Hollow Heart by Viola Di Grado

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“In fact, people here dislike suicides. We’re the pariahs of the deceased community, and they avoid us like the plague. We are the ones who discarded the only thing they desire.”

This is a novel I fell in love with back in 2015, one of the few in a list of novels I wish I haven’t yet read so I can read it again for the first time. A book highlighted to an inch of it’s life because the writing is gorgeous. It’s disturbing, a young woman has committed suicide and we follow her in the aftermath. Nothing romantic about it, because suicide is not sexy. As she tells us herself, “No, I didn’t die of love. I really wish I had: I’d be carrying on the legacy of literary figures like Anna Karenina or Emma Bovary. Instead, you recover from love.”  If there were any ideas of weeping lovers on her grave, the reality is nothing of the sort, the only longing, the only hunger lives inside her mother- whom she abandoned with her exit. There is no remedy for death, only a limp eternity and her consuming loneliness which unfortunately didn’t die with her when she took her life, it hitchhiked. As her body rots, her musings remind us that it is far better to be infected with life and all it’s ills than to be silenced by one’s own hands. Just one more suicide in a family that suffers, “Aunt Clara was the pretty sister, my mother the depressed one. The eldest sister was named Lidia but she had drowned in the Cassible River, taking all her adjectives with her.” 

“My name is Dorotea Giglio and I’m full of flies. However much civilization might have trained you to be frightened of people like me, no one’s more scared than I am.” 

It is now four years after her death, and though she may watch life happening, she cannot touch it, nor feel it. Her heart no longer beats, her blood no longer thrums. She hasn’t ascended to any form of heaven and life goes on blissfully unaware of her, as it will one day  without us. We visit the past with her haunting recollections of her family pregnant with sorrows, an absent father, a little girl who never wants to grow up and who absorbs the contagion of depression her mother exhales. A strange child, one who is afraid of her savior Jesus once she starts attending church. A family of sleepwalkers and dreamers of nightmares, women who smile only on accident and with this knowledge who can wonder why she shook off her mortal coil? Sadness grew as her body grew, she feels she is her mother’s parasite and the book is darker and darker still. When she finds love, it is with a cold man, Lorenzo. When she is dead, she wants to tell someone, him… but life moves on… life cannot hear her and all she has is evidence that he has new love, she is nothing but a dead girl in his past. As she says, “My name is an abandoned house.” 

This novel is macabre but somehow in all it’s ghastly horror it is beautiful and tender. In fact, having meant to simply peruse my highlights for this review, I find myself once again plunging into her despair and reading the novel over. Reading tastes vary, we all know this- but this book isn’t really one genre because it is darkly humorous at moments, overflowing with poisonous sorrow, and somehow it celebrates life while discarding it. It remains a personal favorite, and I think if Edgar Allan Poe had a daughter it could be the character Dorotea, or maybe this author. I have been waiting a few years for another novel by Viola Di Grado, as this one still festers inside of me. Nothing yet… I’m waiting here, collecting cobwebs!

I recommend this book, but not to just anyone. It’s eclectic, it’s beautiful in the way of skeleton trees and crumbling haunted houses. Her afterlife is one long terrible wait, as is how I feel waiting for another novel! “Waiting is one long meal, a cannibalism.” Gorgeous novel, one I would be remiss not to share with readers with tastes as strange as my own.

Available Now

Europa Editions

 

 

The Simplicity Of Cider by Amy E. Reichert

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Sanna had always appreciated the sanctuary of the orchard, and this revelation bonded Sanna like another root digging into the soil, finding nourishment. She’d never leave. 

 

An apple orchard has been in Sanna Lund’s family for five generations. Much like the apple trees, she is rooted, nourished by the family land. There is a magic in her blood and there is no way she can give up and let her brother force her father’s hand in selling it. Time is against her, they are losing money and try as she might, she can’t get the cider just right. Cider that could be their salvation. This is her refuge, but when her father hires help her life is filled with more complications, especially her heart. A single father Isaac and his son  Bass seem to worm their way into the core of her being. Sara has so much to focus on in order to save the orchard, the last thing she needs is a kid getting in the way. All she wants out of life is the orchard, hard work, the ‘simplicity of cider’ and certainly not a single dad no matter how much she is attracted to him. So what if his son’s goofy side is growing on her! Anyone can see Isaac is an attractive man, but so what? Who needs a man stealing time from her failing orchard?

Isaac and Bass have left their own painful lives behind in California, this is meant to be a reprieve from their own problems, certainly not meant to be a permanent stay. Against her better judgement and desires to keep her life contained, Sanna is losing pieces of herself to the two. Sanna keeps her distance from people for a reason, but hiding won’t fix the land nor heal her heart. She may have a special gift but sometimes what you need is to open yourself to others, even those you’ve spent time denying, because that is the true magic. It may take love to nourish the land. Bass has his own difficulties with his mother, in this he and Sanna are the same. Long ago, her own mother left, and she hasn’t dealt with the rupture in her life.

