The Book of Help: A Memoir in Remedies by Megan Griswold

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It’s said when doing anything, a nearly alchemical  event happens right around the ten- thousand- hour mark- you become an expert of sorts. So I suppose, in an unintentional way, I will declare myself an expert searcher.

There is no doubt in my mind that Megan Griswold is an expert in searching for remedies of body, mind, soul and heart. This isn’t your usual run of the mill self-help book eater, nor a woman suddenly entering some spiritual awakening. Megan was born to it, with parents who were Christian Scientists who called their practitioners for ‘treatments’, not doctors over their ailments. Her father David was born to the religion, her mother Joyce a ‘newbie’ and believer, attributing curing her ulcerative colitis to Christian Science. Little did they know their daughter would spend her life doing her own searching, spiritual and mental work. Not all things are transcendental, want to be holier than thou, the universe will test you! Test her it does, especially when it comes to her husband. Let’s not jump ahead, but then again she did attend the About Sex seminar at the age of 14, before she had even kissed a boy. Is it so surprising when she falls in love with Tim, her ‘well-meaning, well–mannered puzzle’? Someone she can probe, explore, dissect?

Is Megan stripped physically and emotionally digging through all the muck of her being sometimes? Sure. Does she ingest weird or toxic substances for spiritual practice? Well, do you consider gulping Hoasca risky? It’s tea, okay? Sure, she may purge her insides and as she says ‘imagine what it would be like to completely fall apart’ and there is your glimpse into the tea’s spiritual enlightening.  She may be eager to try any religious/spiritual experience on for size but certainly Megan doesn’t ‘dabble’ in therapies, not like so many other people. She doesn’t half-ass anything!

This memoir isn’t all hilarity, in fact there are some very serious family and relationship issues here within. These are not the usual ‘wow my spouse leaves the toilet dispenser empty’ issues either, these are spiritual dilemmas. Her own father can sometimes downright infuriate the reader with his arrogant spiritual blindness. “If I don’t see it, it’s not real.” Oh, if only life were like that… There is a tenderness towards the end of the novel, everything that happens with her mother’s health. I felt myself getting weepy. Yes, Megan therapist shops, and is game for any spiritual practice, training, self-help geared towards evolvement but truly it’s not just about getting to know herself. Somehow she comes away with a better understanding of those she loves. Maybe her search slows, but let’s face it, there will always be room for improvement.

It gets messy, and admittedly embarrassingly ugly but whether methods are tried and true or a complete fraud, she gives it her all and we get to ride her karmic bus as tourists. Add this to your memoir list, out 2019!

Publication Date: January 22, 2019

Crown Publishing

 

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Miracle Creek: A Novel by Angie Kim

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Did he think so much had already happened that nothing more could? But life doesn’t work like that. Tragedies don’t inoculate you against further tragedies, and misfortune doesn’t get sprinkled out in fair proportions; bad things get hurled at you in clumps and batches, unmanageable and messy. How could he not know that, after everything we’d been through?

This is a wonderfully written courtroom drama that not only tugged my emotional strings but had its twist at the end. Miracle Creek, Virginia, Young and Pak Yoo run an experimental medical treatment device known as the Miracle Submarine (pressurized oxygen chamber) that gives new hope to patients with varied maladies. All seems to be going swimmingly, until an explosion kills two patients within the chamber during a power outage. Others are also left with serious injuries. A trial asks, who had a reason to murder the victims because one thing is becoming more certain, it wasn’t an accident.

Young and Pak Yoo are Korean immigrants, striving for success in America. Pak had lived without his family at first, knows all about sacrificie and struggle. Surely he had more than his fair share of hardship, yet he should have known better than, on that fateful day, to ask “What could go wrong?” as if like a command, because to the universe, it’s a challenge. On opening day with all the fresh faces of hope never could those patients, and mothers have fathomed what tragedy awaited them all. With a daughter of their own about to head to off college, are they capable of committing murders for insurance money? Especially when Pak himself and their daughter Mary were also injured? Then again, why weren’t the Yoo’s present when everything went wrong? Why did they leave the patients unattended? It seems everyone has secrets, the distance between Mary and Young has been widening for a long time, like Pak says ‘you always think the worst of her’ but could she be right? Since the accident, she is much worse, but there were things before, like her daughter ignoring her, being too good to help with cooking, cleaning. This better American life didn’t include Mary stooping to that, oh no, that was all on Young’s shoulders. Now her daughter is healing, but something inside of her is tormented.

