Readers & Writers: A memoir, senior romance and a few crime novels

A memoir critics are loving, senior romance, and two crime/mystery novels offer variety for readers today.

“The Girl I Am, Was, and Never Will Be” by Shannon Gibney (Dutton Books for Young Readers, $18.99)

“This piques my father’s interest. ‘What do you mean?’

I cross my arms. ‘I don’t know. I just know that the timelines got botched. The pieces and people from one place get put in another, and the strangest things…’ I cannot finish my sentence because I feel a ripple like electricity shock through me.”

Shannon Gibney is imaging this conversation in a passage from her involving and innovative book, subtitled “A Speculative Memoir of Transracial Adoption.” In this scene, she’s encountering the father she never knew via a wormhole, a device that allows the author to tell two stories in one book.

A professor at Minneapolis College, Gibney identifies as a mixed Black transracial adoptee and what that means is the subject of her book, which incorporates memoir and speculative fiction.

Gibney was born in Ann Arbor, Mich., to 19-year-old Patricia Powers, and adopted seven months later by Jim and Sue Gibney. Her birth mother, who was white, named her Erin. Her father was Black. (One example of Gibney’s imaginative approach is the chapter in which she imagines her parents are her children.)

When Shannon is 10 years old she experiences a wormhole, spiraling and shooting light, that sends her into an alternative universe where she is Erin, living the life Shannon could have lived if she had not been adopted. The narrative alternates between the lives of the two girls from childhood until they are 19.

Throughout the book Gibney exposes the realities of adoption, especially for mixed race children:

“The literature of adoption is a fictional genre in itself. Adoptees know it to be generally as fantastical as any space opera – and just as entertaining to the masses…Once the child is adopted, there is no talk of loss of first family, culture, language, or community.” The birth father, who wasn’t part the story from the beginning, is not part of the adoptee’s story as it progresses.

“And if you ask about any of the particularities of this literature of adoption: who is adopting whom, from where to where, what are the racial dynamics of the transaction, the role that money plays, corruption, the trauma of removal, the burden of assimilation, you are branded an angry and mal-adjusted adoptee.”

Added to Shannon and Erin’s stories are reproductions of letters from Shannon’s bio mom, Patricia, to Shannon’s parents, as well as documents pertaining to her adoption, stories Shannon wrote as a child, her test scores and even hospital records pertaining to a mammogram.

“The Girl I Am, Was, and Never Will Be” earned starred reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly and Booklist. Gibney has already won two Minnesota Book Awards for fiction and this book is sure to win her national accolades.

“Freefalling” by Eme McAnam (Autumn Stories Publishing, $18)

Eme McAnam is on a mission to create a new romance genre for and about seniors. A senior herself, McAnam loves romance novels but realized that most are centered on young or middle-aged people who have different problems and lifestyles than those over 50, who have more complications in their lives. That’s why she wrote “Freefalling,” a novel of senior romance featuring Charlotte, a beautiful, 60-something manager of a five-star hotel much like the St. Paul Hotel.

She has loved her job, even though it has meant putting up with some handsy men. Her career has consumed her life, but then she falls in love with Brandon, a Lutheran pastor. Despite a deep connection, they cannot stay together because Brandon has to live with his wife (who has a secret of her own) if he wants to sell his books.

After a vacation in Ireland, where she does some soul-searching and therapy, Charlotte finds herself in a relationship with Stefan, a trail guide who’s been hiking with her for years. Soon after they begin living together, Charlotte exhibits symptoms of Lewy Body dementia, which also took her father’s life. Stefan is tender and caring, keeping Charlotte safe when she becomes increasingly confused. But there is a tragedy and Charlotte ends up in a memory care facility where the story begins and ends. The last few pages are so tender a reader might shed a tear or two.

There isn’t much information about McAnam in her press material or online. She shares only that she comes out of a background as a singer/songwriter and successful businesswoman who is now a storyteller and photographer. She says she is “shedding light on the stories lived by (people) over age 50, pulling us out of the shadows. Letting the reader see that we are sassy sexy, funny, and not without complications.”

The author will host a launch party at 2 pm Saturday, Feb. 11, at The Commodore, 79 N. Western Ave., St. Paul., beginning with a social hour followed by a 3 p.m. introduction by her mentor, David Unowsky.

“Killer Flip” by M.E. Bakos (M.E.B. Publishing, $14.99)

Katelyn is a home rehab specialist who’s wishing she could redo a house, just once, without a dead body in the picture. But since “Killer Flip” is the fourth in Bakos’ Home Renovator cozy mystery series, she doesn’t get her wish.

Katelyn is rehabbing a beautiful Tudor home in Crocus Heights that belonged to a couple whose daughter was found dead in her car on Halloween night years earlier. The woman’s killer was never found and the locals call the Tudor “the murder house”

As Katelyn and her neighbor and handyman, Wayne, begin stripping popcorn ceilings and renovating a bathroom, she is visited by the dead woman’s husband who asks to see the house one last time, and her brother, who wants to find a walking stick that was part of a costume worn the night his sister died. When Kaitlyn and Wayne find money hidden in the house and garage, the men’s visits start to make sense. They are looking for something on the premises.

Other complications are in Katelyn’s life. Don, the blue-eyed sheriff, asked her to marry him, and she was so flustered she botched her reply. Don has taken in a young woman who he thought was his daughter and when he found out the rude girl wasn’t related, he let her stay anyway. And Wayne, who is just married, worries about his sweet wife’s sleepwalking. Then there’s Katelyn’s charming ex-husband, Eddy, who keeps coming around.

Even though she got hit on the head, Katelyn manages to figure out who killed the victim and finish the rehab. And when a film company rents the Tudor to shoot a movie titled Murder House, her money worries are over – for now.

“Dive Bartender: Flowers in the Desert” by T.K. O’Neill (Blue Stone Press, $19.95)

In this sequel to “Dive Bartender: Sibling Rivalry,” it’s 1977 and Frank Ford is on the run from Minnesota after killing two sisters who were implicated in the death of his brother. He’s got a tattered copy of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road,” and he’s going to follow the beat poet’s journey to California, even though Frank is 36 and a little long in the tooth to emulate Kerouac.

When Frank stops in Denver to see an old friend, whom he thinks is a rich lawyer, he finds Larry isn’t what he seems. Larry’s trying to put together a development deal with three rich young guys, one of whose fathers owns a hidden, luxury ranch. Sam, who ends up staying at the ranch, has got voices in his head that he’s named: the Hater, probably his late father; Easy Forgiver, his mother; the Judge, origin unknown, and the Equivocator, Frank’s deceased brother.

Then, singer and songwriter Evelyn Raines arrives and Frank will do anything for her. Evelyn is a lead singer for a band, headed for national stardom, but she’s not happy. When she’s physically threatened, Frank, her brother and two friends have to do a take-down to get her back. Evelyn and Frank are interesting characters, well-imagined and in a believable relationship.

Although O’Neill says he writes from the noir end of the mystery genre, “Dive Bartender” is not a violent book. Some of it is funny and there is tenderness in Frank’s all-consuming devotion to Evelyn. Also, there are gangsters and drugs.

Related Articles