Harold: A Novel by Steven Wright

Harold was a wondering machine. God made Harold specifically to wonder. If there was a God.

I grew up watching comedy, Steven Wright and many others, and I always loved his style, though I should say his mind. I feel lucky I was born in 1975, during a period of incredible, intelligent comedians. This book is humorous and beautiful. Harold made me think of my son, who was always the first to raise his hand when teachers asked if there were any questions, simply because his mind ran nonstop. Let’s face it, these are the kids that exhausted the grown-ups, but there is something beautiful about a questioning mind. Harold is truly a wondering machine. It is the mid 1960’s and when we meet him, he is in third grade. His inquisitiveness is very mature (we are told he does more thinking than someone his age, or someone any age), and I think his grandpa is the one that feeds that fire. I adore when Harold shares his love for the old man, if only more children had such joy in their lives. His mother’s mental state is questionable, and how Harold thinks about the world and the endless parade of birds living in his wild imagination opens the reader to the uniqueness of the boy. I always wonder when someone writes about youth if they borrow from their own childhood, even a little. Is this a young fictional Wright?

Sometimes children astound adults with what is going on inside their little heads. Some children may be ‘away with the fairies’ but Harold is often ‘away the birds’ and as a fellow lover of the winged creatures, what other readers may find boring, I adored. He tells us the animals represent his thoughts, bring them to him. Thinking on that, thoughts too can be fast, fragile, bright, and as exotic as birds.

He loves his classmate Elizabeth and lives his own little romance with her, often when he is looking out the classroom window and not paying attention to the teacher. He likes Ms. Yuka but is equally annoyed at her for demanding his focus when he’d rather be pondering life’s mysteries and God, if there is a God. Girls are just as mysterious, almost like aliens and he feels it must be so much easier to be a boy. He is the little guy with secret smiles, laughing at thoughts that tickle his brain. He is never without entertainment, in a time when children didn’t have ready-made fun. His mind is his playground, is he crazy? He wonders how one would ever know if a child was insane, when all kids are born with ‘a little built-in craziness.’

His daydreams are extraordinary, he thinks about the meaning of time, he seems to be growing up fast, maybe because of his mother’s struggles. He has a dream he is on the moon and while he misses Elizabeth, he knows he won’t always be on the moon, and will be back in the classroom soon enough. I can see it’s hard to believe a little boy would have a mind so full of such thoughts, but imagine an unrecognized genius, and it’s more enjoyable. If you think about it, he comes off as silly or not altogether there when called upon, the truth of his brilliance is hidden, it’s all inside of him. When I went to school he would be picked on and called weird, anything that stands out always was back in the day. People wouldn’t think he was as smart as he truly is, because his mind pulls him away.

I enjoyed this story, the only thing I wanted more of was interactions between Harold and his grandpa, what a character!

Yes, read it!

Published May 16, 2023

The Woods Are Waiting: A Novel by Katherine Green

Yet they thought their innocence would keep them safe. Foolish are the young.

Cheyenne Ashby has returned to her hometown of Blue Cliff, Virginia, leaving the safety of her tiny Roanoke apartment behind. It was survival that made her flee to begin with, but the Police Chief is adamant that his hands are full ever since a little boy has gone missing and he cannot divide his time by dealing with her mother Connie, who has always been a force to be reckoned with. Amidst drying herbs and superstitions, her once fierce, strong mother looks more like a shriveled madwoman. Shamed for staying away for so long, she hadn’t realized how bad things had gotten, how damaged her mother is. Immediately she wonders if the missing boy is the reason she has lost her grip. She warns Cheyenne, “Don’t go into the woods, and, “I have felt him coming” for months. Already Cheyenne is placating her mother, and taking the object she slips into her hand for protection, but it is anger she feels with its weight. These beliefs of Connie’s ruined her mother’s entire life. Her words, to anyone else, sound like mad ravings, but there is no denying that standing in the woods, they feel like nightmares being invited back in. Her mother’s intuitions terrorized her childhood, and birthed resentment. There was enough fear growing up, with the stories of the children who the woods swallowed, who would never come home, decade after decade but where other parents shielded their children, her mother fed the fire of fear. It was only to protect her! Cheyenne had tried to escape her, so it wouldn’t ruin her own future and yet here she is, back again, about to be swallowed by her duty.

