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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars love blooms in a well-tended garden
Reverend Elsa Montgomery has faced challenges to her spiritual beliefs on more than one occasion, but has always managed to find her touchstone. This time, a shocking death in her own church community triggers a crisis of faith that sends her from Seattle, WA back to her hometown of Pueblo, CO. Shaken and disillusioned, Elsa turns to her sister, Tamsin, and her dear...
Published on April 7, 2012 by Virginia Campbell

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, but not up to earlier books
I know I am going against the general tide of comments when I write that I was a little underwhelmed with Barbara O'Neal's Garden of Happy Endings. Perhaps this is because The Lost Recipe rates as one of my all time favourite books, and I compare her following efforts so far to that book. Since that first one, I have found her characters just as interesting, but the...
Published 24 months ago by Skippy11


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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars love blooms in a well-tended garden, April 7, 2012
This review is from: The Garden of Happy Endings: A Novel (Paperback)
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Reverend Elsa Montgomery has faced challenges to her spiritual beliefs on more than one occasion, but has always managed to find her touchstone. This time, a shocking death in her own church community triggers a crisis of faith that sends her from Seattle, WA back to her hometown of Pueblo, CO. Shaken and disillusioned, Elsa turns to her sister, Tamsin, and her dear friend, Father Jake. Working in a soup kitchen and tending a communal garden help her to find a sense of peace in keeping busy and helping others. When Tamsin's world comes unglued, and she is forced to move in with Elsa, the two quite different women must resolve their own personal issues. Elsa's heart finds wings when she meets Deacon McCoy, a handsome landscaping expert who lends his expertise to the garden project. In my own personal life, I savor the exquisite simplicity of sun-warmed earth, the pull of a needle through cloth to make a quilt, and the satisfaction of nurturing others through the preparation and serving of needed sustenance. All of these elements come together in author Barbara O'Neal's "The Garden of Happy Endings: A Novel". There is also a richly rewarding sense of healed hearts, renewed faith, and hope for lasting love and happiness. Readers are also treated to a delightful little recipe section--and let me say this about that "Chicken & Dumplings recipe: Oh, my goodness!!! I look forward to reading more lovely works from Barbara O'Neal.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Third Faith Challenge, May 10, 2012
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W. Easley "Opa" (Colorado Rocky Mountains) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Garden of Happy Endings: A Novel (Paperback)
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.

Several times in Elsa Montgomery's life, she has had her faith challenged to the point of turning her back on God. The latest crisis develops while she serves as minister to a congregation in Seattle. After the brutal murder of a young girl, Elsa decides she needs time to heal and arranges to move to Pueblo, Colorado, her hometown. What ensues is a story of Elsa's spiritual growth and discovery of her own true self by giving to others in a different capacity.

Born and raised Catholic, Elsa embarked on ministry in a unitarian church because she could not become a priest. Her good childhood friend, Joaquin is now Father Jack to the parishioners of San Roque's in Pueblo Colorado. They have stayed confidants through the years and Fr. Jack welcomes Elsa to help with the local soup kitchen. Elsa also becomes involved with the community vegetable garden to serve those in the impoverished neighborhood.

Elsa opens up her old childhood home in Pueblo, and invites her sister, Tamsin, to live with her when Tamsin becomes homeless. Tamsin's husband has suddenly disappeared and brought scandal and financial ruin to her family. The relationship of the two sisters with such diverse lifestyles begins to grow and mature as each questions her status in life and how to find meaning in the lives they face.

Can one find happiness in changing life choices that are now under question? What place do family and children hold when one chooses to serve the church? Can life long relationships stay strong when choices bring dramatic change? Can one find a new relationship with God that strengthens and endures?

Author Barbara O'Neal develops the characters well as they struggle with these questions. She seamlessly blends flashbacks into the current storyline and even includes favorite recipes from the southwest.

