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42 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Amazing Story
I loved this book! It is a beautifully written story of one family and one Welsh Town in Southeastern Nebraska. We are taken through the life of Hope and Llwellyn Jones and their three children, Larken, Gaelan and Bonnie. This is also the story of Vinie (the children's stepmother) yet she never really married their father.

The couple marry in the early...
Published on October 28, 2008 by Jeanne Anderson

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41 of 42 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Like The Corrections, only much nicer (3 -1/2 stars)
I am one of what sometimes seems like six people who did not like The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. That famous tale of a family reunited in the the dying of their parents seemed to me cruel to the weaknesses and failings of his characters and unforgiving of the shallowness that, if you believe the author, pervades American life. Sing Them Home is also about a family...
Published on November 25, 2008 by A. Anderson


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41 of 42 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Like The Corrections, only much nicer (3 -1/2 stars), November 25, 2008
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I am one of what sometimes seems like six people who did not like The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. That famous tale of a family reunited in the the dying of their parents seemed to me cruel to the weaknesses and failings of his characters and unforgiving of the shallowness that, if you believe the author, pervades American life. Sing Them Home is also about a family brought back together by the death of the father and haunted by the loss of a mother to a tornado. But Stephanie Kallos entirely empathizes with Llwellyn Jones, his now dead wife Hope, their three children now grown and the Viney, their mother's stand in. She describes them in detail, leaving little to the reader's discovery, and follows them around Emlyn Springs, a tiny town near Lincoln, Nebraska, as they accept themselves and their small town strengths and come to realize that Hope brought the town back to life through the mostly inadvertent choices her children make 25 years after her death.

There is a fair amount to nitpick about. The dead participate a bit in the story, both in the extending mourning rituals of a Welsh American town (which is the source of the title), and by the dead themselves who tend to hover near where they lived. Kallos does a nice job of imagining the involvement -- and non-involvement -- of the dead but after the effort of creating their place, she uses little of it to further the ambiance of the place or the actions of the characters. If Sing Them Home is lyrical, it is lyrical in the language of today, where stress and anxiety evoke the sense of a stomach full of gerbils or a head full of popping corn. What is parsed throughout is the inner life of the characters, mostly the women, each explained nearly completely so the reader's sense of the character is not what they discover in the writing, but what Ms. Kallos tells them right out loud. The story is of the emotional life of the characters, but there are no hard edges in the books not softened by humor and a gentle distance from the pain. Her male characters remain far more hidden than the women, who are more explored and nuanced. I am usually easily caught up in an author's world but it took about half of the 542 pages before I got to the point where I did not want to put it down, and, for the last 50 or so pages, could not put it down.

There are some terrific strengths. Kallos makes even incidental characters interesting, and weaves together seemingly accidental elements of character or minor chance into the tapestry that binds a family together, and she does it effortlessly. Even the unlikely is believable. If the ending is not a surprise, it is satisfying. She has a persistent humor which is just slightly acidic enough to spice the stew.

At its length, it is not a quick read but by the end, you know these folks pretty well. In a sense, the book is about forgiveness of one's self and one's family and one's roots, but if that is the message, it is gently told. Fundamentally, Ms. Kallos likes her characters which is why it is not like The Corrections at all.
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42 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Amazing Story, October 28, 2008
By 
Jeanne Anderson (Swartz Creek, MI United States) - See all my reviews
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I loved this book! It is a beautifully written story of one family and one Welsh Town in Southeastern Nebraska. We are taken through the life of Hope and Llwellyn Jones and their three children, Larken, Gaelan and Bonnie. This is also the story of Vinie (the children's stepmother) yet she never really married their father.

The couple marry in the early 1960's and settle down in his hometown of Emlyn Springs, Nebraska. It is a town that honors all their Welsh traditions and Hope falls in love with the town as a young woman. Llwellyn is a Doctor and Hope a stay at home mom, who suffers several miscarriages before giving birth to 3 children.

