It’s been another super-busy work month, but I have three books going and Molly Fader’s McAvoy Sisters Book of Secrets is the first I finished. Thanks to a compelling last third, I left the others idling on the nightstand. In the course of reading Fader’s novel, I decided I will no longer scoff at women’s fiction. No, I haven’t been converted to its smarmy, inward-looking, self-absorbed protagonists, or its not-without-my-daughter obsession with mother-child relationships, of no interest to me whatsoever — merely that, in the hands of a beloved writer, even a genre pandering to privileged women, can be redeemed and — gasp, enjoyed and celebrated. Molly Fader is, as you may know, one of my most beloved romance writers, Molly O’Keefe, whom I’ve been reading since she wrote categories! One of my favourite and I think most masterful contemporary romance series, Crooked Creek Ranch, was penned by O’Keefe (if you haven’t read it, address this stat). There was enough of the O’Keefe edge and intensity of emotion that I found in the romances to make me happy-reader-sigh through The McAvoy Sisters. And enough love interest to make me yearn for more … but I’ll take it. 😉
Set in an Ohio fishing town along the shores of Lake Erie, The McAvoy Sisters Book of Secrets tells the story of three generations of women, the eponymous sisters, Delia and Lindy; their mother, Meredith; and Delia’s teen-age daughter, Brin. The male protagonists, with diminished roles when compared with Fader’s romances, are partly what make the novel attractive to romance readers: they’re stalwart, handsome, capable, sexy, and possessed of that mysterious je-ne-sais-quoi of the masculine other. The conflict, however, was firmly set among the four women and the dudes’ roles were supportive at best, their “screen-time” set at minimum.
The long-simmering McAvoy conflict comes to the surface when love interest #1, police Chief Garrett Singh, contacts the wild McAvoy sister, Lindy, living in Cleveland, at the request of her mother, Meredith. Chief Singh found Meredith, suffering from stroke-induced dementia, wandering the lake shores. Lindy arrives in Port Lorraine and sisters and mothers are reunited. McAvoy sister #2, Delia, with a new-born baby, Ephie, rebellious teen Brin, caregiver to her mother, is a woman on the edge. Moreover, something is very wrong between Delia and husband Dan. Brin is in trouble at school and eventually doing community service with Chief Singh. Meredith has good and very bad days and Delia struggles to keep the family business, the McAvoy fish and bait store, going. Looming over the women’s conflicts is a gothic wreck of a house, the Fulbright House, the local “gentry’s” mansion and sight of something frightening and shameful to the McAvoy women. The course of the novel is the slow unveiling of the McAvoy sisters secret (long-guessed by this reader, but that’s not the point of Fader’s novel) till a crescendo of confrontation occurs among the four women and reckoning with the past.
There are several reasons why I enjoyed The McAvoy Sisters. First, the characters are beautifully drawn, believable, intense, and distinctly NOT middle-class. Delia runs the family shop; Lindy is a mixologist, successful, but a glorified bartender; Dan takes out fishing parties and fishes for the shop. Port Lorraine is a small town eaten up by the shadow of Fulbright privilege. What I liked about these women’s fic trappings is they weren’t lugubrious. There was pain and revealed secrets and strained relationships to ease, but there was no taking-myself-too-seriously-navel-gazing ho-humdom. I attribute this to Fader bringing the O’Keefe romance edge to women’s fic, to her sure hand steering us to an HEA (not HFN for this girl, thank goodness) and Fader’s zippy, snappy, moving and funny turns of phrase. A few examples will compel you to read her book, if my lauding doesn’t:
“Time folded like a fan and Delia was struck — anew — by how much Brin looked like Lindy.”
“Lindy made really bad decisions about men. She liked them talented, jealous and borderline unstable. It was a flaw. One of many.”
“That was the rule for a woman with too much experience putting her chin up and getting on with things.” [LOOK, FOLKS, ROMANCE CHIN IN WF!!]
“That was their marriage these days: silences and sighs.”
“That has always been Lindy’s effect. She was gasoline on fire.”
“The McAvoy sisters also had Mom’s grief like a long dark shadow in the house, keeping the corners cold and silent.”
The closest I’ve come to enjoying a women’s fiction novel as much as I did Fader’s McAvoy Sisters was last year, when I read (and named as one of my year’s faves) Barbara O’Neal’s The Art of Inheriting Secrets. The books have the secrets theme in common and the generational revelations come thick and fast in both and both are wonderful, love-infused, and sheer delight to read, devoid of the genre’s heavy-handedness, without sacrificing emotion and connection and the ever-elusive to all genres but one, HEA. I loved what Fader did with her women’s fic and I’ll follow her to the next. For now, with Miss Austen, we say The McAvoy Sisters possess “a mind lively and at ease,” Emma.
Molly Fader’s The McAvoy Sisters Book of Secrets is published by Graydon House, an arm of Harlequin Books. It was released on July 16 and may be found at your preferred vendor. Please note I received an e-galley from Graydon House, via Netgalley.