Paula Vauss is a successful high powered divorce attorney in Atlanta. Her firm handles the high profile, major money at stake divorces in the city and Paula generally gets involved only when things get nasty. She is ruthless and abrasive, hard nosed and unforgiving. Although she realizes that often times her clients are not innocent victims, she does have a moral code, fighting for the underdog who is at least closer to right than their soon to be ex spouse. This incarnation of Paula is a far cry from her childhood. Born to a teenaged mom who named her Kali Jai after the Hindu goddess Kali, young Kali/Paula and mom Kai drifted around as Kai went from boyfriend to boyfriend, many of whom were petty criminals or wastrels of some sort. It was a difficult, itinerant childhood. As hard as the constant moving around was, Paula idolized her mother, drinking in the wonderful changing stories, all based in Hindu myth but illuminating her own life, that Kai told her. But when 11 year old Paula wants to go back to the previous boyfriend and the life they had with him, she makes a decision that will change everything forever, landing her in the foster care system, ultimately resulting in a lifelong rift between her mother and her, and leaving her with a mountain of guilt. When the monthly check Paula sends her mother comes back to her with a cryptic note and the information that Kai is dying and then her mother's biggest secret shows up unannounced at her office, Paula is forced to face the truth of her past, what it means to be a family, the importance of forgiveness, and the way that her childhood decision formed her into the woman she is today.
Paula starts off as a not entirely likable character. She's, caustic, rigid, and emotionally unavailable. But as the narrative moves between the present day and her past, between her work and her insecurities and the vulnerabilities of her childhood, she becomes much more understandable and humanized. She's a strong, kick ass lead character even though she has been damaged and carries enough guilt to bury a weaker woman. Her soft spot for other struggling people, be it the pro bono cases she takes on or her relationship with her on again off again lover Birdwine, an alcoholic private investigator, adds another dimension to her character. This is a novel of reinvention and forgiveness, external and internal. Paula's quest to find her mother before it's too late mirrors her own quest to finally accept and forgive herself and to learn to open her heart to others. Although at first it seems that she only razes all of the lives she touches, she learns to cautiously begin again, building something new and fragile and valuable out of the ashes, building a family. She truly is Kali the destroyer and Kali the creator, just as her mother always predicted. Jackson has written a complex and realistically flawed character in Paula and the narrative moves along at a constant pace, sprinkling humor in to leaven some of the darker or sadder moments. The novel is a quick, entertaining read and Jackson knows how to tell an engaging story for sure. Those who like a little dark dysfunction with their eccentric Southern stories will love this latest offering. Plus it has murder kittens in it (and no I'm not explaining that; you'll have to read it to understand) and no one should pass up murder kittens.
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Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours.