The Last Laugh of Edouard Bresson by Amélie Antoine, Maren Baudet-Lackner (Translator)

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He’s going to vanish when people least expect it. He’s going to disappear right under their noses.

So many comedians use humor to cope with disastrous childhoods or difficult lives. There isn’t any reason to assume those who make us laugh are always happy themselves. In The Last Laugh of Édouard Bresson, famed, unrivaled and beloved French comic Édouard Bresson decides to pull the biggest joke of all, to vanish, only no one will really be left laughing. Despite his popularity and love amongst fans, to his ex-wife and son he is a distant star, bright in brilliance but impossible to touch. He is a hero to his brother Jonathan, the true reason for the birth of his gift of laughter to the world. It is the most heart-breaking and tender part of the novel, the accident that befalls the brothers and the last damage.

Once Édouard Bresson decides to stop showing houses and strive for his dream, his career takes off but Magda and young son Arthur are always left behind with the empty space a husband and father is meant to occupy. While he is on month-long tours, time seems to pass quickly, but not for his small family left waiting for when or if he will ever return. When he is around, he pushes his son to forget about grades and throw himself into theater, whether he has a gift or yearning for the arts or not. There is nothing but no shows and disappointments between father and son, leading to the present day estrangement. Wife Magda learned to get used to his absence, to no longer miss him. The people who were meant to be the closest, most beloved to Édouard have been made strangers, by his own doing, wrapped in his all consuming need for perfection in his career. Marriage ends, Magda moves on.

It is his belief that not everyone can go back, he certainly isn’t one to naively believe in the much touted ‘it’s never to late to make things right’. His final act will shock the world, but it’s his last letter, instructions to a puzzle and treasure hunt for the son he loved dearly, but could never show up for. Arthur doesn’t have much enthusiasm for the quest. Despite yearning in his youth for his father’s love and attention, time proved he was never going to get it. There is a numbness inside of Arthur about the tragic turn of events, a treasure hunt feels ridiculously childish. All his memories are cold, proving only his father was indifferent towards him. But with the hunt, he will meet people and find out his father was a completely different man than the one he imagined, far more humble about his life than someone hungry for fame. Édouard Bresson’s childhood wasn’t full of the joy he later gave the world, living with a father who was a brute, unkind about his son’s flaw. There is so much more for him to learn and maybe it is a chance for him to forgive. But in the tenderness there is also bitterness. “My father has always had a gift for bringing out the worst, meanest version of me.” It comes to light that his father may have been there all along, behind the scenes.

It is a sad story but far more realistic than happy endings we often get. Disappearing was the only way he could become real to his son, but there is nothing funny about it. Lovely.

Publication Date: August 7, 2018

AmazonCrossing

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The Girl on the Doorstep: from the bestselling author of The Workhouse Children (A Black Country Novel) by Lindsey Hutchinson

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Rosie was afraid, she’d heard about gypsies taking off with young children.

Maria Valesco is a ‘dreaded’ gypsy, the sort that Rosie has been warned to fear, but as she is crying on the steps of her cottage, with a mother who ‘won’t get up’ and no father at all, Maria is her salvation. It’s either trust in the gentle, kind Gypsy or be sent to the workhouse, the harsh reality for poor orphans in the late 1800’s, England. Rosie and Maria become like mother and child, befriending the ‘cut-rats’ (people who work on canal) and are treated just as lowly as the Romany.  Coming of age, learning the traditions of the Maria’s people, traveling in a caravan has been a life of love, but all that ends with a loss and Rosie finds herself dependant on the kindness of Margy and Abner Mitchell. Soon, she is living on their boat, until she can figure out what to do with her future.

Rosie has the gift of second sight, and before long word spreads and she has clients. Not everyone likes what they hear about their future, and Rosie has uncomfortable predictions for Margy too, involving a woman and her own beloved son and grandchildren. Rosie’s own love is uncertain, falling for a much older and very married man. Then there is the  Jake Harding, a Romany bandolier who wants her desperately as his monashay (wife), despite discovering that she wasn’t Maria’s biological daughter, hence not a true Romany. He is dangerous, and won’t give up. The man she has fallen in love with has complications of his own, and the future of his sons are utmost in his mind, despite his growing feelings for Rosie.

