Homes and Gardens

It’s a long time since I was a devotee of monthly magazines like House and Garden, Ideal Home and various other similar titles, although I did enjoy them.

So when I first started reading Cynthia Reyes’ blog and noticed she had published a book called A Good Home, I envisioned a glossy coffee table book wittering on about must-have accessories for house and garden, which really doesn’t fit with my minimalist ethos and lifestyle.

A Good Home
A Good Home

I never read A Good Home, but I continued to read and comment on Cynthia’s blog from time to time. I liked her easy style of writing.

So, I was very surprised, when out of the blue, she asked me to read her sequel, An Honest House, before it was published. What had I done to merit this?

An Honest House
An Honest House

An Honest House is the second book in her memoirs. It turns out she doesn’t write glossy coffee table books after all, although I’m sure she could.

One thing she asked me was whether it works as a stand-alone book. The short answer is yes. You don’t need to have read A Good Home, although you might want to when you have finished this.

But if it’s not what I imagined, what is An Honest House about?

Well, it’s about Cynthia’s journey, her long, slow recovery after an accident while suffering from physical pain, and depression as a result of PTSD, her relationships with friends and family, the triumph of overcoming obstacles to publish her first book, and her change within herself as she comes to accept life as it is, and not what was planned or should have been. She embraces creativity around the home and learns to think differently, enjoying simple pleasures in life, and realising what is important.

Beautiful gardens
Beautiful gardens

Cynthia’s writing is excellent. She touches emotions but avoids sentimentality. There were a few passages where I couldn’t avoid the tears. When she writes about herself, there is no ‘woe is me’, rather, she tells it how it was, with refreshing honesty and candour. Not an easy achievement. She also laughs at herself, confessing her less-than-perfect cooking skills. And humour is scattered throughout the book, as is the unexpected. But that’s life. Never turns out quite how we plan.

Her descriptive passages are evocative as she paints pictures of the house and the gardens of their beautiful home, Ambercroft. I should mention the house as it is a strong character in itself, and Cynthia has a love/hate relationship with it.

Tree with hostas
Tree with hostas

And the other major character is her husband Hamlin. What a solid man. Luckily he cooks too. He probably needed to.

On technical points, all the chapters are titled, and the book is in three parts. I really like structured books like this. It lets this reader pace her reading and anticipate a change in tempo, or tone or whatever. It’s also pretty well edited, which isn’t something I say often, and flows well.

Overall, it’s an optimistic, heartwarming book. There is humour, joy, sadness, beauty, anxiety, and, life. Because this is a book about life and making the most of it. It’s a good, thoughtful, enjoyable read. Recommended.

Excerpt. It has to be about the honest house:

The house was built at a time when doors and doorways, fireplace mantels and crown mouldings around windows and ceilings, were made from strong, dense old-growth wood. Everything fit together as a united whole: the strong lines and sturdiness, the thick wooden mouldings, the tall windows and soaring walls.
Sometimes I stood in the living room and stopped to imagine the couple who had first lived here. The ambitions they must have had when they built this grand house.
Sometimes I ran my hands along the thick, meticulously crafted woodwork, and stopped to wonder about the artist-carpenters whose work stood true more than a hundred years later.
The beauty here was understated, timeless, and some of it was visible only to the heart. The rooms did not shout “look at me.” Instead, they spoke in soft but assured voices, welcoming a visitor to stay awhile.
The living and dining rooms, the small library – all were of comfortable proportions. Not so small as to make one feel claustrophobic and not so large as to require shouting to make conversation.

Cynthia at a book signing
Cynthia at a book signing
Cynthia is a former journalist and executive producer with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. More than a hundred episodes of her programs have appeared on network television. She has won national and international awards and acclaim for her work, including the Children’s Broadcast Institute Award and the Crystal Award for Outstanding Achievement in Film and Television.

All photos of Ambercroft and Cynthia courtesy of Cynthia and Hamlin.

45 comments on “Homes and Gardens

  1. What an interesting account. Went across to Cynthia’s blog as a direct result of what you wrote here and this section of her latest post really jumped off the screen at me, “In my experience as an editor and reader, memoir writers fall into one of two camps.

    In one camp are those who create a book. Their book falls somewhere on the spectrum from boring waste of space to keen insight into a life well spent. But in the end, all they have created is a book.

    In the other camp, and this camp is less populous, are those who create a book, of course, but who also create a world. In some mysterious way, in telling the story of their own life, they tell the story of their readers’ lives, as well.

    I think you know into which camp Cynthia Reyes has pitched her tent.” Spoken by publisher Don Bastian

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great review roughseas Love the description of the old house. The artistry that went into a structure like that was phenomenal. It makes current construction look slipshod. And when they built they built to last -everything was overengineered. It is hard to see or live there without feeling the souls of the artisans who created it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for this kind review, K.

    So, why would I ask you to review the book before it was published? Because you write beautifully, are not given to sentiment or overstatement, have a fine mind, and your reviews are skillful and interesting. When I read your reviews, I know that this is someone who loves the written word, knows when it is done well and has an astute perception of where the story succeeds and where it fails. I knew you’d see my manuscript with a very clear eye (or two). I now totally understand why you are a cherished editor to the authors who are privileged to work with you.

