Monday, August 22, 2016

'The Name I call Myself' by Beth Moran


 All Faith Harp wants is a quiet life--to take care of her troubled brother, Sam, earn enough money to stop the poverty wolves snapping at her heels, and to keep her past buried as deep as possible. And after years of upheaval, she might have just about managed it: Sam's latest treatment seems to actually be working, Faith is holding down a job, and she's engaged to the gorgeous and successful Perry. But, for Faith, things never seem to stay simple for long. Her domineering mother-in-law-to-be is planning a nightmare wedding, including the wedding dress from hell. And the man who killed her mother is released from prison, sending her brother tumbling back into mental illness.

When secretly planning the wedding she really wants, Faith stumbles across a church choir that challenges far more than her ability to hold a tune. She ends up joining the choir, led by the fierce choir-mistress Hester, who is determined to do whatever it takes to turn the group of ragtag women into something spectacular. She also meets Dylan, the church's vicar, who is different than any man she has ever met before . . .

Genre: Contemporary drama/romance, chick lit (sort of), suitable for both Christian and secular market. 

My biggest take-away from this novel is that our experiences are grained into the fabric of our personalities. Even with a wealthy fiance, new car and the offer of limitless financial support, Faith still thinks with the battler's perspective and insists on working hard to look after herself. It's easy to understand, when you consider the gradual revelation of all she's been through. It's quite fascinating. She's planning to marry a millionaire, but still has a broke person's mindset. Overall, Faith comes across with a strong sense of her own personhood, which she never compromises or allows to be violated. It makes her an admirable main character.

Beth Moran's writing style is fantastic. She knows how to play with a reader's emotions using a good blend of humour and pathos. She also has a way of making every character well-rounded and three-dimensional, including those with cameo roles. Each of the ladies in the choir stands out as individuals.  

The heart and wisdom of Hester the choir director, is one of the good parts of the story. She wants the ladies to develop such a loving bond that they support each other like a single organism, and convinces them that they must believe the best of themselves before they can expect their singing performance or lives to get any better. I liked her creative schemes to get them out of their comfort zones. Bonding happened, as Hester hoped, but on a few occasions some serious accidents were narrowly avoided. At those times, she came across a bit like an unqualified, self-appointed counselor who took huge decisions on herself. She was lucky they didn't turn out any worse.

The progression of Faith's romantic dilemma was interesting. Although it's pretty clear from the start that Dylan, the rugged pastor, is marked to be the hero, it was looking like she could've easily gone with Perry. He wasn't an anti-hero. In fact, I think it's to his credit that he turned out as nice a guy as he was, having been brought up by his snobby, overbearing mother. Perry was a product of his upbringing and circumstances, just as Faith and Sam were of theirs. Parts of the story seemed a bit rough on him, but I think he had a narrow escape too, since he could have ended up with a woman who wasn't in love with him and could never share his view of the world. He should have got out earlier, since there were many alarm bells. For example, she never said, 'I love you.' They probably could never have really been a good match, since their world outlooks were poles apart from childhood.

I think many readers who enjoy the 'One true love and you'll know when it hits you,' ideal will enjoy this book. It shows even big girls aren't too old for fairy tales, which sometimes do come true. Hey, I'm not sure if it's ever fully revealed why Dylan was still single. He said he'd explain one day, but did he ever? 

I'll try not to drop plot spoilers, but I decided to take one star off because although the writing is top-notch, some of the events of the plot left me horrified. I found one part of the story to be the emotional equivalent of a whack in the guts. It's most disturbing because the characters concerned are forewarned in plenty of time and do all they can to take precautions, calling on people who ought to be equipped to help, yet the situation still turns out just as they'd feared. That creeps me out. It was like a nightmare, which doesn't say much for the help we can expect from our society (or God, some readers may add).

 Sure, plenty of novels reflect the devastating turns life may take, but I thought it a bit unfair to the reader that this turns out to be one of them, because we were lulled into a sense of security. The cheery front cover design and some of the hilarious happenings early on lead me to expect for certain that this particular plot thread would be cleared up okay. Especially since the characters were doing all the right things. When I got to that stage, all I could do was gulp and say, 'I really didn't think she'd take it there.' It's just one of the hazards of the adventure of reading, I guess.

Thanks to Lion Hudson and NetGalley for my review copy

4 stars

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