Skating On The Vertical: Stories by Jan English Leary

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Funny how the comet looks both still and in motion- held in its orbit but fighting to break away. Brian thinks it’s beautiful, freeflying. I only see it’s falling apart. I am Brian’s tail, clinging for dear life, feeling bits of myself break away and turn into mist. He’s on the move and I can’t hang on for much longer.

Short and intimate, this collection is women at their worst and best. In Eskimo Pie, Margaret is a teacher reluctant to be the awkward students champion. It’s my favorite in this collection, because I felt so wounded by her honesty and refreshed. We hate mirrors, don’t we? Reflecting all those things about ourselves we shed long ago or, the horror, seeing everything we don’t want to be, but are. Jessica, that poor, clueless outcast is set to have a far worse day, poking Margaret’s meanness. When she gets her period, the hardness is dislodged and suddenly the commonality is suffering, something all women share, our bodies betray us all.

Eunuchs is depressing and hopeful, Pak Jeong (Korean student) isn’t meant to succeed and it seems the system in place has it in for him. In trying to teach those students lacking the English language skills necessary to be ‘up to snuff’ for Dreighton Hall, she resents the successful elite and sees longs to save, Pak. Natalie wants to fight for him, as much as she wishes he could just try to blend in his defiance is gathering momentum and when he blows, Natalie has admiration for his courage.

Skin Art is about more than someone who used to ‘cut’, the way Madeline is treated by her husband, that dismissive annoyance and impatience he expresses towards her, the sense she has to explain herself speaks volumes. Why is it she is pushing herself so much, as if trying to keep up with his needs, when so often women are meant to push full steam ahead when they really just need a lie down, a moment to recharge? I adore the moment she gets Mendhi, has the Alok added to the design and that her perceptive husband, quick to point out her faults, is left with nothing but confusion.

In Skating The Vertical, Nate struggles with his father’s descent into depression after losing his job and feels shame in the cruelty he and his friends do to a homeless man. There is, for boys, a different sort of struggle, an expectation of ‘toughness’ and violence, boys can’t be weak, while girls fight within their bodies, boys have to act ‘out’.

Rocky Road touched me, it reminded me of something my own mother has said several times when other female family members have had cancer. A chummy sort of ‘well it takes cancer to lose weight’, that branded my brain. Think about that, I may be sick but at least I am not fat. That’s haunted me, in this story mother Leigh has just finished a round of chemo and her friend  Vena, is a self-appointed healer, setting up the best possible diet for her. Daughter  Candace feels shut out, their bond has been junk food, and their curvaceous “Morgan hips”. This clean life is a cold place. It’s funny how stories can mean different things to each reader.

There are sixteen stories within, dealing with unwanted pregnancy,  infertility ,desperate love, self-harm, healing, body image, and of course forbidden relationships. All the terrible things we women do to ourselves, the hidden pain, the lonely choices… it takes crocodile skin!

Available Now

Fomite

 

 

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A Guide For Murdered Children: A Novel by Sarah Sparrow

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No: closure wasn’t relief or release, it was a balancing of scales, that’s all. When the scales were balanced, order and some kind of serenity returned to the world, in spite of oneself. 

When I first started to read this novel, I was lost. I just couldn’t flow with it then I couldn’t really figure out what the heck was going on. Children are dead, we meet two young siblings Troy and Maya at the start pnly to know the will be snuffed out, then something strange happens to Deputy Lydia and her partner Daniel and everything turns bizarre.  By the middle of the book I’m finally moving along and realizing this is other-worldly. Children are returning to avenge their deaths in host bodies of adults, a sort of merging takes place but it’s not all rainbows and unicorns. The children have their own painful memories, fears and longings. What happened to them is disturbing. Willow is the cold case detective who has a connection to the siblings that seemed to have ‘dropped off the face of the earth’ in 2000, it was personal to both he and his daughter. Willow has always had a gift with visions and dreams, ‘spooky stuff’ that aided him. But nothing he has imagined can compete with reality.

The returning children of the deceased are called Tenants, they are merged with Landlords (adults) and I won’t give away how the adults are ripe for housing the children. They all have a mission, and a time limit to attain their ‘moment of balance.’ I realize all of this is gibberish until you actually read the novel. This is one of the hardest stories to review for me, it’s a very strange creation. A part of me felt horrified for the parents in the aftermath, then for the children who had to return and often I was dizzy with trying to keep track of everything that had happened in the past and how it tied into the present. I think my blood-lust for revenge on those who harm children in particular is off the charts, so I kept waiting to feel ‘all is right with the world, there is balance’. Of course, there could never truly be an equal balance, there is nothing in this world that can ever avenge the murder of an innocent, I’ll never be convinced otherwise. Still, there must be some sort of justice, someone must be held accountable, regardless of how many years have passed. Without answers, it’s just added, unimaginable torture for those left behind.

