Wednesday, January 16, 2013

REVIEW: "SUNFLOWERS" - by Melodie Starkey

Title: “Sunflowers
Author: Melodie Starkey
Publisher: CreateSpace
Publication Date: November 24, 2010
Genre: Romance
Reviewed by: Books4Tomorrow
Source: Free download
My star rating: 4/5


There's nothing like a knock on the door at 3:00 a.m. to change your life forever. Gus Moore discovers how true this is when his ex-girlfriend blows in on an icy January night just long enough to dump "his problem" on the couch. From languid single slob to competent single parent, Gus's metamorphosis over the next six years is remarkable. All is going swimmingly for Gus and his son, Sam, until two women complicate their lives: Sarah, with whom Gus has an unsatisfactory friends-with-benefits relationship, and Maureen, his son's bipolar mother, who has decided she wants back into her child's life. Maureen's illness is a subtextual presence that eventually steers the course of the novel. Refreshingly, Gus does not have the stereotypical Mr. Mom awkwardness of being a single parent (although he does "outsource the Jesus stuff" to the mother across the street), and there is no predictable "happy couple works it out" ending.


I would like to preface my review by saying I didn’t read the blurb before I read the book. Sometimes the blurb doesn’t sell the book to me, and oftentimes I then miss out on a great book. Therefore I’ve stopped reading blurbs. Now that that is out of the way, I’ll share what I loved and what I didn’t like so much about this marvellous book. It might contain a couple of spoilers as I outline the characters I feel had an impact on me in some way or another.


Gus – This is the first character I liked from the word go. Having a baby (which you never even knew you had) dumped on you at 3 A.M. in the morning would be a shock to anyone – especially if you’re the eternal bachelor type. Admirably, Gus takes to parenting like a duck to water. Throughout the story he is a great father and we get to witness firsthand his transformation from self-centred single guy to becoming a single parent taking on the demands and challenges of raising a child on his own. Another thing that made me like him more was his willingness to admit and face-up to his role in the deteriorating of his relationship with Maureen when they were still a couple. He does a lot of soul-searching and growing up, and all this added to the complexity of the story and his character growth. Only two small things I didn’t like about Gus is that he came across as naïve and gullible, but it didn’t prevent me from falling head over heels for him.

Sam – We initially get to meet Sam briefly as a four-month old baby in the first few chapters. Thereafter he grows into a healthy and rambunctious six-year old with lots of friends, a cute, lumbering dog, living in a safe and stable environment with his doting dad. The only thing he wants more than anything in his life is his mom. Sam was definitely one of my favorite characters along with Gus. I love how the author portrayed their daily lives and added to the realism with Sam’s typical of a six-year old’s emotional outbursts as well as the way in which he perceives the world. The only thing that made me grimace was Sam’s baby-voice which in the context of the story seemed out of place for the voice of a child his age. This unfortunately didn’t endure him to me, but the close bond between him and Gus and their quirky banter certainly did. 

Maureen – She’s Sam’s mom who dumped him on his dad’s couch and then took off, only to be sent to jail awhile later after it came to light that she’s the one who broke Sam’s leg shortly before leaving him in his dad’s care. At first, of course, I really didn’t like Maureen. I don’t think the author wants the reader to like her. But then she spends the rest of the book trying to get the reader sympathetic towards Maureen’s plight – and she does so successfully. By the end, I was truly heartbroken after what happened to Maureen even though I couldn’t understand why she did what did. Don’t judge her yet though, you have to read her story and get to know her and her circumstances first before jumping to conclusions. At the end of the book she’s not the same person she is at the start.

Sarah – Of course every story has to have a villain, and although Sarah wasn’t really the villain per se, she still had my hackles up. This is one character I just couldn’t like. Her cheating, lying, stalking, vindictive behaviour didn’t sit so well with me. First she hits Sam and his dog with her car, then she stalks Gus relentlessly, uses him and Sam as her “fantasy family”, falls pregnant with Gus’s baby and then use her pregnancy in an attempt to end his newfound relationship with Maureen. Come to think of it, this does sound very villain-ish. Whichever way, between her and child-abusing Maureen, let’s just say she was NOT the lesser of two evils.  


The ending was sweet, yet unexpected, but as much as I enjoyed this book I was sad that the author left a few questions unanswered. It is not a short book and it took me two days (reading from early bedtime to the break of dawn) to finish it. I was completely spellbound by the emotional bonds that were forming between Sam, Gus and Maureen. I experienced a volley of emotions from tearing up at poignant scenes to chuckling and going “awwww” in the chapters where Sam and Gus are doing their father/son thing, and then being utterly heartbroken at the tragedy near the end. I really loved the story and the superb writing genuinely made me feel as though I was part of Gus and Sam’s world. The narrative is excellent and the dialogue natural. The author deals with controversial issues sympathetically and with insight, and manages to maintain a good balance between different perceptions on both sides of these topics. The romance was subtle and although it forms the backbone of this story, it wasn’t mushy or forced. Yet, it was beautifully written and I found myself slowly falling in love with Gus and feeling protective towards Sam the further I read. 

Sunflowers is a deeply moving, remarkably effortless read and I’m eagerly anticipating reading more of Melodie Starkey’s novels! 



Sunflowers by Melodie Starkey has 12 reviews on Goodreads. Read it here.



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