Spite House--"half as narrow as a standard house in front and three times as wide in the back," all strange angles and windows, towering over the surrounding buildings, is the house in Courtney Miller Santo's new novel, Three Story House. But, there are not just three stories to Spite House's construction, there are the three stories of Lizzie, Isobel and Elyse, cousins as close as sisters, who are trying to rebuild the their own lives and broken dreams, while restoring Lizzie's grandmother's quirky, broken down home.
"As they renovate a historic Memphis house together, three cousins discover that their spectacular failures in love, career, and family provide the foundation for their future happiness in this warm and poignant novel reminiscent of The Postmistress and The Secret Life of Bees.
Approaching thirty and trying to avoid the inescapable fact that they have failed to live up to everyone’s expectations as well as their own aspirations, cousins and childhood best friends Lizzie, Elyse, and Isobel seek respite in an oddly shaped, three-story house that sits on a bluff sixty feet above the Mississippi River.
As they work to restore the nearly condemned house, each woman faces uncomfortable truths about her own failings. Lizzie seeks answers to a long-held family secret about her father in their grandmother’s jumble of mementos and the home’s hidden spaces. Elyse’s obsession with an old flame leads her to a harrowing mistake that threatens to destroy her sister’s wedding. And Isobel’s quest for celebrity tempts her to betray confidences in ways that could irreparably damage her two cousins.
This sharply observed account of the restoration of a house built out of spite but filled with memories of love is also a tale of friendship and a lesson in how relying on one another’s insights and strengths provides the women with a way to get what they need instead of what they want."
Paperback: 416 pages
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (August 19, 2014)
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (August 19, 2014)
I reviewed Miller Santo's first book, The Roots of the Olive tree a couple of years ago and really enjoyed how she captured the intricacy of the five generations of women in the Keller family--the secrets, the conflicts, all of the emotional baggage. I was hoping for the same draw to Three Story House. Miller Santo does write families and family drama well--the cousins are an interesting group--each with their own issues, and I like how close they are and how ultimately they support and stand behind each other. What I didn't like was their maturity level as they seemed much younger than their close-to-30-ages in their thoughts and behaviors. Anna, the now 117-year-old matriarch of the Keller family in The Roots of the Olive, is Isobel and Elyse's great-great-grandmother and comes to the wedding of Elyse's younger sister. I wanted Anna to stay longer and knock some sense into these women. I found it hard to connect with any of the three and instead, I found myself most interested in and connected to Spite House and its history and restoration. I hadn't heard the term spite house before, so I was intrigued by these houses which are usually designed or modified to annoy neighbors or others by blocking out a view, or accesses to streets or other buildings. (There's a brief history about spite houses included at the end of the book.) For me, Spite House was the strongest character with the most appealing story (or rather three stories I suppose) in the book. What kept me turning the pages were the discoveries of the little secrets contained in the house rather than the mystery of who Lizzie's father was--which I guessed early on. Miller Santo writes so vividly, I could see the renovation taking place as I was reading. Overall, a solid like, not a love for me and probably most appealing to HGTV / DIY Network fans and readers of women's fiction and family drama.
Author Notes: Courtney Miller Santo teaches creative writing to college students and lives in Memphis with her husband, two children, and retired racing greyhound.
Connect with Courtney through her website, Facebook, or Twitter.
There is a small food presence in the book--I actually wanted to read more details about Lizzie's grandmother's recipes and the old cookbooks that Elyse was gathering. Grandma Mellie's chocolate chip cookies were mentioned, and her recipe for rumaki. Thanksgiving dinner at Spite House was derailed by a reality television producer, and pancakes seemed to be the family's breakfast of choice, when they weren't eating Isobel's healthy cereal.
Since the house's cupola was Lizzie's favorite place to read books with her grandmother, while "stopping to take sips of peach tea and count the rainbows cast by the pieces of glass her grandfather had hung before Lizzie was born"-- I decided to make some sweet Peach Iced Tea as my book-inspired dish. Simple and refreshing for a hot afternoon.
Peach Iced Tea
by Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Makes about 6 cups)
4 cups double-strength brewed peach tea of choice, chilled
juice of 1 lemon
1 can (15 oz) peach nectar, chilled
1 cup cold water (or alcohol of choice) ;-)
sweetener of choice, to taste
2 fresh peaches, pitted and sliced
fresh mint to garnish
Mix together chilled brewed peach tea, lemon juice, peach nectar and water in a pitcher. Taste and add sweetener as needed/desired. Add sliced fresh peaches. Pour over ice into glasses and garnish with mint. Enjoy!
Notes/Results: Sweet and summery. I used a tea blend with green tea and peach and strawberry flavoring--making it a pretty orange-red color. If you don't have fresh peaches to slice up into the tea, you could use frozen peaches. let them defrost just a bit first--so they aren't completely solid but are still slightly icy. Since the tea and peach nectar both are sweet, I used about one tablespoon of agave nectar. Plenty sweet enough for me--maybe not quite sweet enough for a true sweet tea lover. ;-) I also think this would be fab with some vodka or even peach schnapps added to it for an adult tea version. It was so humid this week that this really hit the spot. I would make it again.
Note: A review copy of "Three Story House" was provided by the publisher and TLC Book Tours in return for a fair and honest review. I was not compensated for this review and as always my thoughts and opinions are my own.
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