The ‘dirty truths’ (posters of missing children) stare out at her when she goes into town, a stark reminder of the towns darkness, some as old as fifty years. Layer upon layer of grief, of horrific mystery. It is a cycle, one she herself was caught up in, her reason for leaving years ago when the bodies of three children were found, and a man was put away for it. The town itself, like any other, has its strange characters but with the exoneration of suspected murderer Jasper Clinton, they are starting from scratch. Who is taking the children from Hickory Woods?

The novel is shared by Natalie’s perspective, Cheyenne’s childhood best friend. Heartsore that she was easily cast aside, she wants to reject Cheyenne, but it’s not in her nature. In her absence, Natalie, like the rest of the town, has checked in on Connie. Natalie is still defending her friend, even if she deserves the grief others want to dish out. Then there is Jackson, the boy who loved Cheyenne, and still seems to carry a flame. Waiting for her too, though, is the dreaded Hickory Man. She cannot stop the recurring dream, that has only grown stronger with her return home.

The Appalachian Mountain town is tied to the old ways, has taught their children how to protect themselves, often with talismans. Whether it really works or not, the woods and whatever beast or evil lurks, is enough to make the people cling to any form of protection they can, praying their child won’t be snatched. What Cheyenne sees as her mother’s lost mind, Connie swears is her job, to save the children and parents of Blue Cliff. The Chief can’t do it. It angers Cheyenne that her mother believes in such nonsense, but she knows better than to try and fight her. Diving deeper into the mystery, could her ancient superstitions be right? Not even the FBI has answers, in all these years.

Her mother has filled Cheyenne’s old scrapbook with articles about all the missing children, why? Connie is adamant it is so they will never forget. Her mother is obsessed and it is draining the life out of her. Is the town insane, feeding this belief of the woods and the Hickory man, his hunger for blood? He is just as ingrained, rooted in the town as the trees. Whatever the truth, something is coming, and she is not sure who to trust or whether she will escape this time.

This was a decent read, and I only wish we had more time with Connie in her earthy, superstitious glory. I wish the book had been told from Connie’s perspective, that would have engaged me more, but it was still worth reading.

Publication Date: July 11, 2023

Crooked Lane Books

Meet Me Tonight In Atlantic City:A Memoir by Janet Wong

I grew up with mythology over the archive.With the stories that my mother tells me, each one roaring from the belly up, like a strange many headed beast. Maybe that’s why I’m a poet. Maybe that’s why I want to unfurl her stories- our stories- like an anteater’s endless tongue. Maybe that’s why I keep asking questions.

This was a gorgeous memoir about life as a restaurant baby with a mother that planted the seed of poetry in Jane’s ears, her heart and soul. Her father owned the Chinese American takeout restaurant on Jersey Shore, one that her mother would work in while he was gambling in Atlantic City, always losing in the end, in fact her father gambled it all away, but what stood out the most is why Asian Americans gravitate toward gambling, immigrants particularly. What it means to be a target, the endless cycle of big dreams that lead to destruction. How it feels growing up with a father driven by being the boss despite his failures, feeding an impossible dream and a mother enduring an arranged marriage, trying to keep her small children fed. The power in disappearance, the joy and wisdom in Jane’s mother, if only there were a wongmom.com website, which is shared with us throughout the book, all her mother’s beautiful advice and humor. Just how did she keep hope alive and look forward to a bright future after the trials she endured?

The world over, it’s truly known that Americans have strong, white teeth that practically glow. It’s a status symbol of the rich, my own father explained to me long ago about dental care he received as a child in Hungary (normally, teeth were just pulled out) leading to a lifetime of dental problems and it was easy for me to understand why it’s just another box to tick in a pretty life. Immigrants struggling to learn a language and build a career that can sustain their family doesn’t leave much room for expensive healthcare, especially for a single mother. People do what they must, seeking out care that is less than stellar, and usually unlicensed. Jane’s mother sacrificed for her children, forgoing proper healthcare, a choice no one should be forced to make. Looking put together, the appearance of wealth is important, a means for respect, she taught her children this. Make like you mean to go on…

There are culture clashes, Jane grew up visiting Chinese medicine shops, vastly different from the sterile pharmacies of the USA. Chinatown, the place they would go for reminders of home, the food, the language, a piece of what has been left behind. There is a ‘necessary roughness’ that her mother must hold tight for survival. It is this toughness that has helped make Jane Wong the successful woman she is today, but she didn’t go through childhood unscathed. What it meant to be Asian while she was growing up surrounded by whiteness is explored, beauty standards the world over and their effects on ethnicity. It is eye-opening, the white effect, so to speak, when her culture itself has been pillaged. How have Western beauty standards crept in the world over, and how does that affect young men and women? You could write a million books about it.

