The Finest Hat in the Whole World


Fiction - General
396 Pages
Reviewed on 01/04/2018
Buy on Amazon

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Author Biography

Colleen A. Parkinson is the award-winning author of the harrowing play, "The Injured Child," and the poignant one-act play, "Waiting For The Train." She has also penned book reviews for The Mississippi Rag, and has posted many book and music reviews on Amazon under the name, "Noratsinthecorn."

In addition to writing and theater, her interests include psychology, American History, genealogy, literary classics, and every kind of music, with a special love for the tunes of the 1920's through 1940's.

What makes Colleen smile? Animals, kids, her goofy siblings, her friends, making others smile, a fabulous cup of coffee, a full night's sleep, birdsong in the morning, flowers, sunrises, sunsets, Al Bowlly's singing, and all kinds of weather (as long as it doesn't include hurricane force winds.) And... oh, yes: feedback on her writing.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Liz Konkel for Readers' Favorite

The Finest Hat in the Whole World by Colleen A. Parkinson follows a family's journey through the years 1917-1937, from the Great War to the Great Depression. Des Stewart is the responsible member of his family, having never married or left home and devoting his life to caring for his younger sister and ailing mother. Both of his brothers lead opposite lives with fractured marriages and children. His family has been haunted by a past of death, guilt, and secrets. All of this changes for Des when his older brother insists he take in nine-year-old Phena after her parents tire of her insolent behavior. As Des tries to steer Phena onto the right path, their unbreakable bond ends up saving them both.

Though the events take place during significant time periods such as the Great Depression and the flu pandemic, the story primarily remains focused on the characters and leaves most of the historical context largely in the background. Redemption is a key factor in several of the characters' lives. Des finds his second chance in life when he gets custody of Phena. He finds fulfillment in his life by giving her a better chance at a future. She's a spit-fire, attacking when she feels attacked, and calling out what she finds to be wrong, but her second chance with Des makes her a stronger character. He teaches her kindness and forgiveness, and gives her a real chance at a happy life. The characters are deeply flawed, but very real with some redeeming themselves along the way while others don't change at all.

The most shocking change is found in Des's younger brother's journey from a drunk bored with his marriage after week two to someone who has some redeeming qualities. Phena has the most significant change as she experiences a coming of age journey going from childhood to adulthood. Colleen A. Parkinson writes a realistic and human story about family and second chances. There's a lot of tragedy, but also a lot of heart as this family may be estranged, but love is still there. Secrets are revealed in this emotional read about how a fractured family becomes whole. The Finest Hat in the Whole World is a story of past regrets and second chances in a journey of love and loss.

Divine Zape

The Finest Hat in the Whole World by Colleen A. Parkinson is a riveting story that explores the themes of family, secrets, personal development, coming of age, and redemption. Desmond Stewart is literally hooked to his invalid and widowed mother, while his two brothers, Gerald and Eddie, are married and living their lives as though there was nothing to worry about. He is the kind of man who would run away from himself if only he could, but he can’t escape his depression, coupled with secrets that seem to spread darkness over his soul. But things change when his nine-year-old niece, Phena, comes to live with him. Can being responsible for his niece help him to fix his own life, to live with a deeper purpose, to heal? The story revolves about Phena’s growth and her world of troubles, and how she affects her uncle’s life.

This lyrical, well-told story starts with a powerful line: “Secrets are like moonlight obscured by fog.” The author immediately pulls the reader into the consciousness of the main character, allowing the reader a glimpse into the darkness within him. Colleen A. Parkinson recreates the drama taking place in many troubled homes and she does so with ingenuity and a rare knack for creativity. The story reads so realistically that any reader can relate to it. I enjoyed the characters; they are compelling, each with a burden to carry, and seeing how they evolve throughout the story will be a huge delight to readers. The historical references are masterfully used to add color to the already beautiful setting. The Finest Hat in the Whole World is a title that elicits curiosity, a story that will entertain readers and have them turning the pages, longing to understand the bond between uncle and niece and what becomes of them. It’s a beautifully imagined story told by a masterly hand.

Sefina Hawke

The Finest Hat in the Whole World by Colleen A. Parkinson is a fictional novel that follows Des Stewart and his niece, Phena, from the Great War to Prohibition and through the Great Depression. Des Stewart was always the responsible one in his family. When his siblings went out to live their lives with spouses and children, he stayed back to care for their mother who was suffering from senility. At thirty years of age, Des Stewart is a depressed bartender at a saloon with no hope of a fulfilling life, but that all changes when his nine-year-old niece, Phena, is sent to live with him. Phena is a temperamental child who has exhausted the patience of her parents. Does Des Stewart have what it takes to make young Phena into an honorable woman?

