Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Book Review and Giveaway: Mimi Malloy, At Last! by Julia MacDonnell {ends 6/3}

Review by: Rachel Gonzales

My sisters love nothing better than picking at our past like it’s the carcass of a rotisserie chicken, ooh and aahing when they find a juicy morsel, a bit of crispy skin. It’s a love that came upon them, one by one, after the Change. Maybe it’s a side effect, like night sweats and hot flashes. But to me, it’s just charred bones.

Julia MacDonnell’s novel, only her second is twenty years, examines the life of Mimi Malloy, the oldest surviving sister of an immigrant family, and explores the many different ways (good and bad) that families and memories can impact your childhood, even when you’re already well into adulthood.

Official synopsis:
Mimi Malloy was born into an Irish-Catholic brood of seven, and she has done her best to raise six daughters of her own. Now they’re grown, and Mimi cherishes the comforts of her new life: Frank Sinatra on her stereo, walks with her super, Duffy, and spare time that is finally hers to spend. Sure, her eldest worries about her memory lapses, and Mimi’s surviving sisters, who love to gossip, question her indifference to the past. As far as Mimi is concerned, she’s entitled to enjoy the present -- and that includes the occasional Manhattan.

But when she stumbles upon a long-lost pendant of her mother’s, recollections of a shocking and painful childhood begin to surface. With the help of her siblings and her daughters, Mimi must find the courage to confront her troubled history -- and discover that the stories that refuse to be forgotten are the ones she ought to treasure most.
Mimi Malloy, At Last! is an unforgettable novel, alive with hope, unexpected romance, and the magic of hard-earned insight.

I’ll admit that I was more than a little biased in favor of this book from the very beginning, because the main character, Maire “Mimi” Malloy, sounds a lot like so many of my relatives, the women of my grandmothers’ and great-grandmothers’ generations who have such fascinating stories to tell. I got to spend part of one summer as a caretaker for one of these wonderful women, and the first paragraph of the novel -- Mimi sitting by a window in her apartment, drinking her instant coffee while sneaking a cigarette -- sounds so similar to what I remember from that time that I could practically smell what was happening.

I really like that about this book. I grew up in a family that is, in part, made up of Irish-Catholic immigrants, and so much of what the author describes and what the characters experienced is so similar to stories I’ve heard a hundred times before, over games of canasta and Yankee pot roasts and long-abandoned Old World accents that only came out when the “real” whiskey was opened. All the women in this novel -- and it’s almost all women -- sound like my great-aunts and great-great-aunts and the women in their neighborhoods, some of whom are still kicking around, with ancients wads of sour balls in their pockets.

As entertaining as the storytelling is, though, the book can sometimes be difficult to read. For me, it was largely because the interaction between the female characters was a bit too familiar. The relationship between Mimi and some of her daughters is strained due to a decades-old divorce and the general feeling that Mimi is becoming too doddering to care for herself. These women argue - a lot. But they’re the gentle prodding kinds of arguments you used to see on "The Phil Donahue Show": families hashing out and reconciling their memories about the past, trying to make sense of what they both do and don’t remember.

My only complaint about this book (and this is almost definitely the English teacher in me saying this) is that by the time I got to the end of the novel, I knew what was going to happen. The author left a trail of foreshadowing bread crumbs all over the place, so the final outcome was not a huge surprise -- but it was very satisfying to have my suspicions confirmed. All in all, Mimi Malloy, At Last! was a fun read, and one I’d recommend.

4 out of 5 stars.

*Disclosure: I received a copy of this novel to review. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

About the reviewer:

Rachel Gonzales is a wife, mom, theatre geek, and substitute high school teacher (not necessarily in that order) from Pennsylvania. She reads anything and everything, including bizarro comic books that she finds on dusty old shelves in the back of the toy store near the mogwai. Her favorite color is purple and her favorite punctuation mark is the Oxford comma.


GIVEAWAY:

Two of my lucky readers will win a paperback copy of Mimi Malloy, At Last!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Wednesday, June 3rd, at 11:59pm EST, and winners will be notified via email the next day and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner(s) will be chosen.

U.S. and Canadian residents only, please.

Good luck!

Mimi Malloy

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