The Mitchell’s daughter in law has caused them nothing but untold grief, kept them from being around their grandchildren and son with her devious lies and manipulations. I actually thought Sarah was needed in this novel, with her flaring temper. Every family seems to have that one difficult person, pulling everyone’s strings, making a mess.

With every step Rosie takes, and despite her gift of sight, things keep going wrong. While she has brought hope and friendship to the Mitchell’s, her own life seems to be under a dark cloud. Is it truly darkest before the dawn? Will Rosie have the happy ending she desperately longs for? beginning with the devastating grief of a child losing her mother and growing into a strong young woman raised by an incredible selfless gypsy, Rosie’s future couldn’t possibly end without genuine love. This is a delightful, historical fiction with characters whose lives have a lot of difficulties besides making a living. Most of them caused by other family members. What’s a love story without obstacles?

August 7, 2018

Aria

How to Set Yourself on Fire: A Novel by Julia Dixon Evans

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The world is a wall of heavy noise. I want to take a big breath exactly as much as I want to stop breathing.

Sheila’s life isn’t full, she spends much of her time listening to Torrey, her neighbor Vinnie’s daughter, grow up through the walls of her apartment, working dead-end jobs with zero ambition, and dodging calls from her mother. Rosamund, her Grandmother, has just passed away and left behind a shoebox full of letters from one Harold C. Carr. A shoebox  her mother doesn’t know she has, letters she was meant to bury to honor Rosamund’s wishes. Sheila’s father is a distant memory, her mother nothing but a headache. With the sad truth that she was never close to her grandmother, the mysterious letters reveal a sad affair that began with her mother’s (a child at the time) destroyed beloved doll and the hard truth about the difficult life Rosamund couldn’t dare leave, not even for love. Sheila is consumed by her grandmother’s past, easier than dealing with her own painful childhood and the black hole where her father once stood. The lover’s letters aren’t the only missives she builds stories upon. There is the UPS man , Jesse Ramirez’s dropped personal letter that sits in a ziplock in her nightstand drawer. A letter she cherishes and cannot return to him, as she should. A line she memorized, a feeling she wishes someone felt about her, is like a drug that fills her lonely heart. The job was her last-ditch attempt at normalcy, her therapist gave her ‘mild’ meds. “I hated her for calling me mild.  I hated how she could posit to measure feelings on a chart, in a table, with a thermometer.”

When Vinnie and his daughter Torrey suffer a tragedy, Sheila slowly begins to befriend the young girl and it’s painfully and beautifully awkward. She is beyond rusty when it comes to people, relationships. Her grandmother’s affair saddens her, knowing the choice she made and how her life played out, that she is the legacy, a mess of a granddaughter, directionless, unable to anchor anywhere. Her family has issues with bonding, unable as a child to dare ask her mother where her father is, why he isn’t in their life any longer. Her mother always a bit cold, distant, unable to be the sort of mother we all hope for. Sad more for never really knowing her grandmother than about her passing, her mother trying to contain what she sees as her mother’s ‘shameful’ secret by not honoring her last request, unaware that through the letters Sheila knows everything. There is a moment in the novel when Sheila sees a picture, a favorite of her mother’s with her own parents, one that shows how much Sheila and her mother looked alike as children. She says “It almost hurts how much she looked like me. I want to be as different from her as possible and she wants to be as close to me as possible.” The lines are a gut punch, and hint at the damaged mother/daughter relationship. Nosing through her grandmother’s letters, she begins to understand her own mother’s relationship with her grandmother Rosamund.

