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A Measured Thread

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Fifty years is a long time to keep a secret

Looking back on her life, Maggie O’Connor is rightfully pleased. Fifty years ago she left Ireland with a single suitcase and a dream. After a long and satisfying career, she is enjoying retirement on her farm in rural Wisconsin — until she falls.

Determined to regain her independence, she hires Isobel, a young woman who is also an emigrant. Helping Maggie clean house, Isobel finds a cache of letters that Maggie wrote to her parents those many years ago and begins to read them aloud to Maggie

But the letters contain a secret, one that Maggie has kept for fifty years. A secret that threatens to destroy her life and that of the people around her. With little time left, she must make a choice — give up, or face her past.

A Measured Thread is a powerful story that explores questions of guilt, abandonment, redemption, and the consequences of the choices we make.


Published April 14, 2020

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About the author

Mary Behan

4 books1 follower
Mary Behan is a retired professor of neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She devotes her time to writing fiction, short story and memoir. Abbey Girls is a memoir she wrote with her sister, Valerie Behan, about their childhood in Ireland. Her first novel, A Measured Thread, was listed as a notable book in the 2020 Shelf Unbound Best Indie Book competition and an eLit medal winner. She lives with her husband in the Driftless Area of southwest Wisconsin in a historic log cabin overlooking a tallgrass prairie.

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5 stars
25 (59%)
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9 (21%)
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Displaying 1 - 22 of 22 reviews
213 reviews2 followers
June 7, 2020
Mary is a friend of my Parents’s who also spent some years living in Mazomanie. It was a personal gift, so I am not going to rate it. It’s the story, semi-autobiographical I assume, of an Irish woman, Maggie, who comes to the US to get her postdoc in zoology. As a woman of 80, her life story comes out through reading old letters written to her parents in the first years of her time in the US. Through the letters a secret is revealed and then Maggie takes over the telling. The bond between family, both biological and those who become like family to you, is a central theme. You can tell the author isn’t a professional writer, but it’s a sweet story.
Profile Image for Fictionophile .
999 reviews327 followers
April 30, 2021
Wise. Touching. Wonderful.

Reading this book made me experience many emotions. I empathized greatly with Maggie and her plight.

The novel made me acknowledge once again just what rich lives many people live. All people have secrets, hopes, and doubts. Maggie was a strong woman who valiantly tried to accept all that she was, and all that she had done.

With rich characterization, “A Measured Thread” the story of one woman nearing the end of her life. The story explored the guilt that is inherent with being someone’s child, someone’s wife, someone’s friend. Regrets and secrets are meaningless when the end of life is near.

This is a wise and wonderful read. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Bonnye Reed.
4,008 reviews66 followers
December 26, 2020
I received a free electronic ARC of this excellent historical novel on December 1, 2020, from Netgalley, author Mary Behan, and publishers Lawrence Gate Press and BooksGoSocial. Thank you all for sharing your hard work with me. I have read this novel of my own volition, and this review reflects my honest opinion of this work. This is a warm, soft-hearted tale that I found totally compelling. It is one I highly recommend to friends and family and will plan to read, again, down the line. If you are not familiar with Aldo Leopold, please research his contributions to restoring farmed-out land into a healthy, nourishing prairie. Aldo Leopold and his family invested their lives in this project. He and his children and grandchildren have researched and written much on the subject. And of course, the "measured thread" refers to the Greek Fates, goddesses Clotho, the spinner, Lachesis, with a measuring tape, and Atropos, the elderly lady with the knife, prepared to cut the thread of life.

In the author's information, you will find a similar history to that of our protagonist, Maggie O'Connor, which accounts for the perfect reenactment of time and location in our tale. As Mary Behan shares with us, history is merely experiences remembered. She shares with us her own experiences with things as varied as traveling alone half-way around the world for a college scholarship and the steps in becoming a US citizen, awaking in students the love of learning, creating an Aldo Leopold prairie in her own back yard, to years of hosting winter solstice parties in her neighborhood. An Irish immigrant and professional woman, a retired professor who loved her work, Maggie is childless and ten years widowed. She has spent the last 50 years of her life in the cabin she and her husband made their home in the Driftless Area of southwestern Wisconsin. Retirement has given her more time to make improvements and repairs to the homestead, to walk her fields and sort through and weed-out her possessions. There are cousins scarcely known in Ireland, but no closer family to inherit her home, and they are all her age as well, not long for this world. She changed her will when her husband died, leaving her worldly goods to those cousins, but knows that they will simply sell it all and divide out the money. She can't blame them for that, but she is fairly sure that her years of work returning the farm and land to health will be almost immediately lost. The pushy neighbor who offers to buy her out every chance he gets mentions cornfields, or perhaps sub-divisions.

