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Thursday, March 23, 2017

Book Review: Ashes by Steven Manchester

This is a fascinating view of family issues and, more importantly, life choices.
by Steven Manchester
File Size: 5134 KB
Print Length: 272 pages
Publisher: Fiction Studio Books (February 21, 2017)
Genre: Family Issues
My Rating: 4.25 of 5.0

Please see the Book Feature and Giveaway Post for more information about the author and a chance to win this book.

Middle-aged brothers Jason and Tom Prendergast thought they were completely done with each other. Perceived betrayal had burned the bridge between them, tossing them into the icy river of estrangement. But life – and death – has a robust sense of irony, and when they learn that their cruel father has died and made his final request that they travel together across the country to spread his ashes, they have no choice but to spend a long, long car trip in each other's company. It's either that or lose out on the contents of the envelope he's left with his lawyer. The trip will be as gut-wrenching as each expects it to be . . . and revealing in ways neither of them is prepared for.
At turns humorous, biting, poignant, and surprisingly tender, ASHES puts a new spin on family and dysfunction with a story that is at once fresh and timelessly universal.

Jason and Tom Prendergast are brothers who don’t see that they have much in common except an abusive father whom they both consider an SOB. Their father, who raised the boys, has died and left a letter for them that they can only claim if they join together to take his ashes across country. They must provide picture proof to the attorney to be entitled to open the letter. Both men are reluctant as they are middle aged men who have been estranged for years – once by a childhood betrayal which was compounded by an adult betrayal. Yet their curiosity compels them to proceed.

Jason is a tough prison guard who takes no guff from anyone. Tom is a college professor who appears to have a meek, passive-aggressive nature. Although neither brother is initially very likeable, the author uses the road trip to reveal the depths of the characters, their emotional barriers and vulnerabilities; their dreams and disappointments in life. The men have matured through different career paths but they discover that each has strengths the other doesn’t have and they have a common tie in their love and caring for their children.

Family drama is not my usual book selection. (As a former divorce attorney, I have seen my fair share of dysfunctional families.) I selected this story for review because I was curious to see how the author dealt with the theme. Kudos to Steven Manchester as he made this drama engaging and relatable.

I was impressed how Mr. Manchester slowly showed the brothers their common core and their unique strengths. I was fascinated by the many issues that were subtly addressed through the journey: police profiling, truckers, child custody, volunteering to help others, relational religion versus liturgical religion, the meaning of honor in life and the most important legacies of life.

There is a good bit of gritty language and a few crude scenes – both not my favorite reading. On the other hand, there is wonderful phrasing and an excellent portrayal of lives that may hit close to home for many. I’m not sure if it is too much of a spoiler but I feel compelled to share one lesson that I loved that was expressed in this story. The brothers discover, as they share their memories and current situations, that we make the choices how to live our lives despite our parents, spouses or careers. We can choose to do right or wrong and we can choose to be angry and bitter or move on and find our own happiness.

I like that the characters surprised me at times. The end of the journey and its aftermath have an emotional surprise and impact. I recommend this to readers who do enjoy family drama and especially to readers who might have estranged family members. This story provides a perspective that is worth reading.

I received this from the author and Providence Book Promotions in December 2016. It qualifies for 2017 NetGalley, Mount TBR and “A” in 2017 Alphabet Soup Challenges.

Another book I enjoyed by Mr. Manchester: The Thursday Night Club: A Tale of Christmas Spirit.


  1. I have read all of Mr. Manchester's books, and IMO, he is the master when it comes to feelings and emotions.

  2. A brothers rode trip...this sounds good and I like how you connected and were surprised by the characters.


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