I was 12 the first time I read Mrs. Mike. Like all book lovers, I have keepers…and then I have keepers. Mrs. Mike is in my sacred keeper pile - the kind of book that begs to be re-read every few years - and only gets better every time.
The story is about Katherine Mary O’Fallon, a 16 year old Irish girl from Boston in 1907, and the man she falls in love with….Sgt. Mike, a hero for all times; he’s handsome, chivalrous, strong and fearless. Mike is a Canadian Mounted Policeman, who takes his bride to the far corners of the Canadian wilderness, where there’s no one but him to be magistrate, doctor, priest and counselor to all in the area.
Katherine Mary is not only a young girl, but she suffers from pleurisy - two factors who are strongly against her survival in this tough, rough landscape where there are dangers around every turn. But her heart is huge, and once she sets her eyes on Mike, that’s it for her. It’s the same and more for Sgt. Mike. He knows his bride is too young and too frail, but like the true heroes in all the great love stories, he enables Katherine Mary to grow and become strong - to become her own woman.
The story is peopled by unforgettable characters - Oh-Be-Joyful and her forbidden lover, Jonathan, the baby Mary Aroon, the good witch Mrs. Carpentier and the twisted Mrs. Mathers. And the story is filled with unforgettable, exciting action - where good and evil, wrong and right are always being tested. So is the power of love.
For such a powerful dramatic story, there is also laughter. Years later, I can still remember whole scenes - one, where Katherine Mary is determined to save her young daughter from a spanking….and another, where Katherine Mary makes a currant pie without remembering to soak or cook the currants first, and Sgt. Mike proves his love by eating it anyway. There are no consummated love scenes in the story, yet there’s such sizzle and warmth between the two characters that I find this one of the most compelling love stories I’ve ever read - before or since.
The book is not just about the power of love - but of the prices of love as well. It’s so easy to "say" what we’d do for someone we love….but Katherine Mary Flannigan is actually tested. Something happens that breaks her heart beyond anything she can stand, and the question of the story is whether the huge love she bears for Sgt. Mike can heal her.
I first read this book long before I planned to be a writer. 60+ books later, Mrs. Mike is one of three books that sit on my desk, always in my view for inspiration. At my best, I could never write anything as wonderful as this…yet Mrs. Mike gave me the courage to try. Unlike all the huge literary tomes I read, growing up, this book was short. I loved those huge literary tomes - I have a degree in lit, in fact - but I had no desire to write them.
Mrs. Mike stuck in my heart and mind like a mosquito bite that wouldn’t stop itching. It showed me - and taught me - that a compelling, powerful story didn’t have to be long. It showed me that an unforgettable book could have humor and lightness. It showed me that flawed characters - and Katherine Mary is no angel - is a key to writing characters who touch us. It’s a fast read, no seven syllable words anywhere in sight, and although there’s sadness in the story, it’s one of the most uplifting stories I know. Love triumphs.
When someone can’t stop raving about a movie or book, I think we’re often doomed to disappointment when we experience it ourselves - because our expectations become too impossibly high to be met. Yet I can only say, for Mrs. Mike, that it’s one of my top three favorite books of all time. If you’ve never read it, give it a shot. Even if you don’t love it as much as I do, I think you’ll find it a treasure.
LLB: When I read Jennifer Greene's bio and learned one of her favorite books was Mrs. Mike, I begged her to write a DIK Review for AAR because it's one of my own favorites, and one I've re-read over and over again. This is a book in which you remember verbatim bits of dialogue and action; I'll never forget when Sgt. Mike, with a wink and a smile, tells Katherine Mary to "spit 'em out...and next time cook 'em" at the end of the disastrous currant pie scene.
As for the love scenes in Mrs. Mike, there aren't any explicit ones, and yet you can feel every single kiss and touch between Katherine Mary and Sgt. Mike. This book is as romantic today as it was when I first read it in elementary school; many a modern romance writer could take a lesson or two from the Freedman's when it comes to writing love scenes.
I'm so happy that Jennifer Greene wrote this review for AAR; if you haven't read this book or haven't read it in a long time, or if you have a daughter, I encourage you to pick it up, read it, and pass it along.
-- Jennifer Greene
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