Working temp jobs, she has a special gift for working even that system. She isn’t exactly respectable, in fact seems to struggle with being an adult altogether. Interacting with Vinnie after an accident involving his ex-wife, her tasteless questions expose her social ineptidue.She doesn’t mean to be so ridiculously clueless, such a mess.  I spent so much of this novel cringing from her behavior, which is why I loved it so much. It’s hard to relate to perfect characters, I have a weak spot for the wounded, for strays. I adore the relationship between she and Torrey. Torrey is happy to join the quest in finding out if Harold is still alive, if Rosamund’s letters to him still exist. Unlike other fiction, it stays in the realms of reality, where not everything turns out the way you expect it.

Through Torrey’s savvy, there could be a way to locate this Harold, but like Torrey tells her when she proposes the idea and Sheila isn’t ready, ” You’re weird. You do things weirdly.” Sheila is a strange bird, her inheritance is pretending everything is normal as the roof caves in. For me, the letter she cherishes that isn’t hers to hoard, that belongs to the UPS man, that is like a drug for her says more about her state of loneliness and need. It leads to a strange obsession that is important to the novel, yet not the entire center of it. It is through Torrey she starts to abandon her quiet life, begins to see the real problem lies within herself, even if her mother shoulders a fair amount of the blame. At what point do we move on and stop blaming others for who we have become?

Vinnie is important too, they begin a relationship too, minus strings and while he is mostly on the periphery of the story, he has his big moments, particularly toward the end. The most important relationships are between all the women. The bonds are imperfect, but there could be room for healing.

A moving story about a woman who is stunted, until her grandmother’s past affair and  precocious young neighbor inject life into her. Lovely.

 

Available Now

Dzanc Books

Before We Died (Rivers, #1): by Joan Schweighardt

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“It was Clementine, the old italian hag who passed herself off as a fortune-teller, who started it all.”

Jack and Baxter, Irish American boys need to get away from work on the docks and have themselves an adventure, get past their Da’s passing, at least according to the hag. Their plan is to make a fortune themselves, by tapping rubber trees in the South American rainforest, dangerous dream for men who barely have a pot to piss in. They cannot imagine the deadly competition nor all the danger besides human beings that awaits them.

Readied with provisions such as food and medicine (one to prevent malaria in particular) they will travel with a team of men, make camp, build their own abode, quickly learn the tree tapping process with little time to spare before the wet season. Jack and Bax are figuring out that money won’t be as quick to come as they had imagined, that one season isn’t even enough to even out expenses. But if someone as rich and successful as Carnegie himself said the ‘best opportunity today is in rubber’, then the brothers from Hoboken, New Jersey are on their way to untold wealth! It isn’t long before they suffer the threats, from fish( those that can swim up any human orifice), caiman, piranhas, vampire bats with a liking for toes, mosquitoes and other insects. Soon everyone is ‘verbalizing their fears’, such as the story of the river snake that rules it.

Then there are the ‘savages’, the caboclos whom some of the men would as soon as shoot then see alive and ‘wasting space’. Afterall, what good are people who can’t read or write, know nothing of the civilized world? The caboclos rely as much on their tapping season, desperate to bring in enough rubber to support their own families. The canoes too are frightening , floating along at nearly surface level, vulnerable to creatures in the water as those threatening from the land. If illness overtake the men, they are likely to be left behind like garbage. The elements are not friendly, particularly to men who are laboring to the point of exhaustion against nature’s clock, the workload heavier to shoulder as men deal with fevers. Storms rush at them, taking down bridges. Will they ever be able to complete their tasks? Then, the jaguar is near, the howl of monkeys can wake a man from dreams dripping from the sweat of fear.

The brothers become captives of the Gha- ru which for me was the best part of the entire novel. The Chief of the tribe holds their fate in his hands, and the women are full of nothing but love and nurturing. They are one with the hostile environment, the land and it’s animals, a fruitful existence for the Gha-ru. Their mysterious healing ways could be salvation, but they could also be the brother’s doom.

Will the brothers survive, return to their mother with untold riches, or will this really be a story before they each die? One thing is certain, they underestimated their journey and the savageness of the Amazon. It isn’t the things you expect alone that become obstacles, but the wild things you couldn’t fathom.

