Our House by Louise Candlish

Have you ever read a book you loved and found yourself wishing that the ending was different? That’s how I felt during Louise Candlish’s Our House. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed this book, but the ending felt to me like there could have been more. Maybe there will be a sequel! One can only hope.

Our House by Louise Candlish tells the story of Fiona and Bram Lawson. This married couple have lived together with their two young boys at 91 Trinity Avenue for years. Fiona has poured her heart and soul into this house, working hard to make it a home that fits their unique family style. This safe haven is tested when Fiona discovers Bram cheating on her. Banishing him from the house, Fiona works hard to figure out how to keep her children’s lives as normal as possible. Deciding to draw up a modern coparenting arrangement with Bram called bird’s nest custody, Fiona thinks she has discovered the perfect solution. Instead of shuffling the kids between two different houses, Fiona and Bram will each spend a few nights a week in the house in order to have as little of an impact on the children as possible.

This perfect system ends up backfiring colossally when Fiona comes home early from a romantic weekend away with a new beau to discover a new family moving into 91 Trinity Avenue. This surprises Fiona because that is her house and she certainly didn’t sell it. The new couple has all the necessary paperwork with payment confirmed out to her estranged husband, Bram. What follows is massive confusion as Fiona is confident that there has been a mistake.  Alas upon talking to multiple agents, the disastrous truth is realized: Bram has sold the house out from underneath the family and has absconded with the proceeds from the house sale. Fiona is utterly devastated.

Working hard to figure out the truth, Fiona digs into Bram’s past and discovers that the bird’s nest custody agreement that she was so proud of allowed Bram access to all the necessary documents he needed in order to sell the house out from underneath her and the boys. Even with access to those documents, Fiona also realizes he would have needed the help of others in order to carry out a crime of this magnitude. Fiona is stumped about how he would come into contact with those type of people. Events continue to spiral out of control as Fiona uncovers all the lies Bram was weaving through their lives and how little she actually knew about her husband. Why would he do this to them? Where has he gone?

This story is told through a word document written by Bram while he’s on the run and through transcripts of a podcast on which Fiona tells the whole sordid story of Bram’s betrayal. I really liked the method that Candlish chose to present this book as it allowed readers to pretty much simultaneously see both Bram and Fiona’s points of view and their reasons for behaving the way they do. I was fascinated with the severity of Bram’s crime and how seemingly easy it was for him to sell the house without his wife’s knowledge.


This book is available in the following formats:

They Left Us Everything

They Left Us Everything, Plum Johnson’s account of her parent’s illnesses and deaths, is refreshing in its candor and will resonate with anyone who has gone through something similar. She’s candid, too, about her family.

Plum grew up in Singapore, Virginia, and finally Canada – which was a compromise for her British father and American mother. Her parents spent the ends of their lives in the family home on Lake Ontario. Her mother was from Virginia – her ancestors and cousins were attorney generals and ambassadors. While her mother was exuberant, eccentric, and a writer of letters and a copywriter in her youth, her father was British, reserved, and quite eccentric, as well. Their relationship endured but was volatile and complicated.

Plum and her three brothers all have skills, roles and competencies related to caregiving. Some are hands-on and some help at a distance with financial, legal and real estate matters. Sibling Suppers are mostly supportive and cooperative, but, as she is the oldest, divorced, single, and the daughter, Plum is most directly involved in her parents’ care and the settling of the estate.

Plum sometimes compares her life at 63 with her mother’s relative freedom at the same age.  She details the steps and the incredible energy and patience it takes to do routine tasks – like going to the mall. Just reading the description is exhausting.  “It feels as though the last twenty years have leached out my patience, my empathy, my compassion – the best parts of me- until I feel unrecognizable, a person I don’t like very much.” “Nineteen years, one month, and twenty-six days of eldercare have brought me to my knees.”

The house is as much a character in this book, as her various family members. Plum loves the house and it’s setting by the water, and it’s through the house that she comes to terms with the contradictory feelings she had toward her parents. She is overwhelmed by her parent’s house and it’s contents, but she doesn’t succumb to the temptation to discard and give away their belongings immediately and without thought. She ultimately decides that those items are a curse, but they are also a blessing. “This house I am now slicing apart is theirs – the place that we’d taken for granted would always be here as a backdrop to our lives.” Later, she says, “Now I believe this clearing out is a valuable process – best left to our children. It’s the only way they’ll ever truly come to know us…”

In the end, she acknowledges the truth of what funeral guests tell her: “When your mother dies, you’ll wish you’d asked her some questions.” When it’s too late, she realizes, “Now there are questions I didn’t even know I had.”

