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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.