Jane is candid, admitting her every shame, sharing the pattern in her romantic relationships, her past insecurities, confiding what being Asian American is like for her, how her father’s gambling addiction broke her family apart, what it took from him, his abandonment of her family and yet she still manages to share how tender he could be, with his own mother. There is so much heart in this memoir, the poetry of becoming. Instead of blame and rage (though of course she carries it inside of her), she helps us understand how things sour. Writing was her salvation, one her mother encouraged, knowing it was important to her. Jane made it, and she worked hard on her way up, a successful poet born out of the Asian American working class many overlook. Yes, read it!

Publication Date: May 16, 2023

Tin House

The Second Woman by Louise Mey

She knew two kinds of look, just two kinds of the male gaze: the one that checks you all over and tosses you aside, and the one that checks you all over and decides it feels hungry. Indifference, or a predator’s threat, nothing else, all her life.

It isn’t a lie, this is a brutal, immersive novel and one that left me feeling the despair that Sandrine faces living in her skin. She is disgusted by her existence and her imperfect body, prefers to avoid her dreadful reflection in the mirror. It’s not a mystery why women feel ashamed of not living up to ‘ideal’ standards of beauty, nor is it hard to wonder how someone like Sandrine has turned a cruel, critical eye on herself. There is a weakness in her, a disappearing self and yet she is tender and caring of others, which is what leads her to fall for a man whose wife, Caroline, has disappeared. “She felt a wave of sorrow sweep over her”, when she first heard him appealing for help, sobbing over his missing wife on television and the radio. Deciding to take part in a “White Walk” (search) the missing woman’s parents set up, she meets him for the first time, and admits she is there because of him. She felt so sorry for his pain and loss, she was there for him, not so much Caroline. She goes back to her lonely little life, hating the weekends when she is not at work, left to her own company. She hates her own miserable company. News comes that points to the harsh reality the Caroline is likely never coming back and something horrible happened to her. Just when Sandrine thinks there is no hope and she should just end it all, the man contacts her and so begins her life as the second woman.

Sandrine is soon living with the man and his young son, Martin. Their passion is immediate and intense. She loves him with abandon, trembling for his every touch. He possesses her in a way she has always longed to be wanted. Suddenly, she has her forever, her happy ending and if she is standing in the former woman’s life, so be it. She cannot deny that Martin, the boy, is troubled, such a timid, sad child. It isn’t her place to be more than ‘fond’ of the boy, who isn’t truly hers. He is a clever boy, she knows that right away and if his father is often brusque with him, it is only because he wants to toughen him up. Her man, he is quick to anger, but it’s only natural with what he has been through. They fall into a rhythm of their own and she is even wearing clothes that delight her partner, despite feeling such garments don’t flatter her. He knows best, and she wants to please. She abides by his every desire, demands. His ways are set, she wants to mold herself to fit his needs. They have their routines now but suddenly, the missing woman is on television, her memory clouded, lost. That’s when everything spirals out of control.

Living with Martin expanded her universe, but the outside shrinks, including work. He likes his privacy; from the start he cautioned her against confiding in others. Certainly, there was talk, people who thought he killed his wife, but she refused to reveal anything to her co-workers, protective of their love. Who are others to pry, anyway? Now, with Caroline found alive, there would be more curiosity seekers. Worse, Caroline is going to be coming back to the house, hoping to ignite her forgotten memories, spending time with her son Martin. Her beloved doesn’t exactly embrace the idea, in fact, he meets it with scorn. He feels invaded, and how should Sandrine feel? Is Caroline competition? It’s all too bizarre to contemplate.

Caroline arrives with her parents and two police officers by her side. Sandrine’s beloved, thankfully, seems emotionally detached, leaving her feeling strangely relieved. Maybe her life with him is secure and Caroline isn’t a threat? She doesn’t remember anything, not yet. Sandrine doesn’t want to hear what the cops have to say, she wishes Caroline would just go away again but soon she wants more time with her son, Martin and Sandrine’s beloved doesn’t like that. In fact, it infuriates him as does the way everyone seems to be judging him, looking at him with suspicion. Their life together is being probed and he is angered by what Sandrine might say. He takes it out on her, and she agrees with him, how dare these people assume things, he is a good man! The female cop is harassing them and it’s making life unbearable for her man. Right now, Sandrine has news, happy news, but how can she share it? Her beloved is confiding more about Caroline and their troubled marriage, how difficult his wife was. Secrets he never revealed to others. Why is the female cop fishing for information from Sandrine? Sandrine doesn’t know who Caroline is, she is a mystery to her.

Her man is getting more and more irate, over time, accusing her of speaking for him when truthfully, Sandrine is only trying to protect him. She can no longer gauge with accuracy what will upset him and how to avoid inflaming him. It is all coming apart. She cannot retreat deep enough into herself to keep their life contained. Caroline is remembering things, who will Sandrine believe?

What a ride! If you get triggered by abuse, you won’t be able to read this. Sandrine is filled with so much self-loathing she practically embraces it from others. Love and hate are the same for someone like her, and it’s heartbreaking. How easy it is to slip from lover to prisoner. The threat of humiliation, shame is often what keeps women walled in too. I don’t want to give anything away, this book spirals into darkness. It is a woman’s horror story! Yes, read it!

Publication Date: May 30, 2023

Pushkin Press

Barbara Isn’t Dying: A Novel by Alina Bronsky

He didn’t like her. This wasn’t the Barbara he knew.

Walter Schmidt has coffee every morning, because his wife Barbara makes it for him, but life as he knows it is about to end. Barbara isn’t dying, he tells us himself she is healthy as a horse, but when he finds her, she isn’t doing well at all. It’s his turn, finally, to make coffee and to take on all the tasks and chores, the care she has provided for him and so many others. If anyone is the unsung hero, it’s her. Truth be told, all of that has always been Barbara’s business. Walter reminds me of a different generation, great uncles my mother has shared stories about, men who behaved as if their wives and children were just people to tolerate, when really, it’s the women who were the strength, the source that kept family and marriage going. Barbara is the pulse, and now that she has become weakened, infirm, it is time Walter has his eyes opened.

He is like a child, quite capable but stubborn as hell. His wife’s life isn’t so easy, here she was dragging his weight, and other hidden sorrows we learn about later, and yet she is popular with the locals, which becomes obvious as he meets strangers inquiring after her. Too, she raised their children, I’m convinced it wasn’t ever Walter elbows deep in dirty diapers. Through every interaction, the reader learns how he sees the world as if muddied, how different he is from her. She is one of those people who gets on with things, who makes the world and its people better for having known her. She is well loved, people fret over her, but he doesn’t seem to know his wife half as well as strangers. In fact, he has taken his comforts and her nurturing for granted. The saddest truth about this story is that Barbara likely wasted so much time carrying weight that wasn’t hers to bear alone!

Life is one big hassle for him, which is strange considering Barbara took care of everything. It is sweet when he takes on nursing her, but can the poor woman even relax in the stage of “not dying”? Yes, Barbara was always in the process of changing, she had to as it seemed she was doing it all. Funny how he exonerates himself for his divided attention throughout the decades, because he was a busy man, as if she wasn’t being pulled from all direction, no wonder she is rundown and ‘not dying’. That ending is why I really enjoy Alina Bronsky’s work, there is always more story. It was a good read, even if Walter was tuned out and selfish for so long.

Published May 9, 2023

Europa Editions

The Ugly History of Beautiful Things: Essays on Desire and Consumption by Katy Kelleher

I was a child, and I felt entitled to a certain amount of prettiness.

Such entitlement doesn’t fade, many of us desire prettiness and more of our precious objects, not because we carry some evil intent to destroy nature or other people. We like things that emanate beauty, that make us feel good, it’s a part of our humanity. In fact, even our most harmless objects can have a pretty gruesome or mean past. It’s easy to think, these days, what difference does it make anymore, even the clothes I wear is likely made from slave labor, do I go naked? It’s nothing new either, there has always been a dark history attached to our consumption. This is a fascinating, engaging read that makes me look at flowers, mirrors, and hell, even seashells differently. It’s not all depressing but it is a loaded history. Consumerism is molded by our culture, we are manipulated by it, to be sure. Doubt me? Read about diamonds.Why do we claw to obtain things that generally aren’t worth a damn? There is no shame in beauty, and we could run out of breath arguing what beauty is, but it seems there is a price to pay for our desires, whatever they may be. Slave labor is alive today, just how responsible are we when the things we crave maim, harm, abuse other human beings, creatures, and the very earth itself? It’s not an easy question to weigh particularly when children enter the equation.

