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Home Safe

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In this new novel, beloved bestselling author Elizabeth Berg weaves a beautifully written and richly resonant story of a mother and daughter in emotional transit. Helen Ames–recently widowed, coping with loss and grief, unable to do the work that has always sustained her–is beginning to depend far too much on her twenty-seven-year-old daughter, Tessa, and is meddling in her life, offering unsolicited and unwelcome advice. Helen’s problems are compounded by her shocking discovery that her mild-mannered and loyal husband was apparently leading a double life. The Ameses had painstakingly saved for a happy retirement, but that money disappeared in several large withdrawals made by Helen’s husband before he died. In order to support herself and garner a measure of much needed independence, Helen takes an unusual job that ends up offering far more than she had anticipated. And then a phone call from a stranger sets Helen on a surprising path of discovery that causes both mother and daughter to reassess what they thought they knew about each other, themselves, and what really makes a home and a family.

260 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2009

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About the author

Elizabeth Berg

66 books4,346 followers
Elizabeth Berg is the author of many bestselling novels, including The Story of Arthur Truluv, Open House (an Oprah’s Book Club selection), Talk Before Sleep, and The Year of Pleasures, as well as the short story collection The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted. Durable Goods and Joy School were selected as ALA Best Books of the Year. She adapted The Pull of the Moon into a play that enjoyed sold-out performances in Chicago and Indianapolis. Berg’s work has been published in thirty countries, and three of her novels have been turned into television movies. She is the founder of Writing Matters, a quality reading series dedicated to serving author, audience, and community. She teaches one-day writing workshops and is a popular speaker at venues around the country. Some of her most popular Facebook postings have been collected in Make Someone Happy and Still Happy. She lives outside Chicago.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,571 reviews
Profile Image for Sandysbookaday is (reluctantly) on hiatus.
1,928 reviews2,018 followers
October 21, 2020
EXCERPT: Helen's husband, Dan, died suddenly eleven months and three days ago, dropping his coffee cup and sliding almost noiselessly out of his kitchen chair and onto the floor. Helen, who'd been standing at the sink, still feels guilty about yelling at him for breaking his cup before she turned to see him sprawled on his back, his eyes wide open and startled looking. She believes the last thing Dan felt was surprise, and to her way of thinking, it wasn't a bad way to go. The bad part is he left her here without him, ignorant of, . . . oh, everything.

ABOUT HOME SAFE: In this novel, beloved bestselling author Elizabeth Berg weaves a beautifully written and richly resonant story of a mother and daughter in emotional transit. Helen Ames–recently widowed, coping with loss and grief, unable to do the work that has always sustained her–is beginning to depend far too much on her twenty-seven-year-old daughter, Tessa, and is meddling in her life, offering unsolicited and unwelcome advice. Helen’s problems are compounded by her shocking discovery that her mild-mannered and loyal husband was apparently leading a double life. The Ameses had painstakingly saved for a happy retirement, but that money disappeared in several large withdrawals made by Helen’s husband before he died. In order to support herself and garner a measure of much needed independence, Helen takes an unusual job that ends up offering far more than she had anticipated. And then a phone call from a stranger sets Helen on a surprising path of discovery that causes both mother and daughter to reassess what they thought they knew about each other, themselves, and what really makes a home and a family.

MY THOUGHTS: It's a long time since I have read anything by Elizabeth Berg. My mum and I used to share this author, discussing our latest read over coffee and scones (my mum made the best scones, I miss them) or lunch out at some cafe or other. This is the first book I have picked up by this author since my mother passed away some years ago. I haven't consciously avoided them, I just haven't even thought about them, which is kind of strange. But on the plus side, look at all the wonderful titles I have to catch up on!

Berg writes quietly, with compassion, tenderness, empathy and flashes of humor. I have heard people comment, 'But nothing happens!' But in fact a lot happens. Just because there's not a lot of 'action' doesn't mean nothing is happening.

Home Safe is an intimate novel, not in a sexual sense, but in the context that we get to know Helen intimately; her frustrations, her disappointments, her fears, her achievements, her hopes and dreams. We watch her grow as a person after Dan's sudden death, to learn that she can survive, even flourish, without him, that she has untapped strengths and potentials that come to light as her life takes her in new directions.

Helen starts out as a not very likeable character; whiny and insecure with not an ounce of common sense! She calls the police in the early hours of the morning when there is water dripping from a bulge in her ceiling and the sheer number of plumbers in the yellow pages overwhelms her! She is needy, almost pathetically so, but I do love her snarky side! You know those unkind thoughts we have sometimes that none of us like to admit to? Yeah, those.

Without the buffer of Dan between them, Helen and daughter Tessa are forced to realign their relationship. Helen has been an overbearing mother, Tessa a dismissive daughter, Dan the conduit between them.

And there is the mystery of the missing money. What did Dan do with the $850,000 he withdrew from the investment account? Paradoxically, it is this money that Helen no longer has that saves her from herself.

I love this quote from the Wichita Sunday Eagle - 'A beautifully written and richly resonant story of a mother and daughter in emotional transit.' That sums it up beautifully.