Before We Died is a fascinating historical fiction about the rubber industry, when you think about the products we take for granted its wild to know people have lost their lives to secure it. It’s not often modern folks examine the things we surround ourselves with and think about how they were produced, on whose sweat and blood. Just look into the history, it certainly destroyed indigenous societies and forced untold numbers to work, because any resistance was met with violence or death. Of course as with anything in high demand, it brought immigrants and cities grew as well. (Tires, pencils, Tupperware, latex, shoes,the list of rubber products is long) Rubber barons made a killing (literally).  This novel takes you into the start of the boom, with the story of Jack and Bax, a telling of why and how some men took on the challenge of rubber tapping. This is the first in the River series.

Publication Date: September 15, 2018

Five Directions Press

The Pupil: A Novel by Dawn Goodwin

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I’ve been thinking about your book and I’d like to help. Call me, Sam. 

Best selling novelist Sam Morton sees potential in pupil Katherine Baxter, he could be the perfect mentor in guiding her into a best-selling author. He certainly isn’t producing anything of value, nor meeting deadlines at the moment. Katherine spends her days caring for her two children in a beautiful home, provided by her older husband Paul but writing has forever been her passion, one she’s had to put on a shelf. Paul isn’t supportive of her dreams, if she has any chance of finishing a novel and being published, it will be through Sam, but it will require deception and favors from her friend to keep Paul in the dark. Paul treats her as a fragile creature who could break at any moment, something happened in the past, some sort of breakdown that requires medication to keep Katherine stable but she’s had enough of Paul’s watchful eye. She’s ready to move on. It isn’t only Paul who feels her quiet life is safest, after the ‘incident’, her friend Helen believes her writing, and the notoriety it could bring ‘if’ it’s successful is better left as an unfulfilled dream, more risk than it’s worth. Why can’t Katherine just be happy with her very comfortable, happy life?

Sam is attractive, but it’s his skill as a writer that’s the real draw. He has the life she wants, the sense of accomplishment that comes from attaining ones dream. Then there is the wife, Violet- the power behind the man. The woman comes to know Katherine, and realizes she has seen her somewhere else before. Violet will never allow any woman to come between she and Sam, pupil or lover. She knows something damaging about Katherine, something explosive, unforgiveable!

There are flashbacks of Katherine’s youth, from the father who walked out on she and her mother, to her first love that left her with more than just memories. The bond between she and her mother is strained, a mother who had big dreams for her daughter, dreams that didn’t entail settling. All she wanted was for her daughter to blaze a trail to a solid career, so she would never end up as she has, dependant on a man. Her mother has kept things from Katherine too, it seems everyone is deceptive in their own special way in this novel.

Just as she is finally laying claim on her own future, she begins to receive threats through texts messages, someone knows who she is and what she has done, and by the novel’s end so will you, dear reader.

Katherine is the shrinking wife at the start, meant to be content under a husband who acts more like a father than a lover, the bright spots of her day should be going for walks with her friend Helen, eating healthy food that the well to do have the money for, cleaning her beautiful home and nurturing her perfect children. Bury your own dreams and go about your life with a smile, take pills to recover from your tragedy, move along, nothing to see here. I don’t know, Katherine didn’t ever become a woman I liked. I get it, she is meek but even the meek have an inner fire, anger that simmers beneath their calm exterior, especially a woman looking to chase her dream. Sam didn’t feel like a real person to me either, he was just sort of there, I expect a handsome famous author to be more charismatic. I never felt that magnetism. Things spiral madly between Violet, Sam and Katherine and I was left wondering what the point was. It is tragic, it really is, the big secret shadowing Katherine but I was perplexed, and honestly, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Violet, even if she is off her rocker.

Not sure how I feel about this one, I’ve read other novels about mentors that are far more sinister, I don’t think this is a love triangle, which may well be the point. Violet is meant to feel threatened, when there isn’t a true threat from Katherine. She’s done far more horrible things than fall in love with Sam, whether she is to blame or not. I thought this was going to be a wild love affair full of violence and vengeance. Well, I leave it to you reader to decide for yourself.