I was lost in several early chapters, the middle I started to get into the story and the end moved me, then I was wondering if this is intended to become a series for Willow? Not sure. I think some readers will struggle with it, it’s crazy but I can imagine this as a TV show, maybe it would be easier for others to wrap their mind around that way. There are a lot of readers out there into this type of fiction. I had a hard time with it but it is a unique story-line.

I liked it for it’s originality, and I certainly felt sorrow for Troy and Maya and wanted to see it to the end for their sake. Not my usual read.

Publication Date: March 20, 2018

Penguin Group

Blue Rider Press

 

 

 

 

The Coincidence Makers: A Novel by Yoav Blum

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I wish I could love you, but I can’t. This seat is taken.

It took a while for me to really get into the story but once I did, what a unique tale. All those coincidences in life, small and large, often pivotal are orchestrated here by the Coincident Makers. Sometimes they are given personas by humans (children, teens, and adults in need) as they call to imaginary friends and always serving them, so much that one in particular begins to feel used. Guy, Emily and Eric learned their skills together, each now on missions to create events in the lives of their ‘marks’ to lead them to love, their purpose in life, great discoveries, anything that human beings need to accomplish everything, all if it under their watchful eyes and planning.  Guy learns he must work with Pierre, a ‘black hat’ coincidence maker, la crème de la crème,  who is known for creating complicated coincidences with heavy consequences such as death, illness, accidents, and even murder!

Their feelings, opinions don’t count for much, they do what they are ordered to do. Everything matters, even the seemingly inconsequential incidents, a spilled coffee, a flat tire, a flash of inspiration. Guy is full of doubt, Emily has fallen stupidly in love with him but of his heart, ‘this seat is taken’ and there is no room left for her. The one he loves may as well be a phantom for all the control they have in being together. Now, Pierre must create a chain of events in the life of one Alberto Brown and he enlists Guy for the smaller coincidences. Guy isn’t sure he will be of use, why does the talented Pierre need a small time creator like him anyway? What is so special about the future of Alberto? Alberto seems as unique as the makers themselves. The hulking Alberto has a big destiny, but what if everything doesn’t go according to plan?

Love is also a theme here, be it between the coincidence makers, or the human beings they try to bring together and each of them share a common flaw, their blind spot. It’s hard to review this quirky novel without giving everything away. It is strange at times, funny, silly, witty and my thought was- how did the author invent this story? What fun it’d be to pick his brain. This is a story of people anchored and those adrift, another world within our own and great fun to play with such an idea. Why not? The coincidence makers are often just as clueless as the humans they have to move around!

Publication Date: March 6, 2018

St. Martin’s Press

A Secret History Of Witches: A Novel by Louisa Morgan

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“Oh, the craft! What good is it, if we spend our lives working like animals and living like peasants?” 

The ache of magic captivates five generations of witches from 19th Century Brittany whose bloodline reaches all the way into World War II.  The women each have their own struggles with love, and in fact men seem to be their biggest threat, as much as for some their own greed, or fears. Where some of the women through time long to hide and accept fate, others hunger for more, even at the risk of abusing their birthright.

I was hoping for more bite from a circle of Romani gypsy witches, and each story would captivate me and then just when I was interested it ended and moved on to the next in the line. I felt like there needed to be more story and conflict from the world outside the families, of course we still need the deception within marriages. But to go from villagers bent on bloodlust in the begining, with the best witch to leave us too soon to milder, diluted witches and situations just left me hungry for more. Not to say there isn’t anything to enjoy, the author plays with history, particularly with Veronica and Queen Elizabeth, and touches on some witchery with scrying, and grimoires, etc. The relationships are rushed over, it’s hard to connect to any mother/daughter bonds, in fact the only relationship fed much fuel seemed to be in the dissonance between Irene, Morwen and Ursula. I had high hopes that when Urulsa seeks out her grandchild  the story would turn, that there would be an opportunity for magic to burn a new path for the Orchiére women, that maybe she would run off with her or take her in hand and teach her, but it wasn’t to be.

They seemed to accept their fate too much and not use their magic enough, curious that maybe even placing a healing witch in the woods would have been enough to make the witchery seem useful, none of them seemed to have a purpose beyond becoming women and getting pregnant. So much betrayal, so many lies, granted as vile as Irene may come off, she was one of the few that at least had done something useful with her power. Again, what is the point in magic if you’re just going to lay low? Punished for abusing power, maybe, but at least she had fight in her. To be fair, there was more hope in Veronica, and the ending is better but I didn’t find myself really in love with any of these women, with the exception of everyone in the beginning. I half wonder if I would have enjoyed a full book devoted simply to Nanette and Ursula. Instead the aunts and uncles die off, a pity because I came to like them. It may just be me, I prefer to stick with a cast of characters rather than rush into the future and their progeny. It’s good, it’s just not quite the witch story I was hoping for.