This is a lovely read written with Berg's trademark warmth and humour, her wry observations guaranteed to bring a smile to the face and a better understanding of our own characters.


THE AUTHOR: Elizabeth Berg is an American novelist. Berg was born in Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA, and lived in Boston prior to her residence in Chicago. She studied English and Humanities at the University of Minnesota, but later ended up with a nursing degree. (Wikipedia)

DISCLOSURE: I listened to the audiobook of Home Safe written and narrated by Elizabeth Berg, published by Random House Audio, via Overdrive. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.

For an explanation of my rating system please refer to my Goodreads.com profile page or the about page on sandysbookaday.wordpress.com

This review and others are also published on Twitter, Instagram, and my webpage https://sandysbookaday.wordpress.com/...
Profile Image for Phrynne.
3,161 reviews2,010 followers
April 20, 2017
This is quite a short book about an author called Helen who has lost her Muse and apparently most of her common sense in the year since her husband died. She is a very irritating main character and I did not feel sympathetic towards her at all. This detracted somewhat from my enjoyment of the story. Fortunately there were other more likeable characters and a few interesting things happened. I skimmed a bit here and there when Helen started dwelling on her own issues and in the end I was very happy for her when
Just an okay book.
1,529 reviews3 followers
September 29, 2010
The main character is a writer who can't write anymore after the sudden death of her husband. She is one of the most unsympathetic characters in books I've read by this author. She is an overbearing, over-the-top mother of an adult daughter whom she won't let alone. She whines and wallows in her grief. The implausible plot twist is a missing $850,000 that her late husband used to have a dream house built for her in Marin County. This new widow has the unlikely luck to be able to choose the dream house AND the dishy architect, or stay with her pleasant life in Chicago. The best part of the book are the vignettes written by the heroine's adult writing students; one of whom, also implausibly, gets her book picked up by a major publisher at its first reading. Berg can write a decent book, but this isn't it.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Myth.
111 reviews10 followers
July 17, 2010
I received this book for free, as a sort of promotional Nook was doing. I felt kind of cheap and decided I would get this, instead of one of the books I had planned on.

What a mistake.... but before I get into subject analysis and general ranting, here are the technical specs.

Most of the writing is in third person present tense. At first it's awkward to read in present tense, but you get use to it. It appears to be written this way so as to make easy transitions from past and present.

The main character, Helen, is a writer. Writers writing about fictional writers always seems to be a hit or miss. At times I've seen it regarded almost as taboo. I understand the reason why. It makes it look as if the author knows nothing else and can't learn anything else to write about.

In the dialogue Tessa often says "Mom" more than once almost every time she's talking to her mom. As if to get her mom out of a trance. Sometimes it's hard to understand how and why she's saying mom more than once. It makes her character come off as a fourteen year old, if not a two year old. I think it's somewhat unclear her purpose for saying, "Mom, mom, mom". That should've been clarified, "Mom, Mom? Mom!"

The book is over 200 pages, which I think ended up excessive. The writing is simplistic and sometimes lacking. Most of the time descriptions are plopped where ever and might take up a page, so as not to be woven or bothered with.

Onto subject matter, the book is basically about... well nothing in particular. It's a lazy book with pathetic characters. Helen is perhaps the most disgusting, immature character I've ever read about. She's annoying, pushy and childish. It's depressing to think there are people like Helen, who refuse to learn or stretch or do anything with their lives.

The book is a waste of material and of time. It would've been fine as an hour movie, though I can't imagine it would've been very popular as there's hardly any actual... plot or conflict...

I do not GET this book. It's mediocre stupidity. This is Not the book to read directly after The Famished Road. In that book people are suffering. In this book it's like "Oh poor Helen, with her dream house and her 50k in the bank". It's disgusting. I don't know how any morally sound person can enjoy this garbage and actually feel sympathy for such a character. I wanted to hit Helen over the head with a baseball bat.

I continued reading, because I thought maybe Helen would wake up and her practically perfect little world would encounter some conflict. I'm use to reading books that have conflict...

I thought maybe something would happen with Tessa or with Claudia that would make up for what a shallow premise this book was based on. I thought Tessa might be a lesbian. I thought Claudia might commit suicide or attempt.

I thought the way the book was written was blatantly careless with some characters, especially Claudia. I just so happened to be in a Creative writing class where one of the people had been through a devastating experience and abuse. Bergs has no idea what she's writing about. They call Claudia's sorrow beauty. I thought, "Oh Claudia, oh the Humanity".

