The Atlas of Forgotten Places: A Novel by Jenny D. Williams

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Can you tell Aunt Sabine what you’re doing? Lily looks up defiantly, squinting. I’m giving food to hungry people, she says. And then I’m going to fly on an airplane and never come back.

 

Sabine Hardt is retired from aid work, now living back home in Germany when she finds out her American niece Lily has disappeared in Uganda. When she doesn’t come home as scheduled, fear gnaws at her gut. Not content to sit around waiting for others to search, in a place where there is no funding for such interest in disappearances, Sabine must return to the very place that haunts her memories. Who better than Sabine to deal with the locals, to hunt down the information and places a veteran of such aid work like her self can navigate? Her life path will join Rose’s. Rose Akula lived through the horrors of the Lord’s Resistance Army, shunned by her own people upon her return, at turns frightened, jealous, hurt when her lover Ocen vanishes, both Rose and Sabine must unite to chase the trail of their loved ones. Is it possible they were both entangled in something dangerous? Could Ocen and Lily have meant something to each other? Rose is living with the disturbing memories of her time with the LRA, left wounded physically and mentally. Her story is by far the richest and most moving. Her longing for Ocen drives her to face dangerous forces again.

This novel isn’t just about family bonds, it takes the idealism aid workers begin with and shows how it morphs, clashing with the reality of the country and it’s people. Just how do good people become just as hardened and blind to atrocities as the very natives they are there to ‘save’ and ‘help’. The victims too aren’t always welcomed back with love and compassion but met with suspicion and shamed. It’s easy to peer into other cultures and see what needs to be fixed, when you are distanced from the real horrors. It’s too easy also to walk into danger, focused so much on doing what you feel is just, and morally right. What captivated me most are the perspectives of each character, because it’s like separate worlds.

It’s a story full of heart, courage and also harsh realities. I was engaged most by Rose’s story- taken as a young girl by the LRA and the grief that lives inside for everything that happened, that she returns to darkness and horror just to try and help Ocen. I am not sure we could all be so brave. Sabine’s memories, the things she learned about herself during her time as an aid worker is crushingly moving- facing the ugliness and apathy that she hadn’t realized she was capable of is one of the truest things I’ve read about the flip said of a charitable nature, because in the end we are human beings, flawed and weak.

Publication Date: July 11, 2017

St. Martin’s Press

Thomas Dunne Books

 

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The Solace of Trees: A Novel by Robert Madrygin

 

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American or Bosnian? The truth was, he felt neither completely one nor the other.

During the Bosnian war, Young Amir sees his family murdered. The Solace of Trees is where he finds shelter, hiding in the forest deaf and mute, all alone, suffering from severe shock. Nowhere is safe for him, a boy of Muslim heritage though he finds a sort of brotherhood in Josif. Together they step into further danger and Amir finds himself at a UN camp unable to communicate. Through art therapy, pictures- a therapist is able to extract a story from the young orphan. Pia finally has his name, so maybe she can make sense of where he belongs and can locate his family! But her hopes are crushed,  only to discover the boy escaped a slaughter. Suffer the children, what sense can she make of what is in the children’s eyes? Pia is horrified by the pain and terror, defeat she sees in the eyes of grown men but to know a child lived through unimaginable horrors is unconscionable. His salvation is to live in America, a place foreign to a boy who has survived a war-torn existence. Amir is numb and has no idea what awaits him on the other side of the globe. This numbness remains, but with foster parents The Thorenson family  in America he learns to sign and is met with patience. His future has felt for so long directionless, chaotic. Why silence embraced him he assumes is due to the explosions but in truth, it may well be trauma, grief and the horror of what he experienced, what no child ever should. Where will he go next, what does it matter to someone who has been wandering, anchored by nothing, haunted by horrors?

Dreams, memories haunt his sleeping nights… but now with Margaret Morgan, a retired professor,  he is slowly feeling human again. Morgan is about to make a decision that will change both of their lives.  Margaret fosters the young boy, through trying times, home-schooling, and joy she feels in their solitude she knows she must push him to become a part of the larger world. His treks into the woods, forests are a part of Amir’s nature, one that keeps him connected to his past, a world he shares with Margaret. Through her love, he finds strength but Amir gives as much to Margaret.

