some apartments, and this gang keeps tearing up the garden and threatening the people who live there." Which is true. That's also a huge aspect of the book and I clearly didn't even touch on that. Dad said, "This is why we can't have nice things." Well or something to that effect. 

So any Barbara O'Neal fans? Fans of women's literature? Any crises of faith? Any Ponzi schemes I should know about? Gardening fiction? What are you reading this week?


Terri Osburn said...

I was fortunate to meet Barbara last year and moderate a workshop she presented at a local conference. She's my good luck charm in that she talked me off a ledge before I pitched and THAT'S the pitch that landed me an agent. I also got to hug her after she won the RITA last year. She truly is as sweet as her books.

And now I want to read this. Maybe we should do away with the reviews. You're killing my TBR pile. (Which is electronic now and still huge.)

I have an ARC of a highly anticipated book and haven't been able to crack the first page. Sigh. Maybe tonight.

P. Kirby said...

I like chick lit, but apparently it's fallen out of favor. I think some of Alice Hoffman's novels count as women's lit. I love her voice and she's my go-to author when I'm in the mood for serious angst. I think Belong to Me by Marisa de los Santos, in my TBR pile, is women's fiction of some sort.

I'm an avid garden, but I can't think of any gardening fiction that I've ever read. Weird.

Reading this week. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemison. Having an odd relationship with this book. It's taking me forever to finish, but I like it enough to keep plodding along. Maybe because it has a sexy, dangerous, sometimes evil, god as a character. Also reading Deadly Farce by Jennifer McAndrews, a mystery, because I needed something light and quick to read.

Janga said...

I'm a huge fan of Barbara O'Neal and have been for many years. I read her books written as Barbara Samuel and Ruth Wind before she wrote as Barbara O'Neal. There are books under all three names on my all-time top 100 list. I also love reading her posts on her blog and at Writer Unboxed. She has such wisdom!

I also loved The Garden of Happy Endings! I had a real fan girl moment when she commented on the review and again when she commented on the retrospective of her career that I did for Heroes and Heartbreakers after she entered the Hall of Fame last year. Hellie, have you read the book she wrote last year as Barbara Samuel-- The Sleeping Night, the post-WW II, bi-racial romance set in Texas? It left me awed and speechless.

Janga said...

Today I'm reading an ARC of Robyn Kaye's You're the One, the second in her Bad Boys of Red Hook series.

MsHellion said...

Hey, guys, thanks for your patience. Work meetings all morning!

Terri, I do get a sort of wicked satisfaction in making your TBR pile grow. I always leave it open for other pirates to blog about books they're read, so the minute you read one of your TBR books you can always review it in my stead!

Pat, I love the title The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms...and the thought of a sexy, dangerous, and sometimes evil, god. *LOL* Will have to look that up. Chick lit was the "light" version of what I consider Alice Hoffman's and other women's fiction to be. Women's lit can be light and irreverent, but chick lit seemed hemmed in by the structure of a 20-something twit in NYC with big bills and an intern-pay job who loses her crappy boyfriend and high-maintenance friends to be THE WOMAN. Nothing wrong with that. It's just there's a LOT more women's fiction than that particular scenario. One of the many issues with labels and trying to define things. You start telling ONE story and then suddenly that item only has ONE STORY and if you tell anything else, it's wrong.

Janga, I love how organic she feels in her writing, so it's easy or comfortable to mesh my writing style with her exercises and improve my writing. I was trying to find something newer she had written but was coming up with nothing. Will have to seek out THE SLEEPING NIGHT! Wonderful. Thanks!

Maureen said...

Hmmm, well, I'm reading Barbara Cool Lee's Pajaro Bay books, right now. She's a member of my local RWA and I'm really enjoying these contemporaries.

I used to real Alice Hoffman. Also like Elizabeth Arthur and Barbara Kingsolver.