The whole book is written in this whimsical-dazed fashion. It didn't leave me feeling good. I didn't learn anything, there wasn't any excitement. I wish I had watched TV or played video games instead (most of which have WAY better plots). This was NOT a feel-good book to me. It left me disturbed and sickened.
Profile Image for Elizabeth Vanderesch.
138 reviews1 follower
January 13, 2010
Elizabeth Berg's books tend to be those I refer to as "brain resting" books. Not to say that the characters aren't real or developed nicely, it's just that they are a whole lot like that pair of pajama pants that are definitely not for public viewing. Her books are comfortable and cozy and not at all surprising in any way. Sometimes a girl needs a book like that. In Home Safe: A Novel , I felt so often that Berg is becoming more and more autobiographical in her character development. There was a time in this book where the main character is asked during a question/answer session to give the audience a bit of knowledge that perhaps they wouldn't already know about her. She answers saying that if they have read her work, they already know all about her because who she is a part of every book she writes. Somehow I felt as if Berg was making that statement herself. It made me wonder how much of the character creating process is a self-examination of sorts. Do authors of fiction use this to discover themselves or to explore sides of their own personalities that may not be fit for their everyday lives?
Profile Image for Heather.
60 reviews12 followers
September 20, 2010
I've heard this is not a typical Elizabeth Berg story, but this is my first, and, from the writing, it could be my last. Incidentally, I have been informed (by a rather nasty reviewer), to put a Spoiler tag here. So, here it is! SPOILER ALERT.

The book seemed to lack plot or point; the main character, Helen was so unlikeable -- needy, non-self-reflective in any way, no sense of self, critical, empty, and lacking any EQ, that I felt sorry for her daughter and parents, and angry and irritated at her. She was ungrateful for the present her dead husband left her, and seemed to prefer the idea that he'd spent the money on another woman rather than surprise her. The only cool part of the book was the description of the house he built her: a cottage and tree house in Marin, CA. Cool. The style was fixated on minute details, but lacking in cohesiveness, leaving me with the difficult job of piecing together this woman's thoughts, feelings, and life. Ick.
Profile Image for Katy.
681 reviews13 followers
February 15, 2017
When I first picked up an Elizabeth Berg novel, I was so intrigued. I read the entire thing in a day, I had a special connection to the characters, I loved the intimate details of feminine life, and I wanted to be like all of her protagonists when I grew up. I gave the books to my mom, we discussed how much we loved them, and I was convinced that this is what adult women were like.

Fast forward 15 years ahead, and this book actually made me ANGRY in how little i could relate to the characters. Helen. Oh Helen, you wet blanket, you. I just felt like I was reading a book about a spineless noodle of a woman who couldn't decide between her lovely single family home in Oak Park and her dream home built in Southern Cali by a husband who loved her devoutly and died too young.

The title of this book should have been Rich White People Problems. The details, the intimate moments, the secret sweet thoughts, they were all there, and crafted very well, but seriously, I was just enraged by how much I didn't think any of Helen's complaints were legitimate.

"Helen is early by a good twenty minutes, and has already had two cups of coffee as well as a cherry cheese turnover, which is the counterwoman's fault, because after she gave Helen her coffee she looked right at her and said, 'What else?'" THIS is the kind of stuff that really got to me. Just eat the damn turnover, Helen, and stop blaming the waitress. ;)

Also, there is a comment towards the end of the book about observing two old friends leaving the Steppenwolf Theater afer a matinee.... crossing the "indifferently cleared sidewalks." Well, let me tell ya, folks, there's nothing indifferent about it. Having worked at the theater for the better part of 6 years, I know exactly who clears those walks, and what time he gets up and goes to work to do it. This novel is just trite, white collar, privileged baloney.
Profile Image for Marlet.
19 reviews
August 25, 2012
I’m now officially a fan of Elizabeth Berg. This is my second book and I finished it in 3 days. I guess Berg has a gift in hooking readers with her natural storytelling style.

Home Safe is about a novelist and a widow who can’t get over the death of her husband. While the theme may sound depressing, Berg managed to tell Helen’s life without too much weight in the heart. It’s not like I’d get to almost choke with tears but there were moments in the book that I truly felt for Helen.

Helen was very dependent on others. Should I blame her husband for sheltering her with all the trivial things in life? She didn’t even know where the water meter is! She gets lost in streets that she drives almost every day. Thankfully, there’s Tessa, her daughter who, fortunately, grew up to be smarter than Helen is.

As Helen tries to discover new things, post-married life, she realized many things about life. She sees the goodness in other people’s hearts and becomes more forgiving. She’s almost there, deciding for herself until she finds out that her husband did something behind her back.

The cover tells everything: Helen was born again.

I know I said that fiction is my escape and I try to deviate for anything very familiar to real life. But this book is relatable. Maybe it’s the reason Home Safe is such an easy read.

Berg knows where and when to touch one’s heart.
Profile Image for Laurel-Rain.
Author 6 books228 followers
May 23, 2009
In Elizabeth Berg’s newest novel “Home Safe,” we are almost immediately plunged into the world of loss. It begins in the preface, when, as a nine-year-old girl, Helen Ames experiences the death of a classmate: she describes everything she sees, up close, from the hands on a wristwatch to the top of the mother’s head and the sound of her weeping – and completely immersed in this experience, she becomes obsessed with these details. And then she describes: “Nothing helped until the day she took a tablet and pencil into the basement and moved the event out of her and onto paper, where it was shaped into a kind of simple equation: loss equaled the need to love, more. With this, she was given peace.”