Publication Date: August 7, 2018

Aria

 

 

 

 

The Day the Sun Died: A Novel by Yan Lianke, Carlos Rojas (Translator)

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Astonished, I walked out of his room, and saw him heading toward the lake, like a ghost heading toward the grave.

I read somewhere this book has political meaning, and it can certainly be seen in the sleepwalking villagers, not much different from their hard-working daily lives. Going about their business, laboring , as if on automatic, is this the Chinese dream? Are they ready to embrace the modern world, should they, do they even want to? Teenager Li Niannian and his parents run the New World funerary shop, his parents creating Chinese paper offerings for the dead, supplying the deceased with everything they might need in the afterlife. Once, his father secretly aided his uncle by giving news when someone in the village died, denying them their secret burials forcing them to cremate their loved ones. This continues to shame him, and comes to light during the somnambulism of one strange night. The sun has set, but the villagers on the mountainside are acting as though the day is still on, working, some behaving in bizarre ways, finally revealing desires they would never have otherwise acted upon. Some confessing things that have troubled their conscience, much like Li Niannian’s father. But it’s turning dangerous, some are seeking the water, risking their lives. Li Niannian and his family know they must save the villagers from themselves or there will be no one left come morning, if the sun hasn’t truly died. How do you convince people they are not really awake? What if things turn violent, murderous?

Uncle Shao Dacheng is very successful but the villagers don’t want to shirk their traditional burials for cremation, then there is the special corpse oil which is another facet of this surreal story. It turns darkly disturbing as madness ensues, who will save the day? When will this darkest of nights end? Will they ever wake up?

It’s interesting to think of the poverty striken and how politics control their lives, down to how they bury their dead. How little control they seem to have, how true feelings can only arise in a dream state, a repressed people. An original that has more meaning than I can ever hope to explain.

Linake is an award-winning, successful contemporary author in China.

Pulication Date: December 28, 2018

Grove Atlantic

Grove Press

 

 

In the Name of the Children: An FBI Agent’s Relentless Pursuit of the Nation’s Worst Predators by Jeffrey L. Rinek, Marilee Strong

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“To handle the horrors we must deal with on a daily basis, many in law enforcement become hardened and compartmentalize their emotions, which has its own deleterious effects. I was not able to do that, nor could I stand at a clinical distance and rely on some technique or one-sixe-fits-all theory of criminality and remain untouched by the horrors I saw.”

During his 30 year career working as a FBI agent, Jeff Rinek witnessed the most vile crimes against children from sexual abuse, torture, abduction, murder and child abuse, sometimes from their family members. I had to read this book in parts, human depravity is beyond belief at times and I had the option of putting it down until I could catch my breath, Rinek and other’s in his line of work don’t have that privilege. I have the utmost respect for the brave men and women that work in this particular field. Not many have the stomach for it, and it isn’t surprising that the work he has done has stayed with him, for how could it not?  This is the stuff of nightmares, but Rinek isn’t writing in the vein of sensationalism. This is a man who has kept every victim and their families within his heart, everything he has experienced has touched his own wife and children. Jeff shares not only the horrific cases he has helped solve, but the troubling ways it effected his family life. How could he not be overwhelming concerned for the safety of his own sons, having seen the darkness that befell so many innocent children? How could he sleep peacefully at night with the images of crime scenes floating in his mind, just as horrible the confessions of child molesters and serial killers thundering in his ears? It’s impossible to truly separate the two worlds.

Jeff Rinek had a way about him that made the criminals feel comfortable enough to confess, I think it is most evident in his dealings with Cary Stayner. Not many could keep their emotions in check enough to empathize with someone who has committed monstrous acts. I know when we label something evil or monstrous it makes it impossible to understand how someone can commit such atrocities and maybe prevent them, but it’s hard not to feel this way. Without his ability to reach into whatever humanity resides in the criminal, we may never know the truth. It is important to be able to understand the psyche of man as much as we can, whether we’re repulsed or not. It matters to the victim’s family, particularly when bodies are missing. Maybe there is truly no such thing as closure, maybe the ‘knowing’ is more horrifying than what the mind can imagine, but living without answers is to be further victimized.

