The Crooked Heart of Mercy, by Billie Livingston (@BillieLiving) #review #TLCBookTours

About the book, The Crooked Heart of Mercy

• Paperback: 272 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Reprint edition (March 8, 2016)

The Crooked Heart of MercyFrom acclaimed Canadian novelist Billie Livingston comes this powerful U.S. debut that unfolds over a riveting dual narrative—an unforgettable story of ordinary lives rocked by hardship and scandal that follows in the tradition of Jennifer Haigh, A. Manette Ansay, and Jennifer Egan.

Ben wakes up in a hospital with a hole in his head he can’t explain. What he can remember he’d rather forget. Like how he’d spent nights as a limo driver for the wealthy and debauched . . . how he and his wife, Maggie, drifted apart in the wake of an unspeakable tragedy . . . how his little brother, Cola, got in over his head with loan sharks circling.

Maggie is alone. Again. With bills to pay and Ben in a psych ward, she must return to work. But who would hire her in the state she’s in? And just as Maggie turns to her brother, Francis, the Internet explodes with a video of his latest escapade. The headline? Drunk Priest Propositions Cops.

Francis is an unlikely priest with a drinking problem and little interest  in celibacy. A third DUI, a looming court date. . . .When Maggie takes him in, he knows he may be down to his last chance. And his best shot at healing might lay in helping Maggie and Ben reconnect—against all odds.

Buy, read, and discuss The Crooked Heart of Mercy

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

About the author, Billie Livingston

Billie LivingstonBillie Livingston is the award-winning author of three novels, a collection of short stories, and a poetry collection.  Her most recent novel, One Good Hustle, a Globe and Mail Best Book selection, was nominated for the  Giller Prize and for the Canadian Library Association’s Young Adult Book Award. She lives in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Connect with Billie

Find out more about Billie at her website and connect with her on Twitter.

My Thoughts

MelissaMake no mistake, this book, The Crooked Heart of Mercy is dark. It’s a difficult read, told in alternating first person chapters from Ben and Maggie, one of whom in in a psych ward, and the other of whom probably should be. It’s obvious from the start that these people have deep love for each other, but that love is being tested by circumstance, by low-percentage choices, and half a dozen other reasons that I don’t wish to list for fear of ruining the story.

The thing is, even though Maggie and Ben love each other, they’re both also fragile and broken. Maggie is trying to get her life back together, while Ben is trying to put his brain back together, and each, in their way, is also recovering from both a terrible personal tragedy, and the knowledge that their lifestyle was responsible for that tragedy.

Enter Maggie’s brother Francis. He’s a gay, alcoholic priest who decides that the best way to serve his penance, and kill his temptation for sex and booze, is to helf fix Maggie and Ben, as individuals and as a couple.

Author Billie Livingston nails the first person POVs  giving each character a distinctive voice. Ben’s parts are particularly surreal, as he literally has a hole in his head, while Maggie’s work the pathos – she really is struggling to improve.

I enjoyed the dark wit, the off kilter unfolding of the back story, and the earthy reality of the entire novel, but I also recognize that even for people like me, who appreciate snark and sarcasm and characters with somewhat murky moral codes this will be a difficult read. It deals with some difficult subjects and hard themes, and it deals with them in a brutally honest manner, but the storytelling is so good, that it sucks you in despite yourself, and you are compelled to keep reading until the ultimate resolution.

Goes well with pastrami on rye and a cold beer.

Tour Stops

TLC Book Tours

Tuesday, March 8th: Sara’s Organized Chaos

Wednesday, March 9th: BookNAround

Wednesday, March 9th: A Soccer Mom’s Book Blog

Thursday, March 10th: A Bookworm’s World

Friday, March 11th: Bibliotica

Monday, March 14th: Jenn’s Bookshelves

Tuesday, March 15th: The Reader’s Hollow

Friday, March 18th: Kritters Ramblings

Monday, March 21st: Novel Escapes

Tuesday, March 22nd: Good Girl Gone Redneck

Wednesday, March 23rd: BoundbyWords

Thursday, March 24th: she treads softly

Mendocino Fire, by Elizabeth Tallent #review #TLCBookTours #MendocinoFire

About the book,  Mendocino Fire Mendocino Fire

• Hardcover: 272 pages
• Publisher: Harper (October 20, 2015)

