December 7, 2012

Book Tour: Here Among Us by Maggie Harryman


They had all been shown the truth too early; that death could come right now, or on the drive home or, like her father, after closing up the bar this evening [...]. Death could come in an instant or could take months or even years and either way it would be a shock that would seem impossible to get beyond but would be gotten beyond because the sick irony was that there were only two choices- life or death- and in fact, they weren't choices at all.
-from Here Among Us by Maggie Harryman

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Publisher's synopsis: When unemployed San Francisco attorney, Flynn O’Shea, and her teenaged daughter, Didi, are summoned to New Jersey for the Thanksgiving holiday by Flynn’s socialite sister, Maeve, she expects a fight. After all, she has been battling Maeve most of her life. Disagreeing about the extent of their Irish mother’s creeping dementia and the fate of the family’s thriving restaurant business, named for their beloved, long dead father, Paddy, is surely a recipe for a world-class brawl. 

What Flynn doesn’t expect is the fragile truce the sisters forge to save O’Shea’s from the clutches of Maeve’s scheming husband, Jeffrey. Flynn and Maeve are reluctantly aided by their forty-four-year-old brother, Osheen, a handsome Peter Pan still cruising the Jersey shore, getting high and dodging responsibility.

And while Didi tries to convince her mother that “everything is as it should be,” just when Flynn is sure she’s gained the upper hand on Jeffrey, her own mother’s shocking confession sends her into a wine-soaked tailspin and forces her to deal once and for all with the ghosts of her past. Devastated, Flynn must choose to save O’Shea’s or risk losing forever all she has left of her father.

In Here Among Us, the O’Sheas find themselves dealing with the very timely issue of Alzheimer’s, a disease that strips the victim's identity and wreaks havoc on the family left to pick up the pieces. But Flynn, Osheen and Maeve’s troubles began long before their mother started to “slip.” For the O’Sheas, much of their shared angst is rooted in the single most devastating event of their lives—the death of their father when they were young children. The novel explores not only how deep wounds can seem impossible to heal, but how refusing to let go of the stories the O'Sheas desperately cling to about who they are, threatens to hasten their demise.

Review: Here Among Us is not your average heart-warming family story where the characters are all so lovable that the reader automatically forgives them for their faults right out of the gate. In fact, for the first third of the book or so I didn't even really love the book because the characters weren't as likable as I'm accustomed to. But in hindsight, after reading the whole novel, that's what makes this book so powerful and marks Maggie Harryman as a poignantly talented writer.

Main character, Flynn O'Shea, immediately irritated me as a reader because I enjoy protagonists that I can immediately get behind and root for. This was not the case with Flynn because she was so negative. Similarly, Flynn's sister "Queen Maeve" was less than capable of capturing my trust as a reader with her diva qualities and condescending attitude. However, I had a realization midway through this book when I found myself rooting for both Flynn and Maeve in separate instances and I asked myself where in the book did my allegiance to them change. I can't pinpoint a moment when both Flynn and Maeve became likable because, unlike many literary characters, they aren't black and white. I feel almost like Harryman wants the readers to believe these characters are black and white, good or bad, only to later realize they're not. Even the "villain" of the story has emotional baggage that can be explored deeper and makes him appear (slightly) more forgiving. It's rare to find characters in literature as real as the O'Shea's, probably because authors don't want their readers bored or frustrated with characters at any point. I'm glad Harryman was able to execute this because in the end it was well worth any initial frustrations I had as a reader. 

As I mentioned, the first third of the book or so I wasn't as motivated to read as the rest. This was in part because of the character flaws mentioned above, but also because there are a lot of flashbacks that blend in with present-day and slow the story down significantly. While they aren't boring per se, I did feel they interrupted the pace at the beginning of the story; but reader press on: the time invested in reading the flashbacks will be rewarded by the end of the story when they make more sense. I didn't realize as I read that this book is like a puzzle and each memory a segment to that puzzle; by the end when everything comes together you should be thoroughly impressed by how Harryman artfully weaves this story together. 

Aside from the story as a whole impressing me, you can also look forward to salacious drama, blackmail and scandal, a sprinkle of romance, and some serious twists and turns. If the first half of the book was somewhat temperate, the last half more than made up for it. Personally, I could relate to a lot of the family dysfunction specifically the secrets that rock the O'Shea family in this book. From that perspective I can say Harryman is able to articulate a family dynamic not many can accomplish successfully.

As a whole, I really loved this book and appreciate the way every incident counted toward the conclusion. I could probably go on explicating it from other angles (I haven't even mentioned one of the central topics of death yet..!), but I'll stop so you can go read it for yourself! 

Bottom Line: This book is a great story for anyone who loves fiction, especially if you can relate to the dysfunction of a family who fights and loves as hard as the O'Shea's do. If you aren't hooked right away, don't let it deter you from finishing the book because its payout is worth your investment of time! 5/5

PhotobucketAbout the Author: Maggie Harryman was born in New Jersey and moved to San Francisco soon after college. She received an MA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University and spent the ensuing years working as a copywriter in various industries including healthcare, tech and real estate/finance.

Maggie lives in Northern California in the heart of wine country, has two wonderful children in college and an old, faithful dog named, Humphrey.
Here Among Us is her debut novel. She also has two short stories on Amazon; Jesus, Mary and Joseph Michael Duffy Has Arisen and Cleaning Naked

Maggie's website              Maggie on GoodReads

I was given a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

For more on this tour and others, visit Sage's Blog Tours!

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