Book Review: Mary Poser by Angel A.

So, I’m back with a book review! I’ve been busy with editing projects (SO exciting, I will share!), and I just can’t manage to find the time to edit AND blog at the same time. I have to trade off.

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In any case, Mary Poser is the first book I received from NetGalley, which I was really excited about. I read it over the summer, but I’m finally just getting to review it now. The NetGalley description is as follows:

The recipe for a warm and humorous story…

In a modest bowl of Nashville, gently place a girl who is Country music, Bible belt, and a steakhouse foodie. Then add a surprise portion of exotic and handsome Anglo Indian to the container who is a passionate Bollywood director, vegetarian and Hindu.

Stir vigorously on a bed of intense attraction. At first, the ingredients will seem to clash and separate.

Keep stirring…

Include a dollop of jealous boyfriend and a meddling mother. Splash in a serving of fun and mischievous friends.

Keep stirring…

Add a dash of crazy aunt and a minister father to keep the flavors working together. Sprinkle in even more complicated family members to taste. Cook on high emotions.

The secret ingredient that cuts through the sweetness is a final layer of shocking revelation that adds a surprising depth of flavor.

Finish with a twist of ‘Oh My God! Is she really going to do that?’.

Serve as tasty bite-size chapters in a novel dish of mayhem and madness  with a side of Country music and Bollywood dancing.

To be honest, I don’t love the description and I’m not sure I would have picked it up to read had I not received an invitation directly from NetGalley, which I had been wanting to join. Now, if you’re a regular reader here you know I don’t review books I don’t like, so you know the book had to be better than the description indicates or I wouldn’t be posting this at all. And it’s true – I’m really glad I got past the sort of silly description and read the book!

I like to read books that speak to reality in an entertaining and enlightening way, and that’s exactly what this book does. Through Mary’s journey of self-discovery and her struggle to be true to herself rather than live the life expected of her, the author examines issues of religion, stereotypes and prejudice, and mental illness.

Some my favorite parts of the book, because they taught me the most, were the parts where the aforementioned Anglo Indian, Simha Das, explains his Hindu beliefs to Mary Poser, the Nashville girl. Knowing virtually nothing about Hinduism, I found a surprising amount of commonalities with Catholic Christianity. Even more interestingly to me, the things I found common to Catholicism were often the things Mary found most unlike her Baptist faith (particularly in the realm of sexuality).

The book is full of references to common stereotypes and prejudices. I’m not sure whether it makes the story more or less believable that Mary’s family manages to deal with all the hot-button issues: race, sexuality, religious beliefs. Mrs. Poser, Mary’s mother, is the character who embodies the majority of the unsavory behavior. She is a stereotype, while believing and perpetuating every stereotype about anyone unlike her. She’s pretty much insufferable, and though she comes around at the end I find her redemption a little too convenient.

Mary’s personal journey forms the basis of the story and is the most compelling part of the book. It has a very powerful metaphor in Mary’s inability to cross a particular bridge, and is full of lots of insights about a young girl trying to figure out who she is and how to find her own way in the world. While the outward issue is that Mary falls in love with an Indian Hindu man in Nashville (the horror!), Mary’s inner dialogue reveals her struggle with mental illness, particularly anxiety and self-harm. She feels she has a role to fulfil in life and struggles to allow herself the freedom to break out of the mold her upbringing has forced her into. The author, I think, does a superb job of illuminating the inner workings of an anxious mind through telling the story from Mary’s point of view. My only grievance is that I’m not satisfied with the resolution. While Mary has moments of clarity, she seems unable to actually recognize her anxiety issues (for example, she chafes at being prescribed medication for anxiety when she sees a doctor for recurring stomach issues); similarly, I feel the self-harm (specifically, cutting) issue is inadequately resolved and not given the weight it deserves.

One thing that sticks with me all these months later (that I didn’t have to reread my Kindle notes to remember) is a discussion Mary and Simha have about using the term “busy” as cover for “unhappy” when asked how one is doing – as in, “How have you been?” “Oh, you know… busy” – because “busy” seems important. I don’t think it’s an expression I’m guilty of using in that context, but it has caused me to reevaluate what it is that I’m “too busy” for, to make sure those things that truly matter don’t get lost.

