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The Truth According to Us

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Listening Length: 18 hours and 52 minutes In the summer of 1938, Layla Beck’s father, a United States senator, cuts off her allowance and demands that she find employment on the Federal Writers’ Project, a New Deal jobs program. Within days, Layla finds herself far from her accustomed social whirl, assigned to cover the history of the remote mill town of Macedonia, West Vir Listening Length: 18 hours and 52 minutes In the summer of 1938, Layla Beck’s father, a United States senator, cuts off her allowance and demands that she find employment on the Federal Writers’ Project, a New Deal jobs program. Within days, Layla finds herself far from her accustomed social whirl, assigned to cover the history of the remote mill town of Macedonia, West Virginia, and destined, in her opinion, to go completely mad with boredom. But once she secures a room in the home of the unconventional Romeyn family, she is drawn into their complex world and soon discovers that the truth of the town is entangled in the thorny past of the Romeyn dynasty. At the Romeyn house, twelve-year-old Willa is desperate to learn everything in her quest to acquire her favorite virtues of ferocity and devotion—a search that leads her into a thicket of mysteries, including the questionable business that occupies her charismatic father and the reason her adored aunt Jottie remains unmarried. Layla’s arrival strikes a match to the family veneer, bringing to light buried secrets that will tell a new tale about the Romeyns. As Willa peels back the layers of her family’s past, and Layla delves deeper into town legend, everyone involved is transformed—and their personal histories completely rewritten.


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Listening Length: 18 hours and 52 minutes In the summer of 1938, Layla Beck’s father, a United States senator, cuts off her allowance and demands that she find employment on the Federal Writers’ Project, a New Deal jobs program. Within days, Layla finds herself far from her accustomed social whirl, assigned to cover the history of the remote mill town of Macedonia, West Vir Listening Length: 18 hours and 52 minutes In the summer of 1938, Layla Beck’s father, a United States senator, cuts off her allowance and demands that she find employment on the Federal Writers’ Project, a New Deal jobs program. Within days, Layla finds herself far from her accustomed social whirl, assigned to cover the history of the remote mill town of Macedonia, West Virginia, and destined, in her opinion, to go completely mad with boredom. But once she secures a room in the home of the unconventional Romeyn family, she is drawn into their complex world and soon discovers that the truth of the town is entangled in the thorny past of the Romeyn dynasty. At the Romeyn house, twelve-year-old Willa is desperate to learn everything in her quest to acquire her favorite virtues of ferocity and devotion—a search that leads her into a thicket of mysteries, including the questionable business that occupies her charismatic father and the reason her adored aunt Jottie remains unmarried. Layla’s arrival strikes a match to the family veneer, bringing to light buried secrets that will tell a new tale about the Romeyns. As Willa peels back the layers of her family’s past, and Layla delves deeper into town legend, everyone involved is transformed—and their personal histories completely rewritten.

30 review for The Truth According to Us

  1. 5 out of 5

    Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽

    $1.99 Kindle sale, Feb. 19, 2019. 4.5 stars. A tale of secrets and intertwined lives in the small, one-factory town of Macedonia, West Virginia in 1938. This historical West Virginia novel is by the co-author of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. The story is told from the alternating viewpoints of 12 year old Willa Romeyn, her 36 year old aunt Josephine (Jottie) Romeyn, and Layla Beck, a young woman from a wealthy and prominent family who is boarding with Jottie for the summer $1.99 Kindle sale, Feb. 19, 2019. 4.5 stars. A tale of secrets and intertwined lives in the small, one-factory town of Macedonia, West Virginia in 1938. This historical West Virginia novel is by the co-author of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. The story is told from the alternating viewpoints of 12 year old Willa Romeyn, her 36 year old aunt Josephine (Jottie) Romeyn, and Layla Beck, a young woman from a wealthy and prominent family who is boarding with Jottie for the summer while she writes a history of the town for the Federal Writers' Project. The FWP was an actual New Deal program, designed to support writers during the Great Depression, who were assigned projects like writing local histories and state guides, and assembling photos and oral history records of slavery. Willa is a precocious young girl who takes it into her mind that she will be happier if she knows everyone's secrets, even though her uncle Emmett tries to warn her:"My advice is this: Don’t ask questions if you’re not going to like the answers." I folded my arms. "Well, honestly! How can I know I'm not going to like the answers until I ask the questions?" His smile flashed bright. "Easy. You ask yourself if there's any answer that would endanger something that’s precious to you, and if there is, don’t ask the question." Endanger? Nothing was endangered. "That’s silly. No one would ever find out anything that way!" "Finding out isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, Sherlock," he said.Jottie takes care of Willa and her little sister Bird because the girls' father, Felix, flits in and out of their lives so much. She carries a world of pain from the past and has shut herself off from the social life of the town, but is slowly making tentative steps to reintegrate herself, even though she's torn about it. Layla is a lovely, spoiled socialite who is forced to take a job when she refuses to marry the useless rich guy her father (a senator) picked out for her. Her uncle Ben gets her a job with the FWP. The novel is interspersed with letters between Layla and her relatives and friends, which add a nice touch of humor to the story. Layla, like Willa, soon finds out there's more than one side to every story. The local librarian points out to Layla:"All of us see a story according to our own lights. None of us is capable of objectivity. You must beware your sources. . . The question becomes what do you want The History of Macedonia to be?" "Me?" said Layla. "Why, I have no stake in the matter. There's nothing particular I want it to be." The moment the words left her mouth, she realized they were false. She wanted The History of Macedonia to spurn the dull and to amuse the witty, to advance the Romeyns and to trounce the Parker Davieses, and to announce that she, Layla Beck, had perceived that all that they had been blind to.Historical fiction set in small towns isn't in my normal wheelhouse, but this book made me smile and made my heart ache, sometimes at the same time. It's interesting and insightful, and even when on the surface nothing particularly dramatic seemed to be happening with the plot for the first half of the book, I was still fascinated with the different personalities and the sense that peoples' secrets and perceptions were inexorably approaching a tipping point. Almost until the very end of the book, I was strongly inclined to round it up to 5 stars, but I thought the ending was just a little flat, especially the epilogue and the scene on which the entire book ends. So that, combined with some slow spots and the feeling that Willa's personality and voice were a little too advanced for a 12 year old, prompted me to round down. But overall, it's still a very strong story and well worth reading.The truth of other people is a ceaseless business. You try to fix your ideas about them, and you choke on the clot you’ve made.I received a free copy of this ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a review. Thank you! Content note: One non-explicit sex scene, and I think I recall seeing one F-bomb. Overall I consider this a clean read.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Victoria

    This book could have used serious editing--as in cutting at least 150 pages--and more diligent focus on characters, narrative and plot. As you’ll note from the description, the author was partly responsible for The Guernsey Literary Society, a book that simply oozed with charm and lovable characters, and I am left to wonder how much input this author had in that book’s success. How many ways did this story disappoint? 1. Length. It took over 250 pages before anything really happened. I think half This book could have used serious editing--as in cutting at least 150 pages--and more diligent focus on characters, narrative and plot. As you’ll note from the description, the author was partly responsible for The Guernsey Literary Society, a book that simply oozed with charm and lovable characters, and I am left to wonder how much input this author had in that book’s success. How many ways did this story disappoint? 1. Length. It took over 250 pages before anything really happened. I think half a book to establish characters and setting, especially when these fall so far short in the end, is indulgent. Where is the pay off after devoting this much time to a story? Continually reading about how hot it is in West Virginia in summer doesn’t set much of a scene. 2. Characters. There are some quirky and charming characters in this story—twin sisters Mae and Minerva to name just two—yet they are not fully developed, they appear like wallpaper and I think their humor and story lines would have added immeasurably to the story. Just as the character of Layla, one of the main protagonists, falls flat. Her spoiled brat persona thrown in the trenches of public assistance should have made for a better metamorphosis. 3. Narrative. The writing wasn’t bad and it did contain the occasional brilliantly crafted phrase, however, it was terribly confusing to change narrators constantly in midstream, as in within a chapter, and so often. I’m a fan of multiple narrators from chapter-to-chapter, but those are usually accompanied by a heading to announce a differing point of view. Not so here. The use of letters between Layla and her family were a bit copy cat, but still successful. The history of Macedonia as written by Layla, less so. 4. Plot. So much wrong here. At its heart, the main plot point is about an event that took place 18 years prior and its lingering effects for the Romeyn family. Without giving anything away, the secret is not that difficult to discern early on, so the reader is left to wade through the morass it created without any real discovery or enlightenment. It is also brought to light in one scene, that’s it. After almost 20 years buried, you get about 10 pages of dénouement. 5. More plot issues. There was so much information to mine here and I don’t feel as if the author gave us any depth on any of the subjects. This takes place during the Depression with a main character working for the WPA’s Federal Writer’s Project, during prohibition with bootleggers run amuck and a small town’s main industry facing unionization. You would think that a book with that much going on would have been so much more remarkable, but you would be wrong. I was especially intrigued by the WPA project as I had not been aware of this particular aspect of FDR’s plan, but after reading this book, I can’t say I’m any more informed. I realize this would have made for a longer book, I would have heartily endorsed using the previously requested cutting of 150 pages devoted to these subjects. I won this book through an ARC giveaway which I truly appreciated and I really wanted to love it based on Guernsey, but instead, I was deeply frustrated throughout the reading and felt that I had devoted hours to a story without any sense of fulfillment.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Angela M

