The Bird House Review

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The Bird House

A NOVEL

By Kelly Simmons

“Complex and poignant…”Publishers Weekly

“Kelly Simmons is able to clearly capture the voice of an elderly woman and tell her story in such crisp, tight prose I was hooked from the very first page. The Bird House is more than a suspenseful story, though—it’s about secrets: family secrets. And those are always the best kept ones.”–Chevy Stevens, New York Times bestselling author of Still Missing

“There’s nothing I like better than a dark family secret, and Kelly Simmons really delivers in The Bird House…This is a beautifully paced novel that will keep you guessing right to the end.”–Pam Lewis, author of Perfect Family

With her second novel, THE BIRD HOUSE she tells the story of one women’s inexorable slide into dementia and her growing  bond with her granddaughter.  Together, they uncover family secrets of both the past and present that have the power to either destroy—or heal.

In THE BIRD HOUSE, seventy-year-old Ann Biddle feels as spry as she did forty years ago.  But her mind is another matter.  She knows she’s becoming more and more forgetful, and rails against the indignities of old age.  She’s also a woman who is troubled by her past.  She’s had her share of heartache:  she lost her mother to breast cancer and early dementia, and she, herself, was diagnosed with breast cancer at just thirty.  A widow, she’s disappointed in how she and her husband became so distant over the years, and she had been estranged from her late, wayward father since she was a teenager. At the center of it all is an unspeakable tragedy that will forever haunt her.

Ann had never been particularly close to her only son’s daughter, but at the age of eight, young Ellie is turning into a person Ann enjoys.  She speaks her mind without whining, she’s straightforward, and she isn’t easily hurt.  Just like Ann herself.  So when Ellie tells her she needs her help to work on a school project she jumps at the chance to spend more time with her granddaughter.

Never mind the fact that her daughter-in-law, Tinsley, constantly worries about Ann’s failing eyesight, her increasing forgetfulness, and her penchant for feeding Ellie illicit sugar-filled treats.

A problem arises when Ann learns that the project involves researching her family’s history—something that she would prefer to keep hidden.  She’s certainly not going to dredge up old family secrets of death, disease, estrangement, and infidelity.  Instead, she’s determined to help Ellie build a more romantic and colorful family history; one that will garner her an “A.”

But as Ann and Ellie spend more and more time together, Ann finds herself remembering things she doesn’t want to remember, yet can’t seem to let go.  Ellie is unknowingly bringing them to the surface with her innocent questions and child-like enthusiasm for learning about the “old days.”  In Ann’s attic, they slowly rediscover the history of Ann’s past, and with each new discovery, new insight into an old secret is revealed.  Ellie, in turn, begins sharing her own secrets and doubts about her mother and father. Together, they find the healing answers they need.

A richly textured story that delves deeply into the power of memory and the strength of family, THE BIRD HOUSE solidifies Kelly Simmons’s place in the upper echelons of women’s fiction.

Kelly Simmons is a former journalist and an accomplished advertising creative director who specializes in marketing to women.  She is also the author ofStanding Still.  Kelly currently lives with her family outside of Philadelphia.  To learn more about her and her work, visit her website at: ByKellySimmons.com.

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Chevy Stevens is quoted as saying, “I was hooked from the very first page”.  This statement also applies to me.  Kelly Simmons has a way of weaving words together that leads you to want more. Here is the last paragraph from her first chapter.  “It’s all there, in every jewelry box and trunk, every photo album and yellowed postcard, every attic and basement.  Just look, and you’ll see what I mean.  You don’t have to travel to a lost city to find the artifacts of a mysterious society.  Just go ask your grandmother.”  That just gives me the shivers.  Secrets.  Every family has them.  Some larger than others.  I grew up surrounded by secrets.  My mother kept secrets.  She kept secrets from me to protect me.  The traditional mother protecting her offspring from the wicked world.  Thanks to my mother I lived in a world that was good and kind.  It wasn’t until I became an adult that I learned that life is not all good.  And it wasn’t until after her death that I learned so many of the secrets she kept.  I’m fairly certain she would have never told me.  She would have kept her silence if she had lived to be 100.

I found the main character in The Bird House, Ann, to be a very likable and understandable character.  Throughout the book we delve back and forth between the present- 2010 and the past-1967.  We immediately learn that Ann had a daughter that died and that she feels she is responsible for her death.  It isn’t until the end of the book that we learn the events surrounding this death.  I was very curious how her daughter died, because it became apparent as I read the book that Ann was a good mother.  She was tired, bored, and frustrated, but she always seemed to do right by her children.  They wore her down, but she loved them.  I didn’t understand how it could be possible that she could kill her daughter.  I won’t ruin the ending for you, but I will say that it involves an accident.  An accident that could happen to anybody and makes me feel more watchful about my own children.

In the present Ann is developing a relationship with her granddaughter, Ellie.  As the book progresses we see their relationship blossom and we also realize that Ann is suffering from the early stages of dementia.  She is forgetful, but still lively regardless.  The relationship that Ann and Ellie form is touching and Ann becomes a very likable grandparent.  The story weaves around Ellie and her parents and all of their relationships together.  Ann is very watchful and perceptive, personality traits that cause some problems as the story develops.

In the past we learn about Ann as a young mother with two children, her marriage to her architect husband, her mother, her father, her fight with breast cancer, and her relationship with her high school sweetheart.  This dip into the past is the basis for the secrets of course.  When I was reading the book I wanted to know right away all the secrets, but they are slowly spun throughout the book.

Kelly Simmons understands relationships.  She must.  Because she hits so true to the mark with her story.  I was especially moved by one passage, “It hurts because when your mother dies, your whole childhood disappears.  It’s as if it never happened.”  I wonder if her mother has passed?  I would think she must have to understand this aspect of losing your mother.  I was moved by these words as I find them to be true, unfortunately.

Ann is a good woman who has faced many demons and discovers more about herself in The Bird House.  A true to life novel, Kelly Simmons weaves a story of the mystery surrounding relationships.

 

I received a copy of The Bird House to review, however all opinions are my own.

Comments

  1. What a comprehensive and lovely review — I am so glad my novel touched you, and I hope your readers found your write-up illuminating! If any of your readers are in book clubs – – The Library Journal called The Bird House “a great title for book clubs, and fans of Lisa Genova’s Still Alice.” Feel free to get in touch for book club visits or special offers.

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