This one feels a little long-winded today, so I’ll call it a day here. I found the book entertaining, well-written, and to be an interesting cultural study. Best of all, I learned from it and it made me think – it was “edifying,” if you will 🙂

So, check it out! Info about the book and the forthcoming movie can be found at maryposer.com.

4 stars!

Thank you to the publisher for providing a copy free of charge via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review!

 

 

If you could have dinner with an author…

I’m borrowing from Angela at Books and Opinions again (thanks, Angela!).

Usually I dislike this kind of question – “if you could have dinner with any person, living or dead, who would it be?” – I’ve never had a good answer. But for this questions, I had an immediate answer, but I debated whether it was stalker-ish to post it. Clearly, I decided it’s not:

If I could have dinner with an author, it would be UK indie author Lizzie Steel.

Lizzie SteelA while back I reviewed Lizzie’s first book, Running Home, calling it one of the best fiction books I’ve ever read. Recently, I looked her up on Amazon so I could recommend the book to a friend and I discovered she wrote a second (phenomenal!) book, A Life More Complicated. Having loved Running Home, I bought and read A Life More Complicated immediately. I do plan to review the book more thoroughly, but here I will simply say that this book was amazing. She calls it gritty – and it is. It is gritty and gripping and painfully real.

Running Home Book CoverA Life More Complicated Book Cover

 

So, I would like to have dinner with Lizzie Steel because I find her writing compelling, and I am in awe of how she masterfully tells her stories from her desk in the playroom while battling crippling anxiety. As a mom-trying-to-be-an-editor, and suffering with my own history of post-partum mental illness, I identify with Lizzie and take encouragement from her bravery in putting herself out there – and succeeding splendidly!

A Curse That Bites Deep

You all will recall my reviews of The Fever and The Mossback Cafe Cookbook by Thomas Fenske. SO good! Well, I finally finished his latest, A Curse That Bites Deep, and now I can’t wait for book 3!!!

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Much like when I read The Fever, I thought the beginning of the book was nice and steady – I was happy to read a chapter or two in a sitting and come back when I had more time. This, unfortunately, coincided with the birth of my now nine-month-old baby, and I took a looooooong break from reading it. So, in the mood for fiction, I picked it up again a week or so ago. Again, like The Fever, but better(!), the story picks up partway through. I binge-read the rest of the book over two nights, staying up way too late to finish. The kids get up at 6… I get up with the baby lots of times in the night…sleep is crucial. And I sacrificed sleep to read this book! I DON’T do that anymore.

I loved in The Fever how the characters and story were so real. That same authenticity carries through in A Curse That Bites Deep. The story is rounded out and made believable by the nuances of the characters, and the author presents so much life wisdom through them. In one scene, for instance, Sam reflects on his life as he washes dishes at The Mossback, noting that “his life was a tradeoff” in which he balanced pursuing the mine and his relationship with Smidgeon (15). Isn’t life full of tradeoffs for all of us? Life requires constant assessment and reassessment of priorities and how well our actions align with those priorities. Sometimes we do well, and sometimes we don’t. Sam experiences this same reality throughout the book.

Another “real” moment that I love, probably because I’m Catholic, is Fenske’s portrayal of Smidgeon’s relationship with the Catholic faith she was brought up in. Through Smidgeon and her respect for the Church and its sacraments, Fenske very powerfully conveys the loving reality the Church teaches. Due to life choices at odds with Church teaching, Smidgeon is unable to participate in the sacraments, particularly the reception of Holy Communion. She tells Sam, “I can’t fully participate but…well, you know, it doesn’t mean I can’t be a part of the church family” (45). This is so beautiful and powerful – it speaks a truth that is often misunderstood by those inside and outside the Church, and it felt nice to read it so simply put in an otherwise-nonreligious book.

So these are the kind of things I enjoyed in the “slower” part of the book.

And THEN. Oh my. The action starts! I don’t want to give away too much of the story, so I won’t get into details. I will say this, though – I was surprised a LOT, which was fun. I mean, I knew there had to be bad stuff going on — it’s about a curse, after all — but there was so much I didn’t see coming and I really enjoyed that. I’d have these moments of shock and just have to keep reading. Accidental deaths, murders, arson, ghosts! All revolving around a gold mine in west Texas, of course. I figured out the identity of the villain well in advance of when it was definitively revealed, but even that didn’t keep me from being surprised by the action.

All-in-all, it was a fun read – surprising and compelling and yet also reflective of so many realities.

Five stars!