    This book is so very much about time and place , that this small town called Macedonia in West Virginia in 1938 , is almost another character . Such a clear sense of place is depicted ! With descriptions like this you can't help but see it : "Bird and I trudged along Academy Street in silence . I suppose if you'd never seen them before, all the houses on our street looked the same, big and white - brick. If you gazed through the polished lens of experience, though , each one was different. You co This book is so very much about time and place , that this small town called Macedonia in West Virginia in 1938 , is almost another character . Such a clear sense of place is depicted ! With descriptions like this you can't help but see it : "Bird and I trudged along Academy Street in silence . I suppose if you'd never seen them before, all the houses on our street looked the same, big and white - brick. If you gazed through the polished lens of experience, though , each one was different. You could tell where the Lloyd boys lived , just from the frayed stump of rope that dangled from their maple tree. The swing had crashed to the ground when all three of them plus Dicky Ritts rode on it at once . Grandpa Puck's porch was bare because he believed that burglars would steal his rocker if he left it out . Every evening , he toted it out to the porch to sit in the cool , but he wouldn't tote Grandma Puck's. She had to sit inside. At the corner was the Caseys' house , empty and sad. Mr Casey got sick and died, and Mrs Casey and the children had to go live with her brother. Sometimes on Sundays, Mrs . Casey came back to water her peonies. It didn't help much ; they were dying." I was not only taken to this place but fully immersed into the lives of the characters , fully immersed into the time and what was happening not just here but in the country in 1938 . The depression, people losing jobs ,organized labor, bootlegging and locally the secrets held in the Romeyn family . Although a different time and place I had the same feeling of being immersed when I read The Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Society coauthored by Annie Barrows and the late Mary Ann Shaffer. It was a feeling of being there and knowing the characters. Layla Beck , the spoiled rich daughter of a Senator is working for the Federal Writer's Project and sent to Macedonia to write a history of the town . While her activities seem to be the focus here , the story is not really about the history of the town . Although interesting in its own right and fun to meet the cast of characters that want their version of history in the book , for me the real story is Willa's right from the start . She's 12 and precocious and sweet and inquisitive and a reader ! She's read Gone With the Wind many times over and reads The Beautiful and the Damned . No way I could not love this young girl . While there's no major action at least not in the present , the story just seems to flow with only a few parts feeling a bit slow . We learn from the beginning and along the way that there are secrets to be found out about and 12 year old Willa Romeyn is determined to discover everything about her father , Felix . Her Aunt Jottie's point of view is an interesting juxtaposition to Willa's as Aunt Jottie knows only some of the secrets , the history of this town and may not be the truth that Willa discovers. Jottie's flashbacks to childhood days and as young adults sheds light on what may or may not have happened when the sock factory that her father was president of burned and killed the man that Jottie loved . Layla's point of view is divulged in letters and these make for an interesting perspective from an outsider . This is ultimately a story about truth and lies we tell each other and ourselves , about redemption and forgiveness and leaving childhood behind as Willa points out in the first pages but as I mentioned earlier this was a wonderful and so well written depiction of a specific time and place . Thanks to Random House Publishing House - Random House and NetGalley.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Phrynne

    I really only read this book because I knew the author co wrote The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society but I am very glad I did read it because it is good. I fell in love with many of the characters especially Willa and Jottie and in the end I sat and read way past my bed time because I had to find out what happened to everyone. The ending turned out to be realistic rather than happy ever after but that was okay. This is one of those books which sucks you in with perfect descriptions I really only read this book because I knew the author co wrote The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society but I am very glad I did read it because it is good. I fell in love with many of the characters especially Willa and Jottie and in the end I sat and read way past my bed time because I had to find out what happened to everyone. The ending turned out to be realistic rather than happy ever after but that was okay. This is one of those books which sucks you in with perfect descriptions of the town, the heat and the quirky residents. When it is finished it lingers in your mind.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Esil

    Somewhere between 3.5 and 4 stars. Annie Barrows wrote the Ivy and Bean books which I read over and over with my daughter when she was younger. And reading The Truth About Us was like reading a version of Ivy and Bean for adults -- which is mostly a positive thing. Barrows tells an excellent story -- a good yarn! Told from the perspective of Leila, Willa and Jottie, the story takes place in 1938 in Macedonia, a small town in West Virginia. Leila comes to Macedonia from Washington to write a hist Somewhere between 3.5 and 4 stars. Annie Barrows wrote the Ivy and Bean books which I read over and over with my daughter when she was younger. And reading The Truth About Us was like reading a version of Ivy and Bean for adults -- which is mostly a positive thing. Barrows tells an excellent story -- a good yarn! Told from the perspective of Leila, Willa and Jottie, the story takes place in 1938 in Macedonia, a small town in West Virginia. Leila comes to Macedonia from Washington to write a history of the town. Her father is a senator who has sent her into the world to work because she won't marry the husband he chose for her. She stays in a house with an assortment of people, including 12 year old Willa and Willa's aunt Jottie, and Willa's charming but unreliable father Felix. While the town folks feed Leila the history of Macedonia they would like to see recorded, Leila comes to see that the town has quite a few interesting secrets and for her part Willa is inspired to learn more about her family's own secrets. Meanwhile, Jottie is trying to untangle herself from all of this historical baggage. The story has lots of good twists and turns, the description of the setting brings West Virginia -- and its relentless hot summers -- to life, and the characters are engaging -- especially Willa who is lovely with her spunk, strong feelings and curiosity and Jottie whose love for her family and pain over an earlier lost love are palpable. A few small caveats. First, the characters other than Willa and Jottie felt a bit unidimensional -- this includes Leila who was a bit of a naive and then enlightened stereotype. And, second, for those who read historical fiction partly to learn something about a time in history, this would be history "lite"; the coming Second World War, the tail end of the depression, and the fear of communism are lurking in the background, but they only form a vague backdrop to the story. And, finally -- back to my comparison with the Ivy and Bean books -- despite the drama and suffering depicted, there's a sweetness to this book that hovers somewhere above real human emotions. Which is fine because it's just a story, and that's how you should approach it to enjoy it on its own terms -- which I did. Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for a chance to read an advance copy.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Holly

    What can I say? This books starts out with it being the summer of 1938.....and boy, did I feel like I was there in thick of that sweltering heat. That's what I loved most about this book: it made me me feel like I was in West Virginia. I could see everyone so plainly. I saw everyone sitting out on their porches, drinking their iced tea, and stopping by saying hello. All the characters were right there in my sight: Jottie, Layla, Willa & Bird, Minerva & Mae....all the secondary characters What can I say? This books starts out with it being the summer of 1938.....and boy, did I feel like I was there in thick of that sweltering heat. That's what I loved most about this book: it made me me feel like I was in West Virginia. I could see everyone so plainly. I saw everyone sitting out on their porches, drinking their iced tea, and stopping by saying hello. All the characters were right there in my sight: Jottie, Layla, Willa & Bird, Minerva & Mae....all the secondary characters, they were all so well done, I felt like I knew them. There were only a couple things I didn't like. Some of the "history" portions that were being typed up by Layla, I didn't think we needed to read those. Some of the stories were funny but I thought what the character actually wrote about them were kinda....eh. Plus, as much as I loved the story, I did feel like it could have ended with about 80 or so pages less. This isn't a story that's action packed or with a lot of things going on. It has different pov's: 12 year old Willa, her aunt Jottie, & Layla. I could hear their different voices, which I thought was well done. I loved Willa & Jottie the most. I can actually say I liked most of the "cast". Anyway....it's a good story to get lost in. Like I said, I felt very "into" the book. I enjoyed this one for letting me escape to 1938.....I even enjoyed the weather:) ** I received an ARC through a goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Connie G

