February 21, 2009

The Laws of Harmony

The Laws of Harmony by Judith Ryan Hendricks
Copyright 2009 Harper
Finished on 2/5/09
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!!)

Publisher's Blurb:

In 1989 Sunny Cooper escaped to Albuquerque. Fourteen years later she's still there, struggling to make a living, to shore up her floundering relationship, and to forget her childhood on a commune, where a freak accident killed her younger sister, Mari.

Just when the "normal" life Sunny craves appears to be within reach, another accident—the sudden death of her fiance, Michael, and revelations that their relationship was not what it seemed—will turn her world upside down. Once again Sunny escapes, this time to the town of Harmony on San Miguel Island. But a surprising discovery sparks an emotional encounter with her estranged mother and forces both women to reexamine the truth of their memories. Only by making peace with the past can Sunny finally step out of its shadow and into a new life.

Mary Doria Russell. Marisa de los Santos. Jeanne Ray. Rosamunde Pilcher. Barbara Kingsolver. Patricia Gaffney. Elizabeth Berg. Lorna Landvik. Jodi Picoult. What do these authors have in common with Judith Ryan Hendricks? Well, they're my favorite female authors and I've read nearly every single book they've written, most of which line the bookcases in my home. I've met a couple in person, have a few signed copies of their early novels, and have recently received ARCs of their latest works, accompanied by warm and chatty emails. These are the authors that bring great pleasure to my reading experience; the ones who thrill me when I learn they've written a new book; the ones I rave about to friends and customers; the ones who don't seem to write fast enough for me! ;)

I discovered Judith Ryan Hendricks several years ago when I happened upon her debut novel, Bread Alone. I don't recall anyone recommending the book to me, so I must've fallen for the cover art and blurb. I thoroughly enjoyed the book—so much so that I re-read it prior to reading the sequel (The Baker's Apprentice). I also loved Hendricks' stand-alone, Isabel's Daughter, and was absolutely thrilled to learn she had written a fourth book.

Hendricks sets her stories in some of my favorite locations (the Pacific Northwest) and places I'd love to visit (Santa Fe). She has also made mention of two small beach communities in Southern California (Del Mar and Leucadia), both of which are towns I've lived in. In addition to the great settings, Hendricks' culinary details are also of great appeal to this reader. I discovered and sampled a wonderful recipe for homemade bread in Bread Alone and found my mouth watering as I read the description of several baked items in The Laws of Harmony. Oh, how I wish she had included a recipe for her blackberry brownies!

After spending a couple of weeks cruising the San Juan Islands, I find myself drawn to books describing the beauty of the Pacific Northwest. Bread Alone and The Baker's Apprentice take place in Seattle, but this latest novel takes the reader out of the city and into a friendly community very much like those I encountered in the summer of 2007. I was immediately drawn into Sunny's life, eager to see what awaits her in Harmony on San Miguel Island. This location reminded me so strongly of Friday Harbor, that I found myself wondering if it was the basis for Hendricks' fictional community. Could her Ale House be the same as the similarly-named pub on the corner of Front Street (same street name!) in Friday Harbor? It really doesn't matter one way or another; I loved living vicariously through the characters' lives, reminded of my own experiences in the years I've visited that particular area. I could easily envision Sunny catching a ferry out of Seattle, serving customers an icy cold beer in the Ale House, hanging out with friends in a small independent bookstore, buying fresh seafood at the local fish market, and learning to ride a motorcycle on the windy country roads outside of town. At times, I found myself wishing to trade places with Sunny!

On ferry travel...

Everybody else rushes ahead, apparently knowing exactly where they want to sit. I follow the smell to the cafe, get myself a greasy bacon-and-egg sandwich and take it to an empty seat up front. The boat shudders with the exertions of the big engines as the pilings on either side of us begin to slide away and the window in front of me becomes a giant movie screen of water and sky.

All around me people eat and talk, read newspapers and kiss, play cards and pound on their laptops, oblivious to the gentle pitch of the boat and to the fantasy world just outside the windows—rippling blue-green water, rocky islands upholstered in conifers, shreds of mist. Each time I start to eat, there's something that distracts me, makes me pause with the sandwich halfway to my mouth—a perfect, toylike red lighthouse or a log cabin tucked into a secluded cove, or the white ellipse of a boat lying at anchor on a glassy bay. I star transfixed, finally forgetting about the sandwich.

