Born in Alabama, Paula Vauss spent the first decade of her life on the road with her free-spirited young mother, Kai, an itinerant storyteller who blended Hindu mythology with southern oral tradition to re-invent their history as they roved. But everything, including Paula’s birth name Kali Jai, changed when she told a story of her own—one that landed Kai in prison and Paula in foster care. Separated, each holding secrets of her own, the intense bond they once shared was fractured. These days, Paula has reincarnated herself as a tough-as-nails divorce attorney with a successful practice in Atlanta. While she hasn’t seen Kai in fifteen years, she’s still making payments on that Karmic debt—until the day her last check is returned in the mail, along with a mysterious note: “I am going on a journey, Kali. I am going back to my beginning; death is not the end. You will be the end. We will meet again, and there will be new stories. You know how Karma works.” Then Kai’s most treasured secret literally lands on Paula’s doorstep, throwing her life into chaos and transforming her from only child to older sister. Desperate to find her mother before it’s too late, Paula sets off on a journey of discovery that will take her back to the past and into the deepest recesses of her heart. With the help of her ex-lover Birdwine, an intrepid and emotionally volatile private eye who still carries a torch for her, this brilliant woman, an expert at wrecking families, now has to figure out how to put one back together—her own.
Kali Jai comes into the world via a teen mother with a love for Hindu mythology. Once Kali's grandmother fills out her birth certificate though, Kali's name officially becomes Paula Jane. Paula's upbringing with her mother, Kai, over the years ends up having a somewhat exotic, little bit transient flair to it -- what with her mother's boho style, rotating door of boyfriends, each uniquely different from the last, not to mention Kai's love of storytelling -- her own brand being a blend of Old South folklore and that Hindu mythology that inspired Paula's original name. Paula grows up never knowing who her father is, but people around her speculate on her dark looks, noting that she has an Asian look to her features that clearly didn't come from her very much Caucasian mother.
But after some clashing with a drug-dealer boyfriend of Kai's, preteen Paula puts in a call to the police to rat the guy out, but also accidentally implicates her mom as well. Kai ends up serving a prison sentence that also requires Paula to be sent into the foster care system.
Fast forward about 15 years and Paula is a successful divorce lawyer and a partner in a prestigious Atlanta, GA law firm. She also hasn't heard from her mother in years. That is, until a note comes from Kai revealing a terminal cancer diagnosis, giving her only a couple weeks left. Shortly after that note arrives, so does Paula's half-brother she never even knew existed. Desperate for answers, Paula, along with the help of ex-boyfriend / private investigator Zachary (aka "Birdwine"), sets out on a mission to unravel all these mysteries her mother left her with.
Ultimately, the story ends up being about the complex relationship between a mother and daughter, and the family secrets that can affect or even completely ruin that bond. Not a bad concept, but I felt the secrets & reveals were a little bland, falling a bit short of what could've been. There were a few little twists and turns near the end, but for me there was not enough build-up within the rest of the story to warrant any kind of jaw-dropping shock. I also found it annoying that it seemed like whenever things started to get interesting, the very next chapter usually seemed to be a flashback to Paula's foster care days, so I'd be reading through that when I just wanted to get back to the present day storyline.
I did enjoy the rhythm of the dialogue. Paula and Birdwine had some entertaining banter between them and there were some honestly funny one liners & conversations throughout. I also liked the personality and humor of Paula's half-brother. I could imagine a fun series of stories stemming from the three of them working together.
It was also cool to see my town worked into part of the plot, which I was not expecting (since it's not mentioned in the synopsis anywhere). So thanks for the nod to my city, Ms. Jackson! :-)
FTC Disclaimer: William Morrow Publishers (an imprint of Harper Collins) kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book with the request that I might provide an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own.