    As the title suggests, the characters in this book are delving into secrets to find out the truth--and there may be more than one truth. The narrator is twelve-year-old Willa Romeyn, a likable, precocious girl in the small West Virginian town of Macedonia. She has been eavesdropping on conversations, and sneaking around trying to find out the truth about her father Felix's occupation, family secrets, and life in general. Another truth-seeker is Layla, a young woman boarding with the Romeyns who i As the title suggests, the characters in this book are delving into secrets to find out the truth--and there may be more than one truth. The narrator is twelve-year-old Willa Romeyn, a likable, precocious girl in the small West Virginian town of Macedonia. She has been eavesdropping on conversations, and sneaking around trying to find out the truth about her father Felix's occupation, family secrets, and life in general. Another truth-seeker is Layla, a young woman boarding with the Romeyns who is writing a history of Macedonia for the Federal Writers Project, a program that helped unemployed writers and photographers during the Great Depression. She's interviewing the townspeople where she gets both the official version of history, and the colorful stories that will make a better book. Layla's letters to her friends and family about her experiences are lively and fun. The Romeyn household is run by Jottie, Felix's sister, who is a delightful maternal woman. The man she loved died in a mill fire in 1920--and finding the truth behind the tragedy helps drive the plot. Felix Romeyn is a charming womanizer who mysteriously comes and goes with his job. Author Annie Barrows makes us feel that we are in 1938 West Virginia, and the sense of time and place is a strength of the book. Mill workers are being laid off during the hard times of the Depression, and the men want to unionize. Although Prohibition is the law, even young Willa starts learning the truth about bootleggers. It shows small town life with its warmth and its sniping. The book gets off to a slow start, but gets more entertaining, so be patient. The story has a large number of characters, some of whom have little bearing on the plot. The novel has a lot going on--plot elements set in both 1920 and 1938, Layla's letters, and excerpts from Layla's book about Macedonia. Some of the secrets of 1920 continue to haunt the Romeyn family in 1938. So if you're up for a heartwarming, but slow-moving, Southern family story, then this is the book for you. 3.5 stars.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Susan Johnson

    It's summer time, hot, and you want to lay out on a hammock, sip a lemonade and read a good book. This is a great one to do that. Written by the co-author of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society it takes place in the small town of Macedonia, West Virginia, during the Great Depression. Layla Beck is the spoiled daughter of an U.S. Senator who one rebels by refusing to marry the man selected for her to marry. Sen. Beck is so enraged that he cuts her off without a dime and signs her u It's summer time, hot, and you want to lay out on a hammock, sip a lemonade and read a good book. This is a great one to do that. Written by the co-author of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society it takes place in the small town of Macedonia, West Virginia, during the Great Depression. Layla Beck is the spoiled daughter of an U.S. Senator who one rebels by refusing to marry the man selected for her to marry. Sen. Beck is so enraged that he cuts her off without a dime and signs her up in the WPA/Federal Writers' Project run conveniently by his brother. Layla is assigned to write a history of Macedonia to honor its sesquicentennial (150 years). We hear much of Layla's stories in letter she writes to family and friends. Grumbling all the way, she moves into the home of Jottie Romeyn and what a house it is. Living with Jottie is her brother, Felix (a travelling salesman), and his 2 daughters, 12 year old Willa and 6 year old Bird. Jottie raises the girls as Felix is gone quite a bit. Also residing in the house are Jottie's twin sisters Minerva and Mae. They go live with their husbands on the week-ends but can't be separated any longer than that. It's a brand new world for Layla. The Romeyn's father used to run the mill, and main employer, in town. There was a fire and a close friend of Jottie and Felix's was killed supposedly while robbing the mill. As Layla writes the town history she starts to uncover the mystery of the fire and also very funny anecdotes about the town. The story of a Confederate General hiding in a house of ill repute is a hoot. Ultimately the story is a coming of age novel for Willa Romeyn and the power of forgiveness. It's a wonderful book that will keep you turning pages. It's a great story.

  9. 5 out of 5

    DeB MaRtEnS

    Quaint. However, the novel dragged so badly that I simply gave up.

  10. 4 out of 5

    ☮Karen

    3.5 stars. A charming and quaint story with memorable characters set during the depression. It's a dripping hot summer in 1938 and Layla Beck is being punished by her father, a Senator, for not agreeing to marry the boring chap he has chosen for her. The punishment is a job with the WPA writing a history of a small Virginia town, celebrating its sesquicentenial. This lands Layla in a prominent household of the communty as a boarder, and soon she has set the family on its ear, striking up a relati 3.5 stars. A charming and quaint story with memorable characters set during the depression. It's a dripping hot summer in 1938 and Layla Beck is being punished by her father, a Senator, for not agreeing to marry the boring chap he has chosen for her. The punishment is a job with the WPA writing a history of a small Virginia town, celebrating its sesquicentenial. This lands Layla in a prominent household of the communty as a boarder, and soon she has set the family on its ear, striking up a relationship of sorts with the father, a divorced man of questionable means and motives, making his 12-year-old daughter, Willa, quite jealous and protective of him. The writing of the history means interviewing lots of local folk since there is nothing already written about the town to guide her. Also revealed in bits and pieces is the story of the Romeyn family and its many secrets. It follows that the reader begins to see two or more sides to all the tales revealed, and you wonder where the truths lie, until the big reveal. ARC from NetGalley and I also listened to the audio at the same time.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Ashley

    This was well on its way to being a 5-star review - right up until the very end. I loved the way Annie Barrows described the fictional town of Macedonia, West Virginia. She made me feel like I was living in Small Town, USA during 1938. The story was told from the perspective of three females - Layla Beck, the daughter of a senator who was sent to Macedonia to write its history after she refused to marry the man of her father's choosing; Jottie Romeyn, the owner of the home where Layla boarded wh This was well on its way to being a 5-star review - right up until the very end. I loved the way Annie Barrows described the fictional town of Macedonia, West Virginia. She made me feel like I was living in Small Town, USA during 1938. The story was told from the perspective of three females - Layla Beck, the daughter of a senator who was sent to Macedonia to write its history after she refused to marry the man of her father's choosing; Jottie Romeyn, the owner of the home where Layla boarded while in Macedonia and Willa Romeyn, the eldest daughter of Jottie's eldest brother. This is a coming of age book for Willa and a book about how truth sometimes depends on whose eyes you are looking through. I fell in love with the characters of this book and really cared about what happened to them. Don't you just love books like that? (view spoiler)[The only character I didn't care for at all was Felix. He was a narcissist who really didn't care about anyone but himself. Even though I do believe he loved Jottie and his daughters, he was always going to put himself first and would do whatever it took to make sure everything went according to his plan. The biggest reason I dropped it from a 5-star to a 4-star rating was because Jottie didn't marry Sol. I honestly wanted to cry. He loved her so much. He had practically loved her all his life! But, she couldn't let go of the memory of Vause Hamilton, the love of her life who died in a fire 18 years before... who died because Felix hated his father so much he wanted to destroy his life but ended up destroying Vause and ultimately Jottie instead. Felix manipulated Jottie into believing that Vause had betrayed her and didn't really love her. Felix manipulated Jottie into raising his two daughters after he left their mother. She gave up her entire life for Felix, and she forgives him and allows him to go on living his criminal lifestyle as if none of it ever happened! I know that trying to hate someone forever can destroy you, but she didn't have to welcome him back with open arms. She didn't have to give up the happiness she could have had with Sol! (hide spoiler)]

