Book Review: “Wish” By Leanna Sain and “Sing Me An Old Song” By Morgan James
Reviewed by Mary Ickes
Wish By Leanna Sain
With this novel, Ms. Sain crosses over from Southern suspense or grit-lit to the young adult genre. May she be as successful in this category as with her trilogy. Gate to Nowhere (2008), her first novel, won Foreword Magazine’s Book-of-the-Year Award. Return to Nowhere (2009) won the NCSH Fiction Award, and Magnolia Blossoms (2010) received a nomination for the Global E-book Award.
Maddie McGuire, at age 12, lost her mother to ovarian cancer; three years later her father, Doug, according to the police report, set their home afire and shot himself. Maddie vacillates between wondering How could he have done such a cruel thing? and certainty that her father was murdered. She lives with Gram (Doug’s mother), a woman with the compassion of a concentration camp matron: After two years, there should have been some sort of improvement, but the girl seemed to sink deeper and deeper into herself. Gram incessantly denounces Maddie for fabricated faults, including laziness for trying to sleep in on Saturday mornings, and slovenliness if room inspections reveal the slightest disorder.
Transferring from an enormous high school, where she disappeared into the crowd, to St. Vincent’s, with 400 students, escalates Maddie’s vulnerability. But Laura Ingram, her new friend, convinces Maddie that her only hope of outwitting Gram is pretending to rebound. Laura is right on! While watching Maddie, wearing a goofy reindeer sweater, race off for Christmas shopping with Laura, Gram had indeed been speechless, for once. At Macy’s Five Twelves Believe-Meter, Maddie wishes to see her father again. Though she knew her wish was foolish, the Disappointment changed to despair, the deep-down kind, out of sight.
A few days later, Maddie discovers, in her father’s papers, a list of twenty-three names, including her mother’s. She concludes that all were cancer patients who died within weeks or months of her mother. Cancer kills people everyday within weeks or months of someone else, so why compile a list of these particular patients? Convinced that she finally has a tangible clue leading to her father’s murderer, Maddie seeks someone with the legal authority to investigate further. Her prospects are dismal: Joe Peretti, her father’s partner and a close family friend, deserted her after the funeral; and she instinctively distrusts Doug’s friend, Detective Anne Benston-Harris. Investigating separately, they discover that a depraved and mercenary mind preyed on the twenty-three cancer patients.
Ignoring her father’s admonition to always trust her gut feeling, Maddie finds herself woven into a web of intrigue and danger beyond anything she could have imagined.
As Maddie matures from a girl making foolish wishes to a young woman fighting for her life, she proves herself an admirable heroine in Ms. Sain’s first young adult novel.
Leanna Sain lives on Miracle Hill Farm in the mountains of Western North Carolina with her husband, two cats, one dog, a flock of chickens, and a herd of dairy goats. When not writing, she keeps busy as a free-lance portrait artist, co-owner of a retail store, and an organic gardener.
Sing Me an Old Song By Morgan James
A diligent author, Morgan James intended to begin Quiet Hearts Can Kill, her third Promise McNeil mystery, after completing the second, Quiet Killing. Instead, Mavis Banks Book insisted that Ms. James tell her story first. Thanks to Promise McNeil graciously stepping aside, Southern fiction acquired a new heroine.
An old cliché admonishes readers not to judge a book by the cover but, in this case, readers could misjudge the story when reading on the back cover that This is the tale of a Southern ghost, Mavis Banks Book, who returns to her beloved Atlanta home on a fine spring day in 1996, ten years after her funeral. Fear not! Ghost applies to Mavis only in the generic sense. She is no ragged crone on a mission of bloody vengeance but the elegant woman gracing the front cover. Her mission remains a mystery even to her: Well, here I am again. I have to say I’m a little surprised. You would think that dead is dead.
She happily notes her nephew Jack’s luggage piled in the foyer. Her niece Niki, in the throes of gardening looks like a farmer. Since she willed her home to Jack and Niki, Mavis wonders about their living arrangements; she soon discovers that both recently returned to 24 Cherokee Street intending to live alone. In between their bickering, Mavis tells her story which, she confides to Niki . . . roves in my head in rabble, bands of voices, broken pieces of no particular order. Niki and Jack cannot hear Mavis, but they do wonder about vivid familial dreams and question memories of their beloved aunt suddenly coming to mind.
Born in 1911, she recalls that … Atlanta was like a cluster of small towns … She lived with her parents, brother Frank, and twin sister, Marie, on Moody Street, three blocks from the Fulton Cotton Mill. Her father killed in a construction accident and her mother dead shortly after giving birth to Fern, Mavis, at age 17, assumed responsibility for the infant and Marie, a promiscuous alcoholic by her teens. Mavis worked twelve-hour shifts at the mill, earning twenty-two cents hourly, barely enough for food and house payments. In 1929, Mavis’ supervisor fired her in favor of a family man. Thanks to her resourcefulness in dubious endeavors, Fern and Marie never wanted for a home or life’s other necessities.
In spite of her checkered past, Reading Friends, Mavis possesses virtues more honorable than shallow social respectability. First, she is loyal to her family, from Marie and Fern to Niki and Jack. Second, much of the gratification in Mavis’s story emerges from her repeatedly taking responsibility for her life: Early in my life I realized my tomorrows [sic] were wrought not by luck or the gifts of others, but by my own choices.
Besides, Mavis exudes charm and fun! As she flits around her house and garden, she checks her makeup in the mirrors; happily greets Abelard, her 15-year-old parakeet; pronounces Niki a splendid gardener; gloats over Jack’s photojournalist success; and beams when Niki and Jack wonder why an old song Mavis sang keeps coming to mind: Kiss me once, kiss me twice, and kiss me once again. It’s been a long, long time.
Mavis’ story ends with the possibility for a sequel that Ms. James, hopefully, intends to use. If not, may Mavis insist that Promise McNeil once again step aside.
Morgan James called Atlanta, Georgia, home for many years before moving to Western North Carolina, where she now lives with her husband and various animals, large and small. Her Promise McNeal mysteries continue to receive excellent reviews and are applauded by fans as: everything a Southern mystery should be. Follow her on www.morganjameswrites.com and on Goodreads.
View From My Catio
Buddy, T. C. P. E. (Tuxedo Cat Par Excellence)
Meantime, may your 2014 be as fresh as morning dew, as vibrant as the colors on a butterfly, as serene as Mother Nature, and as blissful as the angels from heaven (newyears.com).
Purrs and Cream,