The trial seems to be focused on Elizabeth ( the defendant) mother of Henry, now deceased, with a list of disorders from Autism Spectrum to OCD. The most ‘manageable’ child of all the patients with disabilities yet the most overwhelmed, resentful, exasperated mother who everyone could see was cracking. It is true, she sometimes hurt him, it is also true she pretended to be sick and went to ‘have a smoke’ instead when the explosion happened. Is it wrong that Young feels relief that Elizabeth is the focus of the people’s fury, that she is absorbing all of the blame? What about Pak? Yes, he made a mistake, but whether he was there or not, it still would have happened, surely he can’t be blamed? Right? He can’t see everything he and his wife worked so hard for as immigrants, all to give Mary opportunity in America disappear! They need that insurance money desperately, or they won’t survive. Matt is called to witness, not so surprising as he understands better than anyone about hyperbarics, holding an M.D. as he does and he was present, after all, a patient himself, taking part in the dives to help with his infertility. He can explain how the ‘submarine’ works, to the court, the jury. He has his own deceptions to hide from his wife Janine, riveted by his answers on the stand. All of this is stirring up weeks he would rather forget, but why?

More than anything, this story is a chain of events, if you remove one action, could the outcome have been different? Is there really just one person to pin everything on or are so many others accountable? There are many roads to guilt, and it seems here every character is on one. Is the truth always the only choice? Are lies as ruinous as facing up to one’s sins? There is a lot to think about here and depending on who you ask about just such a scenario, you’ll get a different answer. Elizabeth’s situation, and Henry’s, was a very difficult read for me. I’m still gutted! This was a very touchingn novel and I look forward to Angie Kim’s next! Not all courtroom dramas can hold my attention, but Miracle Creek balanced what lead up to the trial and the aftermath perfectly.

Publication Date: April 16, 2019

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Sarah Crichton Books

 

 

The Dreamers: A Novel by Karen Thompson Walker

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It starts with a girl leaving a party. She feels sick, she tells her friends, like a fever, she says, like the flu. And tired, too,  as tired as she has ever felt in her life.

I don’t know what it is lately that I keep reading books about strange illness when I am going through something with my own health, but it made this book all the more peculiar and disturbing. Mei is a college student, one who ‘leaves only the lightest impression on this space’ who finds ‘comfort in not being seen.‘ When she discovers that her roommate Kara cannot wake up. Rushed to St.Mary’s, the doctors cannot figure out what is causing this mysterious sleeping sickness. Shocked, the students grieve the loss of the vibrant popular student, slowly coming around to notice Mei, aware only that she shared the room with Kara, that she is maybe Chinese, Japanese… that she isn’t to be blamed, like them, she couldn’t have known anything was amiss. Soon, the dizziness begins, what if they themselves have all been exposed to whatever Kara had? What if now, the contagion is making its way through the dorms?

It isn’t long before more students are falling asleep, dreaming more erratically, powerfully than people known to dream before. The town is terrified, somewhere in another house, a father (doomsday prepper for just such a disaster, because one will come) begins to shut his own children in, sure that there is more than is being divulged about the college infection. His twelve-year-old daughter Sara is used to this fearful ‘simmering’ this ‘something’ that is bound to happen. How many times has her father been wrong though? She and her sister Libby are maturing, are growing exasperated, embarrassed by their father’s often irrational, outlandish behavior. This time feels different though, this time it’s not just her father, it’s the town! A couple with their newborn aren’t concerned at first. Visiting professors Ben and Annie haven’t been in Santa Lorna long.  Their baby girl Grace is 17 days old, they haven’t been exposed to the ill students. Surely it doesn’t concern them, and in their case, ‘to close one’s eyes can be an act of survival’ until it isn’t.  Professor Nathaniel is a bit shamed that he can’t quite bring to mind Kara, a student of his dead now. Sorry that more are ill, surprised that the school is making news, thinking about the state of things for the young today. Catherine tries to understand the psychiatry of it, maybe it’s not physical illness, but one of the mind and she is as baffled as the medical doctors. Curious of these dreams and what they mean, psychiatry isn’t much invested in such things anymore, not in these modern times.

As a southern California town is consumed by fear, panic and losing loved ones to the depths of a strange sleep, those in charge can’t figure it out, nor save them. In fact, many fall pray to the illness themselves. Family loses each other be it through quarantine or distance. The National Guard brings to mind bitter history and the horrible things done during other epidemics incite terror amongst the citizens. For many, they find themselves alone for the first time, in a fight for their lives, fearing the unknown. Mei finally relies on another, and discovers maybe she has been asleep in life far longer than the victims.