It’s a love story at heart, but not just romantic love. It’s about family, traditions and the running of an apple orchard. It’s fighting to keep a family business alive and how sometimes you have to learn to accept that you can’t do everything on your own and that maybe the changes fate brings are a new way of seeing. Sometimes change can be a gift. This novel was a nice break from heavy reading, a sweet love story. This is an advanced arc, and the novel will not be released until May.

Publication Date: May 16 2017

Gallery, Threshold, Pocket Books

 

The Only Child by Andrew Pyper

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…she has learned how shaky the recollections of children can be. And she was only six when it happened. The age when certain things get stuck in the net of real memory, and other things you try to sell yourself on having happened but are in fact made up, turned into convincing bits of a dream.

Dr. Lily Dominick is about to encounter a man who has committed a disturbingly strange crime. Psychotics are her specialty, but there is something arousing and fascinating about this man. He claims to be 200 years old, a real monster that was used as inspiration for Mary Shelley, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Bram Stoker. This is the part of the novel I loved, what a clever idea! With this, he must be mad! Crazier still, he claims he is her father! As the lone survivor in a brutal murder that took her mother’s life, haunted by strange recollections of a creature coming to her rescue, she is haunted by the tangled mystery of what happened. Lily knows better than to fall into a patient’s fantasy, but there is something different about this man, what if he knows what happened to her mother? The more she learns, his threatening presence becomes more real, or is she just losing her mind?

From the first few pages, I was expecting a different sort of novel. Then Pyper changed direction and Lily became someone else. Or maybe Lily’s professional side is much like a coping mechanism, her way of keeping her world in order, trying to understand insanity by labeling it. But this nameless being is all the Gothic monsters combined and yet no one has been able to capture his true essence. Will Lily be able to understand him? What if he really is her father, what does that mean for her? He is blurring the lines used to diagnose the insane.

Not at all the twists I expected from the novel’s beginning, which is usually a good thing. Admittedly, there were times I would rather see Michael’s rotted evil soul in his actions, there should have been more incidents. But I think his ‘creation’ was fascinating, an original idea with a spit of history. It’s funny, I would have loved a full story of Mary Shelley and Michael’s short lived relationship, the things this author could do with that! In fact, that’s what I loved most- Michael’s history. Sometimes I felt Lily got in the way, and she is the main character! I thought I had her pegged as this level headed survivor and then she unravels and morphs into something strange and different herself. It works here, maybe there is a bit of her father in her after all? Or maybe it’s a delusion she is falling under. You won’t know until you read the story! It was good, the ‘horror’ didn’t hit me between the eyes but I’m impressed with how Pyper worked classic authors into this strange tale. I was given an advanced copy, and my review is based on that. The novel won’t be available until the summer but it’s one to add to your reading list!

Publication Date: June 16, 2017

Simon & Schuster

 

 

The Rules Do Not Apply: A Memoir by Ariel Levy

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“For the first time I can remember, I cannot locate my competent self- one more missing person.”

Ariel Levy tells us people told her all her life she was too much, but what does that mean? And why is a woman ever too much? I was surprised by how much I enjoyed spending time with her thoughts, past, grief, mistakes. We can find common ground in any life, regardless of how they differ from our own, maybe if we did that more often we’d be a hell of a lot more accepting of others. What struck me the hardest was the pain I felt reading about Caster Semenya, because Levy beautifully expressed how devastating it is to be a human being whose most intimate parts are ‘suspect’. For just that moment, I sunk into the shock of such a emotional ‘stoning’, and cannot imagine the humiliation of such accusations made public worldwide on top of all that horror. Levy’s writing in that chapter was visceral for me, I thought about it for days. Writing that can have such an effect on you, that can pull you out of your skin and into another’s is the gifted sort. There was so much to think about, to relate to, for any of us- this gutted me. “But throughout her childhood, her gender had been the subject of suspicion and curiosity wherever she went. ‘It looks like a boy’- that’s the right words,” Sako told me. “They used to say, ‘It looks like a boy.’ The very ideal, the IT, made me sick. Levy’s thoughts on the horrible incident exposes so much about the world and gender.

There was more that made me ache. Life can be beautiful, blessed but you never know what can go wrong, or worse- how you can do such stupid, human things that bring everything you built down around your ears. We hurt those we love, we lie, we get nostalgic or hungry and lose ourselves in a moment of greed and blow it all.  We don’t know what to do with our grief, so we leave it alone, poking at it, letting it fester until it consumes us. Do we carry our families fears, their relationship poison in our DNA? Is that it? Do we pass down the resentment brewing in our bitter hearts to our children, and their children and so on and so forth?

