The Art of Taxidermy by Sharon Kernot

 

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She carried everything lightly, as only the dead and innocent can. 

In The Art of Taxidermy, we meet young Lottie whose passion for ‘revising’ dead creatures has her Aunt Hilda horrified, more so that her father Wolfgang encourages her by buying her glass aquariums to ‘contain the fusty fug of death’ within. To his mind, she isn’t the freak Aunt Hilda believes her to be, she just has a scientific bend of mind, it’s ‘in her genes’. No sir! Girls she play with dolls, not skeletal remains of reptiles and birds, sheep… not be enthralled by the stink of death!

It is the states of decay Lottie is captivated by, the possibility of resurrection, of keeping a creature in it’s natural state forever unlike her mother Adrianna, whose death has hung around like a shadow. Through her grief, a passion for taxidermy is being born but Hilda thinks it’s a sickness, a disturbance in the child’s nature. Written in a beautiful lyrical style, nature dominates the pages more than death as Lottie weaves her way to the creak, observes nature searching for specimens. “But the day was teeming with life”, we explore the Australian land overhead as birds take flight or upon the ground muck through the mud and fungi. Then there is Jeffrey, made of skin rich like the earth and quiet grace, companion to Lottie’s peculiar hobby. A boy with Aboriginal origins, a boy who has blossomed in her dark heart.

What is a girl to do with the face of death but try and preserve it? She herself a flightless bird with Aunt Hilda trying to make her a ‘normal’ girl, doing everything she can to end her taxidermy dreams. Snippets of ‘mother memories’ creeping into her heart like soft dreams, Oma’s omens and superstitions, an inheritance of despair and always, ‘the air is heavy with ghosts.’ As Lottie finds her purpose, she must too confront her grief over the loss of her mother and learn her German family history, the reasons her family were treated like criminals. Will she be able to convince Aunt Hilda that she isn’t an unnatural girl, that she isn’t a bloodthirsty murderer of creatures with a macabre hobby? Do we embrace our yearnings or let shame force us to discard the very things that make our heart beat with meaning? Intentions are funny creatures themselves, as we see with Aunt Hilda pushing her ‘ideal’ of womanhood upon Lottie. The road to hell is paved with good intentions and all that.

A beautiful tale out of Australia, uniquely written. The subject is heavy and yet the lyrical prose is uplifting, I felt I could hear bird-call and smell the ‘fug’ of decay. For those who love narrative poetry, this is a YA novel but I think adults will enjoy it too.

Publication Date: August 23, 2019

Text Publishing Company

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Black Light: Stories by Kimberly King Parsons

I’ve almost had no loss in my life, but I still believe we’re always in between tragedies, that anything good is a lull before the next devastation.

The stories in this collection are wickedly rich.  In Foxes, a little girl’s plot-lines revolve around what’s deep in the woods. But the mother already knows what horror can live outside of fairy-tales, the tragedy of confusing a fool for a knight! She dearly hopes her daughter escaped her inheritance of bad choices, and if pretty isn’t enough than thank god for her brains! People living nowhere or searching for somewhere, even when they are living on fumes, pockets full of nothing! When you’re hungry, when your broke love is a war zone, but when will The Light Pour In? If love were a scale, what does age difference weigh? These aren’t your beautiful, blessed folks, no no no… these are ruined people.

In Fiddlebacks, children chase creepy crawlies while their mother finds comfort in the back of a car with a man whose face is ravaged. Drugs, cheating for the illicit pleasure, a charismatic friend who fires the blood of first love, snarled minds that art therapy attempts to mend, and a medical student that charts his beloveds insides, grounding her. 

The writing is sometimes like sand in my eyes, it’s raw. The characters don’t stand sure and tall, they ‘cant’ help but see a thing through its disappointing end’, and are nothing like wise, unbelievable sketches of people in other novels who know how to navigate their perfect, clean little lives. Somehow, this is far easier to relate to! This is a curious collection and I can’t wait to read a full novel by Parsons! Feast yours eyes on that cover people, that is a hell of a book cover!!!

