Call Your Daughter Home, by Deb Spera*****

Deb Spera is a force; small wonder that Call Your Daughter Home is the book that bloggers have been talking about. This barn burner of a debut goes on sale today.  My thanks go to Net Galley and Harlequin for the review copy.  It curled its fingers around me on page one, and by page ten I knew it wouldn’t let me go till it was done with me. It ended as powerfully as it began.

The year is 1924. Gertrude Pardee lives with her four little girls in a shack in the swamp in Third World conditions; they are nearly feral. A storm is coming, but Gert has a job to do. Her brutal ass hat of a husband lies dead in the swamp, dispatched by the bullet she blasted into his brainpan. As the storm bears down, she peels off her only dress and strides naked into the muck to deal with his corpse:

“Alligators feed once a week, and sometimes, if the prey is big enough, they don’t need to eat for almost a year. But I don’t know how long it takes a gator to eat big prey. Daddy never said nothing ‘bout that and I never asked.”

Our other two main characters are Retta, the first free woman in her family, and Annie, Retta’s employer. Retta cares for Mary, Gert’s youngest, when Gert is too sick and injured from the broken face she sustained the last time Alvin beat her; Retta’s husband Odell and her neighbors all tell her that it’s trouble to bring a white child into Shake Rag. “Don’t get messed up with that white family. No good can come of it,” and she knows it’s true. What if the girl dies? But Gert coaxed her into it, telling her it would be the Christian thing to do, and Retta is moved by this sick, helpless five year old. She assures everyone it’s just for three days.

Miss Annie is a Caucasian small businesswoman and wife of a farmer, yet she has trouble of her own; there’s some dark family baggage she’s been avoiding for a good, long while. As the storm bears down, evidence comes to light and she is forced to see it. Not one of us would want to be Miss Annie; believe it.

Spera weaves a captivating tale, and we see the world from the disparate points of view of all three women, each of them told alternately in a first person narrative, and we’re also told how they see each other. The setting is dead accurate, brooding and thick with dread, and it scaffolds the development of each character more capably than anything I have read recently.

It is Retta that tells us that as we give birth, we must call out to our child so that “whichever soul is at the gate will come through.” She called out to her girl as she birthed her, but now she is gone. In fact, each of these three women has lost a daughter, and this provides the central theme of the story.

Feminists and those that love Southern fiction have to get this book and read it. There’s nothing like it. Do it.

Best of the Year: 2017

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2017 has been a stellar year for literature, and when I sat down to rate my top ten, I found myself stymied. Working up to it by offering the best of each genre seems more approachable, although still daunting. Most … Continue reading

Grief Cottage, by Gail Godwin*****

Happy release day! This deeply moving story takes awhile to warm up, but once it gets moving, you’re pretty much in it for keeps. Those that love literary fiction will have to look far and wide to find better.

Seattle Book Mama

griefcottage“We know so very little about the people we are closest to. We know so little about ourselves.”

Gail Godwin has been lauded and honored many times over, and has five New York Times Bestsellers to her credit. I read Grief Cottage free and early, thanks to Net Galley and Bloomsbury USA. Now I have to find her earlier work and read it, because her extraordinary prose is worth seeking out. Those that love achingly brilliant literary fiction will want to read this book, which will be available to the public June 6, 2017.

Marcus and his mother live alone and are very close; when she dies, it is as if the bottom has fallen out of his world. He is taken in by a relative he has never met; his Great-Aunt Charlotte lives on a tiny island off the coast of South Carolina. Haunted by his grief, Marcus is…

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The Five People You Meet in Heaven, by Mitch Albom *****

thefivepeopleyoumeetThis book was my grief book. That may sound bad, yet you’ll note that I gave it five stars. I had unfinished business left buried deep down, while I lived an extremely busy life and dealt with other things. This book was my resolution.

My mother died while my husband was near death, and while sitting by his bedside and urgently questioning doctors and searching his medical files to see what, if anything, they weren’t telling me, my mother, 200 miles south and 80 years old, was in intensive care. She had to be a side issue. I was glad my sisters were with her when she died, but because I was so intensively involved in my husband’s care and his ultimate recovery and my own little family at home, all I had time to do for my mother was to phone her briefly to say I loved her, and have quick conversations with my sisters regarding critical decisions that had to be made.

A year and several months later, a friend and administrator at the middle school where I taught recommended this book to the whole staff, and when she asked who would like to borrow it, my hand shot up.

I should point out here that I am an Atheist. But many times, we read fiction and we buy into a premise that we would not adopt in ordinary life. So it is with Albom’s heaven, and its five greeters. And on the last page, to my absolute astonishment, I burst into tears and grieved for my mother. I had thought that I was finished grieving; after all, she was quite elderly, and had been in poor health for quite awhile; her death was hardly unexpected. But I was very much mistaken. Our mother is our mother, and it’s likely to pack a punch when she goes.

I still don’t believe in an afterlife; I put my faith in humans, and so far it’s worked out well for me. It makes sense to base our beliefs on the material world, and to realize that the bad things that do happen are due to material conditions rather than some almighty hand from who-knows-where deciding to zap us. When people tell me that everything happens for a reason, I generally don’t say anything, but I don’t believe it for a minute. Sometimes bad things just happen. Period.

But once in awhile, when a loss is powerful and visceral, it can take the edge off of the sorrow or in the case of young people who die suddenly, the stark horror, if we pretend for a little while that we will someday meet again. It’s only natural to wish for such a thing.

You will notice there’s no place on this page wherein I thank the publishers and some other source for a free galley. There wasn’t one. A friend figured out that I should read this book, and she loaned it to me. It was the right book at the right time. If you have unfinished business, or even just like a good three-hanky cry, this might be a gentle way for you to get there.


This may not be “the” grief book for everyone, but it deserves strong consideration. It is an enormous consolation for some of us when there has been too much loss at one time, and we have had to be a little too strong.