The future is open to him with film documentaries, a way for Amir to understand his past.  In college he finds love but when he works on Dr. Ashrawi’s documentary and 9/11 happens everything spirals and the professor is in trouble for his connections to terrorist groups. When he returns to Bosnia with his girlfriend, the terror he thought was long buried returns, his involvement with the professor may be what leads him back to the horror and darkness he left behind. He was saved once, but can he escape again? Is there a reason to hope?

I always do a lot of soul-searching after reading about war torn countries and orphaned children of such atrocities. It’s never something people living in a free world can ever comprehend, we can watch as many movies and read as many books as we can get our hands on but it’s not the same thing. However, this novel attempts to share the experience through Amir’s eyes. To say it’s heartbreaking seems to minimize the reality non-fictional children live and breathe, so I will just say this is a sobering read, one that stays with you.

Publication Date: July 17, 2017

New Europe Books

 

Is Canada Even Real? How a Nation Built on Hobos, Beavers, Weirdos, and Hip-Hop Convinced the World to Beliebe by J.C. Villamere

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A 1997 broadcast of the long running Chicago based radio show This American life unveiled the shock and discomfort Americans felt when they were told that many- so many- of the people at the epicentre of American culture were Canadian. The most outrageous reaction was reserved for the anchor of ABC World News Tonight Toronto-born Peter Jennings. “I can’t believe it,” said Peabody- winning This American Life producer Alix Spiegel. “He delivers information about America to Americans. He interprets our culture for us. It’s like having some Czechoslovakian as your vice president. It’s just wrong.”

What? Really? My fellow Americans, I ask you- do you really dislike Canadians so much? Particularly when all most Americans admit to knowing about Canadians are Hockey, moose, beavers, Justin Bieber, Jim Carrey and Mike Myers. The tasty  hors d’oeuvres of facts in this book had me laughing and surprised. Drake starred in a Canadian soap opera? This is the strangest bit of trivia questions I’ve read. Weird mascots, strange children’s shows, a certain famous singer’s cut hair worth $40,000, truly!  And what was the song Informer by Snow about anyway? Don’t lie, you know what song and you probably liked it!

This book is fun, silly and just for kicks. It ‘takes this piss’ out of Canada. What I did know was so much less than what I didn’t. I’m one of those Americans interested in Canada, my husband’s background is French Canadian (with a last name like Dandeneau, you bet). Laugh all you want, we Americans have plenty to laugh about in regards to our pop culture too. It’s okay Canada, we love you for your quirky nature!

For a fun read that makes you wonder, Is Canada for real?

Out Now!

Dundurn

 

Books Coming Soon, It’s going to be great!

Buzz Books 2017: Fall/Winter

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Without Buzz Books, I wouldn’t know of all these glorious titles heading our way! Get your lists fired up friends!

What a list of forthcoming books. How I didn’t know Amy Tan has a memoir out on October 17, 2017 is beyond me. I am highly anticipating it!

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Janet Fitch, author of White Oleander has a new novel coming out, and I say Finally! I have been waiting and am excited. The Revolution of Marina M.

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For fans of Isabel Allende, a moving love story will be out October 31, 2017  In The Midst Of Winter

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It’s an exciting fall/winter with the best authors! Louise Erdich’s novel Future Home of the Living God will be out November 14, 2017

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The Ninth Hour by Alice McDermott is forthcoming September 19, 2017

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Of course Alice Hoffman’s prequel to her beloved Practical Magic is out October and I have already read the arc, giving it full stars. I felt down coming towards the ending, I didn’t want to leave The Owens’ family, I had so missed the magic! A picture of the cover can’t do it justice, it is one of the prettiest I’ve seen in years. Much cover love. I will post my review closer to the release date per the publisher’s request.

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Chloe Benjamin, the author of The Anatomy of Dreams has The Immortalists out January 9, 2018- I have been waiting somewhat impatiently for approval for this arc. The few people who’ve read it raved about the forthcoming story of siblings that are privy, early on, to the date of their deaths. Intriguing.

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Jennifer Egan’s Manhatten Beach takes the reader to Brooklyn during the Great Depression. I am currently reviewing an arc and it’s moving, beautifully atmospheric and I know it will be enjoyed by many. It is certainly haunting and another novel I won’t be posting for awhile. I feel like a hoarder when I am able to get my book wormy hands on such wonderful fiction before others, because damn if I don’t love to gush about the good books and share the love.