In striving to be beautiful, we do damaging things to our health too. Yes, beauty can be quite destructive. Women, it’s no surprise, have always been first in line to torture themselves based on the desires of others, the current fad and popular images. Is it better to bury our heads in the sand and not know how things are made? Katy Kelleher admits in her introduction that she believes beauty is a necessary part of life, and she isn’t shaming the reader, it’s meant more to expand how we consume and experience objects. None of us will live in this world without having a negative impact, but it is positive too. There is a very heavy history within these pages, but it humored too thinking about human beings and things we have gone wild for throughout time. The heated passions over orchids, the risks we take to secure the objects we covet and the business ventures created to milk us for all we are worth. In fact, I delighted in the writing about turquoise and our ridiculous beliefs about native culture. I sank into this book learning things I didn’t know and have ended the read thinking heavily about this endless wanting, especially as I reach for a plate wondering if it’s bone china or spray some perfume on my skin, checking the ingredients for toxicity.

To be noted, it’s not all about money, those of us who struggle with finances and have to buy things on the cheap (not by choice) are inherently a part of the problem too. We are all trapped in this damning web.

Her career isn’t going to make her enough money to afford the lavish dwellings, the beautiful marble counters in the homes she visits for work but beauty and happiness can still be secured. There will still be ‘private luxuries’ and beauty is an important part of that. Intelligent and provocative, a great read!

Published April 25, 2023

Simon & Schuster

When the World Didn’t End: A Memoir by Guinevere Turner

The thing about violence is that it’s not something that can be happening every second. Lives have to be lived. Houses of cards have to be reconstructed. I imagine they both told themselves lies to get up the next morning. I imagine I told myself a few as well.

The above excerpt is an incredibly insightful explanation of abuse. I think many victims that stay in such situations do so because although one day can be a horror show, there are normal times in-between. The lull is a deception, of course, but it is in these moments people excuse what they’ve endured, for that fleeting taste of the calm days. The memoir begins in 1975 with Guinevere Turner waiting for the World People to be wiped off the earth, except for the adults and children of her community, led by Melvin Lyman. These chosen few were going to be saved by a spaceship where they would abscond to Venus, the planet of love. What six-year-old wouldn’t believe such a magical fantasy? What child wouldn’t be excited? As we all sit here on planet Earth, it’s obvious the ship never came but that only meant the date would be reset, it was still going to happen, back to the compound and new rules. Rules such as what movies, tv shows, events were on the “Lord’s List”, according to Melvin. Not everyone lived in Los Angeles, there were separate places in the Community in Boston, New York, San Francisco, Martha’s Vineyard and the farm in Kansas, where Guinevere lived under hardships, chores including working the sorghum fields, tending to animals and where children were shamed for being one’s own person. There was a hierarchy, and she was just one of the ‘rough and tumble’ farm kids. Shunning was common, and the children didn’t live with their biological parents, though many of the kids were all related in some way. The farm was Jessie’s, the Queen everyone clamors to please. For me, it was one of the saddest truths, that Guinevere hardly knew her mother beyond random phone calls. As luck would have it, she rises in status, joins the caravan and lives in Jessie’s House but acceptance comes at a price and there is always someone above her, treating Guinevere like ‘the help’.

The shocking, heartbreaking incidents of the story take place beyond the confines of the community. The true terror is in the terrible reality that waited for her when her mother chose to leave, disgraced. Growing up in the cult may have taught Guinevere to bury her emotions, how to placate self-important adults, and how to shrink so small that life held no room for privacy, for boundaries but it is all put into practice under her mother’s roof. Handing your parental power over to communal care has its consequences, her loyalty remained with Jessie, longing to return to the only world she knew, the safe one away from the rotten, evil World People. How could her own mother, a stranger, evoke any love within her heart? Over time, she learns the hard way that maybe the Lyman Family was wrong about the rest of the world but the home her mother creates is far more dangerous than any cult. Guinevere resents her for leaving in shame with a man named FP. Guinevere keenly perceives FP as a person that “left his paw print on everything, thought he deserved everything.” Her mother defers to him, he is a tyrant, living with him becomes a crushing weight full of ugly secrets. How is she supposed to embrace this new role when even her younger, half-sister Annalee is a stranger to her. School isn’t any better, she doesn’t understand the social rules, having only gone to public school once when she was a part of the Lyman Family. It was an insulated life growing up in the communities, all the better to keep control, therefore it is no wonder Guinevere had no experience with how the outside world operated. She truly is thrown into an alien planet when she attends school and is around other children. There is no escape from the abuses that await her at home, Annalee doesn’t have it any easier, in fact, FP “hated the very sight of her.” It seems they are both stuck, but will it be forever? Her life takes a dark turn, if only a spaceship could come and save her, but it will take her own inner strength, fight, and courage to change the course of her life.

