The Beekeeper of Aleppo: A Novel by Christy Lefteri

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I am scared of my wife’s eyes. She can’t see out and no one can see in. 

Beekeeper Nuri’s wife Afra (a talented artist once full of joy, laughter like gold) is disappearing to a dark place deep inside after horrific tragedy in Allepo obliterates every speck of life they created. It’s better not too see, there is safety in blindness when you live in a world brutal, hateful, ugly. This is war, it cares nothing for the land nor it’s people.  Things are getting more dangerous, if they stay they will die, how can Nuri get the blind Afra to see this? How can Nuri convince her that emotions must be corralled, logic must be the only guide for now? How can Afra leave this land, it holds the blood, the remains of every breath of life she existed for? Leave they must, but they will take the wasteland with them, inside their hearts. For Afra isn’t the only one whose mind has been ravaged by grief, Nuri may have his vision but he sees life as a version he can stomach, as a way to keep his feet moving so he can have a dream to hitch them to.

With his cousin Mustafa waiting for him in the UK, he will do everything it takes to begin anew, but first they must live as refugees where their very lives are dependent on trusting others, proving themselves as worthy of getting to Great Britain. They will meet others just as damaged as them along the way, with broken dreams and tortured memories. “These things are in the past. They will evaporate soon, like the river..”, but the past has it’s hooks inside Afra, and Nuri too. He must be strong, for Afra’s fragile state makes her vulnerable and her heart cannot take much more.  Afra doesn’t want the past to evaporate, she doesn’t want to see the future, for it died that day in Syria.

Nuri feels he has lost Afra, and loss seems to be all he knows anymore. Their world in ruins, through the journey they will inch closer together and drift apart, can they keep their love alive, is there any hope of beginning anew, will anything give Afra the desire to heal? Maybe Afra isn’t the one who needs healing. Would that they could be like Nuri’s beloved bees, that “small paradise among chaos”. There isn’t a sanctuary from the ravages of war, it’s impossible to return to what was, the only hope is in finding something new to live for, and with memory and love keeping what was from being erased.

So many of us are protected by the happenstance of our birth, and will never know about such wars, the all consuming terror, grief and destruction. We won’t have to alter our ways to fit into another country, and abandon our very culture, it’s traditions. Leave behind all the people who were a part of the landscape of our days and wonder if they are still alive. Hope for word from the very person you are running too, unsure if they are still waiting for you. We won’t be living our lives in between places, wishing for a place that is gone. If tragedy opens our doors, most of us won’t be forced to leave our homeland without family to comfort us, with time against us and the chance to grieve a luxury we can’t afford. We won’t have the barrier of language to scale. It is only through stories, films, and memoirs that we can even scratch the surface of such tragedy and yet still, I repeat, you will never know about such wars, the all consuming terror, grief and destruction. We have our miseries, of course we do, but there are not enough words to express the abyss of war. We can feel compassion, but I’m not sure we have the capacity to fully comprehend it as those who live through it have no choice to.

We sometimes overlook people living in different parts of the world, it’s easy enough to do when it isn’t affecting us. We forget to see them as human beings, we do it sometimes in our own families as well, it’s human nature. This story gives life through Nuri and Afra, something to connect with, a bridge of sorts, something beyond the news that we can just gap at in horror and turn the channel, go on our merry way. There are lives beyond the headlines, people with emotions and children, partners, battles to wage. How easy it is to forget.

There is hope and love between these pages, between Nuri and Afra, despite the fear he has of his wife’s eyes. Fear of what their loss has done to her, the state it’s left her in, fear she may never come back to him and be the woman he loved with an easy, deep affection. Yet, there is no room for surrender if you want to live, it takes strength beyond measure to survive. Survive they will, but with sacrifice of immense proportions. There is beauty in moments, but it is a heavy read.

Publication Date: August 27, 2019

Random House

Ballantine Books

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Maggie Brown & Others: Stories by Peter Orner

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Amazing what our bodies are designed to take.

