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Nine Lives: A Novel Hardcover – July 6, 2021
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After a carefree childhood, Mary Margaret Kelly came of age in the shadow of grief. Her father, a dashing daredevil Air Force pilot, died when she was nine. Maggie saw her mother struggle to put their lives back together. As the family moved from one city to the next, her mother warned her to beware of daredevil men and avoid risk at all cost.
Following her mother’s advice, and forgoing the magic of first love with a high school boyfriend who was too wild to feel safe, Maggie instead sought out all the things her mother had lost—a predictable partner, a stable home, and a regular paycheck. She chose to marry a dependable, kind man who was a reliable husband and successful accountant. Together they had a son and found happiness in a conventional suburban life. Until tragedy struck again.
Now on her own, feeling a sense of adventure for the first time, Maggie decides to face her fears, setting off on a whirlwind trip from San Francisco to Rome, Paris, and Monaco. But when her travels reconnect her with the very same irresistible, thrill-seeking man she’s spent thirty years trying to forget, Maggie becomes terrified that rushing into love and sharing his life may very well end in disaster. But ultimately, while Maggie tries to outrun her fears and painful memories of her past, fate will surprise her in the most astounding of ways, as she walks the tightrope between danger and courage, and between wisdom and love.
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Mary Margaret Kelly, Maggie, had lived on four military bases by the time she was eight years old. It was the only life she knew, and she liked it. Her father, Kevin, was an Air Force test pilot, and had been decorated for the missions he flew in Vietnam. Her paternal grandfather had been a Navy pilot in World War II.
Maggie worshipped her father. He was handsome and tall and funny. She loved watching him fly planes, although she knew it scared her mother. Nothing scared her father. He was very brave, and he always told Maggie to be brave too. She tried to be. Her brother, Tommy, also tried to be. He said he was going to be a pilot one day like their dad. Maggie was five years older than Tommy, and she helped her mom take care of him when she was busy. Emma was a nurse before Maggie was born, but she stayed home with the kids now, and she always had a lot to do. The Air Force gave them a good life. Her father was a squadron leader and flew training missions. They moved to a new base in Nevada when Maggie turned nine. Her mom didn’t like it. It was hot most of the time, except at night, and she said that their dad’s missions were going to be more dangerous now, but she didn’t say why. Maggie heard them arguing about it sometimes. But her dad loved what he did. His eyes and his whole face lit up whenever he talked about flying. He loved everything about planes.
They’d only been there for three months when Maggie’s dad went out on a routine training mission. He kissed Maggie in her bed early that morning before he left. He kissed Tommy, who was sound asleep. Emma got up and watched him from the kitchen window while he drove away. By the time Tommy and Maggie were having breakfast, two men in uniform knocked on the door, came in, and sat in the living room with their mother. Emma didn’t make a sound. She just sat there, sobbing quietly, so her children couldn’t hear her. After a while the men left.
She told Maggie and Tommy afterwards that their dad had died. She said his plane had malfunctioned and spun out of control. The officers told Emma that if Kevin Kelly hadn’t been able to stop it, no one could have.
Three days later, Maggie and Tommy went to their father’s funeral. Years later, Maggie could still remember how terrible she had felt, and how impossible it was to believe that her dad would never come home again. The men in his squadron had folded the flag on his casket and handed it to her mother, who had clutched it to her chest with her eyes closed. Maggie had thought she would faint, but she didn’t. Maggie kept telling herself to be brave the way her father had told her to be. And she was, braver than she ever thought she could be. She took care of Tommy when her mother stayed in bed and cried all the time after that. Emma hardly ever got up, and Maggie cooked dinner for them.
They went to stay with Emma’s parents in Oklahoma for a while, then they came back and moved off the base to Las Vegas. It was the first time Maggie had lived among civilians and gone to a local school. Emma got a job as a cashier in a casino. She didn’t want to go back to nursing, she said it had been too long. They stayed in Las Vegas for six months, living on her salary and their dad’s pension. After that, they moved to three different states, and finally made their way to Miami, where Emma got a better job at a resort hotel, working as a manicurist in the spa. She lived a quiet life, and never went out on dates, until she met Harry Sherman.
Maggie was fourteen and her father had been dead for five years when Emma met Harry at the resort in Miami where they both worked. He was the catering manager. He wasn’t handsome like Maggie’s father. He wasn’t exciting. He wasn’t a hero and didn’t fly planes, but Maggie’s mother told her that wasn’t important. What they needed was a man who wasn’t going to risk his life every day when he went to work. She told Maggie that if her father hadn’t been in love with the thrill of flying planes, he’d be alive today. He could have been anything. A carpenter, a plumber, a teacher, a contractor, but instead he loved danger. Every time Tommy said he wanted to fly planes too when he grew up, Emma told him, in a harsh voice, that he’d better think of something else to do if he didn’t want to kill himself. They learned not to talk about their father, or flying.
Harry was a decent man. He was quiet, serious, he didn’t laugh or tell funny stories like their dad, and he didn’t talk to her or Tommy much. But their mom said he had a good job. They moved into an apartment together a year after they met. Their mom told them that she and Harry were engaged. They got married a month later.