  12. 5 out of 5

    Sharon Siepel

    How can I even begin to describe how much I enjoyed reading this book? The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows unravels the secrets of a small Depression-era West Virginia town through the eyes of 12 year old Willa and Layla, a young woman assigned by Roosevelt's Writer Project to research and write the history of town in time for its 150th birthday. Though the book mainly focuses on one family in particular, readers are introduced to many citizens of Macedonia, all with the quirks, agendas, a How can I even begin to describe how much I enjoyed reading this book? The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows unravels the secrets of a small Depression-era West Virginia town through the eyes of 12 year old Willa and Layla, a young woman assigned by Roosevelt's Writer Project to research and write the history of town in time for its 150th birthday. Though the book mainly focuses on one family in particular, readers are introduced to many citizens of Macedonia, all with the quirks, agendas, and stories of their own. For fans of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Barrow's does occasionally use letters as a means of communicating different character's perspectives. However, the book does not rely as heavily on these letters as Potato Peel Pie did. I was drawn in from the beginning and had a very hard time putting down this nearly 500 page book. All the characters are so engaging that you feel like you are rocking on the front porch, drinking ice tea with sweat trickling down your back while eavesdropping on their conversations. Perfect novel for book clubs, as there are many aspects of the book that are worth discussing: the characters, family relationships, what loyalty looks like, how history is remembered and recorded, the Depression, the Federal's Writers Project, etc.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    Let's get this right out in the open - this is NOT another Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. The primary author of that book club favorite was ailing when she asked her niece, Annie Barrows, to help her finish it. The Truth According to Us, although it is partially epistolary, is a very different read with a much more bittersweet tone. The novel uses several different POVs to tell the Depression-era story of Layla Beck, a spoiled socialite whose father cuts her off when she refuses Let's get this right out in the open - this is NOT another Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. The primary author of that book club favorite was ailing when she asked her niece, Annie Barrows, to help her finish it. The Truth According to Us, although it is partially epistolary, is a very different read with a much more bittersweet tone. The novel uses several different POVs to tell the Depression-era story of Layla Beck, a spoiled socialite whose father cuts her off when she refuses to marry his hand-picked choice. As punishment, her uncle puts her on the New Deal Federal Writers Project, and exiles her to Macedonia, West Virginia to write the town's history for its sesquicentennial celebration. She is to board with the notorious Romeyn family, including handsome, mysterious Felix, his two young daughters Willa and Bird, and his spinster sister Jottie. Once the Romeyn family ran the biggest factory in Macedonia, but now Felix is rumored to be a bootlegger - or worse - and Jottie barely interacts with the other townspeople. Layla is determined to prove that she can actually do a good job, but Macedonia's history is full of secrets and lies - much like the Romeyn family history. Twelve year old Willa is determined to use the Macedonian virtues of ferocity and devotion to learn the truth about her family. But neither Layla nor Willa realize that disturbing the past could have a devastating impact on their present. The Truth According to Us portrays a fascinating genuine piece of American history - the thought of a federal government paying people to create art, (not science and technology!) should make humanities majors everywhere green with envy. And the disparities between Macedonia's history recounted by its "first families" and the less than honorable facts known to a few residents are eye opening and frequently humorous. But the relationships are the strongest part of the novel as Jottie tries to move past grief and anger, Willa tries to keep her father from abandoning the family, and Layla tries to prove her worth. The three women don't always have comfortable relationships, and they don't all get what they want, but by book's end they are stronger than they were and ready to move ahead. I'm a major epistolary novel fan, but I have to admit that the sections of the novel that include letters to, from and about Layla were not my favorite part, especially given that there are other sections that are written from Layla's POV. I wonder if Barrows felt the letters were necessary to catch the attention of Guernsey Society fans. She needn't have bothered. The story stands strong without them. No, it's not the second coming of your book club favorite, but it's a strong, impressive novel in its own right.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    (3.5) They say there are only two basic plots: a stranger comes to town, or the hero sets off on a journey. Well, here’s the first of those in action. This atmospheric historical novel is set in the sweltering summer of 1938. Layla Beck, a spoiled senator’s daughter, has been sent to Macedonia, West Virginia by the WPA to document the town’s story in advance of its sesquicentennial. Her uncle pulls strings to get her the job even though he thinks his flighty niece is “exactly as fit to work on t (3.5) They say there are only two basic plots: a stranger comes to town, or the hero sets off on a journey. Well, here’s the first of those in action. This atmospheric historical novel is set in the sweltering summer of 1938. Layla Beck, a spoiled senator’s daughter, has been sent to Macedonia, West Virginia by the WPA to document the town’s story in advance of its sesquicentennial. Her uncle pulls strings to get her the job even though he thinks his flighty niece is “exactly as fit to work on the project as a chicken is to drive a Buick.” From a lunatic Civil War general onwards, Macedonia has certainly had a colorful history. The problem is that all the local lights want to skew history to present themselves in the most favorable light. This applies to the family Layla boards with as well, the Romeyns. Felix and Jottie’s father ran the American Everlasting Hosiery Company until a devastating fire some 20 years ago – blamed on Jottie’s old sweetheart, Vause Hamilton. Now Felix’s twelve-year-old daughter Willa, who narrates much of the novel, wants to get to the bottom of things. What really happened during that factory fire? Why are the Romeyns snubbed around town? Has her divorcé father turned to bootlegging, and can she stop Miss Beck from bewitching him? Like Scout Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird or Flavia de Luce in Alan Bradley’s mysteries, Willa is a spunky heroine whose curiosity carries the plot. Once again Barrows makes good use of the epistolary format by inserting the letters Layla sends and receives during her time in Macedonia. Third person narration also gets us into the mind of Jottie, one of the strongest characters. However, later sections of the novel get a little bogged down in Jottie’s romantic history, and overall it is too long by at least a quarter. Barrows is better at capturing everyday speech and routines than momentous activities like a factory strike, but she certainly evokes the oppressive heat of a long American summer. As Willa concludes, “The truth of other people is a ceaseless business. You try to fix your ideas about them, and you choke on the clot you’ve made.” This novel reminds us that others – whether strangers or family – are always a mystery, and history is a matter of interpretation. (Originally published with images at my blog, Bookish Beck.)

  15. 4 out of 5

    Morgannah

    Full Disclosure: This book was sent to me via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This book was written by Annie Barrows who is a co-author of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society . The majority of the tale is told from the POV of a 12 year old girl named Willa. While Willa is witty and insightful I just couldn't suspend belief long enough to fully engage with her as a 12 year old girl. The other characters are well written and hold a certain charm while lacking in significant Full Disclosure: This book was sent to me via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This book was written by Annie Barrows who is a co-author of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society . The majority of the tale is told from the POV of a 12 year old girl named Willa. While Willa is witty and insightful I just couldn't suspend belief long enough to fully engage with her as a 12 year old girl. The other characters are well written and hold a certain charm while lacking in significant depth. At 500 pages this book could have easily survived an edit of about 1/4 of its content and came out all the better. I have to admit that at around page 400 I started skimming so I could make it to the finish line. Overall I gave this book 3 stars because the writing in fact is very GOOD! I believe this type of book just isn't for me but have no doubt it has a wide audience out there waiting for it.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Yzabel Ginsberg

    [I received a copy through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.] This was a strange read, one that I both liked, but less than I had hoped and expected. To be honest, I found the book a wee bit too long. Somehow, it felt like it could've been tightened, and although the last chapters, after the "reveal", were needed, they still seemed to drag a little. The style here mixes present tense first person narrative, past tense third person narrative, and excerpts from letters. I liked the tone o [I received a copy through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.] This was a strange read, one that I both liked, but less than I had hoped and expected. To be honest, I found the book a wee bit too long. Somehow, it felt like it could've been tightened, and although the last chapters, after the "reveal", were needed, they still seemed to drag a little. The style here mixes present tense first person narrative, past tense third person narrative, and excerpts from letters. I liked the tone of those, especially Layla's, as they were witty, and at the same time revealed her lack of experience in other circumstances than those she had grown up in. I'm not sure what to make of the past/present/POV choice—as usual. I've seen this technique used more and more in the past few years, and I can never tell if it's a good idea or if it irks me. Both, I suppose. Here, I was more bothered when the third person narrative jumped from one character to another within the span of a couple of paragraphs. Macedonia had the charms of a little town in summer, with its quirky people, its own unspoken rules, its skeletons in the closet, whether in the past (the soldiers who spend the night in the house of a lady... of the evening, or the general who was actually crazy enough to shoot his own son) or in the present (what happened to Vause, Felix's actual occupation). I found myself wanting to discover more about its history as seen through the eyes of its inhabitants. Layla didn't strike me as particularly interesting, yet turned out better than I thought, at least, proving to others (and to herself) that she could be more than a future trophy wife, and that she wasn't so stupid—only sheltered. While she didn't approach her task as a historian in the most objective manner, which is impossible anyway as history is never objective, she still did it with the intent of writing about Macedonia's past in an interesting way. What I didn't like was the emotional part of her involvement when it came to a specific character, as it was so painfully obvious that she was being played... and after that, unfortunately, she kind of fell flat. Other characters I found annoying on a regular basis, and it seemed that mostly nobody knew what they really wanted. Not unexpected (*I* don't know what I want in life, after all!), but annoying after a while. I still don't know if everybody was completely selfish reflections of how bleak human nature is, stupid, full of love, lying to themselves, hiding their inner pain, wanting only what others had... All of that, I guess? On the one hand, it was interesting, showing that the "idyllic little southern town" was all but. On the other hand, characters like Jottie constantly made me think "can't you be happy with one choice in your life, for a change?" (Basically, she denied herself for 18 years, then when she finally chose for herself, it was "too easy", thus worthless. I wouldn't call 18 years "too easy", but maybe that's just me.) I would have liked to see more events unfold from Willa's point of view. She had both a ruthless and childish take on things, which fitted her 12-year-old self, balancing between carefree childhood and wanting the grown-ups to see her as an equal, someone they'd confide into. As they obviously wouldn't, she tried to discover things by herself—and got more than her money's worth in that regard. I didn't really like how she reacted in the end, as it made her part of the narrative less involved. Conclusion: Interesting background (Macedonia, the WPA, the strike), but not so interesting for me when it came to the characters, who were a little too predictable and also annoying. 2.5 stars.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Ann-Marie

    I didn't expect much of this novel. I carried around a sample of it on my Kindle for over a year, and it was stuck on a very misleading page. It gave me the impression the whole book was about socialites being selfish during the depression. Not at all! There is a socialite. She is rather selfish, but she is a product of her upbringing, and when she looks around at her world she decides she is not going to play by their rules anymore. All right, they say, try another world, and her family packs h I didn't expect much of this novel. I carried around a sample of it on my Kindle for over a year, and it was stuck on a very misleading page. It gave me the impression the whole book was about socialites being selfish during the depression. Not at all! There is a socialite. She is rather selfish, but she is a product of her upbringing, and when she looks around at her world she decides she is not going to play by their rules anymore. All right, they say, try another world, and her family packs her off to a small town in West Virginia to take part in a public works project, figuring she will come to her senses. Instead, she runs into the one family in that small town just screwy enough to teach her a whole new way of living, and in return, she keeps them from imploding. Oh, such a good story. It makes me long to break out my knitting and sit out on the front porch with a glass of something cool, maybe with a li'l splash of something from the local bootlegger. Yeah, he's in the story, too.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jessica Jeffers

    I adored The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. And though Annie Barrows really only helped finish that book for her aunt, that was 99% of why I snatched up this ARC. (Also, I love books that take place in West Virginia, as it's kind of my secondary home state) This is about Layla, a privileged young woman whose independent streak has resulted in being cut off by her well-to-do family in the depths of the Depression. She ends up assigned to work on the Federal Writer's Project in Mace I adored The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. And though Annie Barrows really only helped finish that book for her aunt, that was 99% of why I snatched up this ARC. (Also, I love books that take place in West Virginia, as it's kind of my secondary home state) This is about Layla, a privileged young woman whose independent streak has resulted in being cut off by her well-to-do family in the depths of the Depression. She ends up assigned to work on the Federal Writer's Project in Macedonia, a fictional town in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia, boarding with the Romeyn family, whose glory days are fading into the past. The patriarch once ran the stocking factory in town, but now his son Felix is a divorced chemical salesman with two daughters (Willa and Bird). Felix's sister Jottie runs the household and provides most of the care for the girls. Felix and Jottie's married twin sisters still live there during the week, spending time with their respective husbands only occasionally. Layla is meant to write a history of the town for their upcoming sesquicentennial, but she finds herself surrounded by family secrets, love triangles, and labor disputes. Barrows writes the story using a myriad narrative tools: first-person perspective from Willa's point of view, letters that Layla writes home to DC, passages from Layla's book, a third person perspective focusing on Jottie, and flashbacks to Jottie and Felix's youth. For the most part, I think, the complicated narrative structure worked. It wasn't too hard to keep straight what was going on, though Barrows did change from first-person narrative to third-person sometimes mid-paragraph. But I do think the book would have been strengthened by a little more focus. Willa was such a precocious little girl, a Depression-era Harriet the Spy who wants to uncover all the adults' secrets, and Jottie was such a fiery woman who wanted to protect her family. But Layla was kind of dull and I wasn't very interested in her life or her budding romance. She sometimes felt like a narrative device whose presence in the story was the only way to gradually reveal the town's secrets as opposed to actually contributing to the story. But my real complaint with the book was that I never felt like anything was at stake. There were so many different threads here: possible unionization at the factory, bootlegging, the Depression, the main secret of what happened to Jottie's childhood love, a love triangle centered on Layla, a potential love interest for Jottie that's stunted by her sense of obligation to Felix, Layla's desire to make her book less about the party line and more about the truth. Maybe it's because there was too much going on, but I didn't feel the tension in any of these storylines. It was kind of easy to see where most of them were heading and I didn't find myself concerned about what would happen when we got there. There was so much potential in this story. I mean, The Truth According to Us is a fantastic title and an opportunity to explore so much about the stories we tell versus the realities we've lived. Ultimately, though, this one just kind of fell flat for me. Okay, but not great.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Lynn G.

    I really enjoyed this story, especially the different versions of 'truth' proffered by the different characters. Willa, the narrator, concludes in the epilogue: "The truth of other people is a ceaseless business. You try to fix your ideas about them, and you choke on the clot you've made." In a small way The Truth According to Us reminds me of the Japanese Rashomon tale that explores four different characters' testimonies of the same event; they collide and diverge depending on each character's I really enjoyed this story, especially the different versions of 'truth' proffered by the different characters. Willa, the narrator, concludes in the epilogue: "The truth of other people is a ceaseless business. You try to fix your ideas about them, and you choke on the clot you've made." In a small way The Truth According to Us reminds me of the Japanese Rashomon tale that explores four different characters' testimonies of the same event; they collide and diverge depending on each character's motivation and perspective. Willa is slightly reminiscent of Scout in To Kill A Mockingbird, although Willa's perspective is that of an older girl, she is 12 to Scout's six. Both are motherless, but for very different reasons; both fathers are in the picture but with decidedly different impacts on their daughters; both girls want to know the 'why' of life---the truth. This is a very good book with strong and interesting characters, particularly the women. The time period (primarily the late Depression in the U.S.) and the setting (the eastern panhandle of West Virginia) were excellent backdrops for the story. There were plot twists and small revelations that kept me turning page after page.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Fictionophile