Amazing what our hearts and souls are designed to take too. This is a hell of a collection of connected stories by Peter Orner. I was blown away by all of the characters because they resembled reality too much, the pain of being alive, our insecurities, our curiosity about family members closest to us, our assumptions about others that diminish them as people. There are stories about the fire of youth and the desires that flow beneath our skin, how hungry our hormones make us, how did we survive all that want? Later in life, the ache of it all, the self-pity. You can’t feel too sorry for the characters because when you do, you are snapped back into reality by lines such as this “He’d grown up poor, he said. That’s novel? The mass of humanity lives a world away from a hot bath.” I am always hungry for short stories that throw the reader right into a town, a house, a family, any situation where I can immediately understand the score because the writing is saturated with insight and emotions, the atmosphere rich, going between light and heavy. This line “He’d written, he told her, about flower children because they made him laugh. Spent my life trying to get clean and these kids can’t get dirty enough.”  That is gold, it sums up so much with a few choices words. Writing at its best. Truly, I was hooked.

My heart could break, my breath catch with a line describing our narrator’s mother, about her hands while she played the piano because he humanized her so tenderly in The Case against Bobbie. We dance through time, through our own hearts, first memories, beginnings, endings and all the decisions we face each day simply because we exist. How we live with what remains when death decides to court us. Wealth to poverty, love to the absence of it, youth to old age, and the curiousness of the parts we all play in between. Why do some images stick while some are diluted or fade away entirely? How strange to be a human being, what imperfect creatures we are.

Yes, yes add this collection to the top of your TBR list! These short stories swallowed me as much as a full length novel.

Publication Date: July 2, 2019

Little, Brown and Company

 

The World That We Knew: A Novel by Alice Hoffman

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She would do whatever she must to save those she loved, whether it was right or wrong, permitted or forbidden.

Said to be a book about good and evil, it encompasses all that humanity is. In a safe world where we don’t have to face choices between life and death, nor chose to side with those that evil has trained their eyes on it’s easy to imagine yourself as a hero. Reality is a multifaceted beast though, if we’ve learned nothing from history, good and evil can live inside all of us. Every choice is the difference between cowardice and bravery, but for a mother she wouldn’t blink at damning herself to save her child. There is a line in the novel that says “A wolf will seldom attack, Bobeshi always said, only when it is wounded or starving. Only when it must survive.”  People however, are different creatures entirely.

Berlin in 1941 Hanni Kahn, with the help of a rabbi’s daughter Ettie, will conjure a golem to protect her beloved daughter Lea. The golem will remain beside her, guide her in escaping the Nazis. Ava is brought into existence, meant to remain by Lea’s side with no thought of her own being, always to protect her as fiercely as her own mother would. The two leave for a convent in France, Lea will never see her mother again and the world that they knew will be forever changed. It is a tale of magical realism during a time when evil was spreading throughout the world.

The rabbi’s wife knows it is the men of the Jewish tradition who can give Hanni what she wants if it is even possible, it is not for the women to dabble in such things, for it takes educated scholars, women are only for bringing babies into the world. With the rabbi’s wife dismissing her, it is the rabbi’s progressive, intelligent daughter Etti who will help Hanni but for a trade, for she too has a plan of her own as desperate for escape as anyone. A plan that includes her sister, jewels and tickets on a train to Paris.

All Lea knows is this strong, tall woman named Ava is her cousin and will be her companion on her journey to safety. A cousin she has never heard of until today. She will no longer be Jewish, in order to survive she must become Lillie Perrin. She is to be the link in her family’s future generations, if there are to be any, she must survive. She must say goodbye, for if she lives on so too will her mother, and her mother before her. Setting her child free is sometimes the most terrible choice, the only choice, and the greatest gift of love any mother can give. But this ‘cousin’ behaves strangely, and has an odd encounter with Ettie and her sister Marta, who have also boarded the train. Surely something is afoot, Lea knows there is more to this ‘cousin’ Ava than her mother let on. How can Lea not resent Ava, whom she doesn’t even really know, when it is her mother and grandmother she longs to be with, not this strange ‘cousin’ who acts like a guard dog. Her heart is breaking inside, she never wanted to leave her mother behind, never! But her mother had to remain surrounded by all the demons and care for her invalid grandmother, Bobeshi as their world grows smaller and smaller. Lea will keep the memory close to her heart of their last dinner together, and the beautiful gift (given to Lea early by her mother Hanni) meant for her thirteenth birthday, a day that they will never share. Lea must promise to obey her mother, no matter how much her heart breaks at their final goodbye. Obeisance comes in the form of keeping close to Ava.