Maggie was fifteen when they got married at city hall. The four of them had lunch at a restaurant afterwards. Harry went to work as usual that night, there was a big convention in town. He was nice enough to them, and Maggie didn’t mind him. He had no children of his own, and he tried to be a father to them, but he always worked until late at night, running the catering side of the conventions at the hotel. Emma seemed happy with him, but her eyes never lit up the way they had when she heard Kevin drive up or when he walked into the room. Her life with Harry was different. They both worked hard, and Maggie and Tommy were home alone a lot of the time until their mom came home from work. Sometimes Maggie had cooked dinner for herself and Tommy by then. They weren’t a family the way they had been when their father was alive. They didn’t do things together or have fun, they just lived in the same house. And they knew Harry would come home from work every night. Nothing he did was dangerous, and in time, the look of panic left her mother’s eyes. Harry wasn’t glamorous or exciting, but he was reliable.
Harry sat in front of the TV when he came home at night and drank a few beers. He stayed up late, and was still asleep when they left for school in the morning. He never had anything to say to them anyway. He told Emma he wasn’t used to kids. Once a week, he would give Maggie a crisp twenty dollar bill, and tell her to go to a movie with her friends, or buy something. He bought Tommy a football once, but didn’t have time to play with him. The weekly twenty dollar bill was the only real contact Maggie had with him. Her mother seemed like a different person now, as though something inside her had died when their father did.
When Maggie was sixteen and Tommy eleven, a year after Emma and Harry got married, Harry was transferred to a bigger hotel in Chicago that was part of the same chain. It was a better job, with more money and more responsibility. Emma wasn’t happy about it. She said they’d never see him. He’d be working all the time. They moved anyway, and got a nicer apartment than the one they’d had in Miami. Maggie missed Florida and her friends every day. The school she went to in Chicago was much bigger than her high school in Miami. Tommy went to a different school, a few blocks from hers, and he didn’t like it either.
Emma wanted to move to the suburbs, but Harry said he needed to live close to work. They had offered her a job in the hotel gift shop, and sometimes she snuck downstairs to visit Harry. They had been together for two years by then, and Maggie thought they seemed like strangers with each other. She tried to ask her mother about it sometimes, and Emma said she liked their life because it was safe. She said that was all she wanted now. She had put away all the pictures of Kevin, but Maggie had kept two of them in a drawer in her desk, where she could see them anytime, and she’d given Tommy one of their father in his flight uniform.
Harry looked like a fat little old man compared to their father. Kevin had been tall and lean, with a smile that wouldn’t quit. Emma was thirty-two years old when he died, thirty-seven when she met Harry, and thirty-nine now. Maggie had friends with mothers that age and older, and they still seemed young and full of life. Emma looked like an old woman. Harry had just turned fifty and seemed even older. Maggie had thought her father was so glamorous, and her mother had been pretty when he was alive, but she wasn’t anymore. She didn’t seem to care, and Harry didn’t either. He was a devoted husband, responsible, and accepted her as she was. She talked about going back to nursing sometimes but it had been too many years and the hours were too long, so she took menial jobs instead.
Maggie dreamed of going back to Florida when she finished high school. She missed the warm weather and the friends she’d made there. Moving to another town as a civilian wasn’t like moving to another base in the Air Force. In the military there were always people to welcome you and make you feel at home. In civilian life, no one made it easier for you. You had to figure it out on your own, and meet new friends in a new school. And most of the girls were mean.
- Publisher : Delacorte Press; 1st edition (July 6, 2021)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 272 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1984821431
- ISBN-13 : 978-1984821430
- Item Weight : 1.15 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.32 x 1 x 9.51 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #25,695 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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I’m a detailed-oriented reader. I love the scenes that come alive and characters who make me feel each change in their emotions. I want to understand the cause and effect of their situations. I didn’t find any of those here.
This book was dry and lackluster at best. Ms. Steel spouted out facts in what felt like an info dump (some over and over repetitively – get my drift). The dialogue was drab and unenticing, and the writing was blah and dull with no personality. Like the storyline, these characters had great potential to be so much more, but they remained wooden and stiff as well. They never became real to me — just robotic and lifeless.
I never felt any real connection between the characters themselves -- except maybe between a mother and her son. And I certainly didn’t find any language peppered with humor or wit – nope, just dry and ordinary. Focused basically on wealth and materialistic holdings along with the outrageously outlandish lifestyle filled with snobbery and pettiness. The money talked more than the characters. I expect more from a seasoned author.
I’m sorry but this book flatlined early on and nothing was able to resuscitate it. An abrupt ending without an Epilogue certainly didn’t help either. It’s a wrap with no happily-ever-after for this reader.
Thirty years later Maggie has become a widow just a year ago and has a son on his way to college. She is still grieving her husband and is barely existing. Her neighbor, Helen, helps her come back to the living. She also suggests Maggie take a trip to places she always wanted to go. She took her advice and while vacationing in Europe runs into Paul. All the old feelings come back for both of them but he is still an adrenaline junkie.
To find out where things go between them you will have to read the book. I loved every minute of it and didn't want it to end.
Top reviews from other countries
I thoroughly enjoyed yet another great book from you.
Thank you Danielle.