    Several years ago I read "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" by by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. I enjoyed it so much that I felt sure I would enjoy a novel by one of its authors, and I chose to read this novel on the strength of that. I was right! "The truth according to us" is set in the fictional mill town of Macedonia, West Virginia in 1938. The characters are richly drawn and the book's pace is as slow as the sultry summer in which the story unfolds. The town, situated o Several years ago I read "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" by by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. I enjoyed it so much that I felt sure I would enjoy a novel by one of its authors, and I chose to read this novel on the strength of that. I was right! "The truth according to us" is set in the fictional mill town of Macedonia, West Virginia in 1938. The characters are richly drawn and the book's pace is as slow as the sultry summer in which the story unfolds. The town, situated on the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia, has been in existence for 150 years. To celebrate this important anniversary, they have agreed to have a small book or booklet written detailing "a dignified yet lively recounting" of the town's history. Don't forget it is the height of the depression - a time when the men of the town, those who don't work at the mill, are out of work, are often "waiting for nothing around a stairwell". Layla Beck, as the daughter of a wealthy senator is a young woman of privileged background. When she refused to marry the man of her father's choice, he cut off the allowance of his spoiled and frivolous daughter. Thus it is that Layla is banished from Washington, D.C. and is commissioned to write the town's history as part of the Federal Writer's Project. She is to be a boarder in the home of the Romeyns. Upon arriving in Macedonia, Layla soon learns that the history she is to write has been dictated by the town's 'families of influence'. Namely she is to write of their families histories and give a glorified version of the town's historical events. "the town council prefers to pretend that it has no Negro population, so Layla won't be required to record their history." Layla feels it is her duty to the citizens to make the true history of Macedonia known. When she becomes interested in writing a more accurate picture of the town she is admonished "There is a fine line between history and gossip". The Romeyn's were once a respectable family in Macedonia, but events have transpired that their respectability has faded like the paint on their house. Their household is comprised of Willa and her younger sister, Bird, her father's sisters Jottie, and the twin aunts Mae and Minerva, and of course, her father Felix when he is not away traveling... Their late father had once ran the mill, so they had status within the community at that time. The American Everlasting Hosiery Company employs around one thousand men, at a time when so many are unemployed. They had to sign an employment agreement that they would never unionize... Back in 1920 the mill burned, changing the history of the town, and the Romeyn family forever. Layla Beck has lovely clothes and refined manners and the twins Mae and Minerva are quite jealous. "Minerva and Mae exchanged smug glances, the girl's discomfort adding some minor honey to the uniform sourness of their grapes." Willa is a precocious and very intelligent girl of twelve years. She is a voracious reader and has read almost everything the small town library has to offer. Her character reminded me somewhat of the talkative Anne, of "Anne of Green Gables" fame. It is when Layla Beck comes to live in their house that Willa decides that she is tired of being treated as a child. She wants to be privy to the secrets that the adults in her life hold. She becomes quite concerned when Layla Beck shows an undue interest in her father, Felix. "If you're going to unearth hidden truths, keen observing is your shovel" I loved many of the characters in this novel, but my favorite was probably Jottie. A woman in her late thirties, Jottie had known and lost love, and now was considered an 'old maid'. She gave up on her dream of going to college to stay home and care for her parents. Now she keeps the Romeyn family home and acts as surrogate mother to Willa and Bird. She wants a bigger life, but has come to understand that her wishes will never be realized. She doesn't let her bitterness show. Her love for Willa is fierce and protective, and despite the fact that she disagrees with Felix's life style, she is loyal to her brother in return for a perceived past debt. "Ladies don't smoke in public, Jottie said. In public included a lot of places, even our front room because of all the windows, so Jottie smoked like a stack in the kitchen." Willa was enchanting. While trying to decipher the mysterious adult world, she relates: "I tried to look innocent but not idiotic, which is uphill work". She has a book in her hands at all times and laments that she cannot read and walk at the same time successfully. She has read "Jane Eyre" three times. She is wise beyond her years. This is a slow paced novel of a family sewn together with loyalty, yet encumbered by all the tragedy, shame, and secrecy that could rend them apart at a moment's notice. It is a story that expounds on the theory that no one can be entirely objective and that "all history is suspect". "Loyalty does not mean falling into line, but stepping out of it for the ones you love." I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, though I found it to be overly long. It could have done without some of the peripheral character's stories and still told the tale just as well. The language was marvelous, so if you are into beautiful prose, you'll find it fantastic. If you want to be transported to a small town with some captivating characters, then this novel is for you! Layla Beck wants to be a part of the Romeyn family - after reading this novel you will too. I received a digital copy of this novel from Doubleday (Random House UK, Transworld Publishers) via NetGalley in consideration of an honest review.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Meags

    4 Stars Set in the 1930s, The Truth According to Us follows the intersecting lives of three women living in the small town of Macedonia, West Virginia. The historical fiction elements and the vivid imagery created by the author made for quite a captivating read. The aspect of the story I found particularly interesting was how the “truth” of history can be fictionalized by the people telling it. One of the main characters (Layla Beck) was tasked with crafting a written history of the town of Macedo 4 Stars Set in the 1930s, The Truth According to Us follows the intersecting lives of three women living in the small town of Macedonia, West Virginia. The historical fiction elements and the vivid imagery created by the author made for quite a captivating read. The aspect of the story I found particularly interesting was how the “truth” of history can be fictionalized by the people telling it. One of the main characters (Layla Beck) was tasked with crafting a written history of the town of Macedonia. As she interviewed prominent townsfolk and talked to her new companions, she learned that everyone’s opinion of the truth varied from person to person. It leads the reader to reflect on the accuracy of information that is often stated as historical fact. I found this to be a fascinating consideration. I went into this one completely unknowing, and I feel I enjoyed it all the more because of that fact. This was my first time reading a story by Annie Barrows, and I was impressed enough that I’d happily explore her other works in the future.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Melissa Rochelle

    I like stories set in small-towns. I like historical fiction. I like family secrets. I like books that use letters (or other documents) to tell a story. I should have devoured this book and demanded more at the end, but no. I liked it, but I really wanted to love it. 3.5 stars It's summer 1938 in Macedonia, West Virginia. Willa Romeyn lives with her smart Aunt Jottie, quirky twin Aunts Mae and Minerva, her little sister Bird, and her there-one-minute-gone-the-next father Felix. She's an excellent s I like stories set in small-towns. I like historical fiction. I like family secrets. I like books that use letters (or other documents) to tell a story. I should have devoured this book and demanded more at the end, but no. I liked it, but I really wanted to love it. 3.5 stars It's summer 1938 in Macedonia, West Virginia. Willa Romeyn lives with her smart Aunt Jottie, quirky twin Aunts Mae and Minerva, her little sister Bird, and her there-one-minute-gone-the-next father Felix. She's an excellent spy and an avid reader -- part of the book is told from Willa's 1st person POV. At the beginning of the summer, Layla Beck -- daughter of a Senator -- is exiled to Macedonia as part of her (new) job with the Writers' Project. That's what happens when you defy your powerful father.... Parts of the story unfold through Layla's letters and the history she is writing of the town. Then there's the 3rd person POV about Jottie. Willa wants to know Layla's secrets. Jottie wants to be more independent. Layla wants to prove her father wrong. The different POVs didn't work well for me. There's a lot going on in this little town, but more focus would've been nice. By the time I got to the end, I felt like most of the story could have just been told by Willa and Jottie. Layla seemed like extra fluff and I found myself skimming her letters. A good read, but not great. Definitely has lots of potential for good book group discussions.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    3.5 stars rounded up to 4. I really liked this book, although I'll admit that going into it I expected that I was going to *love* it. To that end, it fell short. The book is entirely too long, and with tighter editing could be shortened by at least 100 pages, resulting in a more powerful story. After refusing to marry a man of her parents' choosing, Layla Beck is cut off from her family's money and forced to get a job through the Works Progress Administration writing the history of Macedonia, West 3.5 stars rounded up to 4. I really liked this book, although I'll admit that going into it I expected that I was going to *love* it. To that end, it fell short. The book is entirely too long, and with tighter editing could be shortened by at least 100 pages, resulting in a more powerful story. After refusing to marry a man of her parents' choosing, Layla Beck is cut off from her family's money and forced to get a job through the Works Progress Administration writing the history of Macedonia, West Virginia. During her stay in WV, she boards with the Romeyn family, and we meet the other two main characters (and narrators of the novel) Jottie and Willa. Barrows does a beautiful job of describing the setting: "I do believe you were the one who told me I would be entranced by the natural beauty of the Shenandoah Valley. You may be right, but in downtown Macedonia, natural beauty has been crushed by red-brick buildings and splintery storefronts, punctuated every now and then by a limestone monstrosity with Latin on its cornice. The Depression here seems more than ever a depression, a sag." The numerous descriptions of heat and humidity reminded me of my childhood and made me want to turn on a fan! While Layla's assignment is to write the official history of the town, she learns there are plenty of secrets --and lots of character -- about her subject. Her inquiries force the Romeyns, and the town, to confront the truth about some painful memories, all while dealing with the challenges of The Depression. Thank you to NetGalley and Random House for a galley of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Lisa B.