Something horrific happens on that train, that Lea and Ava witness. Ettie and Marta walk among demons themselves, and Ettie will swallow her sorrow on the run and become many things, to survive. Working her way through the countryside of France, forsaking her orthodox Jewish traditions, waiting to know her fate, whatever it may be, with unflinching bravery. She bides her time working where she can until the time comes to rise, to fight. She must be as strong as the golem she brought to life.

Lea and Ava seek sanctuary with André Lévi , a dangerous thing for the Lévi family to take  more strangers in with the Germans coming after Jews in the streets of Paris. What is there to do? They cannot turn away these distant cousins. Lea and their son Julien fall in love, much to the dismay of Julien’s mother and always under the watchful eye of Ava. With his elder brother Victor’s disappearance in the night, he is the only son left. Sadly, this is no longer a world made for young love and family loyalty is above all what sons and daughters must first cling to, Lea herself has to understand that. Lea and Ava must journey to the convent if they are to remain alive, there she gives offerings of bread and milk to a heron, comes to the heron with requests. The heron is a symbol of hope and messenger of love. Can her love for Julien survive in a world full of hate and violence?

In another village Marianne and her father have always done what is right and saved those in need of rescue. She comes in contact with an old friend whom she had lived with in a Paris house for five years, and he informs her that he has joined up with a group of Jewish resistors and has been living in the forest. Their story will burn again, now that they are together but the blows will still come. Evil will win, but so too will good, it is a never ending struggle on this scorched earth.

Magic can save some of us, but not without a price. For there is always a sacrifice. “You cannot hide who you are without doing great damage,” but there is no other choice than to bury oneself. By the end there will be so much lost, bones in a field, tests of faith, love lost and found and lost again, so many wounded souls in need of healing and new beginnings. Will a mother’s love and the creation of a golem lead to the survival of Lea and future generations? You must read to find out.

Alice Hoffman’s tales always have a mystical touch that so many fans love, and this is magical realism but without the usual lightness because it a story of such an ugly time in human history. It starts with the purest act of love, a mother wanting to save her beloved daughter. What love is greater? Tell me? Than a mother’s love for her child? There will be loss, evil actions and more hate than we can swallow, history is it’s own horror story. Destiny will have its way with every character here within, and not everyone will survive to the end but it’s their burning hearts, their fight that makes this a beautiful read.

Now we wait until Alice Hoffman’s next novel, with hearts full of hope after such an emotional read.

Publication Date: September 24, 2019

Simon & Schuster

This Wicked Tongue: Stories by Elise Levine

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I’d walk a few steps and the haze would lift, as if I’d squeezed my last tears and could get on with things.

I had to settle myself in a quiet place, undisturbed to dig into these stories. The first tale in the collection Money’s Honey had me riveted because of the language, the emotional impact. “Fat girl, some call me. Hey there, fat slut. Like I’m there just to get a load of them.” In the span of a few pages, she will figure out just what she has to do, while going through the memory of who she has left behind, of the many hands that have touched her, can she abandon her wild ways and go home again, and maybe what she carries will make it all worthwhile? The stories are more about what is going on inside each character’s mind because the wicked internal language we have is what drives our own wicked worlds. Whether a narrator is ministering the dying as a divinity school candidate while failing to comfort the living or a cop searching for their unhappy wife in a cave, as his claustrophobia increases, suffocating as much as marriage the writing pulls us in. Are we okay? We’re not okay.

In The Association we’re inside young Martin’s head and privy to his observations about his uptight mother and the failings, ‘lapses’ he collects about his father. A bright kid who ‘needs to get out of his big head’ according to his dad, living between his newly divorced parents, mother wanting too much from his 11-year-old self and finding his new voice, one that upsets the balance, but so what- he is enjoying this snide self. Sometimes when I read from a child’s perspective that is spot on about the adults, I remember what it was like to feel forced to be the audience to adult antics, and how good anger felt when you let loose.

