The Things We Set on Fire by Deborah Reed

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Reviewer: Ashley Mackler-Paternostro

A series of tragedies brings Vivvie’s young grandchildren into her custody, and her two estranged daughters back under one roof. Jackson, Vivvie’s husband, was shot and killed thirty years ago, and the ramifications have splintered the family into their own isolated remembrances and recriminations.

Sisters Elin and Kate fought mercilessly in childhood and have avoided each other for years. Elin seems like the last person to watch her sister convalesce after an attempted suicide. But Elin has her own reasons for coming to Kate’s side and will soon discover Kate’s own staggering needs.

This deeply personal, hauntingly melancholy look at the damages families inflict on each other—and the healing that only they can provide—is filled with flinty, flawed, and complex people stumbling toward some kind of peace. Like Elizabeth Strout and Kazuo Ishiguro, Deborah Reed understands a story, and its inhabitants reveal themselves in the subtleties: the space between the thoughts, the sigh behind the smile, and the unreliable lies people tell themselves that ultimately reveal the deepest truths.

Have you wanted to love a book simply because? Because you should, or because you wanted to, or because you’ve enjoyed other offerings from the novelist? That’s how I felt upon beginning my time with The Things We Set on Fire by Deborah Reed. I wanted to love it because this book is my kind of novel — deep with a richly woven narrative, complex and–okay, at times–maddening characters. It’s a story with soul. I should have loved this book, and I did love it, but then…

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Things We Set on Fire begins with a brazen act of violence so unexpected that it is bound to give the reader pause. That’s the way it’s designed, for shock and awe. It really is, all things considered, a brilliant way to begin a novel. It leaves one breathless with confusion and worry and does not allow them to set the novel aside, doesn’t allow for one to think ‘maybe this book isn’t for me…’ … it leaps, and you leap with it.

Vivvie was widowed too soon. Left to raise her daughters without the man she had loved since she, herself, was little more than a girl. The death of Vivvie’s husband has a ‘butterfly effect’ on her daughters, Elin–the oldest–and Kate–one year Elin’s junior–in many ways.

Maybe the girls were born destine to bicker and pick at each other mercilessly. Maybe it was the Florida heat that made them ornery. Or maybe it was stress of living in a home where their mother kept an ugly secret that turned her inside out and made her withhold her love that turned them into angry children. Whatever it was in  Elin and Kate’s childhood that proved to be a catalyst the anger they felt defined them. And then it happened, something that could have bonded them together. But no, it became a secret they were forced to share. It drove the wedge deeper and the guilt they both felt for having it only stood to break them further apart…leading to a betrayal that would come later in their lives.

The book opens to find the family grown and spread far and wide. From the Pacific Northwest Portland area to the sunny orange groves of Orlando, Florida. The distance between the girls and their mother isn’t accidental, it’s purposeful and deliberate, proving some families simply cannot stay close.

Vivvie is used to living alone now. Her children are grown and gone and are, for all intents and purposes, estranged from her. She works, she tends to her home, she smokes her cigarettes, she flirts with her neighbor, Wink, she keeps her pile of regrets close. Her life now is as peaceable as it is predictable as it is lonely, and considering what it once was when she had her husband and little girls under foot, it’s really only a shadow of what could have been.

Kate is dying by fate and she wants to die by choice. Something is ravaging her body, something in her genetics that is  bound and determined to take her away from her daughters slowly, methodically, cruelly. She makes the (selfish?) choice to beat it to the end–why fight the inevitable? A bottle of pills, a quiet night, two little girls sleeping in their beds. She’ll make the ‘leaving’ as simple as she can and spares them the horror of watching their mother–the only real and present parent they have–fade slowly away. But something in her plan went wrong and now she still very much alive, still very much dying and forced to face her mother and sister.

Elin is at a crossroads. Her life, from the outside, is a slice of perfect. A beautiful home, a handsome and worldly husband, a job, her dog. But what looks perfect from the exterior isn’t always so pretty inside: Her husband isn’t the man she believed him to be, and she could use some time away from him to collect her thoughts, or punish him, whichever comes first. So when Vivvie calls to tell her about Kate’s failed suicide attempt, she has no reason not to go home, expect the singular reason that kept away for a very long time.

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The Things We Set on Fire is a character book. There is little suspense, little danger, the book focuses most on telling you the story of three generations of women thrown back together and how their interconnected lives unfold when they are forced to not only face each other, but all the things they ran away from. To that end, the characters Reed created are both vibrant and authentic. There is an unmistakable truth to them. They aren’t written for you to like or love or even relate to…they are written merely in the vein of feeling real. They are flawed and erratically, helplessly human which only adds to the charm of this book. And as the novel picks up speed, you will find yourself drawn to them because Reed goes to great lengths to explain them to you, to tell you precisely what it is that makes them so broken so you can understand and care.

