Spunky Rebecca Martin is a single mother putting her life together after a messy divorce from her irresponsible surfer husband. With the feeling that there are no good surprises left in life, Rebecca concentrates on caring for her precocious six-year-old daughter, Mary Martha, and handling her increasing workload as a graphic designer. Complicating her busy schedule is a pushy suitor who is convinced that their relationship must follow a set pattern and timeframe.

When an ex-monk named Michael Christopher rents the empty downstairs apartment in Rebecca's San Francisco home, both of their lives change. After spending 20 years in a monastery, the warm and witty Christopher takes a job flipping burgers at McDonald's and learns about life in the secular world. It is young Mary Martha who initiates the conversation between the two adults after she joins the ex-monk in the backyard while he putters in the neglected flowerbeds. As the flowers begin to bloom and thrive, so does the relationship between Rebecca and her new tenant. Although each one is dealing with personal struggles, Rebecca and Christopher form a friendship that deepens in this funny, touching love story.

The turning point of their relationship comes unexpectedly when Rebecca's eccentric mother suffers a medical crisis that tests the couple's love for each other. But the mystery of love and the reality of life leave no doubt in Rebecca and Christopher's minds about what the future holds for them.

The Monk Downstairs illustrates with charming ease how lives are interwoven. Laced with elements of spiritualism but never veering far from reality, this intelligent story immerses readers in the action and endears us to the two likeable main characters. Farrington, known for the New Age sensibilities displayed in his previous novels, The California Book of the Dead and Blues for Hannah, should broaden his readership with this well-crafted third novel. Mary Jo Harrod is a writer from Clarksville, Indiana.

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