Levine’s stories include one based in c. AD 1372, language of the past, a journey through grief, the one sealed off in the cell for those seeking counsel, a spiritual practice long gone, “our words a poor magic mashed to this world.” 

Difficult relationships, disheveled selves, past, present, shifting timelines- an engaging lyrical collection.

Publication Date: June 25, 2019

Biblioasis

The Bundy Secrets: Hidden Files on America’s Worst Serial Killer by Kevin M Sullivan

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Ted was  well-behaved, well-dressed, intelligent, and acted extremely proper at all times.

Growing up in Florida I still remember the day Bundy was executed in the electric chair as it was announced on a radio station I was listening to. I remember the dj telling a joke about there being a power bump because Bundy was on old sparky, certainly no one I knew was grieving. I go from thinking labeling such horrific murderers as monsters gives them too much power and removes them too far from humanity for us to attempt to understand them to feeling this has to be evil. There is information in this third and final book in Sullivan’s triology about Ted Bundy that I didn’t know. It makes sense that Liz was an anchor to his sanity, what remained of it anyway. I have to wonder why or how someone becomes Ted, with his urges? Do we study it, can it be explained, prevented? I don’t know, I really don’t know. Were there more victims? There certainly must be more we don’t know about Bundy than what we’re sure of. There are records of surveillance in this book, it starts off with Ted being followed. Such books serve a purpose, because when authors comb through the police records, victims testimony, interrogation of Bundy in the cases, speak to those who knew him well and those who just had a run in with him there is an extra pair of eyes that may well connect more dots, or find new evidence, make sense of the old.

This book really takes you knee deep into interviews, and what happened to his victims. It is horrifying, how can it not be, doubly so reading this as a mother? I cannot imagine what the families suffered in the aftermath, suffer still anymore than I can imagine the heartache his own family must face, friends who once trusted him. It’s terrifying how charming, educated, friendly he seemed to others. Why wouldn’t someone trust him, in all honesty, knowing so many felt he was always proper, sounded well-educated and looked like the sort of person we’re told to trust? It was as if there was this switch that turned off whatever was human inside of him. Where did his rage come from? Why one person and not another?  He seemed so blasé about everything he had done, though of course he didn’t want to talk about the victims, that would make them real people. I cannot get the thought out of my head of Bundy as predator, ‘observing people everywhere he went’. Not every stranger was fooled though, like the older bank teller who immediately thought he was a killer- why do some of us have the correct instinct and others of us fall for the act? Do our eyes trick our brain so much? These are just questions that hit me when I read anything about his sickening crimes.

The victims, let’s not forget the victims were people with lives, families and friends. Beautiful human beings who happened to attract Bundy’s attention through no fault of their own. Liz was his victim of a different sort too, but did he love her? Was he really capable of love, it seems she was more than a ‘cover’ to camouflage his blood-lust because again and again he turned to her. Was any part of him genuine? No one can act all the time, right? I cannot imagine having to face that the person you shared your life with, or given birth to is someone like Bundy.  “What did I miss, what is wrong with me that I didn’t see the signs?” There aren’t words to really describe the chaos that reigned in his wake, even today it lingers.

Kevin Sullivan’s book gives the reader the feeling of what it must have been like to piece together information from so many sources, trying to put it all together to tie Ted with his victims, the ones we know about anyway. In real life it isn’t all laid out in an orderly fashion and from the interviews to testimony and Ted’s own words it’s dizzying. Those who knew him best (if that were even possible) to strangers, many of their epiphanies came far later after he was caught and things added up from his presence in certain locations, to attempts at abductions and his nervous behaviors. This certainly speaks of years of research on the author’s part. Now I have to go read something else that reaffirms my faith in humanity.

Out Now  Published April 23, 2019

Wildblue Press

 

 

 

We Will Tell You Otherwise: Stories by Beth Mayer

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You have to count your blessings. Or pick your poison. And for God’s sake, not every single thing means some other terrible thing. But that I keep to myself.