Publication Date: August 13, 2019

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Vintage 

 

 

 

Lights Along The Interstate: A Novella by Adam Fike

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Of all of it, day in and day out, this was the part of it that got to Warren the most. He called it the not having.

Life, everything about it, what we chose and where it takes us, whether our souls be muddied or clean someone is flipping a coin somewhere on the paths we chose to walk.  I sometimes hate the idea of punishment, where is the struggle for those who are never pushed to breaking, who have every opportunity, who haven’t truly had to go without, knowing choices aren’t all black and white. Let’s face it, you can go with your heart, your gut and life can turn foul anyway, it can break those who have no one in their corner and yet just be a simple lesson for those who have the cushion of wealth in their life. How would that really play out, do those with everything in life against them get extra points? Do those with everything in their favor lose points? Balance, ideally is a beautiful concept but life certainly isn’t spinning in balance, sometimes evil wins… here at least forces are at work. The bus is coming… where are the people going? What has their life amounted to? Can the devil get bored, tired of being ‘the bad guy?’  Can he fall in love?

Jesus and the Devil betting on people, it keeps things entertaining, and Jesus has his faith in his flock. The Devil just thinks Jesus is a meddler! A Reverend who can see the deceased,  a little girl who loses everything while at recess and has to learn to be a stranger in a house for orphaned children, wondering how her life changed so abruptly, a boy who knows all to well the horror of ‘not having’, a wife betrayed to the grave. Who will make it, who will ‘earn’ their way? What about a woman seduced by the thunder of a bike? Then there are pennies, and not all pennies fall from heaven. Evil can enter the mind, if we let it. Some work with the dead and others are the dead but we’re all headed to the good place or the bad, depending on how we lived our lives.

This was a fun little novella, it all comes together at the end of the road. Do we all “get an A for effort?” I sure hope so because being good isn’t always easy, nor rewarding but the alternative…

Published December 2018  Available Now!

 

 

Dawson’s Fall: A Novel by Roxana Robinson

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Now he’s back in another kind of conflict, the alarms and confusions of daily life.

While this novel is fiction, in the preface we are told that the author used authentic content, such as letters, diary entries and published sources of her own family, her great grandparents in particular. Her discomfort in the racism within’ her family is noted, but to ignore the attitudes of the times would be a disservice to the truth, especially of the hardships faced in the fight for equality. Both Frank and Sarah Dawson have thoughts that are easy to judge, such as the ‘distastefulness of mix racing’ Sarah feels. But then you have to sit with that thought, surrounded by the ignorance of the times, these are taught attitudes.

The novel opens with a nightmare Frank Dawson has just awaken from. Despite his wife Sarah’s intuitive nature, and the troubling feeling that remains, he can’t put much stock into dreams, he has enough pressing issues in his daily life than to allow a stranger in his sleep to torment him. As editor and part owner of the Charleston News and Courier his voice is his tool, his opinions strong and not always popular in the south where the war refuses to remain in the past. Death threats aren’t unusual for a man who tries to give black people political power. In fact, his ‘Southern roots’ certainly are in question, being England born can he really be one of them? Maybe he isn’t even really a Captain either! He loves his Charleston, and he wants it to thrive, but to understand the anger we must travel further back.

It is 1861, young Sarah Morgan is nineteen-years old and the ‘war is scattering her family’. The south doesn’t want the north interfering in its affairs, and the anti-slavery perspective isn’t one the south shares, after all they believe they ‘take care of their slaves’ and that they’d be helpless and lost without such care. Fate is about to turn against her family, with the war taking her brothers and threatening every southerner.

