Monday, January 27, 2020

Review: St. Francis Society for Wayward Pets by Annie England Noblin

It's a common saying that bad things come in threes. Once two bad things happen, we hold our breath waiting for the third. Sometimes that third comes and we breathe out a sigh of relief because surely the universe is finished with us for now. And other times, things just keep piling on, like for the main character in Annie England Noblin's newest novel, St. Francis Society for Wayward Pets.

The newspaper where Maeve Stephens works as a sportswriter is bankrupt and everyone has lost their jobs. Then she, like the rest of the world, sees a You Tube clip of her baseball player boyfriend passionately kissing another woman before he calls to dump her. On her way out of the office, carrying her things in a box, she is robbed of the last $32.11 she has in her wallet, leaving her only her maxed out credit cards. But the universe isn't done with her because she ends up losing her apartment and having to move home to her parents' house. And then a woman named Alice calls and tells Mae that her birth mother has died, the birth mother that Mae once wanted so desperately to connect with, her only blood family. For reasons only known to her, she decides to drive the four hours from Seattle to Timber Creek, Washington to attend the funeral. And why not? She's 36 years old, unemployed, not in a relationship, and living at home where she has a slightly contentious relationship with her mother. Tiny Timber Creek and the people in it surprise her. She's even more surprised to find that Annabelle, her birth mother, has left Mae her home, her car, a small bank account, and her cranky cat. And she's most surprised of all to find that she decides to stay, at least for a while, sliding into her late mother's life in many ways.

The book mostly centers on Maeve, who has thus far made a life out of not fitting in and drifting directionlessly. Although she is in her mid-thirties, she is terribly immature and socially awkward. Her childhood was a happy one but she seems unable to give herself permission to be happy in her adult life. She is abrupt, speaks without thinking, and yet cares about the people around her. Her difficulty reconciling her image of a cold, uncaring Annabelle giving her up because she didn't want her with the warm and loving image the townspeople have of her late mother makes her come across as much younger than she is. Surely a woman of her age would understand that nothing is quite so simple and black and white as she had imagined. In addition to Maeve's first person narration, there are occasional short chapters interspersed in the text about Annabelle's life living with her friend Alice's family from just before she gets pregnant all the way through going home to Timber Creek after giving up her baby. The tension in these chapters is far higher than those from Maeve's perspective as the reader slowly starts to see what Annabelle's life was like, the tragedy in her background, the tenuous position she was in living with Alice's family, and why she gave Maeve up. It is hard to understand why Alice wouldn't have shared all of this with Maeve but then there are other secrets that aren't shared either, until they can no longer be hidden, but those are hidden out of caution.

The book has a lot of heavy topics like addiction, grief, adoption, animal abuse, and domestic abuse but keeps a light touch. There's humor (animals sporting pet sweaters), a little romance, a little mystery, and a little danger. There is quite a bit of knitting and a lot less animal content than the title would imply. The end of the book is fast and furious after a much slower paced beginning and middle, and suddenly catapults secondary plots into the forefront before wrapping everything up. The prologue and epilogue form a nice framing device, giving the reader one last glimpse into the Annabelle that Maeve never got to know, and the epilogue eases the reader out of the story gently and happily. Over all the story is a quick, light read but it might have benefited some from a slower, more even pace and a little more depth on the suddenly introduced pieces at the end.

**As this is an uncorrected proof, I am going to hope that the major plot continuity problem (Alice's mother has been dead for a couple of years according to a character early on in the book but then the story has Maeve delivering Ensure to Alice's mother's caregiver for a specific plot-related reason) was caught and fixed before the book actually went to print.

For more information about Annie England Noblin and the book, check our her author website, like her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter or Instagram, look at the book's Goodreads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and publisher William Morrow for sending me a copy of this book to review.

1 comment:

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