Having been born and lived in Colorado much of my life, I could identify with the locale and ambiance of the story. It brings insight into many facets of life: spiritual growth, reaching out to community, healing the wounds of life. I highly recommend this book.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exciting, Eclectic, Energizing -- and Spirited, April 23, 2012
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This review is from: The Garden of Happy Endings: A Novel (Paperback)
Having read everything Barbara O'Neal (a.k.a. Ruth Wind, Barbara Samuel) has written I find this to be the very acme of her work. This is a Real book: the characters are Real (I feel like I'd recognize them on the street!), The descriptions are Real. The relationships are Real. Even the dogs are Real. And the cooking and the quilting, too. A book about love and loving as well as being a book about the Spirit. I don't know how she does it. I know I'll read this again and even more than usual am looking forward to her next book.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, but not up to earlier books, August 30, 2012
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This review is from: The Garden of Happy Endings: A Novel (Paperback)
I know I am going against the general tide of comments when I write that I was a little underwhelmed with Barbara O'Neal's Garden of Happy Endings. Perhaps this is because The Lost Recipe rates as one of my all time favourite books, and I compare her following efforts so far to that book. Since that first one, I have found her characters just as interesting, but the stories less engaging over time and particularly in relation to the connection/s between the main characters and love interests. In the Lost Recipe, the connection of love between all major characters was felt incredibley strong, a tribute to the author's skill in writing and imagery. I also really felt the strength of attraction between those who develop relationships. But with later books, and particularly this lastest effort, this strength was lost for me and I didn't feel as connected with the charcters or as engaged with the story. This could also be that she seems to have become less explicit with her few love scenes - they have been moved behind a closed door so to speak, and I actually think has undermined her portrayal of the power of the attraction. That magnetic sense of connection and attraction (has) felt very weak in comparison to her first two books.

Having said that, I did enjoy the book. Elsa is a lovely character, and you get a feel for her dilemma as with the dilemmas that other characters are facing in their lives - real dilemmas that are about who they are as individuals and what they have chosen to do or be in their lives. I must admit that I did skim the passages devoted to Tamsin a little, but I just didn't feel that interested in her character. I also felt that (spoiler alert)the assault, or post assult process, wasn't very well addressed in the novel, and that it was all wrapped up a little too quickly.

I am likely to not rush out and buy a new copy of her next book, but wait for a second hand copy.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bravo, May 7, 2012
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Other reviewers have more eloquently described this story than I can. I wanted to add my voice however in saying this is a beautiful book. It took me on yet another unexpected journey by this wonderful author. Thought provoking, emotional depth, heartfelt characters, romance, life searching, its all here. (Though there is a revolving faith storyline this is not one of those faith based books for those that are wondering.) This book questions the role of faith, among many other things. Highly recommended!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful book that really makes you think!, April 17, 2012
This review is from: The Garden of Happy Endings: A Novel (Paperback)
Wow, what a thought provoking book this is. Elsa is a minister in a Seattle church who finds herself questioning her calling after the murder of one of her parishioners. Elsa has had a long history of being disappointed by God, starting with her run in with a misogynist Catholic priest in her youth.
After being told by her church council that she needs to take a sabbatical, she ends up working with her lifelong friend, Joaquin, now a priest in their home town. She has a history with Father Jack, which led to one of her breaks with God, but they have both worked through it... or so they think. Elsa finds herself working on a community garden and developing an attraction to Deacon, the landscaper who is helping the church set up the garden.
I read this book the same week a young child was killed in a horrific accident in our state. I had a discussion with two co-workers about how hard I found it to believe that God would have a plan for us that could include such a terrible thing. Elsa has the same questions in this book. She has kept her faith in God for most of her life even when it has been hard to do so-she has turned her back on Him but came back every time. I think that Ms. O'Neal does an excellent job in portraying the anguish that a person with a religious calling would have when they question whether their own faith is strong enough to keep going. That said the book is hopeful and positive even as Elsa is struggling.
There is a side plot involving Tamsin, Elsa's sister, who loses everything overnight when her financier husband disappears and is subsequently discovered to have bilked people out of millions of dollars. Tamsin has a crisis of physical loss-she has no money, no home, no job and no hope of getting any of those things in the immediate future. Her daughter is overseas and has no idea of what is happening so Tamsin has the additional burden of keeping her circumstance a secret from her own child.
As always, Ms. O'Neal gives us a story with many layers that we can relate to even if our situation is not the same as the main character. Her characters survive life's vagaries and find their own brand of happiness. Isn't that what we all strive for?
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Healing power of community, nature and food, May 10, 2012
This review is from: The Garden of Happy Endings: A Novel (Paperback)
Spring is upon us and I can't help but feel inspired by the lush greenery that surrounds me. I want to open up all the windows in my house and let the healing power of nature seep in. It's always astounding how books seem to find you at the right time, the most appropriate time. This is what happened with Barbara O'Neal's The Garden of Happy Endings. I picked it up randomly one night, drawn to it by the cover and title. It promised a certain happiness and calm that I couldn't resist. The main character is Elsa Montgomery. A reverend of a small church in Seattle. Tragedy immediately envelopes Elsa and she's forced to question her beliefs (or lack there of) in this moment of complete shock and horror. Distraught and despondent, Elsa returns to her hometown of Pueblo, Colorado. Her sister, Tamsin, is going through her own personal breakdown. Together they help rebuild each other's lives through food, gardening and community involvement while searching for hope and happiness amidst the ruins.