Predictably, this is the onset of this writer’s life. And we meet her again, some years later, when she is struggling with losses all around her – from her husband’s death months before, to the elusiveness of her daughter, to the struggle she now faces to find the words that once flowed so freely – and we begin again. The journey to reshape the events of loss and make some kind of sense of her life in the present.

As I delved into this newest Berg novel, I realized again why I await each of her creations so eagerly. She has the uncanny ability to draw the reader in. Partly because her topics are cut from the cloth of daily life and shaped with such detail that we can immediately feel part of what’s going on with the characters – their innermost thoughts, fears, and even those negative emotions we all feel in some moments of our lives – and then we can watch as the characters struggle to reshape their world into a semblance of a new reality despite their losses.

So this is how we observe and learn about Helen Ames, her daughter Tessa, and the relationships that formed them – before and after these significant losses. Somewhat emotionally dependent on her husband, Helen begins to form an over-dependence on her daughter afterwards; Tessa chafes against the smothering bonds and moves further away emotionally.

Helen flails about, fearing she will drown in this new life. Sometimes she stays in her pajamas all day while she desperately tries to pound words out of the computer, to no avail. She even considers a job in retail sales, but thinks better of it. She goes to a speaking engagement – something familiar to her in the past as a writer – but cannot even connect with her audience. Her words seem to lie there in the air, with no visible reaction from the listeners.

Then, just when she thought nothing could get any worse, she learns that her husband drew $850,000 from their retirement accounts before his death. And her search for clues leads nowhere. At least she has an action to take, she thinks, as she plunges into trying to uncover the mystery. Then she receives a phone call, and the trail leads to California and a bungalow in Marin County.

Now what will happen? Will Helen finally be able to reshape the events of her life and begin again? And will she rediscover that bond with her daughter, or at least develop a new one? Then, for those of us who are writers, we wonder if she will regain her “words” to create again.

I was actually sad to turn the last pages to the book’s conclusion. As with all of Berg’s other novels, I felt like I belonged in the world of the characters and did not want to see the last of them. Definitely a must-read for any of her fans, and all those out there who love reading as “comfort” food.

Profile Image for Alissa.
503 reviews6 followers
May 29, 2009
I'm always ashamed to admit how much I like Elizabeth Berg's books. I mean, really--they're corny, with a lot of rumination about the small pleasures in life. Which, yeah, ok, I have to admit: I'm kinda the same way--I just don't talk about how much I love the iridescence of a scrub jay's wings. Maybe Elizabeth Berg is just the part of myself I'd never let anyone see because I'd be too freakin' embarrassed.

Anyway. I read this book in a day and a half, and that was even with Charlie sitting on my lap and playing with my necklace. I originally gave this three stars because this isn't sophisticated writing that most of you would like. However, I read it quickly and was interested in the characters, and it made me laugh out loud more than a few times, and I think there's a few of you out there who would enjoy this book (names included at the top of this review).

Oh. The book is about a recently widowed woman who's a professional writer who can't write. She teaches a small seminar on writing and finds out her husband withdrew a large sum of money from their retirement account. Spoiler alert: he does not have another family somewhere. It's actually kinda sweet.