Even Levy’s own parents had a relationship different from the norm. Love is not a box we all live in, well defined and perfectly contained. Just when we have it, so many of us betray our lovers, or ourselves. Why? Why do we sometimes think we must have more? Is it something missing in ourselves? Just when she has everything, she suffers a devastating loss. In our world we’re pushed to brush ourselves off and get over it. (Doesn’t matter if it’s a divorce, a death, a miscarriage) in this vast world you are not the first to suffer and therefore you should move along, perk up, try again. You can just FIX all of it! But life isn’t that pliable. We can’t bring back what’s been lost. Blindness in love is universal. Needing someone there who is absent when we break is akin to falling into a black-hole. It’s so hard to be the rock for yourself when you need nurturing.

This memoir is intimate, tender, beautiful. Your gender doesn’t really matter, nor whether you are in a straight or gay marriage. The struggles are there for all of us, aren’t they? The joy as much as the disappointments. You may be living a grand life and just one event can alter everything you thought was real and true. None of us are safe from nature, nor others actions or worse- our own choices. There is beauty in that, and horror too.  Maybe the horrible things that happen to us, that we do to ourselves and each other have a lesson, maybe it’s all just chaos and chance but it’s the price we pay for being living flesh in this world. Maybe we should stand strong and not rely on another but that isn’t a guarantee from pain either. Either way, Levy’s memoir tells us all we aren’t alone in grief, loss.

Publication Date: March 14, 2017

Random House

The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley

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“Well, if I’m going to go mad I’m sure I’ll find something to fixate on, whether it’s a statue or a tree near a parsonage or what ever. Why not sign me up to the asylum now?” 

Merrick Tremayne is trapped at home, because of a severe leg injury. He isn’t really going nuts, at least he doesn’t think he is- even if it’s absurd that a pine explodes. It really does, doesn’t it? Once a smuggler, he is offered an opportunity for adventure. The India Office wants him to travel to Peru and obtain quinine, but it’s violently dangerous, people do not survive the trek. How is he going to stand a chance when he isn’t fully functioning, with his bum leg? Others have tried and failed. But what is worse, the risk of death or going mad with boredom in Cornwall?

Stranger still, the locals stay away- a salt line keeps them out but is it just superstition? Or is it a way to keep people from snooping? People can’t truly lose time, can they? How is it possible a very young priest swears to have known his grandfather, it just isn’t possible. He wouldn’t have been old enough! Could there really be something solid and true about the superstitions the villagers hold fast to? I love magical realism and there is quite a bit going on here but at times I was thrown off where I thought the author was going. It’s an interesting tale, but at times the danger seemed mild, far more mild than it would have been in reality. Or maybe I’ve seen too many movies and my imagination runs a bit rampant. I felt  a distance towards the main character but I imagine that would be the sort of man to expect from someone who smuggled for the East India Company . He certainly wouldn’t be an open bleeding wound of emotions. What I love is how reality merges with the belief system of those ‘behind the times.’ It’s the most genuine part of the novel.  I had a hard time feeling emotionally bonded to the characters, but it is a good solid story. I need to feel a strong connection, and enjoy emotional displays- be it anger, love, jealousy… this was just too cool for me. Which is likely why I would never be that great of a smuggler.

Religion always takes an interesting turn in these sort of stories. What it excuses, how it mixes with politics. Much like superstitions, people are easily manipulated in what they fear or worship. I found myself thinking, how typical of the times, here is a man from another country coming to pillage from others what isn’t rightfully his and we are supposed to be on his side. I was, but with the nagging voice in the back of my mind saying- how dare he! The ending was good but passion, where is the passion? And yet, the writing is good, it is a creative story that with other writers would have escaped it’s creator. The pollen was this playfully magical character in itself, that supplied my mind with quite a visual. The reason for ‘exploding wood’ was fascinating, so much of the story worked. I think had the characters been less level headed and more fiery I would have been more enthralled. With that said, it’s a creative story with just enough magical realism to keep it from verging on the ridiculous. All of it, in the end, came together. I need to read The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, I keep hearing it’s really good… If you are for adventure that at times is tame, but with a good solid story then this is perfect for you. Coming soon.

Publication Date: August 1, 2017

Bloomsbury USA

Last Day On Earth: Stories by Eric Puchner

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“We collected their shells in our shirts and made necklaces that we wore around like witch doctors.” 

