Oh, do you ever get that delicious little frisson of excitement when you read the first few chapters of a book and realize you've stumbled across what is going to be a really, really good read? Melissa DeCarlo's debut novel, The Art of Crash Landing is one of those books - I absolutely loved it!
Mattie Wallace is 30 years old. And pregnant. And homeless. And broke. Screwing up her life is nothing new for Mattie. She's a bit (well maybe a bit more than a bit) of a train wreck. When she finds out that she has inherited her grandmother's house in Gandy, Oklahoma it's a bit of a surprise - Mattie had no idea she had a grandmother. Her alcoholic mother never mentioned where she grew up or that her own mother was alive. With nowhere else to go, Gandy is the the direction she steers her mother's old Malibu.
"There was a time when I believed my whole life stretched before me, rich with promise. Now? Not so much.
But when she arrives in Gandy, no one really wants to talk about her mother. And the ones that do paint a very different picture from the mother Mattie grew up with.
Where to start. First off, I really didn't like Mattie at all in the first few chapters. She's abrasive, manipulative and self serving. Or is that just a way to protect herself from hurt and disappointment? As the book progresses, there are glimpses into the Mattie beneath that exterior. And I found myself soundly in Mattie's corner, hoping she can find the promise in life again. "Sometimes my entire life has felt like one long exercise in lowering my expectations."
Gandy is populated by a varied and eclectic cast of characters, many who are just as prickly as Mattie, yet oddly compelling. So many of them appealed to me - one was Fritter the librarian. (And as someone who works in a library, I found myself laughing out loud at some library scenes that were spot on) But I think that Queeg, Mattie's stepfather, is my favourite. His quiet, understated, unfaltering love for Mattie is moving.
As Mattie continues to ask questions around town about her mother, the mystery deepens. What happened thirty five years ago to her mother? From the girl Gandy knew to the single woman who gave birth to Mattie? And as Mattie pursues answers, she also remembers her Mom - and the reader learns more about both women.
DeCarlo kept me completely off balance as I read - I had no idea where the story was going to go and many of the character's revelations were so unexpected. Her plotting is fresh, original and just so darn good.
The Art of Crash Landing is absolutely one of my favourite reads for 2015. Read an excerpt of Crash Landing.
Melissa DeCarlo was born and raised in Oklahoma City, and has worked as an artist, graphic designer, grant writer, and even (back when computers were the size of refrigerators) a computer programmer. The Art of Crash Landing is her first novel. Melissa now lives in East Texas with her husband and a motley crew of rescue animals. Find out more about Melissa at her website, and connect with her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.
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