This is a heck of a story, just the right side of strange but not overwhelmingly so. It feels like something that could happen. What distance is further, more personal than dreams and illness? Dreams that can feel like a lifetime, haunt you when you wake up, illness that no one understands, that makes you a pariah? It has happened, we have certainly seen mass panic where illness is concerned, that’s what makes it scary.  I like that it was character driven, that the story wasn’t so much about the illness but how it drew people together or apart. Illness is a bit like a slow dream, nightmare. It was a unique read for me, because the writing was beautiful and I cared about the characters but you don’t spend time with just one in particular. I hate to say one book is just like another book, so instead I will say of all the novels that blurbs claim are ‘like The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Euegnides‘ I felt the same disorientation and spacey, fuzzy emotions reading Walker’s latest offering. Again, I was coming off being sick, so it just fit my mood to perfection. It was like waking from some verwirrender Traum. Yes, read it but you’ll have to wait until the New Year. I think Karen Thompson Walker is an author to watch, I’ve had The Age of Miracles on my TBR list. Time to read it!

Publication Date: January 15, 2019

Random House Publishing

 

Who Cries for Mother Earth: A Novel by Margaret Hines

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I Am Yellowbird Woman. 

There are times when a vision is so powerful it can rest in a person’s soul forever.

Based on Lakota culture and spirituality, in Who Cries For Mother Earth, a young Lakota is mentored by Unci (Grandmother) learning how to heal her people. Zintkala Zi Win (Yellow Bird Woman) lost her mother at childbirth, her Grandmother (Unci) took her in and kept her alive for a time. Her father visited her, but she ended up in an orphan tepee until Unci came and took her in for good. A people of great warrior strength and spirituality, the Lakota once walked free giving care, medicine to people. One day her warrior father too went to the sky, her Unci would teach her the ways of medicine women, gathering roots, sacred medicines, understanding visions , giving prayers of supplication to Wakan Tanka (God) and listening to Mother Earth. Medicine is spiritual, not every person in a family is called to the healing. The Lakota travel tribe to tribe, offering great doctoring and spiritual teachings, known as the Brother Tribe. Before long, she meets her sacred animal, one that will be with her for life. While allowed to play, be a child, there is much respect and reverence taken when approaching the pejuta wakan.

The beauty of this novel is the knowledge and respect of the earth, of energies, of every living thing (which has spirit).  Noting with medicine work, due diligence must be paid to the emotional state of medicine women as they work with the plants, as energy is believed to effect the purity of the healing. Humility, peace and love are of most importance. Life isn’t easy for them, traveling place to place they deal with harsh elements, sickness. There is as much reverence for the animals, for the food they provide, the spiritual visions, messages as they have for human beings. There is never any waste. As seen as savage, she points out the true savagery is in owning and farming the land, wiping out native crops.  White men damming waters, no longer allowed to flow freely. People begin to ignore Mother Earth, to harm her. It is full of premonitions of destruction, war. Who will cry for her, Mother Earth?

The Lakota lived in Harmony until the white man resigned them to boxes, reservations. It’s a highly spiritual, beautiful book, not my usual read but something to chew on considering we all share this world and the harm being done to earth is harm to us all. There is beauty in respecting that the Earth isn’t ours, we are just visitors. We have certainly gone far away from the love and respect for nature, all things spiritual the Lakota chose as their way of life. A unique book about Native American Culture and Spirituality.

Publication Date: Available Now

Concierge Marketing Inc.

Brings Good, LLC

 

Little Me: My life from A-Z by Matt Lucas

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I was born a berk. I probably even stubbed my toe on the way out.

Many Americans recognize Matt Lucas as Rebel Wilson’s brother in the movie Bridesmaids (wildly funny), I personally loved him in Little Britain and Little Britain USA when I still lived in the UK myself. This book isn’t all laughs, it’s an intimate autobiography about Matt’s struggles through his awkward childhood, memories of his family, revelations about his love life (including his coming out gay) and his rise to fame. People like to think comedians are all laughs, but they’re not. They suffer and struggle just like so many of us, and guess what, fame isn’t the key to eternal happiness and perfection.

Though in A to Z order, don’t expect too much structure, which may bother some people. For me, memories are devious and don’t play by the rules in our own heads, one minute you’re 12 then the next minute a stray thought intrudes and off you go, 25 now. Matt goes back and forth between youth and the present, from his humbling incidents such as with wigs, to his deep sorrows over his father’s imprisonment, and death. There had been love too, and the devastation of watching his beloved self-destruct. This book is both humorous and sad.