In reading about these tragic, horrifying crimes, it made me think about why it is so important for people to report crimes that happen to them, or things they witness that don’t sit well within them. Nothing truly happens in a bubble, and often in abusive relationships, be they physical or sexual, often men or women go further in victimizing others, especially children (the most helpless and vulnerable of us all). The hard truth is, if someone has harmed you, you aren’t the first, nor likely to be the last. One of the most shocking realities is how often child molestation is enabled by other adults, such as wives. I’m not surprised children don’t come forward more often, the feelings of shame involved, the stigma boys in particular (especially as they become adults) are met with in coming foreward about sexual abuse is heartbreaking. I’m reading another book right now about Evil, it’s more from a  psychological standpoint, but when I read true crime books, or listen to a victim recount their harrowing experiences it is damn hard to want to understand the psyche of criminals. How do you remain removed from cases, its human nature to empathize, particuarly being a mother or father yourself. Of course seeing the body of a child that has been defiled in every way imaginable one would think of their own son or daughter, fear would be rooted inside your being. Rinek dealt with the worst of human nature, how could he not imagine the worse if a phone line home is busy, or his child doesn’t get off his bus?

The violence, ritualized sexual abuse, physical, and mental trauma, torture the children suffered under the ‘religion’ Allen Harrod (their own father) started is as hard to stomach as every story within yet it is with the tenderest of care Rinek, along with others, helped the children find their strength to seek justice and have kept watch over the children long after the case ended. The bravery of Harrod’s eldest daughter in coming forward is incredible, though shocking that it took her going through three different police agencies to get anyone to look into the matter. Without her, who knows how long Harrod and Labrecque’s crimes would have continued, under the guise of religion. Much like the people involved in seeing justice served, it’s gut wrenching to know the truth of how the children suffered, but worse to imagine being the children involved. Human depravity is boundless but it’s knowing the children (their victims) will carry not just physical evidence of their nightmare for the rest of their lives, but have to cope with PTSD, have to navigate the world without an example of healthy family relationships, and in a sense deprogram from what for them was ‘normal’  that remains with you long after reading their story. That these things happen in our so-called ‘modern times’ is worse than any fictional horror I can conjure. You don’t have to be close to the case to feel the frustration and anger at the justice system, how easy it seems for criminals to continue their abuse once captured, still victimizing everyone involved through ‘legal manipulation.’ Then there is the game of going to trial. Evidence is a peculiar thing, what is left out as to not ‘prejudice the jury against the defendant.’ Ridiculous in many cases, such as pictures of adults raping children in this situation shouldn’t it be admissible, doesn’t the victim deserve to see justice served? It’s one thing to hear it, but when there are photos to back the child’s confession, well? Statute of limitations is infuriating in and of itself, if a child comes into adulthood and finally has the ability to seek help, to expose the abuser only to find out they can’t be charged anymore, how is that just? Something is certainly broken. It’s hard not to feel like children don’t matter enough, it certainly feels like criminals often get a slap on the wrist, are released only to commit even more gruesome crimes. But I feel heartened that men and women like Rinek work hard for them, it seems to even the balance, at least a little.

Retired now, Rinek remains just as passionate about making the world a safer place for children and for us all, as he did when he was working full-time. He has remained in contact with the children victimized by Harrod and Labrecque. It is obvious his job was his life, and he is the sort of agent the world needs, someone who puts all of his being into solving crimes, and caring for the victims. It’s hard to review this type of memoir, because it comes from a deeply personal part of Rinek’s life. It’s enough to say that if you can’t even read it, because it’s our natural instinct to close our ears and eyes to terrors, imagine how the victim’s loved ones feel, how the men and women in law enforcement have to go home every night with the knowledge of such horrors branded in their minds. It’s important to be a voice for those who have been silenced, and to see those who have harmed children caught, so they can’t leave more families destroyed.

This truly is an unflinching look into the life of FBI Special Agent Jeff Rinek and how his job effected every facet of his life.

Out today!

BenBella Books