I loved reading the detailed passage in which Sunny learns how to ride a small motorcycle for the very first time. My husband has come to own a few motorcycles in recent years and I only just recently rode as a passenger for the first time a little over a year ago. I have my own helmet and Kevlar-padded jacket, but I don't own a bike, nor have I ever ridden alone. And I wouldn't say that after reading the half dozen pages describing how to ride a motorcycle, I'm capable of hopping on a bike and riding off into the sunset. However, I do feel like I have a better understanding of how the clutch, throttle, shifter and brakes work on a motorcycle. As Sunny says, it's so illogical!

On riding a motorcycle - alone - for the first time...

"Feet up!" he yells, and the bike magically balances itself. It feels like flying. I hear myself laughing inside the helmet, like a little kid with the training wheels off for the first time. Suddenly I understand the thrill of this, and then almost as suddenly I see the driveway fast approaching. Shit! How do I brake? My mind's gone blank.

I love discovering new music, so I'm especially happy when an author incorporates real music into a narrative. Hendricks' main character listens to a CD entitled Beyond the Missouri Sky (Short Stories), a Charlie Haden/Pat Metheny collaboration. It's a simple arrangement combining the music of an accoustic guitar and bass into soothing pieces. I've listened to the sample tracks and have decided I need to own this album.

After all this gushing, I do have one complaint. Even with 478 pages, this book simply wasn't long enough! As I turned that final page, I was sorry to see Sunny's story come to an end. While there weren't any holes in the plot, I felt there was more to reveal and I hope we haven't read the last of Sunny and her life on San Miguel Island. Either way, you can bet that The Laws of Harmony will be one of my favorite recommendations and that I'll eagerly await any news of a fifth book in the coming years!


  1. I think the only book I have by her is Bread Alone and it's sitting on my TBR shelf. I haven't read all the books by the other authors you listed, but have enjoyed some of them. It's good to know that you enjoyed Hendricks's latest.

  2. I had scribbled down this title a few days ago when I saw it mentioned somewhere in my virtual travels. Having read this review (and remembering how much I liked Bread Alone and The Baker's Apprentice) I wish it wasn't two minutes 'til closing time at the loacal B&N. Guess where I'll be tomorrow??

  3. Yay, so glad to hear you liked this one. I'm super excited, I just won a copy of the book from Tara's blog. Can't wait to finally discover this author.

  4. Anonymous3:58 AM

    What a lovely review, Les! I'll deefinitely be looking for this book. You listed all those authors and I've read at least one of each of their books. Not all of them though. However, I've not read this author yet. I do have BREAD ALONE on my shelf downstairs. Thanks for putting it on my radar.

  5. You make Hendricks sound wonderful, Les. Bread Alone is now on my reading list.


  6. Joy - Do give Bread Alone a read! From there I'd go on to Isabel's Daughter and then this new one. I wish I had enjoyed The Baker's Apprentice more... If you have to pick and choose, I'd say skip that one.

    Marcia - Good for you for stimulating the economy! Especially at B&N. :) When you finish this one, do give Isabel's Daughter a read. I really enjoyed the setting. Makes me want to go to Santa Fe.

    Iliana - Of course, you'll have to read all her others once you finish this one! Congrats on the win at Tara's blog.

    Kay - You are always so sweet with your comments. Thank you! See my comment to Joy. I really think you'll enjoy Hendrick's books since at one time you lived in the Pacific Northwest. I'd send you my copy of The Laws of Harmony, but it's going on my "keeper" shelf. :)

    Mary - Hope you enjoy it as much as I did. I love all the references to various places in Seattle (in Bread Alone). Made me long to wandering around Pike Place Market!

  7. Fantastic review! I can't wait to read this one. I just found out recently she had a fourth book out. I read Bread Alone and The Baker's Apprentice and they are two of my favorite books-they were great. I really enjoy her settings and her writing style.

