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It’s not like my mother is a maniac or a raving thing. She just goes a little mad sometimes. We all go a little mad sometimes. Haven’t you? —Psycho (Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)

Mothers. They take nine months growing a human under their heart, push them out a hole the size of a plum, see that they are perfect, and spend the rest of their lives trying to fix them.

In my last post here, I asked when women become their mothers. Continuing with that theme, I review two very different books where the mother-in-my-head is one of the central characters.

My Funny Mayfair Valentine: A Marcia Banks and Buddy Mystery (The Marcia Banks and Buddy Mysteries Book 10)

  • GenreContemporary Cozy Mystery
  • Author: Kassandra Lamb
  • Blurb

A newcomer to Mayfair charms the socks off of Susanna Mayfair, the sheltered niece of the town’s elderly matriarch. In a panic, the aunt turns to service dog trainer Marcia Banks to dig into the man’s past.What Marcia finds, with her detective husband Will’s help, is disturbing—a trail of broken hearts and outstanding warrants. But when the older gentleman is arrested, he claims it’s a case of mistaken identity.While Will attempts to untangle the truth and Susanna struggles with her feelings, Marcia is worried about her friend’s mental health, unaware that Susanna may be in physical danger as well. Will Marcia figure it out in time to protect Susanna…and herself?

My Review: 4 out of 5 stars

What happens when the voice in your head moves into your guestroom?

Marcia Banks is finding out. For years, Ms. Snark (as Marcia labels her inner voice) has maintained a running commentary on the world that is full of sharply critical, often hilarious, well… snark. It’s only recently she realized Ms. Snark’s voice is a dead ringer for her mother.

And that worked fine as long as her Yankee parent stayed properly north of the Mason-Dixon. But when her mother falls for a local sheriff and becomes a semi-permanent resident of newlywed Marcia’s Florida guestroom,  Marcia finds herself caught between Ms. Snark and the Mother of all Snark.

Marcia’s husband tries to be sympathetic.

I hope to be home for dinner.
Love, Will.
P.S. Try not to kill your mother.

Still reeling from the news that her mother’s new beau has proposed marriage, Marcia is further stunned to hear complications of the older couple’s individual financial situations make it more reasonable for her mother—widow of a minister—and Sheriff Clint to live together.

But Marcia is a helper and, above all things, a fixer. Before she can even process her mother’s news, she’s pulled into additional drama involving a new neighbor she fears is after a friend’s money, a runaway miniature horse, problems between her new service dog training assistant and their newest trainee dog, and—most difficult of all—what to get her husband for Valentine’s Day.

The complicated series of subplots are driven by one the most consistently successful tropes of all times—mistaken identities—which have entertained since Romulus and Remus fought over the founding of Rome, Shakespeare had audiences laughing at the confusion of two sets of twins in The Comedy of Errors, and riveted audiences from Dickens Tale of Two Cities to The Parent Trap. In My Funny Mayfair Valentine, however, the device twists the gentle humor of the myriad subplots into a darker and far more deadly threat.

In this tenth book of this entertaining series, author Kassandra Lamb continues to develop Marcia’s eccentric posse of neighbors and friends, while introducing readers to the special dogs she’s training to become service animals for handicapped veterans. As Marcia becomes more integrated into her rural Florida community, her relationship with husband Will also continues to develop while their careers evolve.

Each book in this series could, of course, be read as a standalone. Story arcs are neatly wrapped up in each volume, and the author plays fair in avoiding the dread cliffhanger. But for me the best part of reading an ongoing series is the chance to see what old book friends are up to, how their characters develop and their lives change. If you enjoy solving mysteries along with a favorite amateur detective, while watching characters grow and relationships mature, I recommend the entire Marcia Banks and Buddy Mysteries.


The Memory by Judith Barrow

  • GenreFamily Saga
  • Author: Judith Barrow
  • Blurb

Mother and daughter tied together by shame and secrecy, love and hate.

I wait by the bed. I move into her line of vision and it’s as though we’re watching one another, my mother and me; two women – trapped.

