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The women of Freesia Court are convinced that there is nothing good coffee, delicious desserts, and a strong shoulder can’t fix. Laughter is the glue that holds them together—the foundation of a book group they call AHEB (Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons), an unofficial “club” that becomes much more. It becomes a lifeline. Holding on through forty eventful years, there’s Faith, a lonely mother of twins who harbors a terrible secret that has condemned her to living a lie; big, beautiful Audrey, the resident sex queen who knows that with good posture and an attitude you can get away with anything; Merit, the doctor’s shy wife with the face of an angel and the private hell of an abusive husband; Kari, a wise woman with a wonderful laugh who knows that the greatest gifts appear after life’s fiercest storms; and finally, Slip, a tiny spitfire of a woman who isn’t afraid to look trouble straight in the eye.
This stalwart group of friends depicts a special slice of American life, of stay-at-home days and new careers, of children and grandchildren, of bold beginnings and second chances, in which the power of forgiveness, understanding, and the perfectly timed giggle fit is the CPR that mends broken hearts and shattered dreams.Amazon
Ahhhh What a balm for the soul.
Atmosphere / Style
Each chapter in this book changes perspective between the 5 main characters. (Technically a 6th is added but not until most of the way through the book, so let’s stick with 5). It can be hard to speak in so many different voices…. so it is convenient that, for the most part, the “voices” of these five women are pretty similar. They are all middle-class white ladies. Their words and in one case (Slip) the jargon is different… and the stories of their lives are their own, but there is the occasional moment when you have to check the heading of the chapter to figure out who is talking. This is not a criticism even if it sounds like one. The chapters are labeled and the life stories of each of the women are different enough that despite there being 5 main characters and a whole gaggle of side characters (husbands, children -a lot of children- in-laws, and other neighbors…) we can pretty easily keep them separate. I didn’t need a cheat sheet, and I appreciated that.
Characters / Plot
Like I said, there are a lot of characters. They are mostly sympathetic and easy to root for. A few have predictable trajectories… but there are enough curves along the road to keep you engaged. This is no small feat as the book covers over thirty years of time.
Landvik does a really good job of keeping us engaged while never dipping into tired chick-lit cliches of high drama…. except for this one thing. One character gets more time than the others. Not in chapters from her perspective… no, but in letters from her to her dead mother that help flesh out the stories of, not just her but, all the women. This was… a strange choice by Landvik. It seems to make Faith the main character, but honestly, those letters added nothing that couldn’t have been communicated the way the backgrounds and internal struggles of all the other women were conveyed: in their chapters. (Also, personal note… italics are hard to read, and having huge chunks of the book be in italics was deeply annoying.)
Why the letters? Why the focus on this one character over the others? Was she more interesting? No. For my money, she was the least interesting… but she did have the highest level of manufactured drama. You see… she has a SECRET. Ooooo Are you intrigued? No? Well, that makes sense because we are given enough of the SECRET early on to know what we need to know and to just not care enough about the rest. Or maybe it is the way that Faith (Landvik) tries to tease us about the secret with… clues? Foreshadowing? Hints? Whatever the attempt… it didn’t work. When the full SECRET is finally revealed (with tears and dramatics and a crescendo of emotions that really belong in an overly wrought Lifetime movie) we are underwhelmed… and then the falling action is so fast that it is almost as if the other characters (like the reader) just… don’t care that much either. Yeah, there are a few hurt feelings but they are dealt with so quickly that it undermines the importance of the SECRET, to begin with. Now, yes… there is a bit of the lesson of your drama is way more dramatic to you than anyone else… but Faith rebounds and becomes a “new” Faith so quickly that I am honestly unsure if even she got that message.
If you were to take the SECRET out (or at the very least relegate it to its proper level of importance… important for Faith but the amount of space it takes up in the book is unearned and frustrating) and integrate the letters into the chapters, you would have a far superior book… and this book is pretty freakin’ awesome already.
Part of what works here is that all the characters have some sort of growth. Now, one could argue that most of them are a bit “too perfect” to begin with… and that is a valid criticism. But somehow, I don’t care. They are distinct and different. Believable? Eh… not totally. But again… who cares? The stories they inhabit are delicious.
I wanted to tell you who my favorite is… but I just can’t pick. I can tell you that Faith is my 5th favorite… or 6th if we add in our late to the part main character.
Yes. Also, it makes me want to read the books on their list that I haven’t… and the constant talk of brownies made me gain at least five pounds. It was fun. It was funny. It is the sort of “group of women friends” book that I needed after suffering through The Divine Secrets of the YaYa Sisterhood. (We are covering that bit of overwrought drama on my podcast next month. I will link to our episode after it goes live, but suffice it to say… those southern ladies could learn a thing or two about REAL friendship from these midwestern women.)
I liked these characters. I was interested to see what was going to happen to them. I wish I knew them in real life.
Why THIS book?
For book club… naturally.
Would I recommend it?
Yes! It is a little long, but worth it. Highly entertaining and fun. This book doesn’t ask too much of you, but it gives you that warm feeling of a good casserole or tray of brownies: full, satisfied, and grateful for the simple pleasures in life… like friends, good food, books, and the ability to enjoy them.
*** ASPECT Method (I created this, I used it, feel free to do the same.)
A Atmosphere: How did it make me feel? What was the world like? This might include the overall tone.
S Style: What was the writing style like? Simplistic or sophisticated? Clunky or beautiful?
P Plot/Pace: Was it engaging? Were there holes? Did it feel too rushed or too long?
E Enjoyment: Was it a chore to finish or compelling enough that I picked it over other fun activities?
C Characters: Were they believable, sympathetic, interesting?
T This? Why did I read *This* book?