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Celebrating Contradictions in Blessed Water

This post was sponsored by Margot Douaihy. All opinions are my own. Our sponsors help us to pay our staff and to keep feminist media independent!

My favorite book reviews are the ones that are deeply personal. If you’re not into that, you may want to skip this one. Because Blessed Water meant the world to me.

I had the honor of spending time with author Margot Douaihy last Spring while she signed books at our booth at the LA Festival of Books. While I had immediately connected to her main character, meeting the author felt like meeting a kindred spirit. Margot and I chatted about institutions that had hurt us, how we’ve thrived in spite of it, and the importance of flawed and complicated characters. All that to say, I’m a fan for life and so grateful to now call Margot a friend.

I grew up Catholic and attended a Catholic college (dubbed Catholic Disneyland by locals). I’ve lived in Rome and was blessed by the Pope. I was an altar server. I taught Catechism. I was a cantor. I was a Confirmation sponsor. I’ve had every Sacrament I can receive besides Holy Orders. And while I no longer practice, I feel that the Catholic Church is a deep part of my culture and identity. But I simply can’t support it in good faith. I struggle with my love of the culture and much of my upbringing, while criticizing the politics of the Church. I owe my passion for social justice to my Catholic upbringing but am so angry with how so many Catholics interpret the Church’s teachings. This is the context in which I arrived at Blessed Water.

The second installment of Margot Douaihy’s Sister Holiday mystery series is called Blessed Water, heavy emphasis on the water. In the first book Scorched Grace (one of the FBC team’s favorite books of 2023!), we met punk rock nun Sister Holiday as she attempts to solve an arson at her school and convent. Blessed Water picks up soon thereafter, over the three days of Easter and in the middle of a torrential New Orleans downpour. The rain is an unrelenting character in this book, adding to a feeling of drowning, and we see Sister Holiday trying to keep her head above water as she investigates the murder of her parish priest. Water is everywhere in this book, both as an antagonist and as a blessing. There are so many layers in this book, I could go on and on.

Sister Holiday holds contradictions similar to my own struggles but instead of writing them off, she celebrates them in Blessed Water. She’s a queer nun who is working within the Catholic Church to change the Catholic Church. (She kind of reminds me of Jamie Manson, the current President of Catholics for Choice, who recently had an audience with the Pope!) This book highlights the parts of Catholicism I still hold dear: a dogged sense of social justice and a deep love and respect for the least fortunate… as well as the ancient wisdom and ritual. No one can deny that the Catholics do pomp and circumstance better than anyone. At the same time, Sister Holiday takes institutional violence to task — within the Church, within the police force, within the government, and beyond. Alongside some of her radical Sisters, she’s a quiet force for change and truly one of my favorite characters ever written.

Beautifully constructed with writing like a fine razor, Blessed Water bathed me in the mysteries of faith. Sister Holiday is slowly healing my deep religious trauma, one page at a time. As much as I loved Scorched Grace, the quick pace and increased character development in Blessed Water made this book even better than the first. I didn’t want to put this book down and ended up powering through it in less than 48 hours. I’m so glad this series found a home with Gillian Flynn’s imprint. She’s the godmother of twists you never see coming and, while I wouldn’t call the Sister Holiday series a psychological thriller, it is certainly cut from the same cloth as Gone Girl in many ways.

While I read an electronic version of this book, I listened to the first book Scorched Grace on audio. Mara Wilson (yes that Mara Wilson) is back as the narrator for Blessed Water so I assure you, it’s absolutely fantastic.

Blessed Water releases March 12 from Gillian Flynn Books, a Zando imprint. Preorder your copy today!

Renee Powers founded Feminist Book Club in 2018 to provide a space for intersectional feminists to learn, grow, and connect. When not reading or running the biz, you can find her drinking coffee and trying unsuccessfully to teach her retired racing greyhound how to fetch. Favorite genres: feminist thrillers, contemporary literary fiction, short stories, and anything that might be described as "irreverent"

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