Things We Set on Fire is a beautiful book, but the things that make this novel beautiful–the intense use of flowery language, descriptors for even the most minute details–also prove to be the novel’s primary hurdle. The language is thick, verbose, at time staggering and causes the book, for me at least, to sag a little. I found myself getting lost in it, almost losing track of the story because I was so immersed in the way –for example–the fireflies looked. It’s not bad, and Reeds precise details of ordinary moments are lovely in moderation, but it came to be distracting page after page, sentence after sentence.

I liked this book very much…but I wanted to love it. Isn’t that always so disappointing? Regardless, The Things We Set on Fire is well worth the read and I have a feeling few will regret giving the novel time and I have a suspicion that fans of Deborah Reed will cheer.

Bonus: You can pick this book up now BEFORE it’s actual publication date in December on Amazon. Prime members can read for free, while non-Prime readers can get the book for a modest discount.

TWFR Rating: 4 Stamps…Really good, highly enjoyable!

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Amazon Unveils Kindle First

Happy November everyone!  I’m sure, like us, you’re probably wondering where the month of October went … seemed to fly by, right?

…Anyway…

We’re excited to share with you the breaking news from Amazon for Kindle readers … Kindle First has launched and with it, the ability to have a “first-read” of yet unreleased novels.

The premise is simple:

Explore Editor Picks – At the beginning of each month 4 novels will be featured giving you the opportunity to snag a “first read” before the book(s) official launch (books featured in November will not be “for sale” until their publication dates in December).

Choose One for Free – Prime members can select a book from the 4 available for FREE (everyone loves free, right?) … non-Prime members can select a book at a discounted price ($1.99).

Read it Early – And enjoy!

We hope this new Amazon program brings you each as much excitement as it has brought us here at TWFR. Here are November’s offerings–we’ll be reviewing Things We Set on Fire soon!

819hdyS-pgL._SL1500_A series of tragedies brings Vivvie’s young grandchildren into her custody, and her two estranged daughters back under one roof. Jackson, Vivvie’s husband, was shot and killed thirty years ago, and the ramifications have splintered the family into their own isolated remembrances and recriminations.

Sisters Elin and Kate fought mercilessly in childhood and have avoided each other for years. Elin seems like the last person to watch her sister convalesce after an attempted suicide. But Elin has her own reasons for coming to Kate’s side and will soon discover Kate’s own staggering needs.

This deeply personal, hauntingly melancholy look at the damages families inflict on each other—and the healing that only they can provide—is filled with flinty, flawed, and complex people stumbling toward some kind of peace. Like Elizabeth Strout and Kazuo Isiguro, Deborah Reed understands a story, and its inhabitants reveal themselves in the subtleties: the space between the thoughts, the sigh behind the smile, and the unreliable lies people tell themselves that ultimately reveal the deepest truths.

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51klFNAUDTLGloria Gaynor’s #1 hit single “I Will Survive” debuted in 1978 to overwhelming success. Shortly thereafter, the single went double platinum and over three decades later still strikes a chord among men and women everywhere.

Over the years, the disco legend has received thousands of personal messages from adoring fans whose lives have been transformed by this timeless song. Their remarkable stories reveal that ”I Will Survive” has reached people from all walks of life and touched their lives in thousands of unique ways. From individuals triumphing over illness to those suffering from the painful loss of a loved one to others piecing their lives together after bearing witness to national tragedy, “I Will Survive” has become an emotional anthem for them and for millions of Gaynor’s adoring fans around the world.

In We Will Survive, Gloria shares forty of these inspirational, true stories about survivors of all kinds—individuals who have found comfort, hope, and courage through the power of this one song.

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Beautiful, bold, and brilliant Avery dreams of becoming a member of the Royal Astronomical Society—and the only way she can join the all-male society is to disguise herself as a boy. After helping Giles, Lord Strand, escape a disastrous engagement, she is certain he will assist in her daring masquerade. No lady would ever come up with such a preposterous scheme, and no gentleman would accept…but fortunately for Avery, Giles is no gentleman.

A bargain is struck between the stargazing adventuress and society’s most sophisticated lord. He will sponsor her as his prodigy and she will cover for him as he hunts London’s darkest warrens for a missing colleague from his shadowy past. But time and again, Giles finds his quest compromised by his fierce and unwise attraction to the lovely girl who, though no lady, may well be the one dame to finally unlock the secrets of his heart.

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Not much could drag Jim Booker out of a peaceful, if lonely, retirement and back to late nights, crime scenes, and chases. Jim Booker is done with detective work and would just like to enjoy a cup of coffee on a sunny day. But when an old friend shows up with a case about an old flame, Booker can’t say no.

What starts as a missing persons case soon delivers more than he bargained for, and when Booker’s own past offers clues, it’s clear that no one else can solve this mystery. But there’s a catch: Booker was given six months to live eight months ago.

Author J.R. Rain shows us that when it seems there’s nothing left to live for, there’s also nothing left to lose. His characters will take a chance on danger, doubt, even an unlikely romance—as long as they get a cup of coffee first.

Which book will you be reading? Let us know by commenting below!

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