There is an elegant quality to O'Neal's writing that seems to transcend the genre she's placed. Passages in The Garden of Happy Endings read like poetry. Images of the garden they are creating and the food that they produce evoke a visceral reaction in the reader. It is like watching spring unfold through the pages of a novel.

The themes of loss, regret, confusion, betrayal, fear and love are all emotions that we, as readers, can identify with and understand. The characters of Elsa, Tamsin, Father Jack and Deacon McCoy allow us to watch real people struggle to find both their place in the world and the happiness that they hope resides there.

I recently read an essay by O'Neal on Writer Unboxed where she detailed the need writers have for writing to answer their "central question." The question that O'Neal wanted to answer with The Garden of Happy Endings eluded her at first. She ultimately understood the question to be about what happens when something gets in the way of your passion, of your inner drive, or your life choices. I think it's interesting that O'Neal wrote about her desire to answer questions with her novels because I feel it is this quality that made The Garden of Happy Endings so rich with detail and the evolution of the characters' lives.

This novel is vivid and honest. Hopeful and calming. Powerful and evocative. Subtle and charming. I devoured it and am now inspired to check out all of Barbara O'Neal's earlier work.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A book about faith and family and love (not just romance), April 12, 2012
By 
L. Staley (Washington, DC area) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Garden of Happy Endings: A Novel (Paperback)
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I have loved Barbara O'Neal's other books and looked for this one with great anticipation. It is very good. I didn't enjoy it quite as much as her other books, but it is worth the time to read this story.

Elsa is the main character and she experiences her third crisis of faith in her life, the worst of the three by far, when she goes through a traumatic experience with the death of someone in her church. She ends up returning home to Pueblo, Colorado for a time of rest and healing. Most of the book is about that time of rest and healing. During it, she reconnects with an old friend, gets to know her sister in a way she never did before, shepherds people in the community, and meets a new friend who becomes more than a friend.

I recommend this book. Just be sure you have time to sit and savor it once you have started.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful novel by a gifted and mature writer, April 21, 2012
This review is from: The Garden of Happy Endings: A Novel (Paperback)
"The Garden of Happy Endings" is engaging, true, extraordinarily well crafted and, in the end, deeply moving. I have followed Barbara O'Neal's career since her first book as Ruth Wind over 20 years ago. I'm delighted to see that, not only has she found her authentic voice (that showed up years ago while she was writing as Barbara Samuel) but she has found her authentic world as well, with the maturely developed craft to make readers walk around in that world as natives. Other reviewers have shared plot and character details; let me just add: Bring tissues. There will be tears, but they are an integral heart-felt reaction to a brave and challenging tale. Well done, Barbara O'Neal, well done.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of her best, July 31, 2012
This review is from: The Garden of Happy Endings: A Novel (Paperback)
I've read most of Barbara Samuel O'Neal's books. This is among my top three favorites. Which is amazing, considering the fact that I'm not religious. But I found Elsa's struggle not so much with organized religion, but her struggle with her own beliefs, expectations, and disappointments.

The emotion was true and richly depicted. The conflict was basic, and strong. The love story was sweet. The relationships were deep and varied.

I loved this book. One of those I didn't want to get to the end of.
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The Garden of Happy Endings: A Novel
The Garden of Happy Endings: A Novel by Barbara O'Neal (Paperback - April 17, 2012)
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