Today has been a long time coming. Irene sits at her mother’s side waiting for the right moment, for the point at which she will know she is doing the right thing by Rose.

Rose was Irene’s little sister, an unwanted embarrassment to their mother Lilian but a treasure to Irene. Rose died thirty years ago, when she was eight, and nobody has talked about the circumstances of her death since. But Irene knows what she saw. Over the course of 24 hours their moving and tragic story is revealed – a story of love and duty, betrayal and loss – as Irene rediscovers the past and finds hope for the future.

My Review: 5 out of 5 stars

“What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.”—attrib. Mark Twain

I have nine brothers and sisters who must have grown up in nine other families because our memories just don’t match up. Each of us sees our past through the filter of personal experience, making us the unreliable narrators of our own memories. Yet somehow, it’s those memories that shaped the people we are today.

In Judith Barrow’s The Memory, it’s the memory of one moment in time that shapes Irene’s family and defines her life. In a brilliant structure, readers are swept along dual timelines as we try to understand or even identify that moment. First we’re introduced to an adult Irene. It’s 2002 and she’s taking care of her dying mother. In the midst of her exhaustion and resentment, Irene wonders if her mother is also experiencing that pivotal memory, “The one that makes hate battle with pity and reluctant love.”

But it’s also 1963, the moment eight-year-old Irene’s happy childhood changes forever when her baby sister Rose is born with Down’s Syndrome. Even as her parents’ marriage crumbles, Irene’s world is transformed. “That was the first time I understood you could fall in love with a stranger, even though that stranger is a baby who can’t yet talk. And that you could hate somebody even though you were supposed to love them.”

As the two timelines converge, the impact of little Rose’s life and death continues to shape every aspect of big sister Irene’s life. With her parents’ relationship becoming increasingly dysfunctional, Irene tries to wrap a cocoon of fierce love and devotion around her beloved little sister. She realizes her life isn’t like other girls, but with her grandmother’s support, she struggles on. One of her earliest friends, Sam, becomes her rock and then her husband.

But despite Irene’s love for Rose, her grandmother, and Sam, she can’t prevent tragedy from striking. Her parents’ marriage ends, effectively separating Irene from her weak but loved father, while sending her mother into a downward spiral of resentment. Her only ally at home, her grandmother, becomes ill. Irene’s dreams of a teaching career and motherhood are sacrificed to the needs of her family.

With the death of Rose, Irene and her mother are trapped an endless cycle of love and resentment shaped by one memory. But it’s a child’s memory of an event, and even Irene isn’t sure exactly what it means. Unable to leave the childhood home that’s her only connection to Rose, she turns to the ghost of her little sister for answers.

The Memory is quite possibly Judith Barrow’s masterpiece. The dual timeline structure is ideally suited to bring us to that critical moment in the past. What exactly did Irene see? She’s an unreliable narrator, a child trying to understand a single memory that redefines her life in one timeline, while in the other timeline she’s a woman who has lost everything she ever loved except for the memory of the sister who haunts her.

The writing is spare and elegant, with just enough detail to create a picture of Irene’s world. Told in the first person, we see Irene as she grows from a bewildered child determined to care for her ‘special’ little sister to a woman who sacrifices her own hopes and dreams to care for her family. Those who’ve been caretakers to parents suffering from alzheimer’s and dementia will also recognize the sheer exhaustion and thankless effort demanded.

But the other thing I enjoyed in what could have been a desperately dark tale was that Irene knew love along the way. She remembered her childhood days with loving parents, she cherished the love of her grandmother, and she accepted the bedrock certainty of her husband Sam’s love. Most of all, she had the memory of loving little Rose.

As the two timelines converge, all of those loves combine in a single moment of realization that finally explains and then redeems the memory haunting Irene’s life. As a reader, when a character becomes as completely real to me as Irene does, I often find myself wondering what happened next for her. But Irene’s story is so perfectly and elegantly resolved that I know without a shade of doubt what her future holds.

The Memory is not a comfortable or easy read. But if you’re looking for a beautifully written, character-driven story with a dark base but superb resolution, it just might be the perfect choice.