Through excerpts from Hope's diary throughout the book we learn of her feelings as she goes through these losses and tries to adapt to and fit in to this very "set in its ways" small town. At the same time we are taken through present day (2004) and the lives of Larken, Gaelan, Bonnie and Vinie.

Llwellyn is struck down and killed by lightning in 2004 and from that point on we learn the details of the life he has had. We learn that Hope was diagnosed with MS and that she was "taken up" during a tornado in 1978.

This is such a dynamic book, I highly recommend it. I had trouble getting to sleep at night worrying about these people and couldn't wait to get back to the book the next day. All the characters of this book display a humaness that we all have. It is believeable and inspiring to follow these people through their lives. It has heart and warmth not easily found anymore in writing. Great work!!!
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb Novel! You Won't Want to Put This One Down!, November 7, 2008
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"Sing Them Home" is a beautifully written novel which you will find hard to put down. Further, it may be one of those novels that you cannot forget. The basic story involves the lives of three siblings and the impact their mother's death has on their personalities and relationships with the opposite sex.

One is tempted, at first, to compare this book to "The Lovely Bones." The dead "speak" through the narrator, and through the diary of Hope Jones, the mother of the three protagonists. That comparison would be, however, a mistake. "Sing's" dead speakers help draw the picture of the tiny community of Emlyn Springs and are not a major force in the narrative. Hope Jones' diary excerpts are inserted at appropriate points in the story and serve to provide background for the characters' actions and reactions to situations.

I found this book to be particularly moving in the sections where Hope spoke of her miscarriages and her subsequent reaction, psychological and physcial, to those tragedies. Stephanie Kallos writes these scenes with empathy and insight. Further, Kallos' insight into a parent's serious illness (Hope has MS), death, and the manner in which those event impacts children into adulthood is masterful. If she does not have first hand knowledge of the subject, I would be quite surprised.

I thought the female characters were more finely drawn and much more realistic than the males. Irrespective of that opinion, I found that I liked all the individuals who peopled the town of Emlyn Springs; thought their customs were fascinating; and wanted everyone to have the life they deserved.

I recommend this book for anyone who wants to read a gentle, well written novel. You will find yourself wrapped up in the lives of the characters, crying when they cry, and celebrating their joys when they celebrate. First class all the way!
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It blew me away (pun intended), October 31, 2008
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This is a saga, a sweeping family story that lodges in your marrow, the kind of story that makes you smile, laugh, weep, snort, chortle, sing, spread your arms wide and lay your heart wide open.

With flavors tender, ribald, ironical, farcical, tragic, magical, and wondrous, Sing Them Home narrates an epic story of a family emotionally disrupted by the disappearance of their mother (and wife), Hope, in a Nebraska tornado of 1978. Hope was swept up, along with her Singer sewing machine and a Steinway piano, but she never came down. Due to the absence of her remains, all that stands in the graveyard is her cenotaph.

Twenty-five years later, the three grown-up children are still trying to cope with their grief. None ever married. Larkin, an art history professor (whose work is symbolic with her loss and grief) hides behind food and refuses to "leave the ground." Gaelan is a weatherman (ah! the irony) who has only superficial, sexual relationships with women, and the youngest, Bonnie, is a virgin and garbologist. She roams after storms to look for "archival" remains of things that flew away in the tornado with their mother. And she talks to the dead at the cemetery.

There is also a beloved but inscrutable stepmother, Viney, (although she never legally married their dad); a large supporting cast of unforgettable characters; ancestral Welsh traditions; and the Nebraska weather and topography, a salient ingredient in pulling the story together.

The prose is beautiful and evocative as the story moves along non-linearly, but with grace. Past events are revealed gradually and build momentum as it catches up to the present. You will experience an intimate relationship with these radiant, unconventional characters and their extraordinary story.

There are some themes similar to The Lovely Bones--loss, unresolved grief, isolation, the meaning of memories and the idea of home. However, Kallos' novel is richer, more sprawling and textured. John Irving comes to mind, with veins of Philip Roth, Margot Livesy, and Ann Tyler. She is an original, though--she leaves her own memorable imprint.