 

 

Life Unstyled: How to Embrace Imperfection and Create a Home You Love

If you enjoy perusing images of eclectic home furnishings used in creative ways, have I got a book to recommend to you!  Life Unstyled: How to Embrace Imperfection and Create a Home You Love by Emily Henson is filled with a wealth of full-color photos sharing the unique ideas of homeowners from varying parts of the world.

I like it because it left me with a feeling of validation of what I have always believed at the core: a home need not be a polished display of swanky décor to be great. It can be so much more gratifying to make your space uniquely your own, conforming to your way of being rather than try to live up to a magazine perfect ideal. After all, shouldn’t a home tell a story about the personality and life experiences of its residents?

Another thing I like about this book is that you don’t need an overabundance of time or money to borrow ideas from it and modify or incorporate them into your current living space. True, some of the homes pictured in the book are owned by buyers for textile or furnishings companies. I’m sure that definitely helps them gain access to the goods. But I think you will find that whatever your profession or station in life, there is a spark of an idea waiting inside this book somewhere for you.

If you are reading this blog, you are likely a fan of libraries and books. Let me share two ideas that will delight the book lovers. The first (pictured on the left) is featured in a warehouse-turned-residence in London. The owner has archive shelves (much like the kind used in our very own Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Department.) Here, they are used to divide the bedroom and the kitchen. They store everything from clothing to kitchen crockery and everything in between. You can see from the photo that the metal panels on the side are employed to display lots of pictures and artwork. Feel free to fall in love with this idea like I did,  just don’t ask me how to get rolling archive shelves into your home!

The second idea for book lovers is the vertical shelf featured in a bedroom (below). It looks like a floor-to-ceiling stack of books, but there are shelves in the middle of it all keeping it (hopefully) stable. This idea could be done relatively easily and cheaply in a variety of ways. Your imagination (and ceiling) would be the limit.

Happy home decorating! I’ll leave you with this quote: “The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”
― Maya Angelou, All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes

A Beautiful Mess Happy Handmade Home by Elsie Larson and Emma Chapman

beautiful mess happy homemadeStep inside the world of Elsie and Emma, the sisters behind the décor blog A Beautiful Mess.  With tiny budgets and a crafty, can-do attitude, they overhauled each room in their first homes with DIY projects using family photos, vibrant fabrics, flea-market finds, and affordable furniture. Now, you can learn how to paint, craft, and decorate your way to a happy, bright space with distinct personality. In the same upbeat spirit and modern style found on their blog, you’ll find fresh, all-new projects including:

• An inspired geometric-pattern coffee table made of balsa wood
• A hand-lettered statement wall featuring your favorite quote
• A quick and easy electrical tape update for your refrigerator
• A set of beautifully designed serving dishes
And more!

Packed with bonus styling tips from hanging the perfect gallery wall to making mismatched furniture work, Happy Handmade Home is design inspiration for personalizing your own space. (description from publisher)

Beautiful Winter

beautiful winterWhy not celebrate winter and bring a touch of nature indoors by creating a charming bark wreath bursting with red roses or a twig globe entwined with delicate amaryllis?

 In Beautiful Winter, author and florist Edle Catharina Norman shows how to use seasonal materials and flowers to put together 53 entrancing — and easy to assemble — home projects. From festive garlands to fun table decorations (including candlesticks made of apples), you’ll find an array of unique ideas to inspire you. Illustrated with more than 55 full-color photographs, this book presents glorious decorations that will warm your heart on even the coldest winter day. (description from publisher)

The Perfectly Imperfect Home by Deborah Needleman

Style is a luxury, and luxury is simply what makes you happy. Over the years, founding editor in chief of domino magazine Deborah Needleman has seen all kinds of rooms, with all kinds of furnishings. Her conclusion: It’s not hard to create a relaxed, stylish, and comfortable home. Just a few well-considered items can completely change the feel of your space, and The Perfectly Imperfect Home reveals them all.

Ranging from classics such as “A Really Good Sofa” and “Pretty Table Settings” to unusual surprises like “A Bit of Quirk” and “Cozifications,” the essential elements of style are treated in witty and wonderfully useful little essays. You’ll learn what to look for, whether you are at a flea market or a fancy boutique-or just mining what you already own.  Styling tips and simple how-tos show you techniques to put it all together to create, say, a beautifully made bed (the fast way and the fancy way), an inviting reading nook, or an effortlessly chic display of pictures.

