Himself: review

Himself (NetGalley)
Jess Kidd
St. Martin’s Press
release date: March 14, 2017

himselfJess Kidd’s first novel Himself is a poignant and darkly funny story about a Mahony, a n’er-do-well Dubliner, who travels clear across the island to the idyllic village of Mulderrig to discover what happened to the mammy who (apparently) abandoned him on the steps of an orphanage when he was still a babe in arms and left without a trace. When an aged nun dies she leaves behind an envelope for Mahony with a photo of his mom Orla holding baby Francis–his given name. On the back is penciled “Know that your mammy loved you.”

But the quaint village, like small towns all over the world, is a place of rumors and lies and cover-ups. Mulderrig isn’t as innocent as it appears and Mahony soon suspects that his mother, rather than abandoning him, was killed. As Mahony sets about asking questions about Orla, he is greeted with disdain or curiosity, at best, and at worst, hostility. Orla was not a welcomed or respected member of the town. She was the “wild bad girl of the village” with a missing pappy and an drunk mam. By the time she was a teen, the wayward Orla had to survive using whatever means she could. And then there was her baby.

Mahony has the gift of second sight, and Kidd’s description of the world he sees is magical. Ghosts frolic on the lawn, play cards in the parlor, skip through the woods, and drift up to sit on the roof–and the author makes it seem so commonplace. The reader realizes about halfway through the novel, though, that those ghosts are clues. (Clues, I must admit, that this reader couldn’t unravel until the last few pages.)

Add to the other-worldliness of the story living characters who are endearing–or despicable. There’s Mrs. Cauley, the eccentric elderly actress who immediately takes Mahony under her wing; her winsome housekeeper and companion Shauna, who falls quickly under Mahony’s spell. There is a jolly barkeep, an unlikable priest, a grieving young mother, a mysterious recluse …

And darker forces are at work when someone first leaves a plate of poisoned scones for Mahony, then a bomb in the letterbox, and finally tries to bribe him to leave for America.

Kidd’s cast of characters–living and dead–are all brought together as Mahony and Mrs. Cauley stage a play, Hamlet-style, to flush out the killer. And, much like Hamlet there’s a fight, murder, a raving woman who knows the killer, and too many secrets to count.

If you’ve a friend who is a Hibernophile (Did you even know that was a thing?!), Himself would make a perfect St. Paddy’s Day surprise. Pop it in a bright green bag with a bottle of stout, a packet of crisps, and you’ll be fast friends forever.

Flash Fiction Friday

She sat next to the bed in the same chair where she had first rocked the boys when they were teething and sleepless and then years later waited for them to come home, trying not to watch the clock hands make their way towards midnight. The shades were down, but she could see the August afternoon peeking in around the edges. The air was quiet and the AC had cooled the room until it was almost damp, cellar-like. She thought she could smell the damp earth crumbling beneath the house.flash fiction

She stared straight ahead, not moving. Dry-eyed, even now. It might be some sort of good luck that If she kept still enough, she wouldn’t break. If she focused on the closet door across the room, she might slow time. Maybe even turn it back–back to when she rocked those babies and fretted over teenage wildness.

“Mom?” It was Joe, whispering in the hall.
“Mom?” he said a little louder, daring to crack the door.
“No.”
“But, Mom … “
“Joseph Daniel, leave me be.”

And so the door pulled back, knob turning gently into the latch. Down the hall she heard dishes sliding onto the table, heard the silverware drawer rattle, smelled onions and garlic. But none of it for her. They kept their voices low, for that she was thankful.

“Maybe tomorrow I’ll be able to forget,” she whispered to the dark.

[The flash fiction “Remembering”, 2016 draft, appeared first on This Is My Symphony.]

Love Warrior: review

Love Warrior
Glennon Doyle Melton
Flatiron Books

“The journey is learning that pain, like love, is simply something to surrender to. It’s a holy space we can enter with people only if we promise not to tidy up … the courage to surrender comes from knowing that the love and pain will almost kill us, but not quite.”

love warrioI dragged my feet reading Glennon Doyle Melton’s latest book Love Warrior, even going so far as to skip over the title on my last two book orders because I was “in the mood for fiction”. (Hah! Can you say “ostrich”?!) Even though I’d watched Melton on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday. Even though I loved her podcast on Elizabeth Gilbert’s Magic Lessons. Even though my very own therapist had recommended it.

Because who wants to read about a marriage that failed and then didn’t when your own can be like a ride on the Blue Streak? But read it I did, and I survived. In fact, after I finished it, I went back and re-read the end, marking up pages that need some more reflection.

Love Warrior is that good.

The first seven chapters bring us to the Big Divide in Melton’s marriage, the thing that made Melton a Warrior. She reveals that she became bulimic when only a tween and struggled with alcohol addiction in college and after until she got sober. The catalyst that brought her twenty-something-year-old self to recovery was a little blue line on a pregnancy test. Not sure what part her boyfriend would play in their future, Melton was certain she would have this baby. A whirlwind engagement and wedding followed and the two played their roles as faithfully as they knew how. Eventually, Melton wrote about the messiness of family and relationships on her popular blog Momastery and also in her first book Carry On, Warrior.