This is no garden-variety redemption story. It exhilarates with an elixir of spiritual, metaphysical and deeply human voices, of things said, unsaid, unuttered, and forever sung.

For a taste of the author's wit, poise, sensibility, and charm, read her bio on her website at [...]
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written drama to sink your teeth into, December 15, 2008
By 
A. Bell (Cape Cod, Massachusetts) - See all my reviews
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I love a nice long book. I read a lot, and when I find a long, beautifully written book that holds my attention from beginning to end, I feel incredibly lucky. Such is the case with Sing Them Home.

This is an incredibly moving story of love, loss and family. The characters are so well drawn that by the end of the book, you feel you know them. Anyone who has lost someone close to them will find this particularly moving, but even if you haven't, you can't help but feel for the family and their trials and tribulations.

I cannot recommend this book enough. I was sad when I finished it, because I never wanted it to end. Beautiful prose, fantastically drawn characters and a gripping plot make this one of the better books I've read this year. You won't be disappointed!
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A disappointment, December 2, 2008
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When I read the synopsis of the book before choosing it, I couldn't wait for it to get here! Being a voracious reader, I was even more pleased when the book arrived and it is more than 500 pages long. My joy was, unfortunately, short-lived. I felt like I was wading in quick-sand to get through the first few chapters. I kept thinking that maybe the next chapter will get to the point and this will all start to make sense. But it never happened, maybe it's too esoteric. The characters would just randomly appear, and the reader didn't get the reason for this character for maybe several chapters. There are several references to dead people who "live" in the cemetary, holding all sorts of careers in the afterlife and some of the living characters speak with them. That part intrigued me and confused me, all at the same time. It was a relief to finish this book. The author herself admitted that sometimes books just don't fit.

"Sometimes I rush out to buy a book I've heard about, only to discover that--like the old song says--it's the wrong time, it's the wrong place, and the book is shelved until we are more sympatico. At other moments, books surprise me by literally tumbling off the shelves or visually leaping from the display table..."

I'm thinking this is one of those books for me. It's bound to happen when you read as much as I do, but it doesn't make it any less disappointing.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gentle, unlikely, and so very humorous, January 3, 2009
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I was not a big fan of Broken For You, because I couldn't accept that the right thing to do with all that priceless china was to smash it and reassemble it into art. When I realized that this book was by the same writer, I feared a 'failure of basic premise,' but that didn't happen for me at all with Sing Them Home.

This is such a funny, loving portrait of utterly messed-up people, such a delicate, affectionate catalog of coping mechanisms, that I was completely won over and in love with these main characters. Bonnie, Galen and Larken Jones are adults frozen in emotional time by the early death of their mother in a tornado, emotionally torn up again by the death of their father in another weather-related accident. This is Nebraska, after all, where uneventful lives carry on under the constant threat that the sky will carry people away.

The portraits of these tornado children are thorough, convincing, sad and funny. Though Gaelan and Larken appear to be more grown-up since they have careers and relationships, Bonnie is actually the most whole, the most honest about the affects of her mother's death. She's also "half-mad." The story is long, the progress incremental. There are many, many characters here, subplots and digressions and diary entries and overviews. The reader should be prepared for a leisurely, consuming read, and ready to laugh out loud.

When I began the book, I felt that the dead would be a little more present. With the way they were introduced, I expected an almost "Our Town" chorus of involvement and voices. This isn't the case, though; the dead are more present in memory and through diaries than in spirit, though they do make cameos here and there, and act as a chorus, observing and judging the events in Emlyn Springs. The town itself, with its archaic Welsh practices and passions, it a character, too.

There are some truly beautiful passages about life, loss, grief and acceptance, and one of my favorites is this:

There is a commonly held misconception that we must only speak well of the dead, encountering them in our hearts and minds with abiding love and unperturbed kindness, fabricating a revisionist history that excludes pain, suffering and sin. And yet grief cannot proceed and healing cannot occur without a willingness to speak truthfully of the dead and of our relationship with them.