Bonus for Heather M. if she reads this book: a lot of it is set in the Chicago area.
Profile Image for Lynn.
991 reviews
May 17, 2009
I always look forward to a new work by Elizabeth Berg which is why I devoured it, gulping it when I should have probably done more sipping and savoring. The plot, a middle-aged widow with writer's block discovers a secret her husband kept from her, and a secret she has kept from herself about who she is and what she is truly capable of, is classic Berg. I didn't particularly care for Helen. Her relationship with her daughter, Tessa, made me want to smack her up-side the head on several occasions. Her students were the best part of the book in many ways. I would have liked to know more about them. The way Berg ties things up at the end is perfection. Though this wasn't my favorite of her books, it was a satisfying, engaging read
1,035 reviews20 followers
September 28, 2009
Elizabeth Berg's books are really good. I'm enjoying novels by women these days. This was a mother-daughter story of a recently widowed woman who is overprotective of her 27-year-old daughter. The mother's own mother gives her excellent advice from older times: "We didn't need to air all our dirty laundry and run to therapists every five minutes. Life comes with problems. You just have to accept that. And you have to try to lead the simple life; to not constantly ask questions about the whys and the wherefores of everything. To do that is to invite trouble." Another thing I like about the mother's mother: "Eleanor
didn't have many rules about child rearing, but one of them was this: Never interrupt reading.'" The mother in the story is an author who
was introduced by an editor with this wonderful view of books: When
Suzie introduced Helen, she told the audience that one of the best things about books is that they are an interactive art form: that while the author may describe in some detail how a character looks, it is the reader's imagination that completes the image, making it his or her own. "That's why we so often don't like movies made from books, right?"
Suzie said. "We don't like someone else's interpretation of what we see so clearly." She talked about how books educate and inspire, and how they soothe souls -- "like comfort food without the calories," she said. She talked about the tactile joys of reading, the feel of a page beneath one's fingers; the elegance of typeface on a page. She talked about how people complain that they don't have time to read, and reminded them that if they gave up half an hour of TV a day in favor of reading, they could finish 25 books a year. "Books don't take time away from us," she said. "They give it back. In this age of abstraction, of multitasking, of speed for speed's sake, they reintroduce us to the elegance--and the relief!-- of real, tick-tock time."
Profile Image for K. L. Petersen.
78 reviews35 followers
January 6, 2015
Berg's writing was warm and simple, with perfectly timed moments of radiance. I think you could feel her love for her characters. I would describe the book as effortlessly charming, even elegant. It's the kind of novel you read, not be challenged or teased or even entertained, but to relax. The kind of book you grab while you're wrapped in a blanket, holding a hot cup of tea, and want to read something honest and kind about life, love and loss. I wouldn't recommend it to everyone though. Some of the readers' reviews have been harsh and closed-minded. We live in a world that criticizes every female character in fiction and demands them to be strong and independent. To write about a vulnerable woman is obviously taboo now. I read a few comments that were just "feminists" ranting. They failed to appreciate all that was lovely about the writing, and focused only on the flaws Helen had. No woman is Wonder Woman. Humans are flawed. Widows are sad. Life is funny. Get over it, or read something else. Let the real readers enjoy this one. The ones that read, not to judge, but to live in a writer's words.
Profile Image for Tina.
79 reviews
March 14, 2011
Painful to read. I disliked the main character so much that I wanted to reach in the book and smack her!
Profile Image for Aura.
751 reviews65 followers
May 15, 2014
Sometimes books present themselves to us at special times of our lives and we love them because there is something particularly timely to us. I love Elizabeth Berg since Pull of the Moon, Open House and Durable Goods but this book was timely to me because my mother just died and she was a woman a lot like Helen. Home Safe is a story about a woman whose husband died and she is forced to grapple with no only the loneliness of losing a marriage but the loss of a man who took care of life, paying the bills, fixing things, getting to where you need to go. Some negative reviews have focused on how they hate Helen and her helplessness. My mother too was paralyzed after the death of my father and so I think we shouldn't judge her because this is a reality for some women married for a long time. E Berg's writing is always so light and easy and she focuses on ordinary moments that yield remembrance and significance.
Profile Image for Stephanie Koke.
194 reviews
July 24, 2014
I didn't particularly like the first book I read by Elizabeth Berg (The Pull of the Moon) but I thought I'd give her another chance. I wish I hadn't. Although I do like the author's writing style, I just don't like her characters at all. Helen Ames is so pathetically inept and ditzy that I can't relate to her at all. I mean, I like characters with weaknesses, because that makes them more interesting and realistic, but this woman is an embarrassment to the female species! Calling 911 when she has a plumbing problem? Believing (at age 59) that there are monsters under her bed? Constantly asking her adult daughter whether she has brushed her teeth? Not knowing how to replace a lightbulb? How did this woman ever get to be a successful writer? Sorry, but I won't be reading anything else by Elizabeth Berg.
Profile Image for Donna Craig.
879 reviews39 followers
August 28, 2018
Oh, I love Elizabeth Berg. Her books always leave me quietly contemplating my own life at the end. I can’t move for a while after I finish them. In Home Safe, I really related to Helen, who has always been in a safe, protected place thanks to her husband’s love and care. She has enjoyed allowing Dan to take care of many of the difficulties of life. Now, In their middle age, Dan has unexpectedly died, right before retirement. Helen is left to deal with life’s issues, little and big, on her own. I’ve occasionally pondered what my life would be like if I weren’t always “home safe” with Jerry. Following Helen along her journey of self-rediscovery was lovely. Once again, this author has left me with a heart full of yearning for these characters. *Sigh*
April 16, 2014
While this book wasn't as enjoyable as other Berg books I've read, it did serve its purpose: to provide a little escape from real life. I could really identify with the love and appreciation for the written word which was woven through the pages of this novel.

"She opens the novel again, reads one page, another. Then another. And finally, everything in her own life surrenders to the one being presented here. . .Dan once had a friend who died from metastatic cancer. Toward the end, Dan visited him with some frequency; and each time he would call before going, to see what his friend might want or need. Each time, his friend requested the same thing: books" (39).

I thought it was interesting to consider the role writing played in Helen's identity. It made me wonder what might affect my self-identity if I suddenly lost the ability to do it. After her husband's sudden death, the "prolific author" was no longer able to write so she lost both her husband and a large chunk of her 'self'.

"Bad enough that writing was the way she made her living; it was also her anchor, her lens, her abiding consolation. Without her husband or the practice of laying out words on a page, she feels that she spend her days rattling around inside herself; that, whereas she used to be a whole and happy woman, now she is many pieces of battered self, slung together in a sack of skin" (13).