And then mere days before her 80th birthday, she takes a fall on the basement stairs. Broken right wrist, several ribs, right foot, twisted ankle, and wrecked right knee has her in hospital and rehab for weeks, and her recovery is not going to be speedy. The house is on several levels and is isolated, she will not be able to drive for a while, and though her neighbors for the most part are very helpful she accepts that she is going to have to have help if she gets to go home. The young man who has helped his father over the years to make improvements and provide maintenance on the farm will be glad to help but he has a business to run, so his time is limited.

Enter Isobel Babic. A college student in nearby Madison, Isobel is cheerful, helpful, responsible. She will be conscientious and has several days a week she can help. She will of course need to bring her dog... And in the quiet afternoons, she will willingly read aloud the recently uncovered box of letters Maggie sent weekly to her parents in Ireland back in the long ago... Letters returned to her by those cousins after the death of her mother. Maggie is of two minds about reading the letters. She is quite content with her life, more pleasant than otherwise, comfortable, productive. A life well-lived. Going back to those times of change and youthful folly and angst might not be the thing at this point in her life. But it might help Isobel deal with changes coming in her own world.
Pub date April 15, 2020
received December 1, 2020
Reviewed on December 26, 2020, at Goodreads, Netgalley, AmazonSmile, Barnes&Noble, Kobo, and GooglePlay. Not available for review on BookBub.
Profile Image for Jody.
127 reviews6 followers
December 8, 2020
This book felt like a warm hug. Heartwarming and soothing.
Behan does an excellent job with the imagery - I can see Maggie so clearly, in her rustic cabin on the Wisconsin prairie. Feisty and capable, taking care of her land, and creating community.
Maggie is a character I loved to read about (prequel please!) - smart, capable, educated, and self-assured. Relationships are important, but she is first and foremost her own woman.

Through this delightful story, we see Maggie protecting her land with a prescribed burn when one wrong step changes her world as she knows it. Her journey from a fully independent woman to one that needs hospitalization and rehab, to finally returning home but needing help, we see Maggie come to terms with her own mortality.

As she learns to accept help, Maggie finds that her life is enriched with not just friends and neighbours, but with Isobel who comes to help her. As her strength returns and she begins to sort through the accumulation of her life, including the belongings of her late husband, Maggie and Isobel discover a box of letters - letters that Maggie wrote her family in Ireland every week. We don't just get to see the letters, but the memories that surround them and we get to understand more about what makes this fantastic woman tick. But underneath it, Maggie has a hidden past, one she has never admitted, let alone confronted.

What will become of Maggie? How will her live change now that she has acknowledged her past? What will happen to her little slice of heaven in the Wisconsin valley? How far will her bully of a neighbour go?

Truly worth the read to find out.
1 review
June 12, 2020
A Measured Thread is a satisfying, thoughtful and thought-provoking story; I highly recommend it. The book itself is a lovely thing to own, its cover a superb landscape by Wisconsin painter Gina Hecht and with typeface and layout that are pleasing and refreshingly comfortable to read.
In quiet retirement in the beautiful (and accurately detailed) driftless landscape of rural south-central Wisconsin, Maggie reluctantly reflects on her life with the help of a young friend. Both women are immigrants and the issues surrounding their migrations resonate despite their differences. For readers like me who are also immigrants, this story has special significance. Maggie’s feelings prompt us to ask ourselves how much thought we gave to the effect of our departure on our families, who have only seen the TV version of America. How can people of another generation, who have never traveled, understand what it is like to arrive in the US full of youthful enthusiasm and anticipation, and what it is like to find a career and prosper here, let alone be sympathetic to the problems we face and how we deal with them? Should we feel guilty for leaving them behind? Maggie confronts her past, eventually with courage, and by the end of the story she feels like an old friend, not seen for ages but familiar and close. In the end one can only admire her energy and resilience.
I’m already looking forward to Mary’s next novel…
Profile Image for Gregory Renz.
Author 0 books4 followers
May 11, 2020
A MEASURED THREAD by Mary Behan was written in such an authentic voice and laced with such emotion, I felt I was reading a gripping memoir. But it’s not a memoir, it’s a wonderful novel that tells the story of a woman’s search for peace and forgiveness as she reaches the end of her years. The protagonist, eighty-year-old Maggie, is beautifully flawed. She’s set in her ways; knows what she wants and what she doesn’t want and makes sure everyone knows it. Her comfortable world is rocked when she falls and can’t take care of herself. This propels the story forward where she begins to examine her life and questions decisions she made; decisions that affected her parents and her search for a rewarding life. The setting of her rustic home in Southwestern Wisconsin is described in vivid detail and takes the role of an important character in the story. The reader is also treated to wonderful portrayals of Ireland and what her life was like there before immigrating to the United States. The story is masterfully told with dialogue that rings true and action that jumps off the page. The tension in the story built to a climax that left me breathless. Bravo, Mary Behan. Nicely done.
1 review
July 14, 2020
This tale of Maggie O’Connor is an exquisite and delightful portrayal of the life of an elderly Irish woman who immigrated to America in her early twenties to pursue what has always been her ‘dream,’ to maximize her intellectual curiosity and potential while sharing it with others. Sure...rightful compensation and recognition are a part of her choices and decisions but ultimately it’s a variety of unexpected twists and turns that shape her inner being and only come full circle as her life enters its finality. It’s just not a tale ‘of discovery’ and intrigue, but one that’s apt to touch us all, i.e., how much of our pasts do we unknowing protect, hide or quadrant off. Maggie O’Connor is a woman with set values and purpose that aren’t to be altered or bent but in this lovely told story, their fullness only emerges when she allows herself complete ‘freedom’ from a checkered past. It’s a well-written book without set ‘answers’...but plenty of room for personal contemplation. I found it delightful!!!
Profile Image for Michelle.
79 reviews1 follower
July 4, 2022
This was an absolute gem! I was drawn to this book as I was born and raised in south-western Wisconsin and settled for many years near Madison and the surrounding area. I felt like I was visiting an old friend in octogenarian Maggie O'Connor right there in my neck of the woods. It was very special. The author brought me into the story quickly with her writing style; the words just rolled off the page. I felt such an affinity with the characters, especially Maggie, as she looks back on the life she lived and the decisions she made. Very poignant and lovely, though I did not always agree with the character's actions/reactions at the time, they were realistically and beautifully flawed. And the bond that Maggie and Isobel developed was, for me, quite special. I thoroughly enjoyed this story and it has earned a spot on my favorites shelf!
1 review
July 16, 2020
It's not just that I love the setting, or that I love the author (I do; 'Abbey Girls' is marvelous); it's because I lived the story from beginning to end. Historically, I only read memoirs because they feel like the only emotionally-honest books, but I was completely enthralled with Mary Behan's Maggie, who felt as authentic to me as the author of an emotionally-raw memoire. Maggie's portrayal of her life was a personal gift to me. I feel changed: more honest, more brave, more secure in my own emotionality. Sounds like a lot for a novel to do...and even more-so for me, since don't 'believe in' the 'truth' of fiction. Mary's Maggie is authentic! Thank you, Mary Behan. You spoke to me!
Profile Image for Rex Owens.
Author 10 books9 followers
May 21, 2020
This is novelist Mary Behan’s first work of fiction. Previously she co-authored a memoir with her sister about growing up in Ireland. In A Measured Thread octogenarian Maggie O’Connor faces a number of challenges, most important, the guilt and remorse she feels from abandoning her newborn child when she was in her twenties.