According to Deborah, the point of decorating is to create the background for the best life you can have, with all its joys and imperfections. This book will show you how. (description from publisher)

The Unexpected Houseplant by Tovah Martin

Indoor plants have gotten a bad rap and are often associated with dusty and dowdy African violets, languishing philodendrons, and bloom-free orchids. No longer! It’s time for plant lovers to dust off their houseplants, update their image, and discover just how exciting, trendy, and crucial plants can be in the home.

The Unexpected Houseplant, by renowned plant authority Tovah Martin, isn’t your typical houseplant book. Martin’s approach is revolutionary – picture brilliant spring bulbs by the bed, lush perennials brought in from the garden, quirky succulents in the kitchen, even flowering vines and small trees growing beside an easy chair. Along with loads of visual inspiration, readers will learn how to make unusual selections, where to best position plants in the home, and valuable tips on watering, feeding, grooming, pruning, and troubleshooting, season by season.

Martin also brings an evangelist’s zeal to the task of convincing homeowners that indoor plants aren’t just a luxury – they’re a necessity. In addition to the design flair they add to a home, houseplants clean indoor air, which can be up to ten times more polluted than outdoor air. Comprehensive, up-to-the-minute, and illustrated with gorgeous photography by Kindra Clineff , The Unexpected Houseplant is for beginners, green thumbs, decorators, and anyone who wants to infuse a bit of surprising green into their décor.

Good Bones, Great Pieces by Suzanne McGrath

Making a home is a lifelong pursuit and it starts with your very first place. Good Bones, Great Pieces shows you how to make the best choices for a comfortable and welcoming home.

Suzanne and Lauren McGrath, a mother-daughter design team, operate the popular blog Good Bones, Great Pieces. At the core of their philosophy is the belief that every home should have seven essential pieces that can live in almost any room and will always be stylish. The authors explain how to place iconic items of furniture like the love seat and the dresser and rotate them throughout the home as the style or need changes.

Illustrated with photographs of homes and apartments that the McGraths have designed as well as apartments by famous designers, this book is a wonderful resource, whether you are starting out with your first apartment or rethinking the design of your home. (description from publisher)

Green Ideas for Your Home

In celebration of Earth Day this month, below are a sampling of books that focus on different ways that you can contribute to a green planet right in your own home!  These books, along with countless others in the library, can help you make your home and your life more environmentally friendly.

The simple “green manual,” Easy Green Living is based on the author’s TV series dealing with green home and garden care issues.  The author provides basic tips to make healthy living affordable and not time consuming.  By not overwhelming the reader with too many suggestions, Loux breaks down and gives examples of small daily differences that you can make to be more environmentally friendly and peppers each chapter with a “5 Step List” of products that can be easily found in your home.

Super Natural Home by Beth Greer is a fantastic resource for the environmentally conscious family with its easy to use format with helpful quizzes that identify a home’s “toxic hot zones.”  Chapters include tips on healthy tap water, indoor air quality and safer alternatives to household cleaners.

Green Goes with Everything Transform your home into a “safe sanctuary” free of harsh chemicals with this book by author Sloan Barnett.  The author advises on the best ways to make healthy and safe choices for your family.  Topics featured in the book include healthy food preparation, cleaning solutions and safe water tips.

Green Housekeeping is an extensive resource by Ellen Sandbeck and includes chapters such as: clearing clutter and organizing your belongings in an environmentally sound way and learning to live without some toxins that could be found in homes, as a few examples.  Green Housekeeping contains numerous ancedotes that are authoritative and useful to help families save money and time – something we all can use!

“Building a Peaceable Kingdom Between Cats and Dogs”

CompetabilityThis is the subtitle of Competability by Amy Shojai. She notes that there has always been much less research about cats and even less about the relationships of cats and dogs living in the same household.

She traces the integration of dogs (first) then cats into human families and how far domestication has gone in each species. Their senses affect their behavior; a fascinating chapter details how the dog’s extreme sense of smell and a cat’s powerful hearing affect how they relate to each other.

She also explains how an action such as rolling over is interpreted completely different by a cat and a dog. (Cats roll over to fight and dogs roll over in submission). Or tail wagging: “The dog approaching with a friendly wag is interpreted by the cat to be ready to attack; and the dog seeing the waving feline tail thinks it’s an invitation to approach and can’t understand why Kitty breaks the rules and slaps his nose.”

This book  helps to bridge the communication gap – the largest being between humans and the canine/feline world…