The Finest Hat in the Whole World by Colleen A. Parkinson is a well-written piece of fiction with wonderful use of figurative language. The author did a spectacular job in creating a clear picture of both the characters and the setting in my head. Young Phena quickly became my favorite character; I just loved how realistically she was written. I really loved how Des managed to pull himself out of his depression and loneliness in order to be the adult that Phena desperately needed. This book really touched my heart because I could truly understand the burden Des felt when he gave up on his own life to help his mother, and the way that influenced his own life.

Rabia Tanveer

The Finest Hat in the Whole World by Colleen A. Parkinson is one of those novels that you love on sight. The story spans over two decades in which one man, hardened by time and responsibility, becomes the guardian of a little angel who needs his help desperately. Set in the time just before the USA enters WWI, the novel follows Des Stewart and his beloved little niece, Phena, as they try to stay on top of the adverse life they have and not lose sight of what is really important: family.

Des has always been “that” member of his family who was responsible and the one who handled things with his head in the game. When his mother needed him, he paused his life right where it was and helped her while his brothers went on to live their own lives. Des believes that he has no future, he is depressed and he has a job that he doesn’t really like, but desperately needs. But his redemption comes in the form of a refreshing little nine-year-old called Phena. Since her parents cannot control her, she comes to live with the distant uncle. Only what both Phena and Des don’t realize is that they both belong together. Together, they will mold each other’s lives and help them find themselves as who they truly are.

This is definitely one of the most endearing novels I have ever read. Colleen A. Parkinson’s writing style is very contemporary and a lot like Harper Lee and Mat Johnson! Both of them are gems of contemporary literature and I believe Parkinson has the talent to be named among such a skilled group of writers. Des’s character is very relatable. We all have insecurities and we all are looking for that chance to help us find ourselves. Des is endearing and his relationship with Phena is just incredible. She is the light of his life and he is hers. I simply loved this novel and I could not have wished for a better written novel.

Arya Fomonyuy

The Finest Hat in the Whole World by Colleen A. Parkinson is a captivating story with emotional and psychological depths, a story that looks at the drama in a troubled family. Desmond Stewart is a man who has his insecurities and one who has suffered a lot; in fact, he is depressed and guarding dark secrets. He is also stuck with taking care of a mother who is riddled with suffering and who veers towards insanity. It seems like he is stuck while his two brothers are married and mindlessly living their lives. Then things change when his nine-year-old niece comes to live with him. Now, Des must face life with more discipline and courage, otherwise his niece may have no direction at all. The story revolves around the lives of these two souls, both broken, and the secret bond they share.

Colleen A. Parkinson creates a story that is both inspirational and motivational, a story that excellently showcases the themes of personal development, despair and hope, family, and what it takes to create meaning. I loved the characters and the fact that they are created to be so human. The setting is wonderful, a historical period dominated by war, the Depression, and other social ills. Desmond Stewart seems to be a symbol of that age. The writing is beautiful and evocative, featuring very insightful and colorful passages, and descriptions that succinctly capture the state of mind of the characters and the seasons of their souls. Well-paced and gripping, The Finest Hat in the Whole will have readers crying and laughing, feeling utterly entertained and connected with the compelling characters.

Sarah Stuart

The Finest Hat in the Whole World by Colleen A. Parkinson brings alive a world that is now consigned to history. Opening on New Year’s Eve in 1916, the backdrop, seen through the eyes of Phena and Des, is of young American boys excited about the chance of being drafted to fight in Europe, and goes on through the catastrophic influenza pandemic, Prohibition, and the Great Depression. Des, thirty, overweight and depressed, with alcohol abuse in his past, has dedicated himself, the only one of her children prepared to do so, to caring for his almost senile mother. Nine-year-old Phena reappears in his life when Des’s sister-in-law, Louise, is desperate for a break from “the bratty child.” Can Des tame what his brother Gerald calls Phena’s “feral viciousness” in one short summer?

I absolutely loved The Finest Hat in the Whole World. Colleen A. Parkinson has created an extended family who truly step off the pages and live. The result is a character-driven story that makes the reader feel love, hate, sympathy, joy, despair, the power of Our Lord… every emotion that exists: for me, that is the mark of a very talented author. Des and Phena tell the story, and it is a beautiful, intriguing, and emotional tale, with unexpected twists, Also, it demonstrates Ms. Parkinson’s deep understanding of human nature and memories of childhood. “She spied his hat, remembered that once upon a time she tried to knit him a new hat. She had no talent for knitting something as complicated as a hat.”