Sunday, June 16, 2019

The Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes by Ruth Hogan

I was surprised and super happy to have this novel arrive in my mail from Crooked Lane Press. I always say books find people at the right moments, and somehow, the folks at Crooked Lane Press knew I needed this book. Never doubt the magic of books.

Ruth Hogan's first novel, The Keeper of Lost Things, was published in 2017 and I happily reviewed it. She has a remarkable gift for writing that captivated me, and I'm happy to say her second novel cast a similar spell over me. Whomever designs her book covers, sheesh! They are amazingly beautiful. Can't help but pick it up just based on the cover art. 

Masha is a woman who lives with grief. Twelve years before, she lost her toddler son, Gabriel, in a freak accident. More horribly, his body was never recovered from the little creek it was presumed he fell into and drowned. Masha punishes herself by going to the local swimming pool all year round (it's outside) and dives into the deep end and holds her breath. She wants to feel what her son felt as he drowned. Masha's life is pretty colorless, except for her beloved dog Haizum and her daily walks in the local cemetery. This is a cemetery that only the English can do: a Victorian wonderland of meandering paths, glorious headstones dedicated to long lost souls, and a peace that begs people to sit and reflect. Masha sees Sally Red Shoes, an elderly woman who always wears--you guessed it--red shoes, feeds the crows, and bursts out in operatic songs. She also swears like a sailor-you just never know what you're going to get with Sally. She's a character most people would dismiss, but Masha soon forms a friendship with this wise woman. 

Masha's growing friendship with Sally has her realizing she's punished herself enough, and it's time to start living again. As Sally tells her, Masha stopped dancing to life when Gabriel died, and she owes it to Gabriel to keep dancing for him. 

Masha's slow re-entry into life means as much to her as it does to her friends and parents, who have had to change their behavior over the years to protect Masha's grief. She realizes she's done a great disservice to everyone by her unending grief, and the barriers she's placed around herself to prevent anymore pain. 

This was such a wonderful book-the characters are all so well drawn out. They're people I'd want in my life! There is another large storyline  in this novel that runs in and out of Masha's story, but I want you to discover that yourself. It's not hard to figure out what's going on, but I don't want to spoil your discovery. 

Colorful characters, a mother's slow climb out of grief, and beautiful writing all make this a charming read. It's not a sad tale at all. As Mr. Rogers said, "Look for the people who help" and there are plenty of people who help Masha regain her joy for life. This will be one of my top reads for 2019, and Ruth Hogan is definitely an author I will read again and again. 

A huge thank you to Crooked Lane Press for a chance to read and review this gem. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Rating: 5/6 for a novel that captures a woman's journey through an endless grief. When it seems all is lost, there is always a path to happiness and peace. 

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