Maybe magic was simply diluted through the decades, and the women learn to just blend in but where is the fun in that? At least Veronica has some fire in her soul!

Available Now

Orbit Books

The Revolution of Marina M. by Janet Fitch

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My younger self looks up. She senses me there in the room, a vague but troubling presence, I swear she catches a glimpse of me in the windows reflection- the woman from the future, neither young nor old, bathed in grief and compromise, wearing her own two eyes. A shudder passes through her as a draft.

One of my favorite books of all time is White Oleander by Janet Fitch, which I intend to review and post here, as I read it recently again. For now, it’s time to finally post my review. With this, her fresh new novel, the reader gets inside the mind of Marina Makarova, a privileged young woman who wants to free herself from the demands of polite society. History is going to grant her wish for freedom, poetry and love but on the precipice of becoming a woman, everything she imagines as adventurous and beautiful will be anything but.

Ripe for the picking, seduced by poetry of the moment, to young Marina, the Russian revolution goes against everything her family stands for, and it beckons to her young, wild heart. Headstrong to a fault, first she is all Kolya’s Shurov’s and in losing her innocence wants to shed the role of ‘well bred school girl.’ He has stirred her passions, opened her to the erotic. Where her family is loyal to country, Marina is concerned about the starving workers, but doesn’t really notice how far she is from ever understanding such a life. The first dissension between the lovers, the question of honor, and the reality of dying for a cause one doesn’t believe in takes root. Kolya returns to his regiment, Mina soothes her but it’s the fire in her friend Varvara that changes her fate. Witness to massacre, the rise of mutiny, and the start of revolution Marina is entrenched in the changing world. Tying herself to the threat of danger in Varvara cannot be helped and her friend won’t let her flirt with an idea, one is either all in or out.

Marina falls in with poets, and Gena Kuriakin in particular. To think that as she lived in another world, and never noticed him nor his group of poets, how much of the times she had truly been cut off from in her cushy place. She and her family, everything Gena would despise, the shame of it all. Marina is awakening, but she is led every which way, sadly more by her heart than her head, still cursed by the stupidity of youth and naivete. Beside Gena the reality of poverty shocks her with a death, and leads to her father’s fury. ” All those years of care and you throw yourself away with both hands.” Though it’s an old story, a young woman growing out from under her father’s vision of her as virginal, with the country going to war with it’s sisters and brothers, overthrowing one’s own family can be fatal. There are many times the reader is irritated by her carelessness too. Marina has far more choices than the others, whose fights she longs to shoulder as her own. Naturally, her father is just as wrong, having faith in more ‘honorable’ men who would and have soiled her as much as a ‘hooligan’ would. Her gentle brother Seryozha is forced into a life like their elder brother Volodya, an officer away and fighting. Though he is more an artist than a fighter, it could make a man of him yet, or see him to an early grave, and for her father’s belief in honor, she is horrified to see her beloved youngest brother sacrificed. As much as she no longer believes in the war, she has blinders when it comes to those without privilege. When discussing Keats with Lyuda, when she is sent away, “He doesn’t believe in the war.”  Lyuda tells her ” Who does, it’s just our lot can’t get away with it.” Throughout the novel, she is exposed because as much as she has fight in her blood, she isn’t suffering the way the workers and peasants do, bowed by the work they must do to keep the likes of her fat and fed. She is still playing a part, until grief becomes reality.

She betrays everyone, and by her own hand loses everything for the Bolsheviks, for love. The best moments happen when women wiser than her laugh at her. Because she really doesn’t know half as much about life and men as they do. On page 264, the women act as a mirror and it’s my favorite moment of clarity for Marina, who has spent so much time thinking herself separate from all the other doomed women. She wanted life, and her it is in all it’s horrifying glory.

Marina returns to find her mother, to save her, even while having aided in bringing down her life. “People hate the bourgeoisie, period.” Her mother says, and it really is a country of peasants done with having the dainty feet of the rich pining them down. I don’t know nearly enough about Russian history, I’ve read books, I’ve listened to different elders in my family well schooled in European history and still… I was learning as I went along. Starvation, poverty, spilled blood, honor and  loyalty verses change, the reader gets to be a fly on the corpse of history for a time. Marina is frustrating, because I am reading her coming of age when I myself am older and therefore her green ideas seem so far away and yet, she is perfectly written because of those youthful flaws.

