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The Garden of Happy Endings: A Novel Paperback – April 17, 2012
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Praise for the novels of Barbara O’Neal
“Absorbing . . . [with] lovingly sketched characters and real emotion.”—Publishers Weekly, on How to Bake a Perfect Life
“A powerful and intriguing story rich in detailed and vivid descriptions.”—Booklist, on The Secret of Everything
About the Author
Barbara O’Neal is the author of a number of highly acclaimed novels, including the Target Club Pick How to Bake a Perfect Life and The Lost Recipe for Happiness, which won the RITA in 2010, bringing her total number of RITA awards to six. She sold her first novel in her twenties, and has also published under the names Barbara Samuel and Ruth Wind, and her books have been sold in Italy, Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany, and Poland. Barbara loves olive oil, peaches, good ale, gardening, and all big dogs. She’s also a long distance walker who traveled a portion of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela in 2010, and hopes to return to walk the rest in the near future. A native of Colorado, she now lives on the skirts of Pikes Peak with her partner, a British endurance athlete, and four animals who convinced her they needed rescue.
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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.
The plotline is solid and easy to follow. The characters are fresh, believable, full of faults as well as good. The dialogue rang true. My only complaint is that the book could have been 50 pages shorter because it did start becoming redundant. Not so much I didn't enjoy it, but just saying.
Nice, gentle but substantial read.
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.