I've read other reviews by readers who were frustrated with Helen's character, with her inability to pick herself up and move on independently after her husband's death. But I guess I could just relate to that likelihood. At one point Helen realized "that she is the kind of person who must do things for or on behalf of another. For her, the taste of the ice cream, the red of the sunset, the humor in the movie must be shared to be" (189). I've been married for almost 22 years myself and I am aware I have grown quite dependent on Alan. We are two halves that make up a whole and we have fallen into a pattern of responsibilities. It wouldn't be easy for me to take care of car issues, plumbing, or insurance. I would have to make an effort to understand and accomplish those things that have become "his job". Similarly, Alan wouldn't find it easy to plan meals, do grocery shopping, or accomplish the million and one tasks I complete to ensure the children's education. I am also a person who enjoys sharing things. Several years ago I won a trip to Montreal when I was selling Pampered Chef items. I still almost regret going because Alan stayed home with Briana and Destry and it's almost as if the trip didn't even happen. I don't have anyone who shares those memories with me. I would much rather share an experience with someone who I can later reminisce and laugh with about it.

I doubt I would be a very enjoyable person to be around if Alan would die suddenly. I think the shock would paralyze me from jumping into independence and I would likely be rather lost for a little while. I *have* asked him to let me go first--you know, ladies first and all that--it would just be gentlemanly of him. :)

Profile Image for Sandy T.
280 reviews23 followers
April 12, 2010
I've read several of Elizabeth Berg's books because I love her thoughtful discriptions of everyday ordinary life. But I keep waiting to really LOVE one of them, and it just hasn't happened yet. I did love this quote about books though:

"When Suzie introduced Helen, she told the audience that one of the best things about books is that they are an interactive art form: that while the author may describe in some detail how a character looks, it is the reader's imagination that completes the image, making it his or her own. "That's why we so often don't like movies made from books, right?" Suzie said. "We don't like someone else's interpretation of what we see so clearly." She talked, too, about how books educate and inspire, and how they soothe the soul-"like comfort food without the calories," she said. She talked about the tactile joys of reading, the feel of a page beneath one's fingers; the elegance of typeface on a page. She talked about how people complain that they don't have time to read, and reminded them that if they gave up half an hour of television a day in favor of reading, they could finish twenty-five books a year. "Books don't take time away from us," she said. "They give it back. In this age of abstraction, of multitasking, of speed for speed's sake, they reintroduce us to the elegance-and the relief!-of real, tick-tock time."
Profile Image for Jacki (Julia Flyte).
1,235 reviews169 followers
April 18, 2012
I bought this book when it first came out, but the reviews that I read put me off it and it's been sitting on my bookshelf ever since. Now that I've finally read it, I'm sorry I waited so long. It's a lovingly written, thought provoking book about moving on after you've lost your partner, and redefining what your "home safe" place will be.

Helen Ames is in her late 50s and a successful author. She is recently widowed and is struggling to cope without her husband, Dan. She is becoming overly dependent on her daughter Tessa and is confronted with writer's block. The book is about how she gradually finds her feet and learns to see her marriage for what it was - both the parts that were better than she realised but also the flaws that she has blocked out. I never particularly warmed to Helen (nor buy the relationship that she tentatively explores), but this didn't stop me from enjoying the book, which says something about Berg's skills as a writer.

I seem to be going through a "grief stage" in my reading lately. This makes a nice companion piece to The Beginners Goodbye by Anne Tyler.
Profile Image for Linda Bewley.
71 reviews2 followers
August 6, 2016
This book received many conflicting reviews. Personally, it made me think about lots of things that I'd rather not face, like the sudden death of my spouse, how that would change my relationship with my children and how I would now have to handle all the day to day things that were always taken care of for me. I felt that many of the negative reviews were written by women who, for one reason or another, had to rely solely on themselves and therefore could not relate to Helen's situation. One reviewer called it a "brain resting book" and in a way, it was. There was no exquisite writing, plot twists or character development that many other books exhibit. But, it shows how life can change in the blink of an eye and what major life changes follow. Personally, I think Elizabeth Berg writes for the everyday woman, creating scenarios in which we could all find ourselves. Then the question becomes, how might I react?
Profile Image for Cathy.
234 reviews6 followers
May 26, 2009
I like the depth of Elizabeth Berg's characters even if I can't identify with the characters, which is the case with this book. The main character is Helen, a woman nearing 60, a writer whose husband suddenly drops dead. There is a mystery - he withdraws most of their savings without telling her. If this was an Anita Shreve or Jodi Picoult, it would be for nefarious purposes.
I can't identify with Helen much. She strikes me as self-indulgent and weak. I did squirm uncomfortably at how interfering she is of her daughter Tessa. Worrying. Being a busybody. Am I that bad? Gosh, I hope not. I like Helen better by the end but still....She's not anyone I'd want to be, even with the writing talent.
Profile Image for Reese.
163 reviews63 followers
February 15, 2021
Readers have appropriately given fewer stars to Home Safe than to other novels by Elizabeth Berg. I found it interesting, but unlike the best of Berg's fiction in that I expect to forget it -- soon. Here's hoping I remember that I read it.
Profile Image for Ariana.
206 reviews9 followers
February 12, 2022
This is a feel-good and Lifetime/Hallmark movie waiting to happen. There is the balance of sweetness, low-stakes angst, and scenes that could easily translate to the holiday screen, which makes this a book I just feel okay about. While I enjoyed the writing group and (some of) Helen's self-actualizing about self in relation to others, there were other parts that I breezed through without needing to absorb it.
Profile Image for Jann.
271 reviews
May 12, 2017
This lovely book tells of the anguish and self-doubt that Helen Ames, a writer, feels following the sudden death of her husband of many years. She has depended on Dan for so many things, emotional support, looking after their finances and all the many minor things needed for the upkeep of their home. He was the one who would fix a leaky toilet or set the thermostat while she was completely clueless about these. Now that he has gone she realizes how completely lost she is without him and their 27 year old self-sufficient daughter Tessa is exasperated over how her mother has fallen apart. She thinks that her mother should stop wallowing in her misery and get back to writing but Helen can find no inspiration even though she occasionally makes half-hearted efforts which amount to nothing each time. All this is narrated in a convincing way which made me feel her pain and bewilderment.