This collection of stories by Beth Mayer will play with your emotions, is it dark? It can be, human behavior isn’t always pretty. It is moments of people at their best and worst. The very first story can break your heart as in Tell Me Something I Don’t Know a father tells us about his mother’s visit to give he and his wife a break, trying to get through the heavy days of their little boy Ethan’s chemo for his brain tumor. How do you grab happiness watching your child suffer, how do you break out of the fear that something worse is waiting around the corner?

In When The Saints Tell Their Own we’re left to wonder who is broken, when Blue (the narrator’s brother), checks himself into a hospital because ‘something is wrong with him’ but she is the one talking to the saints. Each story has fractures, I loved Let Her Tell The Way. It is the summer of 1978 and a family of four is meant to go on a vacation but the father (Bill’s) loyalty is always his clients (he owns and runs a funeral home). But this time, Peggy (wife/mother) is going to go on the trip as planned, of course her eldest child and headstrong daughter is going to test her. “The girl thought of herself first (always) and it was ugly.” What stuck to my guts is the disappointment, their trip is closer to reality than all the happy ads we see about how great getting away is. You take your family issues with you. Even the little ones can’t rally enough happiness to make it work, “The children bore too much.”  There is a short little story too from the “summer people” who really don’t mind the old bachelor whose family has been on the lake for generations… no, not at all. They tolerate the locals.. sure they do. If they don’t stay long they won’t be infected by whatever miseries visit the locals, right?

The lump in my throat remained from Don’t Tell Me How This Story Ends, it’s for imperfect families, the ones who have a revisionist in their midst. Truth is malleable for some, the convenience of old age or ‘forgetting’ to suit your own conscience… it hit hard for me. The most difficult family member (here it’s a father) but it can be anyone, grandparent, mother, sibling, uncle… that their fragility humanizes them, the unfairness of it all, when it seems they should be punished for the cruelty they spread. Life doesn’t play out like that though does it? Not always.

A young boy seeks council about his future through his classmate Suzy, a man fancies old-fashioned ways until his world is rocked by a mysterious girl who will help him navigate the technology he hates and a young girl finds a best friend in the beautiful Cha Cha McGee who the whole town may want to mark just as badly as Lady Pearson, the harlot, witch…  These stories are all about human nature in its many forms. This is an author to watch.

Publication Date: August 20, 2019

Black Hawk Press

Beth Mayer is the Hudson Prize Winner

for more information  https://www.blacklawrence.com/we-will-tell-you-otherwise/

Wild Wisdom: A Warthog’s Tale by Laurada Byers, Natalie H Stewart (Artist), Stewart Williams (Designer)

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Here are some of the Wonderings and Realizations I’ve had along the way.

We are told from the start this isn’t a book meant to guide you, dear reader, towards a “perfect life”, what is a perfect life anyway? This a book of warthog wisdom, an animal that Laurada Byers sees as a sort of spiritual creature like herself, they may not always be pretty and graceful but damn if they don’t rise from all the muck and face life head on. Facing life head on is what Laurada herself has had to do, particularly after the tragic murder of her beloved husband, father to her children, Russell. She certainly didn’t give up when later, illness reared it’s ugly head. It isn’t that horrible things happened to Laurada that makes this book so inspiring, it’s what she chose to do with the arrows life slung her way.

The illustrations are playful at times, and sweet, did I just say that about renderings of a warthog? There is a page about the brain being permanently changed after witnessing a violent act that depicts a leopard leaping in the air at the warthog, it certainly must be as frightening, the act and the loop the mind gets stuck in. Seems perfectly suited to the thought. It isn’t all misery, though the moments in Laurada’s life aren’t anything to laugh about there is still humor in her wisdom. As they say, if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry. In memory of the life her husband lived, she chose to start a charter school which proceeds from the sale of this very book will benefit. How is that for not giving up? For thumbing your nose at misery? Inspiring, indeed. Anyone who has ever lost anyone, or suffered through an alarming diagnosis will relate. Lovely.

Available from Warthog Productions

Laurada Byers is a survivor, fighting cancer, Parkinson’s disease as well as PTSD from the tragic loss of her husband Russell.