    So there.

    Liked by 7 people

    • You are welcome. As another author said to me recently, she knows whatever else, that I will be honest with her when I read a book, or comment on a cover. As a side issue, I also appreciated being asked about your cover, I always recommend authors share their proposed covers with editors (or anyone else who reads the MS) as they can see whether it summarises the story well, or contains inaccuracies. For example, I read a book a few years back which had a knife on the cover. In the book it had a wooden handle, on the cover, it was one of those black handles, Sabatier type. It nagged away at me like a mosquito bite.

      I was surprised because it came out of the blue, I guess. But still, I enjoyed doing it and working with you, so an all-round win for us both.

      As for reviews, they are somewhat idiosyncratic on my blog. When I write elsewhere (eg paid for) they are more conventional. But I find book reviews/book review blogs can be quite boring. Retelling the story is pointless. Why read the book when someone has just told us about it? What’s needed is a summary of strengths/weaknesses, and essentially for me, can this author write? and, is this a good story? Followed up by, is it littered with errors, repetition etc. Saying all that in a review isn’t enough to grab someone’s attention though. We need to know what’s special about a book, what does it mean to the reader personally, how did they feel reading it? What were their emotions? And that’s what I try and convey. FWIW.

      Your comment is a good advert for your book! Clear, refreshingly honest, and well written. Thank you. Now, how is book three coming along? :)

      Liked by 3 people

      • Thanks Mak. If my review piques someone’s interest to check out a book, that’s good. Although I don’t want people to buy books they don’t enjoy. Similarly, I point out flaws, or in some cases, totally appalling books. Whether someone is interested in the book or not though, I hope at least to make an interesting blog post out of it.


          • I write from two perspectives. One, is it a good book? Two, did I enjoy it? I can acknowledge a good book even if I don’t enjoy it. Often I wouldn’t choose some of the books I end up reviewing, but it also means I read a wider variety of fiction.


    • I think most of her recent posts have been about her book as it’s just been released. Although I didn’t specifically mention it in this review, because I don’t like rewriting the book, there are some interesting sections about using produce from the gardens which I’m sure you will enjoy, as did I. There’s obv a link on her blog to her book. Hope you enjoy it.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I know a lot of the readers of her first book were keen to see this sequel but I’m a picky first-time reader. I think one important thing to say is that it is a very rich book, and very vibrant. Although it’s about her life post-accident, it’s not some ghastly whinge, I for one certainly wouldn’t like that. And as I said above, she’s a good writer. Good writers can make most things interesting. Depends on your taste of course. For me it was also interesting working with her on the pre-publication version, and then reading the final polished one.


    • I try and be fair when I review books. If it’s well written, whether it’s to my taste or not, I say so. The good thing about worKing with books is that I get to read ones I wouldn’t necessarily read. Anyway this was an easy one: it would have bern difficult not to enjoy it, as it was brimming with enthusiasm and energy.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. i came here on principle, first and foremost, because you showed up on my reader for the first time in i don’t know how many months. maybe years? probably the latter. a long time anyhow. it was an unexpected surprise not to look for you.
    and your title seemed rather unexpected, but i thoroughly enjoyed this review. i must say i enjoy your honesty and down-to-earthiness too, avoiding the ‘supah dahling’ gushes. i quite agree with Cynthia’s comment about your reviews.
    and now i am quite intrigued. i will have to check out Cynthia’s blog, and this sounds like a book i’d like to read, too.
    but i was actually just about to sign off for the day, because the clock is ticking once again. or rather, it continues to tick….

    Liked by 1 person

    • You always show up slightly late on my reader. Must be those late hours you keep ;) one minute you don’t exist, then if I scroll back down, you suddenly pop up.

      The title is a product of my offbeat imagination, and in the case of Cynthia’s memoirs totally off the mark as well in terms of what I envisioned! No matter. I don’t like pretentious book reviews where the writer appears to be writing an English Literature university essay so thank you for those words.

      There are aspects of the book you would def like – the gardens, nature, seeing beauty around us and appreciating small things in life that bring joy. And Cynthia is honest too, so maybe worth considering.

      Hope you had a good night’s sleep.


  5. What a gorgeous house and she sounds like such an inspiring and uplifting person. Great review on her book RS. I wouldn’t mind reading it myself. Any movie sequel to follow? :P

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s a beautiful looking house isn’t it, and such lovely gardens too. Most important, she’s also fun and good-natured, or at least that’s how I’ve found her to be. And she’s been very generous in her praise for me. She did a super post about my work, I just haven’t got round to reposting it here. OK, being British, I confess to not being overly good at shouting about myself :D even if it’s just sharing what others have said.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I really enjoy Cynthia’s blog so both her books are on my to do list. Ditto what the others say about your reviews. I was extremely nervous sending you my most recent book because I really trust your judgement so if you thought it was shite it meant it probably was! :-)



    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’ve been looking forward to this review knowing that you would not disappoint. This is a fabulous review, especially since I have Cynthia’s book on my Goodreads list to be read and reviewed. I’ve read the synopsis and a couple of other posts n reviews. Your review is consistent with these, and knowing how strict you are, I’m even more contented. Mm… Might have to move it up on the list now… Your fault! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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