The book is well crafted, has a good pace and plot. There is a surprise ending that is very satisfying and completes Maggie’s tale with hope.

A Measured Thread would be a good summer read.
Profile Image for Chad.
29 reviews
July 16, 2020
Lovely first novel by Mary Behan. Mary is as skilled at suspense and pacing as she is crafting her plot. As the main character, Maggie, struggles to maintain her independence, she encounters physical and mental barriers of an almost Gothic nature. The land and cabin itself transcend mere setting and become additional characters of depth and beauty. It's an immigrant's quest to redefine "home," an octogenarian's struggle to maintain independence in a world that doesn't value her contributions, and a love letter to conservation and respect for the land.
August 8, 2020
After a primary career as a very successful scientist and academic, Mary Behan has now become a genuinely talented author. I have read both of her books, and I love the engaging style in which she writes. I have just finished her new novel, A Measured Thread. Honestly, I couldn’t put it down over the past two days. It is wonderful. Isobel and Vic are lovely warm characters, Maggie is complicated and yet straightforward, and that Bill Bruenig…a man you love to hate! I know I will wake up tomorrow morning wondering whether Maggie’s flight home to America has been booked.
1 review
July 16, 2020
A Measured Thread by Mary Behan is a thoroughly enjoyable first work of fiction by this new author. There is humor in it and sustained interest. The characters are delightfully human so it’s easy to recognize a friend, acquaintance or even a neighbor in some of the people portrayed. The surprise ending brought tears to my eyes. This author has great promise and I hope she has more stories to tell.
Profile Image for Valerie Biel.
Author 6 books64 followers
April 11, 2021
This is a beautifully written story as the main character looks back on her life and the decisions she has made. Current-day events keep the plot humming along. That pace combined with the emotional depth of the characters make this a page turner. I didn't expect--but appreciated very much--the twists in this well-woven story. Lovely--just lovely!
Profile Image for Margaret Yelton.
1,815 reviews30 followers
August 16, 2021
Overall this was a good book, although I wouldn't say it was a favorite I still found it a worthwhile read.

I received an ARC from NetGalley and the publisher, all opinions expressed here are my own.
Profile Image for Kathy.
380 reviews
January 2, 2021
Good writer. No surprises in the story. The Wisconsin tie made it worth reading for me.
55 reviews2 followers
May 29, 2021
A nice story overall but I don’t think I would read another book by this author as I don’t care for her style of writing.
1 review
June 7, 2020
This was a lovely story - some mystery, some suspense, interesting interpersonal relationships with painterly descriptions. Very enjoyable read.
Displaying 1 - 22 of 22 reviews

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