Something about the first story, Brood X, hit me with nostalgia. My guess, the cicada necklaces. I was one of those strange kids that used to marvel at the empty husks they left behind, clinging to branches, trees, walls, you name it. I was a bit of a tom boy, running around barefoot and in love with nature. When the cicadas take over in this story, it seems every animal (human too) goes a bit crazy with it. I wanted this short story to be a full novel, I loved everything about it.  As the boy in the story tells us of his mother, “Normally a lovely and compassionate woman, she took a devout interest in the deterioration of other people’s homes.” I laughed. It’s because everything about the characters in the story are believable, even in their obnoxiousness. The children are funny, talking about the ‘screwing’  bugs. Sometimes I forget how shocking information is to young ears, even something as natural as the fact that bugs  ‘joined’ together are having sex! I admit to once telling my little cousin on a walk that we had now entered Russia. I wasn’t a mean kid, just silly but it scared her – kids love to see what they can convince others are true. I was sad when it ended. Somehow it managed to give off a strange feeling, then sadness hits you for the strange new family that moved in, inspiring rumors.

Each story has it’s own tinge of disturbing, even in small ways. I think I loved Beautiful Monsters as much as Brood X. It comes off as terribly sad but creepy too. In Mothership, Jess comes off as selfish but troubled- she’s always wanted to crawl into the seeming perfection that is her sister. She is damaged, and in staying with her sister and her precocious children she may just see her sister’s life in another light. Doesn’t seem strange but an encounter she has gave me a gasp, because the ideal of it, what it reveals about her sister’s ‘perfect’ life. Who really has it all together? Who doesn’t have struggles? Something is wrong with Jess, for some people the simple things are a big struggle. It’s just a reality for some people. If I am honest, I have to admit I would eat up a full novel about the family in Mothership, I even loved the precocious niece. If you can write a short story with characters people would love to follow longer, I think you’ve nailed it. Nothing enormous had to happen, it was the small stuff that moved me.

These stories are ordinary and not. The youngsters are confused, and misunderstand so many things as they slowly shed the skin of their youth, as in the story where the young boy thinks his mother is a robot. Maybe a robot mother is easier to believe in than one that has human failings and needs. The writing is lovely, and the stories made me feel as ‘off’ as the characters, and I think that’s what I liked most about them. They just made me feel strange, and in many ways most of us are- at our core- a bit strange. From crippling depression, a world where parents no longer exist, mothers that may or may not be robots to a dad partying with his baby this collection takes a skewered look at the ordinary. What is stranger than being a creature with the ability to think so much about the meaning of everything, and to ponder the roles of everyone we are connected to?  I really enjoyed this collection, it’s the first book I have read by Puchner. This wonderful book of short stories will be available to buy next week.

 

Publication Date: February 21, 2017

Scribner

 

 

 

You Were Here: A Novel by Gian Sardar

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“Ghosts. The usual reason for fears of basements, attics, or closets at the ends of long halls. But Abby’s never believed in ghosts. Nothing flits in the corner of her eye; her rocking chair never moved on its own. For her, the fear is suffocation, breath faster and shorter, world compressing, everything heavier and heavier til she’s gasping, an open-mouthed futile plea.” 

Abby Walters has a reoccurring nightmare of being buried alive, the nightmarish terror so genuine that she can taste the dirt. Memories bite, and the terror is real but isn’t hers. So who then? Is it just a nightmare, or something darker, far more sinister? Abby loves stories, the forgotten memories of others, lost in death, in time. Maybe time is reaching out to her. The dream changes when she hears a name, a name that pulls her family’s history in. It’s time for Abby to return home, maybe pillage the place for answers. There she will reunite with her high school crush, now a detective knees deep in the violence of chasing a criminal much in the way she is chasing her family’s secrets. Leaving behind her boyfriend,  a screenwriter who is not quite ready for marriage, Abby is conflicted by her feelings towards Aidan. They have a natural connection, but should she explore this attraction when she already has Robert?

Trying on a ring her grandmother owned, Abby remembers the anger her grandmother had when she tried it on as a little girl. Why such a hot reaction? What is it about this ring, what is the mystery? She finds a note, and the claws of the past grab the present. There is more than one love story, but they are entwined- everything turned ugly, gnarled, twisted. This love calls from the grave and maybe only Abby can hear it’s death knell. What we hide, the secrets we bury have an uncanny way of rising to the surface.

Not all love that blooms is healthy, some love turns when it alters and jealousy whether rightful or not, feeds on us from the inside out and threatens everything in its path. We do things we wouldn’t otherwise, only to end up wondering how we became so weak and clingy. If it’s love, it should be natural. We shouldn’t have to manipulate or ‘arrange’ anything. There is so much I want to say, but I will give the story away. I enjoyed it, and yes, it’s okay to feel bad for both women. Sigh… The novel kept me up late wondering how it would end. Such a disturbingly sad story that lives in the past and present. Strange I finished it on Valentine’s Day… but love is a strange beast. You have to wait until May to get your hands on it.

Publication Date: May 16. 2017

Penguin Group Putnam