When We Found Home
I love family reunion stories. I’m particularly fond of stories where people unexpectedly find new relatives, like a long-lost sister or brother. So when I realized Susan Mallery’s When We Found Home was about three siblings meeting each other for the first time, I knew I had to read it.
Malcolm Carlesso has always known his father was not a great man. For the first twelve years of Malcolm’s life, Jerry Carlesso wanted nothing to do with him, and it was only when Malcolm’s mother was dying and brought him to the Carlesso family residence that Jerry even acknowledged his paternity. Luckily, Malcolm’s paternal grandfather, Alberto, was as warm as his son was cold, and was happy to raise Malcolm after his mother passed. Jerry stayed out of the picture until his death, whilst Malcolm grew up to take over his grandfather’s food company, Alberto’s Alfresco.
A few years after Jerry’s death, Alberto got around to going through his son’s papers and realized the man had fathered two daughters that the family didn’t know about. He immediately recruits Malcolm to find them and bring them into the Carlesso family fold. Although they are by no means required to move in with Alberto and Malcolm, both girls are living in difficult circumstances when they’re found, so it’s a natural step. Kiera is a streetwise twelve-year-old who’s been in foster care since shortly after her mother died, and Callie is a careful twenty-six-year-old who is trying to lead a quiet life since being released from prison for a youthful mistake.
As the book begins, Kiera has been living with Malcolm and Alberto for six weeks, and Callie has just been found by their PI. While Alberto is excited to welcome his other granddaughter, Malcolm is having a hard time with everything. He couldn’t care less about sharing the family fortune but is struggling with how to simply interact with his sisters. He comes off as overly strict with Keira and mistrustful with Callie, while Kiera wants most to be loved, and Callie to be trusted. The girls get on well, as they’re both new to the posh world of the Carlessos, but beyond that everyone seems uncomfortable with each other.
To me, this was a decent set-up, and I would have felt satisfied just to watch Malcolm, Callie, and Kiera come to love one another. However, this is a romance novel; both Malcolm and Callie manage to find partners over the course of these 400-some pages. Malcolm falls for Delaney, a local barista/med-student who takes Kiera under her wing, while Callie falls for Santiago, Malcolm’s best friend and business partner.
To say that this book is busy is an understatement. I would love to go into more detail dissecting each character and relationship, but that would make this review a long essay, and just as I don’t have the time to do all the characters justice in a review, I feel that Ms. Mallery didn’t quite have time to do them justice in this book. Each individual is memorable, with a good background and clear emotional struggles, but because of how packed the book is, there wasn’t adequate time to build their emotions.
A good example of this is the romance between Callie and Santiago. I liked it for the first few pages, when Santiago sees Callie working in the Alberto’s Alfresco factory and is hit by the lightning bolt of True Love. It’s cute…until he stops by her house with flowers and starts mentally rambling about what sort of woman Callie is, and how he needs to be worthy of her. I liked Santiago, but his feelings are so immediate and powerful that he comes across as more stalker-ish than romantic. I think more time spent slowly building up his emotions might have enabled me to enjoy his story more. Instead these characters develop in a rapid, almost jumpy way – like punching the accelerator on a car rather than slowly speeding up.
That said, I do think that When We Found Home has good bones, and I’ll probably try another of Ms. Mallery’s books at some point. I liked the premise and I liked the characters, and the author does a good job of showing us the siblings were all good people who just didn’t know how to fit together, rather than making one out to be a villain causing trouble. I even think that each romance could have made a decent standalone novel (particularly if Santiago’s excitement was toned down a little). It’s just that when everything was shoved together (with a touch of who-is-stealing-from-the-factory mystery on top), no element quite got the attention it deserved.