Broken Homes & Gardensby Rebecca Kelley (Website, Facebook, Twitter)
Published by Blank Slate Press on April 28, 2015
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Dating & Sex, Romance
Source: TLC Book Tours
Amazon • Goodreads
I received this book for free from TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
A girl, a guy, a broken-down house. Not exactly on-again, off-again, Malcolm and Joanna are in-again, out-again: in love, out of each other's arms, in an awkward co-living arrangement, out of the country. Their unconventional relationship is the only way, Joanna says, to protect herself from the specter of commitment, which inevitably leads to heartbreak.
When Harry Met Sally for the Millennial generation, set in the damp and drizzly neighborhoods of Portland, Oregon, Broken Homes and Gardens is an ode to friendship, lust, and the unrelenting pull of love.
From the back cover blurb for Broken Homes and Gardens, the comparisons are outright made with the movie when Harry Met Sally. Since I can’t really remember much of that movie after watching it when it was shown on cable for the first time way back, I’ll just say that you don’t need to make those comparisons to enjoy this book. The winding story of English teacher Joanne and carpenter Malcolm’s friendship/relationship is an entertaining and quite gripping one, and I certainly was engaged enough to read this book within a few sittings since I couldn’t put it down.
Joanne and Malcolm are twenty-something Portland, Oregon residents, and they’ve been circling around each other for some time. While Joanne is fearful of having a committed relationship with anyone since all of those deep connections end in divorce or with the other person inevitably leaving, she tries to keep what her and Malcolm have as non-committal and light as possible. Malcolm acts like he’s up for this challenge, but his feelings become quite clear as he and Joanne wind up co-habitating when he needs a place to stay and as he renovates her fixer-upper home. But as neither one is willing to go out on a limb and admit their true feelings, a cycle of hurt, passive aggressiveness, and co-dependency has them both needing to get away.
Rebecca Kelley has done a fine job of creating realistic characters that are flawed and relatable that I could connect with on some level. Joanne’s fear of commitment often took extreme levels of rationalization behavior on her part for her to justify why she acted the way she did and kept people at arm’s length. While some of her actions in the book were downright annoying after she made the same mistake over and over again, I just hoped that she saw the light at the end. Malcolm made plenty of his own mistakes too, and he’s just as scared to commit to Joanne when he’s not sure why she’s so flighty. The secondary characters, like Joanne’s sister, mother, and a few friends, are well utilized and decently fleshed out.
I give Broken Homes & Gardens a 3.5 out of 5. The writing flowed really well, and I loved the descriptions of the places in this book. The settings were like more characters, from the desert and mountains of Reno to rainy Portland. Rebecca Kelley has captured some of the fear people have in putting their heart in someone else’s hands, especially when they’ve never witnessed a successful relationship and they’re the product of divorce. All in all, it never felt like I got to see why or how Joanne and Malcolm were supposed to be such good friends. Sure, their relationship was based on sex at first, but the deeper friendship ties were implied and not explored. The ending was a bit abrupt and open ended, and it’s something that’s either meant to be poetic or leaving things open for a sequel. Either way, I would have enjoyed getting some more concrete closure. Overall, Broken Homes & Gardens was an enjoyable contemporary romance if you like to get a peek into two people’s lives as the dance around each other for a few years while everyone wonders why they aren’t together.
About Rebecca Kelley
Rebecca has taught writing at Oregon College of Art & Craft for nine years. Her work is infused with the sensibilities of the young creative class that uses the Pacific Northwest as its way station for earnest, well-meaning adventuring to the world at large. At home, her fiction turns to the quiet dramas of urban domestic life: growing tomatoes, making pancakes, examining the nature and validity of love and marriage in the context of our modern world.
She started the Green Baby Guide in 2007 along with Joy Hatch. Their book, The Eco-nomical Baby Guide, was published in 2010. Rebecca’s work has appeared in Scholastic Parent and Child,Metro Parent, Stealing Time magazine, and xoJane. She is represented by Jennifer Chen Tran of Penumbra Literary.
She lives in northeast Portland with her husband and daughter.
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