Review: Gracious Living without Servants by Brenda Cronin

About the book, Gracious Living Without Servants:

Gracious Living Without Servants

(From the back of the book) Juliet has done the right thing all her life, and where’s it gotten her? She’s a thirty-year-old widow who’s had to move in with her parents.

Things start to look up when her glamorous but married neighbor Seth seems to be flirting with her and helps her land a job at a local paper.

Then she’s assigned to investigate Seth’s wife. Juliet is quickly immersed in lies, manipulation, and a deepening sex scandal. But she feels alive for the first time in a long time.

Maybe she needs to do the wrong thing for once. Or maybe she s headed for disaster.

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About the author, Brenda Cronin:

Brenda Cronin

Brenda Cronin writes for The Wall Street Journal, where she has worked since 2001. Her short fiction has been published on both sides of the Atlantic. This is her first novel. Born in Washington, she was raised in Connecticut and lives in New York City.

My Thoughts:

I fell in love with the title of this novel, something you should never do, before it ever arrived at my door (thank you, TLC tours), and that was my first difficulty with this novel. Then, I had trouble settling into it to read. It wasn’t that it was poorly written – in fact Cronin’s prose is eminently readable – just that my own mood was tangled and dark. That was my second difficulty.

Nevertheless, after a couple of false starts, I found myself absorbed in the story of recent widow, Juliet, and her new life, which involves a longer-than-expected “temporary” return to her parents’ home in New Haven. I need to inerject here, that I have family – Yalies all – in that part of Connecticut, and Cronin got the flavor of their speech, and the unselfconscious (to the point of oblivion) self-entitlement of a certain class of people spot-on. Little things like Juliet’s use of the word “Mummy” with her mother, which otherwise would have read as British, instead placed us firmly in Connecticut’s upper-upper middle class.

While I enjoyed the story, however, and loved Gracious Living Without Servants, for the way the author crafted it, I found myself becoming frustrated with Juliet’s poor decision making. An affair with a married, older neighbor is one thing, but not discontinuing it when you’re assigned to investigate his wife isn’t something a thirty-year-old woman should make. Ditto the day-dreaming about a possible future with Seth – Juliet isn’t twenty. Shouldn’t she know that men of his ilk never leave their wives?

As much as her bad decision making frustrated me, however, I enjoyed the book for what it was. It takes courage, in our instant-gratification culture, to write a book that doesn’t wrap everything up in a neat bow. As well, I particularly liked the way Juliet’s deceased husband, Alex, was a character in his own right, even though he existed almost exclusively within her thoughts – Alex would approve, Alex might not agree, Alex would understand. It added dimension to Juliet’s character, as well as to the novel as a whole.

I feel compelled to add that I’m reading this with the experience of being 43 and having a marriage that is going on 19 years, and my own experience colors my reaction to this novel, but it’s well written and truly interesting.

Goes well with canopes and a glass of merlot.

TLC Book Tours

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read/review this novel. Here are the rest of the tour stops for Gracious Living Without Servants:
Tuesday, October 15th: bookchickdi

Tuesday, October 22nd: Diary of a Stay at Home Mom

Wednesday, October 23rd: Bibliotica

Monday, October 28th: Book-alicious Mama

Wednesday, October 30th: Svetlana’s Reads and Views

Thursday, October 31st: A Simple Life, Really?

Tuesday, November 5th: Anita Loves Books

Thursday, November 7th: Brooklyn Berry Designs

Monday, November 11th: Amy’s Book-et List

Tuesday, November 12th: A Book Geek

Thursday, November 14th: Obsessed Italian Brat

CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 Review: Gracious Living without Servants by Brenda Cronin by Melissa Bartell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

4 thoughts on “Review: Gracious Living without Servants by Brenda Cronin

  1. Thanks for giving this book a thoughtful review. We’re glad you enjoyed reading it. We were also struck by the poor decisions Juliet makes at this point of extreme upset and questioning in her life. One interesting plot development is how these actually turn out well for her in a certain sense. In fact, that very issue inspired the idea to create an advice blog that can help people make the same kinds of really, hugely bad decisions Juliet does. It plays off of that facet of Juliet’s story nicely. If you like, you can check it out at

  2. Pingback: Brenda Cronin, author of Gracious Living Without Servants, on tour October/November 2013 | TLC Book Tours

  3. Pingback: Gracious Living Without Servants | Book-alicious Mama

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