In Southampton, Englishman Frank Dawson stands on the deck of the Nashville (a steamer, once a mail ship to be fitted for war)  as one of the crew. Unlike the other men, Dawson has a fine education, can speak four languages, read music and has a gentleman’s manners. Certainly he doesn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the rougher men. Little can one imagine he will rise through the ranks of the Confederate navy. In America, Dawson’s ‘network of friends’ and his intelligence, connections will teach him about the south. Here, he will support his brothers in arms against the north. From the water, he will turn to the land joining into the army. Sarah in the meantime taps into her own shocking nature, finding it necessary to arm herself with a pistol. They are under siege and must run from Baton Rouge with whatever they can carry. Chaos reigns, everything is in ruins, as are the people after the shelling. Sarah is fierce, and often the cries in her diary are, “Oh if I were a man!”  because then she could fight off these hypocritcal Yankees, who are destroying everything people like her family have worked for, killing off all the men! He family gets smaller and smaller with each death. It is a world now of devastated women and children.

At the end of war, Dawson has been wounded, desperate for money and a job he soon has an offer to work for the Examiner, but soon Dawson  meets B. F.  Riordon, with whom he would later create a newspaper with. But first, as the assistant editor for the Charleston Mercury his views on the Fourteenth amendment don’t sit well with the bosses, staunch supporters of Confederacy, not one’s to ‘swallow’ the end of their empire and embrace the future. With the paper failing, it’s an opportunity for Dawson and Riordon to run a paper with truth and promote their south.

Soon, Frank Dawson and Sarah Morgan’s paths merge when Jem, Sarah’s brother, is seriously injured during an ‘incident’ and Dawson rushes to be at his side. So too, does his love blossom for Sarah. One small hitch, Dawson has a wife already but one who is gravely ill. After her passing, the two bond over literature but how to convince Sarah to marry him, particularly when she has no interest in doing ‘what is expected’ of women? The two begin to write each other, and I’m guessing the letters were authentic, oh what a dying art!

You know they marry, or else how could there be this very book about the author’s great grandparents? Dawson’s fall could come from anywhere, his progressive views (such as his stance on anti-lynching), the stories he prints that tell the truth about crimes by condemning always what is wrong, even if it means exposing ‘white South Carolinians’, particularly in the case of the Hamburg Militiamen massacre. History sidenote: Hamburg was an all black Republican community who had members in the militia, which were formed to safeguard said communities. Research the Hamburg Massacre, it will explain the gravity of the situation and why siding with the black community infuriated citizens. There was courage in Dawson and Riordon chosing to speak in defense of the militia, the truth can be dangerous! Lynchings, racism, rapes, war… this novel deals with seriously taboo subjects, history rears its ugly head.

Then there is the sleazy neighbor Dr. Thomas Mcdow who seduces Dawson and Sarah’s beautiful, young, Swedish governess  Hélène. A man with murderous intentions who feels Dawson is interfering in his every plan, threatening to ruin him. Not that I particularly liked Hélène but I imagine being 22 and working as a sort of servant, though maybe higher on the totem pole than the other help, she’d be hungry for love, a husband. Sure, she was lucky to be a part of a respectable, important family but the young still have their fanciful ideas and are ripe for certain worldly wolves. What will it mean for Frank and Sarah?

There is a lot happening in Dawson’s Fall, looking back into your family history can be crushingly heartbreaking but it’s only because you are on the outside and know the end. As in all lives, there are sweet spots despite the tragic curtain fall. For fans of historical fiction, there is quite a bit of the past to chew on, a lot of shame as well. It seems Frank changed with the times and tried to be just, and that says a lot when it’s with great risk you go against popular thought. Morality is a strange beast, there are certain wrongs against nature that no amount of justification can excuse. History isn’t pretty, for one family war took and gave in equal measure but sometimes it is those closer to home that can seal your doom.