It astounds me that anyone joins a cult, maybe I am more of a loner, but I couldn’t willingly, blindly hand over control of my life that way and certainly never turn away from my children nor allow anyone to parent them while I still walk this earth. It’s not a place of self-righteousness, I honestly cannot stomach child abuse. Her mother doesn’t just bury her head, she victim blames and there is no excuse- none. Dysfunctional family doesn’t even begin to describe what happens, it is vile, it is cruelty. Why do such people freely walk this earth, I will never know! I hope that her memoir is a release from the painful past that was forced on her, it takes bravery to confront dark memories. It’s important light is shined on cults too, especially from a child’s perspective, those who have no voice in their own lives, led by the so-called adults. Yes, read it!

Publication Date: May 23, 2023

Crown Publishing

The Haunting of Alejandra: A Novel by V. Castro

Alejandra didn’t know how to articulate that she would rather die than experience another day in her current existence, as herself. Her soul felt so dim, the slightest shift of wind or breath might snuff it out. She was seeing things and didn’t know if anyone would believe her.

Alejandra is the mother of three children, her life feels like it has shrunk, her soul withered. She wants it all to end, and a shadowy form is haunting her, whispering it can help her do just that. Is she on the edge of a breakdown or has something sinister risen from the depths of her bloodline? She scolds herself; it could just be the stress and anxiety of locating to Philadelphia from Texas, this is her husband Mathew’s big chance. The fact is, she feels the pressures that come with moving up in life, all the heavy lifting that will no doubt be her future. Matthew feels she should be thankful for all the things they have, and he certainly doesn’t understand her inner struggles, nor have does he demonstrate compassion. Her mind and body are exhausted, she desperately loves her children, but she is cracking inside and is terrified of the things she is thinking, feeling.

Matthew is wrapped up in his fulfilling career, while she had to give up her job aspirations. She is on her own, with his traveling for work, and there is no one she can call to help her with their children. Her mind is a fog, she feels like she is backed into a corner with no options left to her. She had promised early on that she would be a mother and wife first, and Matthew is holding her to it but what if she cannot measure up? He doesn’t have time for her breakdowns, she spends her time crying in the shower, unseen.

After putting her youngest children Elodia and Will to bed, she gives her daughter Catrina special attention by telling her a bedtime story. Catrina begs for a scary one, so begins the tale of La Llorona, a mythical Mexican ghost/demon who appears as a woman in white, drawn to weeping and tragic events, and hungry for vengeance. Her child knows nothing of her mother’s culture, with Alejandra having been adopted, her parents discouraged her interest in her own heritage. Then she married and had children, and the suppression became more about the distractions of caring for her young family. Strange to relay such a loaded story when she is beginning to question her own mind, hearing and seeing things, ashamed for wanting more when even her little girl wonders if she and her siblings are enough for Alejandra. It’s yet another thing to hate herself for.

Her dreams are dreadful, as if some monster is waiting around the corner, ready to silence her children forever before dragging her into the water. Never would she harm them, she wants nothing more than for her kids to have the opportunities to choose their own path when they grow up. Matthew is the perfect father in that sense, if not the best husband, he is a great provider, he can secure the freedom for their children she never had. Not all her dreams are haunted by evil, there are women in them too, who give her comfort some nights. If she can just learn to control her mind, then the world will not crumble, and she and her children will be safe. But from who or what, is it the phantom she is sensing, or is it darkness within herself?

With a DNA Tree letter in hand, she is excited to share her family history with her eldest, who only wants to please Alejandra so she won’t be so unhappy. The blank spaces on the tree, that is the real mystery. With Will gone everything gets harder, she seeks help by finding a therapist, one that is Mexican American, a spiritual medicine woman. Dr. Ortiz runs her own practice, an advocate for women of color, dealing with generational trauma, mental health and encouraging entrepreneurship. The women in Alejandra’s mind, from her dreams, seem to push her towards this confidant woman, one who she wishes she could be.

