Review: House and Home by Kathleen McCleary

What makes a house a home?  Is it the picket fence and the flowering trees?  The gleaming floors?  The paint, the curtains, the book shelves?  The pencil marks in the doorway where you measured your children year after year?

In House and Home by Kathleen McCleary, Ellen Flannagan loves her house.  She and her husband, the sexy, irresponsible Sam, have been married 17 years and settled in Portland after a few years of moving around.  They are raising their daughters in a beautiful yellow Cape Cod that Ellen has lovingly decorated and furnished.  Her best friend lives next door and their daughters are best friends too.  

Sam is an inventor and Ellen owns a shop in Portland where she sells coffee and antique furniture.  The couple take out a 2nd mortgage on the house to fund Sam’s latest invention in a string of unsuccessful ventures, requiring them to dip into their savings and even the girls’ college fund to pay the bills, but soon they get behind and Ellen determines that the only practical solution is for them to sell the house.  She and Sam separate, not because they don’t love each other, but because Ellen realizes she “can’t do this anymore”.  Her daughters are devastated about the break up, but Ellen isn’t allowing herself to think about the impending divorce very much as she is so focused on the loss of the house, projecting all her fears about her marriage onto that.  

The sale to the somewhat obnoxious Jordan Boyce and her husband Jeffrey is finalized, and Ellen regrets it almost immediately.  Ellen rents her house back from the new owners for a month while waiting to move into her new place, so she is living in her house but it is no longer hers.  Her love of the house crosses over to obsession and desperation when she decides that if she can’t live in the house, no one should. 

As I mentioned in this post, there are a lot of parallels between this book and my life.  I identified with the main character Ellen on a number of levels.  Like Ellen, I’m in my 40s and from Southern Michigan originally, and moved around a bit before landing on the west coast.  I’ve been married many years and have two young girls.  Also like Ellen, I’m married to a charming and irresponsible entreprenuer who has put our financial security at risk on more than one occasion with one of his big ideas.  I too love my house.  This is the house I brought my babies home to.  This is the house we are raising them in.  This is also the place that nurtured me as I licked my wounds after losing a much-wanted baby boy in my 5th month of pregnancy, another parallel to Ellen. 

It’s hard to imagine another family here, in my house, hanging their Christmas stockings over OUR fireplace, carving their Thanksgiving turkeys in OUR kitchen, or parking their cars in OUR garage.  I know which stair creaks and how to avoid it if I want to quietly sneak up the stairs.  I know which closet door sticks, and which one routinely falls off the track if you open it too quickly. I love the kitchen, I love the windows, oh!  And I also love my wonderful neighbors.  If my husband and I divorced and we were forced to sell I would be upset, but this book made me think about what makes a house a home.   This is my home, but what would it be without the chaos, warmth and love of my family?  Empty.  Just a house.  This book is about Ellen finally figuring that out.

I would highly recommend House and Home, which is due out July 1st.  Book clubs will find much to discuss.  I received this ARC through the publisher, Hyperion.  

Kathleen McCleary is a reporter and writer for HGTV.  This is her debut novel.  You can visit her website HERE.


11 Responses

  1. Your review is great — I will add this to my huge TBR pile! I moved around a lot as a kid and I’ve never been physically attached to a house. It would be interesting to read another view of this.

  2. Your review is great — I will add this to my huge TBR pile! I moved around a lot as a kid and I’ve never been physically attached to a house. It would be interesting to read another view of this.

  3. Hmm, interesting! I think I’d like to read this. Did it seem like Ellen was being a bit selfish, or was she really at the end of her rope marriage-wise? Did she seem selfish for wanting to hang on to her possessions? Now I want to see if she was all “me, me, me!”

    When I divorced, I couldn’t wait to get out of my once beloved house. It was too depressing due to too many memories.

    I’m sorry, Lisa, about the loss of your baby boy. That must have been absolute hell. I’m all teary-eyed just thinking about it.

    {{{{{{Huggies for Lisa}}}}}}

  4. Thanks for the review. Sorry about your baby boy. My sister went through the same thing last year, lost her baby boy in her 8th month. The story surrounding the house seems quite fitting with what’s going on in the housing and investment markets these days.

  5. This has been on my list, and I’m really looking forward to reading it, especially now. Thank you so much for such a personal review…

  6. Great review, Lisa! I always feel like the *home* is part of us (and we are part of the home). We moved out-of-state a year ago, after 7 years in CT. When we go back to visit friends I’m still unable to drive down the street past *our* house (I understand the new owners changed the color of the shutters … I don’t want to see it!)

  7. Julie, Thanks. You might feel differently about this book if you can’t relate to the character really being attached to her house!

    Char, thanks for the huggies. It happened 11 years ago but I still think about it. I was in a very black place for weeks before I was able to pull myself together.

    Anna, thank you, and I’m sorry for your sister. It’s a really difficult thing and I hope she has lots of support from her family.

    Jill, thanks. You’ll like it, I bet.

    Dawn, yes, this may be the book for you. The character in the book had a hard time going back to the street where ‘her’ house was because the new owners had taken down the picket fence.

  8. […] Book Blooger friend, Lisa over at Books On The Brain also enjoyed HOUSE & HOME.  You can read her review HERE. […]

  9. I’m back to post that I liked this book, even though I’m not very sentimental about houses. I can only imagine reading it with so much in common with the main character.

  10. […] out an excellent review of House & Home at Books on the Brain if you want to read more about it or go to to order your own […]

  11. I saw your review on Books and Cooks; I finally got around to reading and reviewing it. Here is the link:

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