    Layla Beck is sent to Macedonia, WV as part of the Federal Writers’ Project. She boards with the Romeyn family. Under their roof lives Felix, his sister Jottie and his two daughters Willa and Bird. His other two sisters, Mae and Minerva (both married) are part time residents. We also spend time with another brother Emmett and a childhood friend, Sol. As Layla researches the town’s history, she uncovers several secrets. Not just about Macedonia, but also about the Romeyns. I absolutely love when a Layla Beck is sent to Macedonia, WV as part of the Federal Writers’ Project. She boards with the Romeyn family. Under their roof lives Felix, his sister Jottie and his two daughters Willa and Bird. His other two sisters, Mae and Minerva (both married) are part time residents. We also spend time with another brother Emmett and a childhood friend, Sol. As Layla researches the town’s history, she uncovers several secrets. Not just about Macedonia, but also about the Romeyns. I absolutely love when a story involves the point of view of a youngster. Usually, young people are honest and frequently funny as they try to navigate around the adults in their lives. Willa exemplifies this behavior. When we first meet her, she has a burning desire to know everything. But by the end of the story, she has discovered that sometimes knowing everything is not all it’s cracked up to be. I was sad when I came to the end of this truly lovely tale. Not because it was a sad story - far from it. But because it was over. I loved spending time with the characters. Ms. Barrows sure has a way pulling the reader into their lives and making us feel like we are living it with them. Part love story, part mystery, told with humor and grace, this is on my list of best reads for 2015. A true gem! I am grateful to Random House Publishing, via Netgalley, for allowing me to read this in exchange for an unbiased review.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Syrie James

    I really enjoyed this novel. The story takes place in Macedonia, a fictitious small town in West Virginia in the summer of 1938, and the author did a wonderful job of setting the time and place so that you really feel that you are there. I liked that there were three narrators--12-year-old Willa, her Aunt Jottie, and Layla, the young woman who's come to town to interview the locals to write the history of Macedonia. I enjoyed following the story from their different POVs. I especially loved read I really enjoyed this novel. The story takes place in Macedonia, a fictitious small town in West Virginia in the summer of 1938, and the author did a wonderful job of setting the time and place so that you really feel that you are there. I liked that there were three narrators--12-year-old Willa, her Aunt Jottie, and Layla, the young woman who's come to town to interview the locals to write the history of Macedonia. I enjoyed following the story from their different POVs. I especially loved reading about the town's long history and how what people thought happened way back when wasn't necessarily the truth. There was so much interesting historical detail that I felt as though Macedonia was a real place. The story of Willa's father, Felix, and the "mystery" of a tragedy that happened 19 years earlier wasn't quite as successfully handled; it was obvious early on what really happened, so there were no surprises there. Willa seemed to act her age until the very end, when suddenly she became far too wise for her years, and the book felt a bit too long--some scenes and some of the letters were just not necessary. Other than those quibbles, I think this was a marvelous book and I highly recommend it.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jamise // Spines & Vines

    I could not wait for this book to end. While I love Annie Barrows writing style this book was about 150 pages too long. What Barrows gets right is the ability to make the reader feel like they are imbedded in the story. You feel the hot suffocating weather, taste the cool ice cream on a summer day and see the fireflies at night. Set in 1930's West Virginia, I enjoyed the characters, the Romeyn family dynamic and the intriguing storyline of the town history being unearthed by a high society debut I could not wait for this book to end. While I love Annie Barrows writing style this book was about 150 pages too long. What Barrows gets right is the ability to make the reader feel like they are imbedded in the story. You feel the hot suffocating weather, taste the cool ice cream on a summer day and see the fireflies at night. Set in 1930's West Virginia, I enjoyed the characters, the Romeyn family dynamic and the intriguing storyline of the town history being unearthed by a high society debutante from Washington DC working for the Federal Writer's Project. 3.5 stars. | "I've learned that history is the autobiography of the historian, that ignoring the past is the act of a fool, and loyalty does not mean falling into line, but stepping out of it for the people you love." - Layla Beck

  27. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    Every family has hidden stories in its past. Tales of love and togetherness, others of disappointment, betrayal, even tragedy. Posed black-and-white photos can only hint at the day-to-day specifics of our forebears' lives. The only way to know the truth is if you were there. But, as suggested by Annie Barrows’ (co-author of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society) first standalone novel for adults, sometimes even that isn’t enough. As one wise character notes early on, “All of us see a Every family has hidden stories in its past. Tales of love and togetherness, others of disappointment, betrayal, even tragedy. Posed black-and-white photos can only hint at the day-to-day specifics of our forebears' lives. The only way to know the truth is if you were there. But, as suggested by Annie Barrows’ (co-author of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society) first standalone novel for adults, sometimes even that isn’t enough. As one wise character notes early on, “All of us see a story according to our own lights.” Sifting through remembrances, anecdotes, and other evidence to discover what really happened can be tough, painful work. Perceptive and engrossing, and with a host of characters you’ll regret having to leave after it's over, the appropriately-named The Truth According to Us has a trio of threads that address this issue. One takes a fairly light tone while the others are more serious and progressively more suspenseful, and they all overlap and intertwine. The story opens during the stifling summer of 1938. Cut off financially by her parents after rejecting a blue-blooded but stuffy suitor, Layla Beck gets assigned to write the history of Macedonia, West Virginia as part of the WPA Federal Writers’ Project. Sharply intelligent but privileged, she isn’t used to a regular job. (As her field supervisor – who happens to be her uncle – writes to a colleague, “When she came down for her interview, I was pleasantly surprised to discover she had heard there was a depression.”) Layla also isn’t thrilled about possibly spending the summer in an impoverished backwater full of “toothless old hicks.” The Romeyns, the family she boards with, have come down in society. Their late patriarch used to run the local hosiery factory, but a mysterious fire 18 years ago changed everything. Fortunately for Layla, the Romeyns’ home is cleanly appointed, and they themselves have their own quirky charms, especially Felix, a “terribly attractive” divorced father of two. As Layla interviews descendants of Macedonia’s “first families” for her book (and gets closer to Felix), she has to decide which “facts” to believe, both about the town’s past and her would-be lover. Meanwhile, twelve-year-old Willa Romeyn, Felix’s elder daughter, gets curious about her father’s frequent absences. Is he really a chemical salesman, or maybe something more nefarious? Here Barrows, a prolific children’s author, demonstrates her familiarity with writing from a not-quite-adolescent’s viewpoint. Willa’s got some Harriet the Spy in her, narrating her sections in a voice that’s observant and funny, if almost too precocious in places. It’s also gratifying to see the town librarian encourage Willa’s book habit. Yet it’s Willa’s Aunt Jottie, who essentially raises her and her strong-willed sister Bird, whose backstory is the most affecting. An attractive spinster of 35, Jottie's hopes for romance were stifled years back, in an incident she can’t quite get over or fully comprehend. While she’s grown accustomed to her sedate life, Jottie will do anything – joining the dull local ladies’ society included – to keep her family respectable and ensure Willa and Bird don’t grow up too quickly. Their family home contains a compelling mix of innocence and experience, but the former can’t last forever. People's stories converge, revelations unfold, and the repercussions shake everyone up. The muggy Southern summer is evoked to perfection, with regular afternoon naps and doses of iced-tea, and the equally sizzling family dynamics, with Layla as the unsuspecting catalyst, drive the plot onward. As she gossips in a letter to a friend, Macedonia is “a small town that looks like any small town, with wide streets, old elms, white houses, and a tattered, dead-quiet town square – all seething with white-hot passion and Greek tragedy.” However, as Jottie remarks with equal truth in one poignant section, small town life just doesn’t change much over the years. This feeling of “sameness,” as she puts it, can provide both frustration and comfort. This is one of many ways the novel gives off the whiff of real life. Macedonia’s residents feel as tangible as one’s own family, and it’s in its honest depiction of people’s capacity for love, protectiveness, and understanding that the story shines. First published at Reading the Past.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Whitney