He is confident and self-deprecating, insecure and courageous. In fact, some of his less than stellar confessions just make him all the more relatable, human. Who knows why we do the crappy things we do to hide our own shame? Not everyone admits to that side though, do they? While his homosexuality shouldn’t be a ‘theme’ of course he touches on it, what it meant to be gay when he was coming up, the shame of it. I am old enough at 42 to know that when I was growing up being called gay was the ‘worst thing’ you could call someone. Imagine how that felt for people who actually were (are) gay, it’s not like it is today, there weren’t a ton of stars ‘out’, not yet. Sure, there were rumours but most adamantly denied it. Add that to his wild allergies, alopecia and you know his childhood had to come with a lot of insecurities and harassment without facing his burgeoning sexuality and yearnings. With a child that suffered through hellish skin struggles (trust me it’s not just about appearance, it is painful) my heart sinks with his. Autoimmune diseases are horrid!

Many of the stories are a chronicle of his journey on the road to comedy. It is  a reminder that nothing is easy, that behind every star who seems to suddenly get famous overnight, there are years of climbing up the ladder, all behind the scenes. Whether one is lucky enough to have support and mentors or not, it requires perfecting your craft, many failures as much as successes. Matt was acting and living for comedy in his youth, he worked hard for every success he attained. Don’t expect any rotten gossip about other celebrities, he isn’t trying to sell the book that way. This is like sitting with your friend over drinks in a cozy setting and talking about life, confessing your best moments and your worst. On a side note, I really enjoyed learning how some of the characters were created, like Bitty! My husband, kids and I quote Little Britain all the time! You either get it, or you don’t.

USA Publication Date: Out tomorrow  October 12, 2018

Canongate Books US

We Were Mothers: A Novel by Katie Sise

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Mothers took their children’s behavior so personally, and Sarah thought it was a waste of energy, because when you’re a mother you have zero control, and having a child is a tremendous act of optimism bordering on magical thinking. It was the biggest chance you could ever take.

It appears for the women in this novel, the second biggest, most dangerous chance they can take is on love. I don’t say that in the light-hearted ‘love is adventure’ way either. There are quite a few characters to keep track of, none of them seem happy with their love lives. Cora spends her time lusting over Jeremy, feeling ashamed for not being a better wife, for not yearning for her husband Sam more often. Jade can barely stomach Jeremy’s touch. There has been devastating loss, with the death of Maggie (daughter, sister, lover) years ago that no one has truly been able to get past. More painful still to her family was how she died, her own stupid fault as the drunk driver in the car accident that killed her the night of her sister Cora and Sam’s engagement party. Sam survived (Cora’s husband) and so did Jeremy, her friend who were both in the car.  The wedding went on, Cora and Sam had twins George and Lucy and tried to make happy memories from the grief that remained. Everything seemed straight forward, Maggie made an irrecerseable stupid mistake, and it cost Maggie her life. Despite the facts, so much regret and shame reamins to share since that night, still so many secrets untouched that years will never be enough to bury. In deep sorrow, relationships formed, marriages happened, life moved along, children were born. Jeremy is married to Jade now, once very close to Maggie (devastated for deeper reasons after her passing) trying for a child, Jade barely feels a lick of attraction for him these days. As she struggles with the emotions she’s tried to close off, Jade fakes it hoping she can get through every moment of intimacy between them, shocking as he is very good-looking, charming and successful. She has her own secrets concerning her relationship with Maggie. Six years passing hasn’t made life without her any easier.

Children need babysitters, and Mira is a beautiful young woman, daughter of Dash and Laurel. What happens, though, when Cora discovers her journal describing a passionate encounter with Sam, her husband? Worse, what if that isn’t his biggest secret? How can she ever trust him again? Should she? Laurel is frightened when Mira turns up missing, and of course Sam is suspect. Worse, Laurel is dealing with her own marital problems with Dash’s increasingly aggressive behavior. His daughters, Mira and Anna, with the intense drama and confusion they cause bring his spiraling madness to head. Out comes the monster that Laurel has been cowering from, but is it too late to finally stand up for herself, her girls?  To Sarah, who still grieves the death of her girl Maggie, Laurel seems pompous, with her ‘professionally blown out’ perfect hair. Disgusted by the ‘blame mothering’ as much as the one-upmanship game of women like Sarah, too she has to contend with her husband’s ‘not so new now’ wife. A friend once, of sorts, now by the side of the man she was meant to end her days beside. Then when they had a chance to try again, the shocking devastation of Maggie’s drunk driving accident. The panic attacks may have stopped, but there isn’t a day she doesn’t think of her girl until what she thought of as fact comes to light as a big lie. She will do anything, right or wrong, to keep her family safe, she can’t lose another daughter, she won’t!