Part V is my favorite, elders,  insect eaters, scientists, it’s such a peculiar welcome journey. “In any Earthly Idyll, time and events will invariably intrude’ and thus happens while reading this book of 804 pages. How does Janet Fitch carry such a story and keep it going? Marina is many people in every incident of her life, as we all are. She will not get through her changing country without blood on her own hands. There are lulls, but I kept reading, I wanted to know how it all turned out. The last half of the novel is a strange, dreamlike return to home, a sort of Ionian spell and also an explanation in some ways of why people give up their power and chose to be acolytes to religions, rules, ideas or a leader.  I’ll leave you with that.

Available Now!

Little, Brown and Company

 

 

All The Names They Used For God: Stories by Anjali Sachdeva

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We didn’t know yet that for us there was no such thing as just sadness, that our grief had a life of its own, an invisible mouth like a black hole that drew us inexorably closer.

This debut collection is tender, dark, at times bizarre, and compelling. My absolute favorite is Pleiades, and the story has remained with me for days. I wish the author would use her magic and turn the story about the daughters of geneticists, the sisters so terribly alike and ill fated and turn it into a full novel. But that’s just me being greedy, I can only hope she has a full novel knocking about in her brain, ready to give birth to that I can devour one day. It somehow tickled and horrified me, broke my heart and then kicked my spirit some more. All the stories in the collection are clever and strange. I keep imagining my fingers as forks. I also stepped into the shoes of a wealthy girl, hungry to get the hell out and fall in bad love. In Logging Lake, it’s the terror of disappearances and never knowing. It’s eerie, the unknown is a black hole, it’s a madness, it’s the question that can never be solved.  In Glass Lung a worker in Carnegie’s steel mill is injured in a freak accident that alters he and his daughter Effie’s future.

There is the hunt for something amazing, and the terror of everything you’ve done, all the sacrifice amounting to nothing. It’s angels as muses, a girl as white as snow burying her dead parents, who finds a husband despite her cursed looks and then descends into a secret dark place beneath the surface of her land. The stories are unusual, and at times there is something ominous threatening just in the periphery of the characters vision. It’s terrible, and lovely. This is an author I’ll be watching, hoping for a full novel! Add it to your reading list for 2018!

Publication Date: February 20, 2018

Random House

Spiegel & Grau

 

 

Just Between Us: A Novel by Rebecca Drake

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Understanding that humans are flawed and often disappointing was something of a birthright for me.

Four women, close friends living lives most people dream of attaining,  are settled and set- surrounded by safe schools, good friends, the ideal neighborhood and maybe just a little hidden violence in their midst. Alison spends a lot of time trying to convince her friends Julie and Sarah that sweet Heather is being abused by her husband. The bruise is the first clue, all the evidence that follows cannot be ignored. Viktor may be a successful surgeon, but everyone knows danger can lurk behind any facade.  Terrified for their friend, Alison knows they have to intervene, confront Heather, the question is how. Alison knows she can’t turn a blind eye and go on as if she’d never seen it, that bruise on her wrist. Julie isn’t so quick to believe Alison, known to be hypersensitive. Viktor has only ever been kind, not a bit arrogant, surely he would never beat his beautiful wife? So she puts it out of her mind, until she sees something suspect occur between the couple. Sarah never thought that the star couple with the most out of all of them could have such a dirty secret. Abuse? Of all people, surely not them! Allison always needs attention, at least in Sarah’s mind, and this could just be another way to be the center of everything, couldn’t it? Or maybe Sarah can admit she just resents Alison for reasons that are unfair, and maybe she really is concerned about Heather. Maybe everything isn’t so wonderful with the couple who have it all.

As the reader delves into each character, it’s obvious there are small jealousies, friendships that sometimes leave one out. Naturally,  there is passing judgement about parenting styles that wound and all the usual suburban drama mothers face, until a crime rocks them out of their safe, routine lives. Just what will the women do to save Heather? How much of their own lives will they risk? With no recourse but to sort through the past, the friends try to untangle the mystery of Heather and Viktor’s marriage, discovering things they hadn’t known.

Is Heather the fragile victim she appears to be? Heather is meant to be grateful, happy. She was a model, and traded everything that encompassed for suburbia, for motherhood, for the ‘perfect’ life. Maybe the transition isn’t so natural, maybe keeping life in order has taken it’s toll. Viktor has his demands, needs order, someone has to keep things running smoothly while he continues re-sculpting the world, beautifying everything ugly. She is ‘lucky’, isn’t she?

Each woman has her own opinion about what’s happening and all of them are pulled into a moment that will change them forever. The truth is slippery, and each person sees what they need to but once we tell ourselves a story, we don’t see what’s real. It’s a story of secrets, lies, and manipulation. You can scratch the surface of every family, every marriage and come away cutting yourself up instead. Just who are the real victims here?

Publication Date: January 9, 2018

St. Martin’s Press