Helen's best friend Midge is not much help as she also feels that after almost a year, Helen should be starting to come out of her grief and find some way to get on with life. Even Helen's mother Eleanor copes more adequately when her husband, and Helen's father, dies. Helen needs someone to lean on and no-one seems to be willing to take that role.

When Helen needs Tessa's company most, she feels that Tessa is too busy with her work to spare much time for her mother and Helen keeps aggravating the relationship by being too clingy. Tessa keeps pointing out that she doesn't need her mother to pick out and buy clothes for her as their tastes are not at all the same, nor does she need extra gadgets or ornaments that Helen sometimes shows up with.

Helen discovers that Dan has made a large withdrawal from their investment account in the months before he died but there is no indication of how he might have spent it. Eventually it is revealed by a stranger, Tom,that Dan had arranged for a retirement home to be built for them in California, just the way she had once said she would want a 'dream home'. Her first reaction is to tell Tom to sell it but he convinces her to at least have a look at it once before making the decision. She and Tessa do go to look at it and as she wanders through the rooms she finds that everything she had ever wanted in a house had been included but what she feels instead of pleasure is intense pain that she and Dan had not been able to share it together. I cried with Helen as she looked sadly through the rooms even though I have not experienced the same situation. Elizabeth Berg's writing is persuasive enough to do that for the reader.

A chance offer of a community teaching job brings Helen into contact with some students who show quite a lot of imaginative writing ability as the weeks of the short course go by. This in spite of the fact that they are a mismatched group who exhibit no talent at the outset. As Helen deftly sets them assignments which bring them out of their shyness, they start to shine. Helen takes great pride in the accomplishments and this in turn gives her a feeling of worth again.

Tessa announces that she is moving to California and Helen is adamant that she doesn't want Tessa living in the 'dream home'. Tessa is fine with that as she has her own plans. She doesn't want her mother to know at first, but she is in love with one of her mother's students and he will be going to California with her. This is Jeff whom she met when her mother invited them both to supper one night in a match-making attempt. Tessa's first reaction was to reject him totally just because of her mother's intervention. Helen finds out when one of the assignments she sets the class is to write about a kiss and Jeff's writing is about that night and what happened later after they both left Helen's home.

Now Helen knows what to do - she will sell the 'dream home' but to Tessa and Jeff. She doesn't want to leave the home she has lived in for so long with Dan and she now realizes that if she can't write, at least she is an effective teacher of writing.

The only section of the book which let me down was the final page. Helen suddenly gets the urge to write but it happens so abruptly I had to read it again to realize that the book was over and her dilemma has been resolved. I understand that this may indeed be how a writer gets an inspiration which gives her a character she wants to write about but perhaps the reader needs more preparation. I felt as if I had been in an interesting conversation with a friend and she suddenly walked away.
Profile Image for Antof9.
458 reviews96 followers
January 12, 2011
I woke up around 2:30 last night and couldn't go back to sleep. I have no idea why, but I finally got up at about 3 and decided to read. 3 in the morning is not the time for The Gulag Archipelago, so I grabbed this one from the shelf.

I guess by now I know that Elizabeth Berg's themes are death (usually a husband), small towns/neighbors, a sort of forced/created friendship with unlikely people, and older female relationships, but this one was just one too many. This book just isn't her best work. It's as if her wonderful Year of Pleasures was watered down and made into a Lifetime television movie or something. It was just really disappointing.

I realized (somewhere around 7 this morning when I went back to sleep) that part of what I don't like about this book is ... Helen! She's really unlikable. And not because she's still in mourning. She's unlikable because she's spineless and pathetic and mopey and ... not even very interesting. Sadly, I think she could still be those things (or some of those things) and keep my interest, but really, I was so tired of her by the time the book got interesting in the least. And, in my opinion, the author would have served Helen better if she'd had the last couple of pages come earlier in the book. I'd certainly have liked Helen better.

I was also disappointed by her relationship with Tessa. The whole Anthropologie thing in the beginning was just weird. And it didn't much make me like Tessa either.