Publication Date: May 14, 2019

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Sarah Crichton Books

 

The Organs of Sense: A Novel by Adam Ehrlich Sachs

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But he could not stop. He felt he had a “compulsion to look,” to look closer and closer, “a looking-closer-and-closer compulsion.” What (he wondered) would it take to stop looking, “to look this closely, and no closer? Through such and such a magnification, and no higher?”

Certainly the strangest book I’ve read this year, and in fact last year. We are told that G. W. Leibniz, who was throughout his life “an assiduous inquirer into miracles and other aberrations of nature” is on a mission. It seems fitting he would want to uncover the truth behind an astronomer’s peculiar prediction. The German philosopher, mathematician, and logician, is on a quest to reveal whether or not a blind astronomer could possibly be able to study the stars so accurately as to have predicted an eclipse at noon and on the last day of 1666, that will leave all of Europe in complete and total darkness. This man’s prediction is made more shocking by the fact that he has empty sockets where his eyes should be, can you get any blinder? Sure, he has been ‘rumored’ to have built the most power telescope of the times but powerful or not, one still needs eyes to peer into telescopes, no?

Leibniz intends to remain at the observatory long enough to test the man’s reason (sanity) and if the eclipse happens he is certainly an astronomer if it doesn’t it means nothing because astronomers can be wrong. So begins the stories the old shriveled man tells Leibniz, and he discusses how one must “truly see”, what could a man with empty eye sockets know about seeing? Well, with his trusty instrument (the telescope) he has seen a lot! A lot, I tell you! And he demands of Leibniz that he “prove that I cannot see what I claim to see”, we have a conundrum tangled in philosophy and history. How did the old man lose his eyes anyway? What is truth? How do you get into someone’s head to determine what they are experiencing, what their truth is? Words, can words reveal what is in another’s head? Mere words?

Can one go through life without the ‘belief in other people?’ The astronomer tells Leibniz that what he means will become clear, I think most readers will try to grasp at the silliness and science but clarity may not be easy! Maybe a lot of readers are more like the astronomer’s father who wasn’t interested in the sky, and cannot be tangled in knots because they just don’t care to ponder. The play on faith as what we devote our existence to is evident in the astronomer’s father’s inventions…a box is just a box is a box, no matter how we decorate it, it will not open the cosmos to us. Be you a surface dweller or a plunger of depths, does it matter where we put our faith? Does madness await us all either way, what is sanitized madness? How does an Emperor, art , or an automaton head lead to the astronomer losing his eyes so that he can truly see?

This was a dizzying book. It takes a ‘discerning mind’  if you’re going to be a thinker and one must lose the eyes that deceive us even if that’s a straight plunge into ‘philosophical torment.’ This is meant to be amusing, I think it’s more scientific/philosopher’s humor and it is easy to get lost. What do we really understand about our the world or each other, whether we’re filled with genius or disinterested in anything beyond the surface? It’s okay if you can’t engage with the witty humor and philosophy within, you can always gaze at the cool book cover with your actual eyes!

Publication Date: May 21, 2019

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

 

Keeping Lucy: A Novel by T. Greenwood

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She’ll be feeble-minded, no more intelligent than a dog. The hardship she will bring to your family- women never realize the impact that raising an imbecile has on a marriage. On the other children. You must think of your son.

October 1969, Ginny Richardson gives birth to a baby girl born with Down Syndrome. While still in a haze from the drugs administered, the doctor, her husband and his family make the decision to send Lucy away to Willowridge, a school that can serve the ‘many many challenges’ she will face. Some of which, they convince her, are heart defects, vision and hearing difficulties just to name a few. She will never be a normal child, she will never be able to interact, no better than a dog, there is no point in being involved in the child’s life.  It’s too late to protest, it’s all been arranged, the child is already gone.

