(This is a copy of a Goodreads review.)
Three stars for this one, four for the whole series. If you’ve been thinking of dipping your toe into the world of Barbary Lane, this is what I’d suggest (with the caveat that I’m relying on memories of when I read some of these years ago):
If you haven’t read Tales of the City, you should. It’s wonderful. If you’ve read Tales of the City, you have to read More Tales of the City, which pays off storylines from the first book.
Further Tales of the City is our intrepid band of friends off on more adventures. If you’ve really gotten into it, read it. If not, you can get by on reading a Wikipedia summary.
Read the opening of Babycakes. After that, the rest of it and all of Significant Others are just more of the same. Fun, but non-essential. Read summaries if you like.
Read Sure of You. It’s wonderfully written and brings the opening of the first book full circle in a way that’s devastating, but real and honest and true to the characters.
Then take a break and let it soak in and pretend you thought that was the end of it and waited twenty years like the rest of us. Then read Michael Tolliver Lives. It’s a joy, and reading the truth (or one of the truths) about what happened at the end of Sure of You was the second time the books had me weeping.
Read Mary Ann in Autumn. It beautifully finishes the work of cleaning up the mess left behind by the original series, including tying up plotlines from the very first book.
If you’ve come this far, read The Days of Anna Madrigal. It’s fitting that Anna should get the final spotlight, though the rest of the cast didn’t need to be pushed to the sidelines quite so cavalierly. Mary Ann, in particular, the one we loved so much so many decades ago, should have Maupin in Family Court on charges of neglect. Anna’s story is strong and worthy of her, but the rest is like being at a party where you see your oldest and dearest friends on the other side of the room, but the host ties you the whole time to a few new acquaintances.
I’m glad he’s had the integrity to close the story here despite apparently being tempted to continue writing more about the new characters (who are not nearly so compelling as the old). I wish we had a more satisfying conclusion for all the Barbary Lane residents together, but the graceful benediction of Anna is gift and satisfaction and happiness enough.