    I grew up EXACTLY in the region where this book takes place. I could not read this without getting a "Bizzarro" vibe throughout the whole thing. Very few people write books about West Virginia, it seems like. So the few ones who do really get the hairy eyeball treatment. Item 1: Macedonia does not exist. It looks like the author threw together a mishmash of Martinsburg and Berkeley Springs, WV. Sock factories and apple orchards are accurate. But the names are all OFF, which brings me to: Item 2: C I grew up EXACTLY in the region where this book takes place. I could not read this without getting a "Bizzarro" vibe throughout the whole thing. Very few people write books about West Virginia, it seems like. So the few ones who do really get the hairy eyeball treatment. Item 1: Macedonia does not exist. It looks like the author threw together a mishmash of Martinsburg and Berkeley Springs, WV. Sock factories and apple orchards are accurate. But the names are all OFF, which brings me to: Item 2: Character names. I do not know where the author got all her dozens of character names. But I did not recognize any of them. Naturally, one does not want to insult people who are currently living, so I won't quibble. I'll list a bunch of the names I liked. Doctor T. Wiffen White. Reverend Doctor Leviticus Dews. Mr & Mrs Arwell Tapscott. Bushrod Washington (Note: could Bushrod be a real person? Supposed nephew of George Washington?) Well, anyway, names all over the place. It was fun. And it was fun how characters would say things like "Watch out for those Lloyd boys." Because small towns all have those families that everyone knows. Item 3: The street names messed me up. Some of them were actual street names in Martinsburg. But obviously wrong. Opequon Street seems legit but is not (However, the Opequon Creek is a quaint little place for rowboats and rafts. Entry points about 15 minutes outside Martinsburg. Pronounced OH-pekkin.). Winchester Avenue: yeppers. Race Street is real (but not too nice these days unfortunately). Prince Street is not legit; it does not go through the center of town. (In real life, in case anyone cares, King and Queen Streets run through the center of Martinsburg.) Yes I know! Macedonia does not exist in real life! But my logical brain is trying to find it as I go through the mental maps of real places. It feels weird! Item 4: Fun fact! The Martinsburg Library did at various points in history share a building with the local jail. Item 5: My major gripe. HERE IT IS. The author is obviously not a local. My guess is she spent no more than a week in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia before taking a bunch of maps and photocopies back with her to California. She does not understand how small states work. All the action in this book takes place in West Virginia. But get this. Some towns OUT OF STATE are closer to the setting than places that are mentioned, like Romney for instance. A character makes a trip to Romney for something, but it makes no sense. Romney is an hour's drive. But Hagerstown Maryland is a mere 3o minutes away. Winchester Virginia is equally within spitting distance (hence Winchester Avenue). People in big states don't realize how often small states can commune with one another. And also: No one I know says the name "Washington" to indicate our nation's capital. We all say "D.C." Also, we say "lightning bugs"; NOT "fireflies." "Fireflies" is what fancy folk say. But some things do ring true. One character remarks: "To be clever in a town like Macedonia is something of a social hazard." The lonely librarian speaks for us all. And boy oh boy, this book gives great descriptions of being in love, for us saps who aren't dead yet. Aren't we all yearning for "someone who makes everything funny and interesting. . . . Some people can just stand in an empty room and make it seem like the center of the world." (swoon.) That being said and off my chest, the story is great. I'm not overly fond of the use of letters back and forth to tell a story. And I did not like the omniscient points of view. It jumps back and forth between first person and third person. Unnecessary. I like how the book shows realistic characterizations of children—not overly twee. Kids are grubby and cunning, embarking on small-town adventures, battling in the streets. Makes me realize what a miracle it was that our parents and grandparents survived without seatbelts or antibacterial soap, hahaha. But honestly, I DO appreciate how the author spent so much time. She TRIED to represent a great place but let her imagination do most of the work. So... thanks, I guess.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Julie

    The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows in a 2015 Dial Press publication. I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This absorbing novel tells the story of the Romeyn family set in Macedonia, West Virginia in the late 1930's. The story unfolds as a young woman named Layla travels to the small town in order to write Macedonia's history as a part of the Roosevelt Writer Project. The Romeyn family was like royalty in the small town once The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows in a 2015 Dial Press publication. I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This absorbing novel tells the story of the Romeyn family set in Macedonia, West Virginia in the late 1930's. The story unfolds as a young woman named Layla travels to the small town in order to write Macedonia's history as a part of the Roosevelt Writer Project. The Romeyn family was like royalty in the small town once upon a time, but the years have not been kind to them. Now Jottie, her brother Felix and his two daughters, Willa and Bird welcome Layla into their home as a boarder. The story begins with Layla's acerbic, sarcastic and often humorous letters to family and friends she hopes will come to her aide and provide her a way out of the situation she has found herself in. Layla is on relief and having to work a real job for the first time in her life, all because, as the daughter of a prominent senator, she has refused to marry the man her father wants her to. So, she is cast out and left to either sink or swim. So, swim it is. But, her arrival will stir up a hornets nest when Felix decides he would like to get to know her better. If that weren't enough, Willa has begun to question a few things about her family, prompting her to snoop and spy on her father. But, she never would have guessed that a discovery made by chance will unearth years of torment, grief, pain, and guilt, as a terrible dark secret surfaces that will change the course of their lives forever. As I turned the last page in this book, I had mixed emotions about how things turned out. There are only three characters in the book I liked. Layla, Willa, and Emmett. After all was said and done, I was disappointed in Jottie, still didn't like Felix and felt sorry for Sol, no matter what his motives might have been. The town's history is being outlined through Layla's writing and while it's not necessarily the main focus it was quite interesting as the past is woven into “present day” events. The puzzling part of the story for me was the unnatural relationship between Jottie and Felix. The brother and sister bond was unhealthy, in my opinion, and since they both left me feeling put out and frustrated, I decided they deserved each other. The most promising character overall was Layla, because she is the only one who owned up to her mistakes, who took responsibility for her actions, and learned from it. She goes from being a spoiled, pampered debutante, to being a woman full of depth and compassion, and real maturity. Willa, too, as precocious twelve year old, has more insight than most of the adults in the story. Her inadvertent discovery will be the catalyst to exposing a secret that has been tearing at her family for years. She will bring to her father and aunt a peace they never would have had otherwise. Willa comes the closest to unconditional love as is possible, by defending and loving her family, warts and all. So, ultimately this story is about family and the bonds that, despite spectacular betrayals and lies, are unshakable, and forgiveness is the balm that soothes the pain and torture of loss and guilt. The story is well written and the characters are expertly drawn, many whom lingered in my mind well into the night, hours after I had finished the book. I was conflicted by how some characters ended up and uplifted and proud by the growth others displayed. Overall this is a thought provoking story and a compelling read. 4 stars

  30. 5 out of 5

    Eva • All Books Considered

    Review originally posted at All Books Considered: 5 STARS After Station Eleven, this is my favorite book I've read this year. Set in the summer of 1938, I could feel the oppressive heat and rebel sympathies oozing out of the pages that I couldn't stop turning. Even though Macedonia, West Virginia is a fictional place, you couldn't put that past me. That is, I felt I was there and it was the summer of 1938 as I was reading -- the descriptions were so vivid and so engaging. Willa Romeyn is a soot Review originally posted at All Books Considered: 5 STARS After Station Eleven, this is my favorite book I've read this year. Set in the summer of 1938, I could feel the oppressive heat and rebel sympathies oozing out of the pages that I couldn't stop turning. Even though Macedonia, West Virginia is a fictional place, you couldn't put that past me. That is, I felt I was there and it was the summer of 1938 as I was reading -- the descriptions were so vivid and so engaging. Willa Romeyn is a soothsaying narrator -- the omniscience of a child, a sneak, of all of us and I couldn't love her more. When she ached, I ached. I was continually reminded of both The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and To Kill a Mockingbird while reading this book. It is that classic! The combination of the child narrator (predominately) and the Southern Gothic themes just spoke to me. This is the first book I've read by Annie Barrows and her first solo venture in adult novels -- I hope she continues to write many, many more. I HIGHLY, highly recommend this book. "You're right, Jottie, but what good is it? Rightness is nothing. You can't live on it. You might as well eat ashes." I glanced at Father, his bloodshot eyes and the stain on his pants. I loved him so. Once more, I tried to explain. "This is all we can do; it's all we're allowed. We can't go back. The only thing time leaves for us to decide" -- I picked up Father's hand and held it tight-- "is whether or not we're going to hate each other."

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