Three kids and a cross country move later the bottom fell out of the world she tried so carefully to create: Melton discovered her husband had a series of affairs throughout their entire marriage. She was done. It was over. There are no do-overs in the face of such betrayal.

And so what started as Melton’s own personal quest for wholeness without her husband became the very glue that patched them back together*. Melton is brutally honest, insistent. Women have for too long separated themselves from their breath, their bodies, their Life’s Work; we end up an empty shell that serves neither our families or our own happiness. Coming back into our own skin and embracing even our pain is the only way to save ourselves.

And when she recognizes the Grace that had been extended to her, she realizes it is her great privilege to extend it to her husband.

Glennon Doyle Melton has given women committed to faith and family a much-needed treatise for a new kind of feminism, one with fewer ties to politics and more to the spiritual.

“Love, Pain, Life: I am not afraid. I was born to do this,” writes Melton on the final page. Them’s fightin’ words, Love Warriors.


* The  after-afterword to Melton’s story is one about which, I’m sure, she’ll write. You can find it on her August 1st blog post, and even more of her story on her Facebook page.

I Liked My Life: review

I Liked My Life (NetGalley)
Abby Fabiaschi
St. Martin’s Press
release date: January 31, 2017

Maddy is dead. Jumped, apparently, from the campus library where she worked. Or I should say, volunteered. Maddy’s full time job is was I liked my lifetaking care of her CEO husband Brady and their teenage daughter Eve. She was one of those Super Moms: dinner at the table set with china each night, PTA workaholic and team mom, cheerleader for a husband preoccupied with work. Maddy not only did it all, she did it well. And as if those accomplishments weren’t enough, she was kind, insightful, patient, and understanding. Then why did she jump?

That’s what Brady and Eve are trying to figure out as they make their way through their grief. They are angry and brittle. Short-tempered and quick to blame. Since Brady was so often at work, he and Eve never had to navigate the waters of their relationship. Maddy was always there to plan their time together, to smooth things over. Brady hasn’t ever managed household tasks, let alone a teenager. They eventually come together over Maddy’s journal where they discover that she often felt unloved and unfulfilled–and both realize they had taken her for granted.

Writer Abby Fabiaschi lets dad and daughter each tell their story in alternating chapters. And Maddy also narrates–you see, Maddy is dead, but stuck somewhere between her life on earth and the afterlife. She watches Eve and Brady and even “talks” to them which they somehow feel, if not hear. And once a Super Mom always a Super Mom: Maddy is also trying to choose her husband’s next wife.

I Liked My Life is the tale of a wealthy suburban family with its entitled kids and alcohol and swingers and more alcohol and corporate climbers. It’s not always pretty world. But even though Brady and Eve lost what held them together, they come to realize that Maddy not only liked her life, she loved her life.

Then why did she jump?

Fabiaschi’s first novel is a quick read that kept me turning the page. A perfect weekend read to escape from the busy workaday world.

I liked it.

 

Girl Waits With Gun: review

Girl Waits With Gun
Amy Stewart
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

girl waits with gunConstance Kopp and her sisters Norma and Fleurette manage the farm just fine, thank you very much. They garden, raise chickens (and pigeons!), and, since their mother died, have successfully rebuffed brother Francis’s pleas to come live with him and his family in town: “You can’t stay on the farm by yourselves. Three girls, all alone out there?” But Francis is no match for their determined independence. Norma tends her flock of carrier pigeons, Fleurette (the youngest by seventeen years) sews with dramatic flair, and Constance holds everything together. To be sure, life is sometimes lonely, and money short, but they’re managing.

And then on an outing into town, one Henry Kaufman crashes into their buggy with his automobile, destroying it–but not the Kopp girls.

Constance naturally sends Mr. Kaufman an invoice for the damages. But Mr. Kaufman, he of Kaufman Silk Dyeing Company, is much too important and much too self-centered to care a fig about a farm buggy. To be honest, Henry Kaufman is nothing if not a bully. Even worse, he might be connected to the Black Hand, an extortion racket that operated at the turn of the century.

But he’s met his match in Constance Kopp.

The real Constance Kopp

Despite the fact that she’s a woman and the year is 1914, Constance sets out to right the wrong that was done to her family. And that’s where the fun begins. With the help of the local sheriff, Constance pursues justice relentlessly–despite bricks through her window, a break in, and threatening letters. And as she works with Sheriff Heath, she comes to realize what so many of us do–she wants more. She needs something to fulfill her beyond the garden and taking care of the house. The sheriff respects what Constance cannot acknowledge: her sharp mind and quick wit.

If this was just a sweet novel about old-time justice and independent women at the turn of the century, the story would be satisfying enough.

But writer Amy Stewart based her book on a true story. Yes, Miss Constance Kopp did indeed exist–and became one of the first female sheriffs in the U.S. You can read more about her and see archival documents on the author’s website.

And you know what’s even better than this fun novel? There’s a second in the Kopps Sisters Series, Lady Cop Makes Trouble. You can be sure it’s on my TBR pile.