Life goes on, Ginny raises her first-born son Peyton while Ab’s time is eaten up by working for his father’s firm, the path set for him to become district attorney. No one runs her family quite like her overbearing father-in-law, the force behind her husband Ab’s rise. All of that is about to be threatened when her friend  Marsha calls to inform her that Willowridge, the very “school” institution her baby Lucy was placed in, is being sued after a local reporter in Amherst went undercover, exposing the horrors within. Ginny’s first thought it “Ab can fix this”, he has the legal knowledge, the power of his family… surely he will know what to do, he won’t risk their own child being abused, living in the squalid conditions the exposé revealed, will he? Maybe her own marriage should be examined, maybe she doesn’t really know her husband at all.

With the support from her friend Marsha, she will journey to the school and see for herself just what is going on, visit her child for the first time in two years since she was taken away, her father-in-law be damned! Imagine the shock when Lucy isn’t quite the ‘feeble minded child’ they swore she would be. Naturally readers will be horrified at the very idea of a mother giving up, and without a lick of fight, her own newborn baby girl. Times were different, I remember my mother telling me how poorly she was treated as a young mother in 1971 when she birthed my sister, how condescending doctors could be, and that’s with a healthy delivery. It was a lot less inviting and open as it is today, women were often put in a ‘twilight sleep’, and it was a sterile, surgical setting then, a far cry from birthing rooms now where family can support you. Doctors were far more authoritative, patients were in the dark often and it is no surprise women would cave to their ‘superior knowledge’. It’s hard coming from a time where we are swamped with knowledge and advocates, fierce about the rights of those with special needs to fathom how a mother can be talked out of keeping her child, but it happened. Ginny bends to her husband and his father, highly educated men themselves are sold on the idea that all hope is lost and it’s impossible to keep such a child alive… in fact, they are sure baby Lucy is lucky if she lives only a few years. If she does survive, surely it will only be because of the full care she will receive at Willowridge, care and time Ginny and Ab could no way manage to give their needy child. Ginny has no reason to not believe them.

The truth is, such a child shames her father-in-law, doesn’t fit in with his perfect family. The beauty of the novel is the moments Ginny begins to fall in love with her little girl and finds the courage to fight for her even with every resource out of her reach, the law and family against her. Her husband infuriated me through much of the novel, but how do people become victims? They are often raised under the thumbs of tyrannical parents, cowered, lacking confidence, certainly it seems that Ab, despite his success is still trying to attain his father’s respect. Ab isn’t the only one in the family who has submitted to his father’s rule.

When Ginny learns the secret of who the people defending Willowridge against the parents who have filed a class action suit are, her fury grows. How can she fight when the law isn’t on her side, when she doesn’t have money. Despite this swell of love for her child, so too does she love her husband, her six-year-old son Peyton and her good life, but sometimes you have to make a choice, especially when your child has no voice of their own! People are either with you, or they are against you. Sometimes, you have to find the strength to go against those who know best.

These are imperfect characters, and shamed by their choices. The truth is, the only characters my love went to was Lucy and Peyton. I would love to see a lot more interaction between them, he went from being an only child to suddenly being big brother to a special little girl who will need him for the rest of her life. It’s a unique relationship. I think I would have liked to see more fight against husband and wife, I wanted to see Ginny in all her avenging glory, especially towards her father-in-law, but maybe that’s just my thirst for drama and justice. Ginny was too much the type of woman who just floated along and let others decide everything and I can’t think of a horror worse than that. I just couldn’t understand how in two years, as a mother, she didn’t go visit her child. I understand she was bullied into giving her up, but in all that time after the birth she wouldn’t be raging against being denied the chance to see her? Feeble minded or not, hell couldn’t keep me away from my child. It would eat away at my mind, soul every day of my life. It’s hard to relate to such a weak character, but at least she finally finds some backbone.

Strange, our throw away society, that takes anyone who is different and tries to forget they exist at all. Times are changing, in many parts of the world, but the true horror is that abuses happen all the time, not just to children with special needs, but to the elderly and ill more often than we want to admit. This novel will be a great choice for serious discussion.

