Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Review & Giveaway: Maggie's Place by Annette Haws

My rating: 5 stars / It was amazing


Years ago, Mary Margaret Sullivan changed her name, boxed up her previous life, moved into the Eagle Gate Apartments, and hid her painful memories in her chicken-wire storage unit in the basement. But secrets have an inconvenient way of surfacing when least expected.

Three weeks before Christmas, an elegant man in a penthouse, a young woman named Carly—homeless and ill with pneumonia—and two calculating thieves invade Maggie’s carefully reconstructed life, and in different ways, each is connected to Maggie’s difficult past. As Maggie and friends nurse Carly back to health, hearts begin to heal with a hope for the future. But all is not as it seems. When faced with the shocking truth, Maggie must rely on her wits, her friends, and her own strength as never before.

My Review

This book really spoke to my heart and was more than I expected it to be. The writing is gentle yet captivating, and I had a sense of anticipation as secrets are revealed little by little, new relationships begin, and the suspense of impending danger hangs over everything. The story is mainly told from Maggie's perspective and her great-niece Carly, a runaway who finds herself in over her head, with a few enlightening chapters from the point of view of Kristen, Maggie's estranged daughter. The author skillfully shows the individuality and humanity of each of Maggie's neighbors, and how they bring value to each other's lives. I loved how Maggie's closest friends supported her and helped her choose happiness after decades of heartbreak. (Some of their adventures remind me of my mom and her closest female friends who love to travel together and have sessions where they map out life goals and follow up with each other). The theme of friendship is strong, and is woven into Carly's story with her loyalty to her friend Terry who endured with her the cruelty of being an outcast in school and at home and joined her on her misadventure, and her new friendship with Paolo, the diligent security guard of Eagle Gate. Most interesting to me was Kristen's story, how she resented her long-suffering mother and the difficulties and trauma she and her brother endured in their youth. It briefly explored her bitterness and how it prevented healing over the years, even though she has a good life. I loved seeing the support of her husband and his wisdom in discerning what she needs. While the lives of the characters are realistically messy and flawed, there are moments of grace, memories of love, and hope for the future that prevent the hardships from bringing the tone of the book down. I appreciated the sensitivity of the author with the difficult themes of rejection, depression, loneliness, homelessness, suicide, aging, death, and grief. I felt that it brought an awareness to universal struggles that can be countered with kindness, friendship, forgiveness, compassion, and humility. This is a wonderful book that prompts thoughts, insights, and inspires discussion and self-reflection. 

(I received a complimentary copy of the book; all opinions in this review are my own)

Note from author Annette Haws

Maggie’s Place is a contemporary work of fiction set in the Eagle Gate Apartments located at the intersection of State Street and South Temple in the heart of Salt Lake City during the Christmas season. As it is a mystery, a romance, a morality tale, and a Christmas story, the story crosses genre lines, and hopefully, will appeal to a wide audience.  A little information about the story behind the story might be helpful to you.

My favorite aunt lived the last ten years of her life—her happiest years—at the Eagle Gate. During frequent visits, I met her delightful collection of neighbors who were docents at the Church History Museum and the Church Office Building. They regularly attended the Temple, the symphony, concerts at the Tabernacle, and free lectures anywhere they were offered.  They played Scrabble, shared late night pizzas, visited back and forth, made shopping expeditions to Harmon’s and City Creek Mall; and most importantly, they cared for each other. Everyone had a story to share and most had secrets tucked away in the past.  Inspired by what I observed, I sketched this story about people, still vibrant, entering the third act of their lives.

That said, I believe there are no boring people. Behind each face, placid or stern, young or old, there is a story worth telling. At my stage in this journey, all the “what ifs” and the “roads not taken” are as interesting to me as the choices actually made. What would have happened if Maggie’s husband had made different choices? What if she had asked her husband difficult questions earlier? What if her husband had walked away when he realized his business partner was defrauding friends? How difficult would it have been to turn away from affluence and social status? If they’d made different choices, would Maggie and John be sharing a remote or holding hands as the final lights flickered?

Several other issues were circulating in the back of my head as I started to put fingers on the keyboard for the first draft.

Affinity Fraud: a major theme in this book. There are more Ponzi schemes in Utah per capita than any other state in the union. Two-thirds of the population participate in the same religious community, and so the stage is set for people (I won’t call them religious because clearly they’re not) to take advantage of acquaintances under the guise of friendship. 

Homeless adolescents: another theme in the book. “Lost boys” is a term used for young men, thirteen to twenty years of age, who’ve been excommunicated or pressured to leave the polygamous communities on the Utah/Arizona border to reduce the competition for wives. In the past decade, “lost boys” have numbered in the thousands. I also focus on the vulnerability of runaways. There will always be villains who take advantage of homeless kids, and Lemon is cast in the role of Fagin (think Oliver Twist), and it’s no accident his sociopathic cohort is named Bill.  

I don’t pretend to understand the relationship that evolves between an author and her characters, because characters take on a life of their own. Occasionally, I think I might recognize Maggie or Ed if I saw them walking down the street; particularly if they were together. Announcing a favorite character is comparable to declaring a preference for one child over another, but I have to say, Ed is my favorite. He is the personification of redemption. He’s learned the lessons life has taught.   

No one loves a good romance novel more than I do--I grew up on Jane Austen—but I hope your readers will also enjoy this cautionary tale, because at the end  of the day what is more important than love, friendship, and most of all forgiveness?

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