This story is sometimes all over the place but it isn’t bad. The men aren’t worth a damn, sadly. Narcissistic, violent, criminal, selfish but good-looking. Is good looking a quality? No? Some of the characters worked for me, I liked Jade but would have preferred a little more meat to her and Maggie’s past. Jeremy I could take or leave, he was sort of just there. Sam, well he’s a real nightmare isn’t he? Dash goes from calm to hurricane at the snap of a finger, which is the point when dealing with abuse. Mira is naive, a bit stupid but that’s youth sometimes. Laurel is the perfect example of women who put on a persona to hide the destructive lives they suffer behind closed doors. I don’t think there could be a sadder bunch of women in one story, nor men who will do nothing but turn you off men in general. I think there are some characters that could be worked on, but it was a decent story. You think it’s going to be the typical young girl, affair, murder… it isn’t. The mystery is buried in Maggie.

Available Now

Little A

 

 

Dracul:A Novel by Dacre Stoker, J.D. Barker

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“Why are you hiding, Nanna Ellen? You’re frightening me!”

The peculiarities of Ellen Crone, oh yes, is the perfect place to start this creepy novel. Written from the notes, missing pages, remnants of Bram Stoker’s classic novel, there is an eerie intimacy in this prequel, sharing the inspiration behind his dark creation. It seems fitting that Stoker’s great grand-nephew carries on his legacy, co-authored by J.D. Barker (a horror and thriller fiction writer himself). That is turned out so good  is simply an early Halloween treat for your bucket.

We begin with Bram, a sickly ill-fated child (how gothic) until a peculiar Nanny ‘monster, wraith, friend’ (sounds about right if you think about Nannies of bygone days) cures him. Spending miserably sad, mounting days from his attic room wondering if it’s to be his last, with his older sister Matilda for company, watching life outside his window. There from the time of his birth, lending her strength to his being and disappearing for days at a time always returning restored again (cheeks flush with color, life) his nanny (Nana Ellen) is a force.  Ellen of the changing eye color and strange mysteries is it imagination that brother and sister let run wild, or is she something ‘other’? Is it just his illness, playing games with his mind? Feeling her, but not seeing her when at his worst? Curing him when leaches fail him? The cure, that strange beastly overpowering… did she truly save or change him?

interrupting these journal entries, Bram of the present is being stalked by a presence on the other side of the door, trapped in a room, engulfed by the awful stench of this monster, wondering if he’ll ever leave alive. Back to the past, brother and sister snooping through Ellen’s room, when they aren’t watching her strange nightly encounters, looking for evidence of something. Being children, they know not what but why is there a box of dirt, with a body impression, as if someone sleeps there in her room? Why isn’t her bed as clean as their own? Well, the ‘help’ is often busy and exhausted, is it so bizarre to be a messy nanny? Shoo, children, what does your Ma care so long as Ellen watches out for you and the house is clean?

Naturally they don’t give in, they continue to hunt, stalk their Nanny who disappears into mist. Maybe their feet just aren’t as fast? Are they really chasing her? Is he dreaming? Bram wakes with an itch. Could siblings share the same dream, or is it the sinister games of Ellen? If there was nothing unholy about her, nothing monstrous, why has she left in the night, without a word, leaving nothing of herself behind?

The monster means to seduce him into opening the door. After all, he owes it his very life, he wouldn’t have reached adulthood without it. Come on, open the door! Let’s get to the bottom of this!

They will find Ellen again, and discover the origins of her monstrous heart. What is great about this prequel is the knowledge shared about Stoker’s childhood, life. There is folklore and I love folklore but I wish there was more heart pounding terror. What you will find is the undead, plagues, murders and a strange love for the very thing he fears.  It  is a solid read and perfect for fans of Dracula, and old horror stories. We’re to believe that Stoker encountered the very sort of ‘evil’ he wrote about. It is part horror, thriller, mystery and Stoker family history, fictionalized (or is it) mwwwwaaaaa…

Available Now

Penguin Group

G.P. Putnam’s Sons