Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Garden of Happy Endings by Barbara O'Neal

The Garden of Happy Endings
Barbara O’Neal
2012, 416 pgs

Book Summary from Goodreads
After tragedy shatters her small community in Seattle, the Reverend Elsa Montgomery has a crisis of faith. Returning to her hometown of Pueblo, Colorado, she seeks work in a local soup kitchen. Preparing nourishing meals for folks in need, she keeps her hands busy while her heart searches for understanding.

Meanwhile, her sister, Tamsin, as pretty and colorful as Elsa is unadorned and steadfast, finds her perfect life shattered when she learns that her financier husband is a criminal. Enduring shock and humiliation as her beautiful house and possessions are seized, the woman who had everything now has nothing but the clothes on her back.

But when the going gets tough, the tough get growing. A community garden in the poorest, roughest part of town becomes a lifeline. Creating a place of hope and sustenance opens Elsa and Tamsin to the renewing power of rich earth, sunshine, and the warm cleansing rain of tears. While Elsa finds her heart blooming in the care of a rugged landscaper, Tamsin discovers the joy of losing herself in the act of giving—and both women discover that with time and care, happy endings flourish.

My Summary
All of the things that usually make me love Barbara O’Neal books were present in this one too: a strong, self aware, female protagonist, loyal canine companions, comfort food and an appreciation for everyday, outdoor exercise like hiking and gardening.

I think one of my favorite things about Elsa (and all of O’Neal’s protagonists) is that she owns her own sexuality. She’s not promiscuous; she just doesn’t judge herself over sex or second guess her decisions. It wasn’t until reading this book that I realized how much I appreciated this characteristic. It’s refreshing because male characters don’t do that.

Anyway the overall crux of this book is Elsa’s crisis of faith – it’s the third time she’s had one. The first two times she recovered her faith and moved forward. This time it’s really left her shaken and since she’s a Reverend it interferes with her life.

The struggle with faith hit home for me. I think every member of my immediate family has struggled to varying degrees over the last decade. Almost every question she’s had I recognized. Elsa grew up Catholic, but wanted to be a priest. As that option was not available to her (her first crisis), she changed denominations and became a Reverend. I’m not Catholic – one step removed – but I could recognize several the things she missed about Catholism. She missed the ritual; it’s peaceful and balancing.

The other characters are diverse and interesting. I liked Tamsin (Elsa’s sister) quite a bit at the beginning and felt really bad for her situation well into the book, but she did something that kinda ticked me off towards the end. Elsa kind of has two romantic interests; a former fiancé who is now a close friend and confidant and a new man who has entered her life recently. Seeing the contrast between these two relationships is enlightening (there are a few flashbacks though her life a critical junctures). But the romantic aspect of the book takes a backseat to self discovery and stewardship.

My Rating
8 out of 10 stars

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