  8. HA! I read the cover of Bread Alone and it sounded familiar, so I looked on my handwritten list of books read (from a long time ago) and it was on it! I rated it a 4/5. The book will now be transferred to its proper home - the books read shelf. :) I'll look into Isabel's Daughter. Thanks.

  9. I'm reading a Jodi Picoult book right now. It's only my second of hers but I really liked the first one. I loved the picture of Friday Harbor. They brought back some great memories. I think I will add "Bread Alone" to my TBR list and go from there. I'm sure after reading your review, that I won't stop at one.

  10. Holy cow! My cheery mood turned to somber melancholia as I read your review. I want to visit the Northwest again very badly. Framed & I visited there for our first time with my mom and our brothers and sister. We fell in love with it. I've visited two more times and I know I'll go again. In the meantime I'm going to get my hands on these books. Thanks for such a beautiful review, Les.

  11. I have a copy of Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow on my TBR stack - the CRM at our local B&N recommended it to me.

    This one sounds quite good, too!

  12. This book sounds great! Lovely review, too, Lesley. I can really tell how much you enjoyed reading it!

  13. I think Hendricks is one of those authors that makes writing a really absorbing and readable book look easy. I love that you tied your trip in with this review and I love seeing the photos you've shared and imagining the story taking place there.

  14. Dar - Thank you so much! Don't forget to read Isabel's Daughter, too! I might have to read that one again while waiting for #5. :)

    Joy - Ha! :) Yes, definitely give Isabel's Daughter a read, as well as this one. I'd offer this up to you, but I really want to hang on to it for a second read.

    Framed - I would move to Friday Harbor in a heart beat! I love that town. Hope you enjoy all of Hendricks' books. I hope she doesn't take too long to write another.

    Booklogged - I'm homesick for the Northwest, too. I really wish we could move there. If nothing else, I hope to get back in another year or so for a couple of weeks. Enjoy the books!

    Lesley - Wow! I'm surprised you haven't read The Sparrow. You are in for a treat! I've read it a couple of times and absolutely loved it. You'll have to give this (and the others by Hendricks) one a try, too. :)

    Rebecca - Thank you for your comment and for stopping by my blog.

    Tara - I'm glad you enjoyed the photos from my trip. It was so easy to visualize the setting in this book. I sure would like to know if she based Harmony on a really community such as Friday Harbor.

  15. Anonymous2:39 PM

    I am set to order this book in March and now I KNOW I must have it....I loved "Bread Alone" and it's sequel, but wasn't crazy about "Isabel's Daughter." However, I knew I would buy her next endeavor.

    Thanks, Lesley, for helping me know I am making the write choice.


  16. Loved your review! I had just bought the book at Costco on Sunday and grabbed and started it. It is VERY good so far.

    I read where Hendricks didn't really consider San Miguel as one island or another but a combination of several. It sure sounds like San Juan Island though.

    The San Juans are snowy today. I love going down to North Beach, a mile away from our house, and looking at both San Juan and Lopez from there. We missed going up there last year but are saving our pennies to go in the spring. We may just do Lopez only this time.

  17. Gayla - I just know you'll love this, since enjoyed Bread Alone and The Baker's Apprentice so much. Let me know what you think after you read it!

    Maudeen - So good to hear from you! Glad you enjoyed the review. I actually thought about you as I was writing it. I had a feeling the book would be your cuppa tea since you know the area so well.

    Hard to picture the San Juans covered in snow! We have several inches on the ground thanks to Friday night's storm. And it's cold! Currently 14 -- it was negative one when I woke up this morning. Forget spring, I'm ready for summer!

  18. Anonymous9:13 AM

    Lesley, the brownie recipe is on her blog today! Here's the link:

  19. Lisamm - Thanks for the heads-up! I'm going to make these ASAP and post a photo and link to the recipe. Thanks!!

  20. I just finished this book today and really loved it. I swear you are like my long lost reading twin - seems like you and I really enjoy the same type of books!

  21. Stephanie - Wasn't this a wonderful book?! It made me so homesick for the San Juans, though.

    So if we're reading twins, you'll have to pick up The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Forgive me if you've already read/reviewed this one - I can never remember who's read what! Anyhow, I'm going to post my review for it later today, so come back and take a look. I absolutely loved it!


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