The long-awaited return of a writer of rare emotional wisdom

The son of an aging fisherman becomes ensnared in a violent incident that forces him to confront his broken relationship with his father. A woman travels halfway across the country to look for her ex-husband, only to find her attention drawn in a surprising direction. A millworker gives safe harbor to his son’s pregnant girlfriend, until an ambiguous gesture upsets their uneasy equilibrium. These and other stories—of yearning, loss, and tentative new connections—come together in Mendocino Fire, the first new collection in two decades from the widely admired Elizabeth Tallent.

Buy, read, and discuss Mendocino Fire

Amazon | IndieBound | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

About the author, Elizabeth Tallent Elizabeth Tallent

Elizabeth Tallent is the author of the story collections Honey, In Constant Flight, and Time with Children, and the novel Museum Pieces. Since 1994 she has taught in the Creative Writing program at Stanford University. She lives on the Mendocino coast of California.

My Thoughts MissMeliss

Even though Elizabeth Tallent is, by no means, a new voice in American fiction, her work was new to me, and I really enjoyed getting to know her through Mendocino Fire. I find that short stories are an excellent way to find out if you’re responding to a specific author, or jut a specific story. As well, I think they give authors a way to stretch – try on different voices. In this collection of ten stories, Tallent does both: she shows off her versatility, but she also gave me the ability to determine if I wanted to read more of her work (yes, I do.)

Critics have referred to Tallent’s short stories, particularly those in this collection, as “elegant” and “perfectly made,” and I have to agree. Though most, if not all, of her characters – a young man trying to start a life while also accepting that he isn’t the son his father wanted, a young girl exploring her sexuality and forging a future while also facing the fact that futures cost money, a woman still processing her divorce – the list goes on – are demonstrably imperfect, the author has told their stories with grace and not a little bit of dark wit.

I was particularly drawn to Tallent’s use of language throughout the collection. The way she describes David Merson, the protagonist of “Tabriz,” (one of my favorites of the bunch) as “heartsore in the way of old activists,” really struck a chord with me, perhaps because I know so many aging hippies, but that’s just one example of the way she mixes description and social commentary into a satisfying blend.

Of the collection, “Tabriz” and the titular “Mendocino Fire” were the two I most responded to, partly because of the language, and partly because the characters resembled people I’ve encountered throughout my life, which made them seem the most “real” to me.

I had several false starts reading the very first story in the collection, ‘The Wrong Son,” but not everyone will respond to every word any writer offers. Even though I didn’t truly connect with it, though, there were a couple of moments  – Nate’s internal reflection about wondering if he and his young family will ever get out of the trailer he’s renting from his father, and into a real house.  I remember when Fuzzy and I were first married, and facing the reality of what you can actually afford when you’re young and just beginning your adult life.

Overall, this collection is truly compelling, with stunning use of language, vivid descriptions, real, flawed characters, and a theme of broken people becoming whole that I found incredibly interesting and engaging.

Goes well with bean and cheese burritos and Indio beer.

Elizabeth’s Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

Tuesday, October 20th: Books on the Table

Friday, October 23rd: Bibliotica

Monday, October 26th: A Bookish Way of Life

Tuesday, October 27th: Back Porchervations

Wednesday, October 28th: Olduvai Reads

Thursday, October 29th: she treads softly

Friday, October 30th: M. Denise Costello

Tuesday, November 3rd: Read. Write. Repeat.

Wednesday, November 4th: Worth Getting in Bed For

Thursday, November 5th: Imaginary Reads

Friday, November 6th: Raven Haired Girl

Monday, November 9th: Lavish Bookshelf

Tuesday, November 10th: Dreams, Etc.

