When I received an email last October from Tracy Fenton (Compulsive Readers) asking who’d be interested in participating in a blog tour for this in April this year, my immediate response to her was “OMG!! Are you bloody kidding me?!?!?!” This is the sequel to The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes, which anyone who knows me well enough can tell you, is one of my all-time favourite books! Well … the tour was supposed to happen in April when the book was meant to be out, and I don’t need to tell you … it all went to shite (as most members of the Hayes family would say)! So, here we finally are at the end of July and we’re doing this!! Yay!!
Get the tissues ready folks because you’re going to need them! The book opens in that hospice room where Rabbit departs this world and leaves her family (and best friend Marjorie, who’s practically a part of the family) a broken mess. Below the Big Blue Sky follows the next couple of years in their lives and we see how they pick up the pieces and carry on. Rabbit Hayes may be gone, but she lives on every single page of this book!
Her mother Molly suddenly turns her back on God and the Church, leaving her friend and confidante Father Frank feeling bereft and abandoned. But Molly is adrift and no compass can help her find the right direction … and she carries the repeated mantra of ‘Sorry’ with her, in her head, wherever she goes and whatever she does. Her father Jack finds solace in his attic, reading old diaries and feeling sad that his wife is not the person she used to be and seems so lost to them all. Her sister Grace has her own problems to sort out, together with a houseful of sons to keep up with, one of which seems intent on criminal activity. But Grace’s lovely husband Lenny does his best to keep them all together and on the straight and narrow. Her best friend Marjorie who knows she’s always been part of the Hayes clan isn’t so sure where she fits any more. Overcome by overwhelming sadness, with Rabbit gone, Molly off on her own mission, her own mother as cold and unwelcoming as ever and an unfulfilling job, she really doesn’t know what her purpose in life is right now. (Who loves you Marjorie …?)
And then there’s her brother Davey who agreed to be the guardian to Rabbit’s young daughter Juliet. He has no clue as to why Rabbit decided it should be him, and to be honest, nobody else does either, and they don’t mind telling him that! But if that’s what Rabbit wanted, then he’s determined that’s what he’s going to do. And Juliet herself is just as determined. As unsure and scared as she is to leave her family, everything and everyone familiar in Ireland, and jet off with Davey to his life in America … if that’s what her mom wanted, then that’s what she’s doing!
And throughout the trauma of it all, Rabbit’s voice carries on, inside of their heads; conversations that give them confidence, upliftment, peace, truth, and laughs … a lot of laughs that will have you smiling and literally laughing out loud!
If there’s one message that Below the Big Blue Sky conveys, it’s that everyone reacts to death, mourning, and grief in their own way and that there are no hard and fast rules as to how this can and should be done. The story is told from the point of view of each family member (and Marjorie, of course), and it was just so lovely to be back in warm (admittedly chaotic, more than slightly nuts) embrace of the Hayes family. Thank you, thank you, Anna McPartlin for continuing Rabbit’s story, for keeping her love story with Johnny going, and for reminding us that you don’t have to be the same and think the same to be hopelessly, romantically and completely head-over-heals besotted with someone … to the grave and beyond!!
This can be read as a stand-alone. There’s enough background supplied that you know who’s who and where everyone fits. But I really recommend that you read The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes first … not just because it’s an epically fabulous read … but because it will give you even more depth and inside to what makes the Hayes family and their surrounding clan tick. You most certainly won’t regret it.
Admittedly, I did find this second book sadder and a bit darker than the first. But there’s still that incredibly fine balance between the happy and the sad; between the tears of laughter I cried while I was laughing out loud at some of the antics and banter, and the tears that I found silently (and copiously) rolling down my cheeks at the almost-too-painful moments that are endured by a family experiencing the most unimaginable heartache.
This is a 5-star read that I absolutely loved! Thank you to Compulsive Readers and Bonnier for inviting me and allowing me the chance to read this more or less before most of the world. Anna McPartlin … I hope we won’t have to wait so long for part 3!
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