I've really got to work on my post titles.
I'm a huge Cathy Lamb fan. HUGE. It started with Such a Pretty Face and then on to The Last Time I Was Me. Over the holidays, I read through two other books that she has written.
Today, I'm talking about Julia's Chocolates.
For starters, let me acknowledge what some critics who have read Lamb's books may be thinking: they are formulaic. I'll give some credit to this argument. There seems to be a running formula for some of her books (keyword: some). There's the protagonist in the story that's female (duh). She's had some kind of rough past and is broken. And in some way, she's running. There's a love interest in the story (why wouldn't there be?) and there is a lot of personal growth that takes place.
Sounds like a formula for "gag me with a spoon", right?
Lamb brings to the table a level of humor and cutthroat truth that is hard to see past and makes her characters so damn lovable. For instance, after reading Julia's Chocolates, I've decided I want to be Aunt Lydia when I get older. Aunt Lydia has a farm full of chickens and pigs and paints her door black in order to ward off evil spirits and seedy men. She also has four giant concrete pig statues in her front yard. Each one is wearing a name tag; they are each named after a man that has pissed off Aunt Lydia. She holds weekly psychic nights at her house because her friend, Caroline (yes!), is a psychic. Psychic night has a different theme every week and Aunt Lydia encourages her friends to rein in the power of their breasts or forgive their vaginas or some other "I AM WOMAN HEAR ME ROAR" kind of theme.
Seriously...how can you not love her?
She also doesn't beat around the bush which is what makes me adore Aunt Lydia. She gets straight to the point and she's loud and in your face.
Julia, on the other hand, is very broken. She has left her fiance on the day of their wedding, thrown her wedding dress into a tree, and driven across the country to escape at the farm. Before you start feeling sympathy for her ex, you should know that he's the scum of the earth. He rapes her and hits her on a regular basis (in fact, the day of the wedding, she has a black eye). He calls her names that are typically disparaging remarks about her weight. He's scary, intimidating, and really needs to be kicked in the balls (sorry guys...I know it's harsh).
I could go into all of the antics of this story. Like how the minister's wife is a bit of a lush because, secretly, she's an incredible artist and is dying inside being trapped in a life of prayer meetings, church sessions, and bible studies that she thinks are what her husband wants of her (although he really just wants to love her...communal "awww" is appropriate right now). Or how Caroline, the psychic, has a secret past. She's a beautiful hippy who is haunted by the things that she sees and loves to live in her tiny home by herself. And then there's Katie. Her husband is an abusive drunk who can't hold a job, doesn't help her with their kids, and doesn't appreciate anything she does for him. Instead, she takes care of the kids, cleans the house, cleans him up, and then works two jobs just so they can keep a roof over their heads.
So, what do I love about this book? I love stories about women grabbing themselves by their bootstraps and kicking the world in the ass. Seriously. I love the growth that takes place because these women think they are pansies and in the end, they prove that they are much stronger than they ever thought possible. They tap into the well of strength that lies in all of us and make a complete 180 of their lives. I love that when I finished this book, wiping tears from my cheeks, I felt excited, fulfilled, sad (to have the story over), but best of all, I felt cleansed. That is my favorite feeling from a book: feeling cleansed. Like I was made anew by getting to know the characters and walking beside them for a little while.
It's kind of like visiting with an old friend.
Have any of you read Julia's Chocolates or any of Cathy Lamb's other books? What did you think?