Publication Date: August 6, 2019

St. Martin’s Press

 

The Behavior of Love: A Novel by Virginia Reeves

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What are you doing, Edmund? Trying to wake her up. She is not yours to wake.

Penelope is Doctor Ed Malinowski’s favorite patient, “one of the few bright spots” in the metal hospital he is the superintendent of. From the beginning of the novel, Edmund shows himself to be a logical man, one who desperately wants to fix the shipwreck the facility is. A doctor who sees his patients beyond their illnesses, one whose art classes led by his wife, and reading groups he and another patient heads are just the sort of PR they need, after the disaster the last superintendent up and left behind. Poetry and discussion, talk about ‘feelings’, a fresh approach to treating what ails the patients behind the walls. But it is Penelope that consumes Ed more than any other. Sixteen years old, beautiful, with keen intelligence whose unpredictable seizures have made her a part of the institution, a place she never should have been sent to. It isn’t long before Ed forces Penelope’s presence on Laura, claiming it is for the “stimulation” her art classes can provide. Her refusal won’t be tolerated, it seems Penelope is her curse, meant to creep in every crevice of Laura’s life, already the focus of her husband’s every thought. How does a wife voice her fury without looking like a monster, jealous of a wounded little bird?

Yet, Ed doesn’t really want his wife working in the hospital, he has spent an inordinate amount of time on keeping his life compartmentalized, as much as his heart. Maybe Laurawill finally get pregnant, then she will have to stay away and remain home. Maybe then this art class won’t seem like a lifeline for her. It’s what they both want, to have a little family. As calm, collected as he must appear for his patients, his reactions when it comes to Penelope gives him away. He is spending far too much time with her, surely it’s not going unnoticed. Ed’s work as a behavioral psychologist is one he is proud of, patients are being treated, released. He is the man for the job, if he can’t turn the place around, no one can. The institution, however, this great opportunity for his career is stealing him away from Laura, and for all his keen observation and care for the patients, it is his wife he doesn’t see. She doesn’t feel real, solid, not when she feels invisible and unwanted. Laura sees him with perfect clarity, and everything he has been up to.  “The Ed at my feet has only the troubles he’s sought out, a career helping broken people and broken places- broken things that do not include him. He has always been on the outside of suffering.” But will our Ed stay outside it all?

There is a love triangle, and a woman always knows when she is being eclipsed by another in her husband’s thoughts and longings. Under his watchful eye, Penelope is getting better and epilepsy is no longer a reason to institutionalize patients, but is Ed ready to let her go? Will he cross the line and allow himself to express the love he feels for her? Will he risk losing Laura for a taste of sweet youth? Can he keep his passions on a tight leash? Ed commits to saving so many people who need him, but it’s his own house that is crumbling.

Timing is the thing, it seems, and time can be cruel. A heart can’t build two houses within. All of our existence is about our perception, in the end, and Laura’s isn’t the same as Ed’s. Just what does Pen feel about the great Dr. Ed Malinowski? Can a man keep the love and adoration of two women going? What happens when the Doctor becomes the patient? Admittedly, the part of the story I chewed on the most is when Ed falls apart, and it all begins with a headache in his temple. This is where real love shows it’s face and confrontation between Penelope and Laura is a long time in coming and yet not your typical climax. Love stories, the ones closest to real life, are ugly and painful and this is no exception. Ed is a complex character, egocentric and yet one of the most caring doctors when it comes to patients, a selfish spouse and yet just as hungry for connection and love as any of us, even if he keeps it all ‘one-sided’. Laura and Penelope have their tale to tell and aren’t confined on the pages by the roles they play in Ed’s heart. Neither are truly the enemy, but Ed creates a hell of a storm between the two. Ed may think he has it all figured out, and he seems to be in control for a time, but love can be controlled by no man’s hand. There will come a time when Ed himself, like his patients, may need others to bring sense and order into his life and his mind.

Publication Date: May 14, 2019

Scribner