Wednesday, November 11th: You Can Read Me Anything

Thursday, November 12th: The Well-Read Redhead

Friday, November 13th: Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews


Montpelier Tomorrow, by Marylee MacDonald (@maryleemacd)

About the book, Montpelier Tomorrow Montpelier Tomorrow

• Paperback: 318 pages
• Publisher: All Things That Matter Press; First edition (August 21, 2014)

Mid-life mom, Colleen Gallagher, would do anything to protect her children from harm. When her daughter’s husband falls ill with ALS, Colleen rolls up her sleeves and moves in, juggling the multiple roles of grandma, cook, and caregiver, only to discover that even her superhuman efforts can’t fix what’s wrong.

Buy, read, and discuss Montpelier Tomorrow

Amazon | Barnes & Noble

About the author, Marylee MacDonald Maryllee MacDonald

A former carpenter and mother of five, Marylee MacDonald began writing when her last child left for college. Her fiction has won the Jeanne Leiby Chapbook Award, the Barry Hannah Prize, the Ron Rash Award, the Matt Clark Prize, and the ALR Fiction Award. Her novel, Montpelier Tomorrow, was a Finalist in the 2014 IPPY Awards and the Faulkner-Wisdom Prize. She is widely published in literary magazines such as American Literary Review, Bellevue Literary Review, Folio, Blue Moon Literary & Art Review, Broad River Review, Four QuartersNew Delta Review, North Atlantic Review, Raven Chronicles, Reunion: The Dallas ReviewRiver Oak Review, Ruminate, StoryQuarterly, The Briar Cliff Review, and Yalobusha Review.

Connect with Marylee

Website |  Pinterest | Facebook | Twitter | Blog | Google+

My Thoughts MissMeliss

I knew going in that this would not be the happiest of novels, since the description tells you that one of the characters is diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) right off the bat. (No pun intended.)  What surprised me was that Colleen was such a three dimensional character – from the young widow left with three young children and no income, to the capable, take-charge grandmother, she’s just the kind of person you’d want to have around during a crisis, balancing the need to nurture with the equally vital need to get things done.

What surprised me is that many of the other characters are less likeable. Sandy (Colleen’s daughter) has a relationship with her mother that is prickly at best, and although I suspect she knows that her mother means well their scenes together often hold a note of antagonism. Tony, the son-in law (Sandy’s husband) means well, but he’s just been diagnosed with a disease people don’t typically get until 20 or 30 years later in their lives and a  lot of his early behavior wavers between resentment and overcompensation. Then, too, his parents seem oblivious to the reality of having a (grown) son with special needs, and I found their behavior really annoying.

Which is not to say that this is a bad novel.

It’s actually a really gripping story, and while I can’t honestly use the word ‘enjoyed’ given the subject (including an unexpected death deep inside the story). The characters are well drawn, and probably fairly accurately depict what real people would be going through under similar circumstances. As well, the plot is well crafted, and the writing is clean and accessible. It a fast read, if not always an easy one, but well worth whatever time you spend on it.

Colleen, especially shines in this novel, as the perfect contemporary heroine: an everyday soldier in the battle for a good life.

Goes well with, comfort foods like tuna casserole, and homemade iced tea.

Marylee’s Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

Monday, August 24th: bookchickdi

Wednesday, August 26th: Peeking Between the Pages

Monday, August 31st: BoundbyWords

Friday, September 4th: Back Porchervations

Friday, September 4th: Queen of All She Reads

Tuesday, September 8th: Kritters Ramblings

Wednesday, September 9th: Raven Haired Girl

Thursday, September 10th: Time 2 Read

Friday, September 11th: A Bookish Way of Life

Monday, September 14th: Bibliotica

Tuesday, September 15th: Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews

Wednesday, September 16th: Thoughts On This ‘n That

Thursday, September 17th: Seaside Book Nook

Friday, September 18th: Dreams, Etc.

Monday, September 21st: Good Girl Gone Redneck

Wednesday, September 23rd: The Diary of an Alzheimer’s Caregiver

Thursday, September 24th: Ace and Hoser Blook

Wednesday, September 30th: The Reading Cove Book Club