Dr. Ortiz could be the guide she needs, to conquer the threatening evil that has hounded the women in her family for generations. It will take working through her personal trauma; from the moment her mother gave her up and the pattern that swims through their line to the dark evil presence that lingers. Mental health issues, how their Mexican American culture influenced the choices before them, hope, love, shame, desire, and terror… any mother that has ever felt like a failure can relate to the pain Alejandra is experiencing. Her female ancestors each have been under the curse of La Llorona, but why? Can it be stopped? Or will Alejandra lose everything.

Publication Date: April 18, 2023

Random House


Out There: Stories by Kate Folk

I cannot wait for the burden of my memories to be removed.

The stories in this book are bizarre, within the pages there is a moist house, dissolving bones, a turkey rumble, blots, and women who compare their organs, but so much more for such a fast read. They are cleverly peculiar, moving tales of loneliness, desperation, obsessiveness, fear, love, and jealousy. The most surprising takes place in The Bone Ward, where the patients bones dissolve at night and the only woman on the ward feels she is being eclipsed by a new, beautifully flawless female patient. The end is creepy and just. In Doe Eyes, a woman devises the perfect, mad plan to get back at hunters, what could go wrong? In Out There, our thirty-year-old narrator is looking for love via dreaded dating apps but with blots in the mix, how does one dodge trickery and disaster? The Last Woman on Earth is an intelligent piece, particularly how the men feel about her throughout the years and her journey. Heart Seeks Brain is wildly unsettling and a play on human desire. The Void Wife makes me think of the inescapable demands on women, and the terror of pondering an eternity with the wrong person. In the tales characters must face themselves, what goes on in their own crowded minds, how they confront the world and their own needs. Others penetrate their world too, for better and worse. Even a house can weigh a man down with its impositions.

The stories kept me entertained, and Kate Folk is an author to watch. This writer has a natural gift for creating tales that escape the norms but are grounded enough to make the reader ponder their own emotional landscape. Through my many years of reading I have come across bizarre novels, some hit the mark, others will just throw all sorts of silliness and hope something sticks, not here. There is intelligence in the oddness. I can’t wait to see what she creates next.

Published March 29, 2022

Random House

White Cat, Black Dog: Stories by Kelly Link

And so, some think it may be possible to survive their presence if only one can enter into a state in which one is not afraid. Only we are so very afraid of them. How could we not be? They are monsters.

This collection is a refreshing reinvention of fairy tales, stories that are eerie, tender, shocking and strange. The White Road is by far the most engaging and a touch repulsive when you gnaw on the prop they use to avoid the beings that travel upon the road. What has happened, to bring the world to such a state as this, where a company of people, mostly actors, travels through settlements selling goods, spreading news and performing while something stalks humanity. Are they living in hell? Our narrator is busy ‘picking her way through desperate places’, but how desperate will she become herself? What acts are people capable of, when the world pushes them to become someone else?

The first story is about divorce, a rich man, quests he forces upon his three sons and a beautiful, white cat that can talk. It is about desire, obedience, greed, and our quest to be loved. Prince Hat Underground is about love’s feckless nature, and our hunger to hold onto it keeping those who would steal it away at bay. I thought the writing was lovely, the things we collect about our beloved and all the things that remain out of reach. In The Lady and The Fox, Miranda is invited into the bosom of the Honeywell clan for Christmas by her godmother, Elspeth Honeywell. She knows the woman feels sorry for her, with her mother in jail, and as she feels like a spectator enjoying the ‘battalion’ of wealthy Honeywells and all their dramas,it is when she ventures outside into the snow that the real excitement enters her life. A man is in the garden, looking very much like a spoiled Honeywell, he tells her his name is Fenny, but who he is becomes a puzzle she wishes to solve. Year after year, she can’t wait for their next encounter. If only she could get him to stay, invite him inside to join in the jubilation but there are strange rules.

Skinder’s Veil is about a graduate student named Andy Sims who cannot finish his dissertation, is falling off schedule and accepts his friend’s offer to be her proxy by house-sitting in a remote place while she has business to tend to. His biggest job is how he is to handle the friends of the owner when they come knocking at the door. There will, without a doubt, be visitors. Naturally, it gets creepy. He must not break the rules.

Every story gives the reader ‘much to think about’. I would read a full novel based on several of these characters anytime. Yes, read it, it was a nice escape from the weight of the world today.

Published March 28, 2023

Random House