Friday, February 24, 2012

Review: The Underside of Joy by Sere Prince Halverson

The Underside of Joy, author Sere Prince Halverson's debut novel, is a beautifully written story about Ella, a young woman recently married to Joe and living in Sonoma with their two children. She suffers a great loss when Joe is suddenly killed but she can't imagine that this might only be the beginning of what she will lose.

Ella Beene is happy, almost blissfully so, with her husband Joe and his two young children, Annie and Zach. In the three years since Joe and Ella have met, she has mothered Joe's children and created a home with their father. Annie and Zach's mother has abandoned them and Joe is raising them alone when Ella meets the threesome. She steps into this family as wife and mother seamlessly - so much so that when it was not immediately obvious to me that these were not her biological children. But with great happiness comes the "underside" - Joe is tragically killed when he is pulled under by a wave and Ella soon discovers that everything was not quite as it seemed. In addition to revelations about Joe's business and his family, Ella learns that the children's mother may not have actually abandoned them. While grieving for Joe, she faces the fact that she may also lose his children.  

My Thoughts
 I loved this book from page one. The beautiful descriptions allowed me to transport myself to the Sonoma setting and to observe the happy existence Ella had created with Annie, Zach and Joe. In the following passage, Ella describes herself:
My name is Ella Beene and, as one might imagine, I have had my share of nicknames. Of all of them, Joe's was one I downright cherished. I'm not a physical beauty - not ugly, but nothing near what I'd look like if I'd had a say in the matter
That is so well put - "not ugly, but nothing near what I'd look like if I'd had a say in the matter". She continues with some basic physical characteristics - tall, red hair, fair and freckles. From this basic description coupled with her admission to not being ugly but perhaps dissatisfied with some of her looks, I could perfectly picture Ella (fyi - I imagined Julianne Moore). These types of beautifully turned phrases and well drawn descriptions are peppered throughout the book and drew me into the story.

The story reveals itself at a brisk pace - there is revelation after revelation - from the return of the children's mom, Paige, to the fact that Joe's family run business was in more trouble than Ella could have imagined. This pace makes the book very readable - I found myself anxiously turning the pages to get the next installment of the drama and to watch how Ella took each revelation in, processed and made sense of it. To round out the story, there is a colorful supporting cast of characters from Joe's brother and parents to the perplexing Paige who left her children but has complicated reasons for doing so.  

I am not sure that I am doing this book justice (this happens when I really love a book) but trust me, read it!

The author has a great story about her road to getting published and the value of perseverance. You can read about it on her blog - Who Moved My Buddha or check out her facebook page 

I received a copy of this book from Amy at KMSPR for review


  1. That sounds like a heartbreaking story. I'm glad to see it's so well written. I hope to read this one soon.

  2. I was drawn to this book at B&N from the cover art and title alone. So gorgeous! I flipped through, but didn't buy. Sounds like I need to go back! (ps - found this link on Twitter. Great review!)

  3. Sounds like a good book. Thanks for the review.

  4. Mu DIL loved this book as well. Glad you enjoyed it so much. I have the EGalley. Have a great weekend Colleen.

  5. This is a situtation that I imagine happens quite a bit. Look at poor Sandra Bullock! I'll have to keep this one in mind.

  6. I cannot wait to read this one. It is next on my TBR pile!

  7. Wonderful review! You have definitely piqued my interest. I can't even imagine being in Ella's situation. Sounds like the author did a good job of making her sympathetic without sacrificing plot and pacing.

  8. I'm reading this one right now, and I kind of skimmed your review, please understand! I am loving this book and can't wait to finish.

    1. no problem Anita - I try not to put spoilers in my reviews but the read is always better when you don't know what is coming at all! Enjoy!

  9. I have the hardest time reviewing books I absolutely love, too! It's so hard to pinpoint what takes a book from being one you really like to one you love. You've definitely captured this one and convinced me to give it a try!