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I adored The Education of Dixie Dupree by Donna Everhart, and I am so excited that she has written a new novel that sounds just as beautiful. The Road to Bittersweet will be out December 26, 2017. This is another arc on my highly anticipating list. With sweet covers and lovely titles it always seems as though the reading would be light, but not a chance. Don’t be fooled into thinking pretty covers mean breezy reads.

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My curiosity is piqued about The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore by Kim Fu. Young girls at a sleep-away camp stranded without adults, help, guidance and what happens in the years that follow?

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Pulitzer Prize winning author Jeffrey Eugenides, yes I am a fan, will have his first collection of short fiction coming out October 3, 2017. Those few people who already read it- I’m so jealous! Though this book is towards the end of my list, he needs no promoting from me, so I think I’m forgiven.

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One that is sure to cause some discomfort, and yet I know so many of my fellow readers have already added to their list is  All We Shall Know by Donal Ryan. ‘Martin Toppy is the son of a famous Traveller and the father of my unborn child. He’s seventeen, I’m thirty-three. I was his teacher. I’d have killed myself by now if I was brave enough. I don’t think it would hurt the baby. His little heart would stop with mine. He wouldn’t feel himself leaving one world of darkness for another, his spirit untangling itself from me.’ That shared from Goodreads, oh my!

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Is it just me or are covers getting so much more beautiful. Ode to physical books, because regardless of the ebooks I get, I somehow always hunt down physical copies. I can’t resist. I may die buried in a pile of dusty books one day, but I will have a smile on my face.

It’s going to be a great year in reading. I love the sneaky peaks Buzz Books gives us!

 

The Salt House: A Novel by Lisa Duffy

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“Am I one of your favorites, Hope?” Dad sometimes asked, his dark eyes drilling a hole into the back of Mom’s head. You got the sense he was holding his breath when he asked the question. It would get him a laugh and a hug, but over her shoulder, Dad wasn’t laughing. In those moments, if need had a face, it would’ve looked like Dad.

This is a heartbreaking story, about a terrible tragedy that rips every thread that keeps this family together. Everything was glorious between Hope, Jack Kelly and their three daughters. They were renovating The Salt House to create the perfect family home, their lobster business was finally thriving through their hard work and then their youngest child silently passes away through an accident that her mother Hope feels she could have, should have, prevented. The guilt is paralyzing, a monster that is devouring Hope and the rest of the family. Though time has passed, she can’t focus enough nor write a word, though her career was helping them financially. But how does a mother move on when she feels she too died in that horrific moment? How can she enjoy her beloved husband’s touch, allow herself a drop of joy, open herself to nurturing the children that remain when she can’t move past the loss?

And what of the husband and children? The husband now awash in his own silent grief, becoming angry with his helplessness, drowning himself in his job- desperate to keep his family from sinking? Someone has to earn the money, and he will do it, even if he dies in the process. It’s summer in Maine, but there isn’t much sunshine for Jess and Kat. Jess sees too much, not far from adulthood herself, and is angry at her mother’s emotional absence, determined to see her dad stop making excuses and blaming himself for her mother’s cold detachment. Kat doesn’t know the full story of what happened to her baby sister, nor her role in the tragedy, and Hope wants it to remain so. Jess wants to punish her mother, she wants to prod her to feel, because she isn’t the only one suffering. Young Kat can’t understand where exactly Maddie has gone, why there hasn’t been any sort of closure nor ceremony. Worse, she is being picked on by a boy and Jess wants to solve at least that problem for her kid sister, not realizing how her family is tied to his, nor that she is about to fall in love.

It is a summer of love and a little bit of madness. Who is Ryland Finn and why are there secrets between him and Jack? He is fast becoming a threat to the family’s business, and in a short time what was once a promising future has become a bleak horror show. Why can’t Hope bear to step foot into The Salt House, the dream home that once was the seed to their happy future? Why is it a year later the pain is still fresh, and no one is moving on? Secrets will out, and sometimes it takes nearly going over the edge before a family can find the pieces to put themselves back together.

Will they be able to find a new way to live after so much grief, tragedy? Or is this the end of the Kelly Family?

The girls will have your heart, the shifting perspectives is vital to the telling because any parent can relate to the horror of losing your child, the shame and guilt that while you were oblivious, wrapped in your work, your child suffered her last breath. To put yourself in the children’s shoes is different, because they seemed to lose their sweet sister and need to make sense of their grief but their parents are anchored to their pain and can’t see past their own loss. Everyone is aching but full of buckets of resentment. This story hurts, it’s too realistic, and that’s exactly why it’s beautiful. Some are too young to understand what’s happening around them and yet my well be the wisest ones to remember just what their little sister Maddie would have wanted. Don’t be fooled by the pretty summer cover, it’s not a light breezy read. It’s weighted with pain. Hold tight to those you love, because everything can change in a moment, and you can’t always see what’s dangerous until it’s too late. Wonderful.