The journey of the Jones children towards an acceptance of their parents in life and death, in human totality, is touching, affirming, and in the end, quite moving.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful read, November 13, 2008
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I had never read anything by this author, so I had no idea what to expect, but I am thoroughly impressed with her style and depth. Imagine a finely woven blanket of multiple textures and colors...then imagine each thread as one of Stephanie Kallos' characters or story lines. This is how complex and interesting her writing is.

She begins this novel with a line that more than pulls the reader in: "It's so hard to explain what the dead really want." Immediately I was caught. They're dead - what could they want? But Kallos uses the dead as additional characters in the story to give meaning and depth to the living....and not like any author who I read in the past. These dead see with "insectlike, prismatic" vision - not only as people are but as they were. Very interesting concept, and there is more, but I don't want to spoil your fun.

Another line startled and caught me: "The gift of bones is a profound comfort to the living.." The GIFT - so true. Without that gift, as some of these characters struggled with - the grief and loss never end.

And so the story continues, woven thread by thread, some pulling out and being re-woven, covering the reader in the warm blanket of forgetfullness of current life while we become part of the tale of these siblings and their loss - and redemption.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A lovely story, not to be missed, November 10, 2008
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Sing Them Home earns its place as one of the best books I've read this year. In fact, it likely would make my top-ten list. I loved this book. The flowing plot, description, prose, and the author's ability to put the reader inside the character's minds reminded me of two of my favorite authors, Joyce Carol Oates and Margaret Atwood--but in a fresh, updated sense. I eagerly await Stephanie Kallos's future works.

In Nebraska in 1978, Hope Jones is carried up and away by a tornado that destroys the family she's left behind as much as it destroys their small town. Rebuilding the town is quite simpler than rebuilding their family. Hope's husband and their three children carve out a life for themselves. Each harbors his or her own particular form of guilt and grief. These characters are, if not lovable, extremely likable. They are your sister, your neighbor, your friend. I loved their dysfunctions. Larken, the eldest daughter, is a pillar of strength--except when it comes to controlling her food intake. Gaelen reacts to the loss of his mother and girlfriend by becoming selfishly consumed with all things physical. The youngest, Bonnie, searches endlessly for a sign from above.

As the story unfolds with rich detail, all is not what it seems. Like any family, the Jones's have secrets. And Mother Nature is determined to set the family on a crash course with truth and healing.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good read but nothing to sing about., March 30, 2009
By 
L. Wright (New York, NY (USA)) - See all my reviews
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I love books that draw me in and make me care about the characters. Sing them Home started out to be one of those books but it didn't quite fulfill its promise.

Sing them Home is a book about a family that is recovering from a tragedy. The beginning of the book starts with the death of Llewellyn Jones, the father of a family whose "mother went up and never came down" in a tornado in 1978. My expectation was that this book would be about grief, loss, and recovery, with, due to the section on the dead, a little bit of magic realism thrown in. This wasn't it.

One of the main character's of the book is Hope, the mother. We get to know Hope through her diary entries. I have to say that these were my favorite part of the book. Hope suffers from MS and her account of the progression of the disease is wonderful, as is her views on motherhood, marriage, life, etc. Hope is the most fully drawn character in the book and if it focused just on her it would be wonderful.

The characters of Hope's children, Larken, Gaelan and Bonnie while they have an interesting set up in the beginning, become bland by the end. An example of this is Bonnie the youngest Jones child. Her artifact hunting and speaking to the dead make for a very interesting character, but this is not explored enough and in the end Bonnie is almost conventional. Larken's eating issues are never fully explored. Did she have them as a child? And Gaelan's relationship problems? Were they due to the death of his mother? And Viney is never given enough explanation as well. There is no clear progression about the tornado, the death of their mother, and where they are in their lives and no progression about what makes them change.

Sing them Home is an enjoyable read, unfortunately, Stephanie Kallos, tries to do too much and in the end leaves much undone.
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Sing Them Home: A Novel
Sing Them Home: A Novel by Stephanie Kallos (Paperback - August 25, 2009)
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