One thing I did like? This author's attitude toward books, which came through many times. I particularly liked this one
In the classics section, she had picked up a copy of The Magic Mountain and recalled the summer between her junior and senior years of high school, when she read it, how she lay in bed hours after she should have gotten up, the sheet growing warmer against her skin as the sun rose higher in the sky, her mother poking her head in now and then to see if she'd gotten up yet, but never suggesting that she should: Eleanor didn't have many rules about child rearing, but one of them was this: Never interrupt reading.

If there had been more of that in this book, I'd have liked it better. Instead there was a lot of Tessa going, "Mom. Mom. Mom.", which might work in a screenplay but didn't really play well in the book. And a lot of talk about mufflers. Who calls a scarf a muffler these days? Maybe 90 year old women, but Berg isn't, the character wasn't, and this was published in 2009.

There's more, but really? Just read "Year of Pleasures" for a good Elizabeth Berg, and let's pretend this one didn't happen.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Amanda.
91 reviews5 followers
September 21, 2010
I don't really dislike books very often, but this one is a "dislike" for me. I would probably give this a 1.5 stars because the writing is not hideously bad, I just did not find the story enjoyable at all.

This book is what my husband and I call a "lady book". It's as close as I comfortably get to a "beach read", but far from romance novel. It's the kind of book I probably would have liked in high school because I thought it would make me seem sophisticated or grown up.

The story focuses on Helen, a widow and frustrated novelist, as she continues to adjust to the loss of her husband, the growing up of her only child, writers block and some questions about her purpose/identity. The problem: Helen is completely unlikable. She is neurotic and self centered. The husband she is mourning? He died a year ago. The daughter who she is "letting go" because she is growing up? Yep, she's almost 30 years old. She's constantly meddling in her daughter's business, being a self-centered friend, and wavering back and forth on decisions.

She is almost 60 years old and applies for a job at a young adult clothing store in the mall, then walks out before her interview because she changes her mind. Then goes when they call her back again to interview. Then complains internally during the interview because she doesn't want the job. Then complains again because they don't give her a job. Then doesn't need the job anyway because she's a writer and doesn't need another source of income. Only, then she does.

And it goes on and on and on.

Some of the writing is very nice, but honestly I didn't like Helen enough to care. Tessa (the daughter) and some of the students in her writing class could have been interesting characters, if developed. The house in the story, could have been an interesting "character", if developed.

At least, this book isn't that long and doesn't take much effort to read, so it ultimately only led to a few hours of book time, but I would have much preferred a different book.
Profile Image for Elizabeth.
385 reviews38 followers
September 27, 2020
This is a book about grief - grieving the loss of a husband, grieving the loss of writing inspiration, grieving the life one had always known - and about our flaws and imperfections that make us human. It's a very raw book, not brutal or devastating, but honest and bittersweet. I feel like I would have appreciated this book a lot more if I was a few decades older. I've been fortunate enough in my life to never experience "true" grief, since the closest relatives I know who died were two elderly grandparents. Books that "study" grief can move my heart, but usually not touch me personally and that has nothing to do with the writer's capabilities so much as my own emotional experiences (or in the case of longer series, attachment to characters).

And yet, it is still a beautiful novel. I could definitely relate to pain of being unable to write, and the incredibly crippling fear of being "useless" without someone's assistance. Our protagonist, Helen, is a very flawed character but not in the way most people would think. She isn't "flawed" because she has a deep, dark, dirty secret, or because she has a cynical view of the world; she is flawed in smaller, simpler ways, such as attachment issues and difficulty accepting criticism. Though I did not share her views on many things, I could still relate to her hurt pride and her desire to do good and be helpful even when unsolicited. Helen is only human and she grows with the help of a writing class she teaches, and one or two "brutally honest" remarks from her mother and best friend. This is a book about growing up when one is already grown, about moving on when one cannot imagine doing so, and about coming to terms with your own weaknesses.
Profile Image for Stacy.
1,096 reviews22 followers
June 30, 2012
Helen is a 50 something widowed author who is still trying to find her way a year after her husband’s death. She cannot do the most basic things around the house relying instead on her 27-year-old daughter Tessa and she has not been able to write at all. When she finds out the nest egg she thought would support her financially is gone, having been taken out of the bank by her husband before his death, she has no idea what to think. She takes a job teaching a writing workshop and the eccentric students force her writer’s instincts to kick in. When the truth comes out about where the $850,000 went a fork in the road presents itself and Helen is forced to evaluate her life and what she wants to do with it.

Elizabeth Berg always writes books I can relate to even though I am not in the same age range or situation as the main character. There is such truth and beauty in her writing that I am immediately drawn in, as I was here. And the fact that she read it herself was wonderful. My favorite part of the book revolved around Helen receiving a not-so-flattering letter from a reader and how it affected her. It felt like Berg may have been telling her own story.

I did feel it was similar in some ways to another of her books, The Year of Pleasures, and I actually think I prefer The Year of Pleasures. Helen did get on my nerves at times. What woman, no matter how reliant she is on her husband, calls the police when she has a leak?

So, it was good, not my favorite, but a solid read, or in my case, listen to.
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