Publication Date: June 13, 2017

Touchstone

 

Cloud Messenger: Love and Loss in the Indian Himalayas by Karen Trollope-Kumar

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Pradeep began to sing a haunting melody. 

“Phool  kitabon mein milen… What does it mean?” I whispered, not wanting to break the spell of the music.

“It means, ‘Now we will be seperated. And perhaps we shall only meet in dreams. Our love will be like a flower pressed between the pages of a book.” 

Pradeep’s ghazal (lyric poem)  sang with feeling was right, they would meet in dreams, but dreams they made a reality.  When Canadian medical student Karen Trollope-Kumar went to India to study medicine, little did she know she would meet and fall in love with a pediatrician named  Pradeep, as well as his dream of living in the Indian Himalayas. Though they parted, they couldn’t deny their destiny, to be together as husband and wife. With courage as strong as leaping off a mountain, Karen does indeed return to India to work in the foothills as Pradeep’s wife. She soon learns ‘how profoundly communication is shaped by culture’. Never in her wildest dreams did she know she would marry into a culture immersed in religion and tradition, having come from the Western world it is an eye opening experience. As a doctor, the shock is life altering, going from rural to remote villages the practices are vastly different. Amid such sometimes appalling conditions, the ceremonies and festivals sprinkled throughout their time in India are beautiful, moving. The descriptions within the book transport the reader to the villages, feeling much like a spiritual eye in the sky.

Idealistic in our dreams, we don’t imagine the obstacles we will face. Politics, superstitions, religious beliefs, poverty of people and their village, nature itself (earthquakes) and lack of trust in medicine are just a few complications that appeared.  Soon learning how to come together with your beloved with such different upbringings, surely it’s a challenge for the newly weds, but can seem like a mountain of hardship. Accepted by Pradeep’s family, depsite not being Indian herself, the beauty of their love is evident in the ceremony early on when placed on the shrine, beside the God Ganesha sits a cruxifix, to honor their grandson’s bride. In time, she learns through stories the hardships his family had faced, the fears they had for the children based on so much suffering but too she sees the turn of fortune they have later.

Desperate to bring proper care to pregnant women and new mothers, the reader is given insight into the harsh conditions such women face. At the beginning, confident with her knowledge of medicine, the arrogance that she can better their world- the reality of things is a humbling. When Pradeep confides he longs more for spiritual enlightenment than medical practices, it’s hard for Karen to understand, having come from a home that wasn’t overly religious. Her calling seems to be bringing medical care to the furthest reaches, to those most in need of life saving techniques, training dais (midwives) proper care. Even if superstitions get in the way, she won’t give up, but there are disheartening encounters as much as beautiful ones. Deep lasting friendships are formed as much as a love for the places she travels to, and lives in. She learns that she must look into herself, “Your work now  is to  look into the nature of your own discontent.”  A message any of us can take to heart in dealing with our problems, our loved ones… Our expectations often make it so hard to flow, to accept that which is real. It isn’t always someone else that is to blame, it’s our own difficulty owning what is compared to what we thought would be.

Any sort of traveler can be in for culture shock, I certainly have been myself, but India is said to be a place of contradictions. Beauty amidst poverty, physical illness and yet superior spiritual health, as much open love and acceptance as close minded rejection. We Westerners have a instinct of wanting to fix what we think is wrong, and that’s both a strength and a flaw. It’s the happy medium that’s so hard to find. Within this memoir, it’s obvious that Karen persevered through things so many of us may not be able to do half as well. People romanticize such journeys in their minds, but the reality can be a slap in the face. She learned to accept her changing dreams and the husband she loved, tied to her destiny but also his own spiritual being. Along came children, and with it so much advice from Indian women. I thought about that, and imagined the eye-rolling of others, but in truth- we think we’re advanced here in the western world where you have a baby and often go home, sometimes without generations of women (family) around to help you, and as much as magazines and the internet can guide, who knows more about mothering than other mothers? It has its charm, this unity of motherhood. As with any place on earth, there is happiness, there is suffering, there is love, there is loss, there is change and there is acceptance of things that never change, or will- but at their own pace, not yours.

A wonderful story about a young doctor who takes a big risk to create a beautiful life for herself.

Available Now

FriesenPress

Soul/Mate by Joyce Carol Oates Writing as Rosamond Smith

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Colin Asch had in fact always relied upon the world’s stupidity as a factor in his own talent. Amid a herd of slow-witted bovine beasts he was a leopard capable of running at speeds up to seventy-five miles an hour- a flash of burnished flaming light.

Dorothea Deverell, a New England art historian, goes about her days as a widow, working in a Boston Museum. She has a lover, if not entirely hers to keep, and is content to simply live her life as is. Little does she know she is about to be charmed into a strange sort of affair with a charming, psychopath- the damaged yet brilliant young nephew of her friend. No one understands Colin Asch, and if he has to kill to rid the world of such people, so be it. That his disturbing darkness is hidden behind his beautiful face makes the horror brewing within him all the more chilling. Enraptured by Dorothea, his mania drives him to seduce her, by wiping out anyone who upsets her. He watches when she is unaware, and the reader is privy to the eerie euphoria that drives his urges. Colin Asch goes from sullen boyishness to successful, fashionable business success- using others to attain the life he imagines will please Dorothea. It is for Dorothea, he wants so badly to impress her.

There is a kinship, or has Dorothea misread her apprehension, confusing instinctual fear for tenderness and curiosity. The eyes, it’s a soul/mate knowing, at least from Colin’s warped perception. Dorothea’s kindness, beauty, success and intelligence are all the things that mesmerize the young man, the very person he struggles so hard now to be. This striving will lead to murders, and a unraveling of Colin’s mind. No one understands Colin as Dorothea does, the only person able to soothe this “Angel of Death”. The very attributes he admires are what puts Dorothea in danger- allows this serial killer an intimate window into her once simple life. Conversations between the two feed him like a drug, and Dorothea cannot deny his ‘characteristic effervescence’ and charm. And if his ‘rapid talk’ begins to seem strange, it is always ‘electric’ and ‘witty’. His stormy energy has an allure all it’s own, much like the beautiful poetry by “Shelley” that the young man reads.  “She knew” Colin knows that Dorothea too can sense the destiny, the very kindred ties of their souls. If she senses something is off, well then she is just being silly. Right?

Both charmed and repelled by Colin, Dorothea has no idea of he dark days lurking, all nurtured by the obsessive, distorted love Colin feels for her. Confused by his appearances, the strange comments he allows to slip, she feels something is wrong and yet doubts herself. There is an immediately intimacy, but too there is something in her gut not quite right. Surely, he couldn’t be falling for her, an older woman?  Her old inner voice, her companion of self-doubt that has always been present may well cloud her own warnings. But what of those slips? As when great violence befalls an adversary of Dorothea’s he seems to delight in the ‘justice’ that has befallen this ‘evil person’. Colin is waiting, waiting to share everything with her, all his deeds, his secrets buried in coded language, because Dorothea is the one. Dorothea alone understands him. He has found, among the ‘slow-witted bovine beasts’ an angel, a beloved, a soul/mate. It is only a matter of time before he unleashes his terror, and reveals his true self to his beloved.

What Joyce Carol Oates, writing as Rosamond Smith, has done is take a damaged sick young man and allowed the reader to feel his mania. More, she shows the cracks that make people uneasy and how we see what we want to see. His beautiful face is mistaken for goodness, as is often the case in most situations. Beauty, intelligence, and charm is the path of easy seduction. Wounded beauty is an intoxicating lure much more so than success. Dorothea spots the split between the depressive, insecure, angry man she first met to who he later suddenly becomes and yet shakes it out of her mind, surely she is mistaken? Colin knows how to work people, he knows how to evade others inquisitiveness when it’s not spotlighting that which he wishes to be seen.

Joyce Carol Oates has a particular style, voice that I’ve always enjoyed. She exposes the ugliness as much as the beauty in her characters. They can be brilliant and yet blind about so much. There is always a vulnerability with solid background, you almost feel sorry for Colin. He is a wounded beauty, an orphan, a loner, a roamer… and his episodes of mania swallow him, then he is a bloodthirsty, maniacal, manipulative and downright creepy. Be careful who you let in. The devil is all charm and beauty, at least this thriller Soul/Mate. Do we all really want such a kinship?

Available Now

Open Road Integrated Media