The Eighth Life: For Brilka by Nino Haratischwili


And, in tracing the path of this ghost, she hoped to find redemption, and the definitive answer to the yawning emptiness inside her.

This is the book I have been needing to steep myself in all year. It’s about the revolution of the Janish family, which really begins with a secret, irresistible, seductive hot chocolate recipe that tastes like a blessing but bleeds into their lives like a curse. Surely a cup of warmth that fills the belly with such promise can fix an entire empire and yet how could they possibly know what destructive forces a red century has in store for them all? That they will become knots in a horror story of sorts, isn’t history full of those? Who is ever truly spared the cruelty of wars, within a country or a family? The beautiful Anastasia “Stasia”, ‘who came into the world already dancing’ is oblivious to the power the secret recipe her father (a famous chocolatier) gives her. “He guarded it like a secret of war.” He makes her promise to never allow the recipe to leave the family nor use it lightly, it is meant only for rare, special occasions. Does she heed his warning? From the moment it touches her tongue “it was like a spiritual ecstasy”, her fanciful dreams of life as a ballerina in Paris dissolve, but that is the least of the miseries and sorrows to come. In marrying a friend of her father’s, lieutenant of the White Guard Simon Jashi, she is bound not for Paris but for the cold climate of Russia- a country troubled with unrest. Meant to join her husband who left ahead of her, things run amok and fate teaches her a lesson.

There is no time for innocence nor clumsy dreams. It is only a relative that keeps her alive and later, when everything sours and the October Revolution thunders on, tragedy strikes. Fleeing destruction and death she finds her husband and gets pregnant with their first child ( Brilka’s great grandfather), returns back to Georgia “to the bosom of her family”, only to see the Chocolaterie fall into the state’s hands. Joined together again, she and Simon live in the countryside as a family where her life no longer feels like her own. Her sister Christine comes of age, blossoms and makes a very successful marriage. Stasia’s family grows as she gives birth to a daughter, and refusing to visit her husband in Moscow, instead moves into her father’s halved house. Later, she and her children live with her beautiful sister Christine and her husband Ramas. Christine catches the eye of her husband’s superior, the Little Big Man, awakens his animal urges, and sets in motion a horrific chain of events that will near destroy their entire family.

Then there are the children, Kitty and Kostya and how their lives play out. They both find themselves tied up in Andro’s own future, the son of Stasia’s dangerous friend, Sopio. How did I keep up with every character without notes? That’s how enthralled I was with the family and I began to feel like I was living through it all alongside them. This is a novel rich with history but nothing is more domineering than the fate of these characters. The dust never settles, the devil always seems to be at someone’s heels. But just which devil? There is no monster nor darkness more terrifying than human beings. Betrayal, starvation, treason, infidelity, war, dictators, torture, pogroms… and “Men always want to be in charge of you. What kind of life is that? I may as well have been born a dog; even as a dog I would have more freedom.”  It’s not only women who ‘Little big men’ are in charge of, but countries full of doomed people. It’s as if another character may as well have been death, because it’s a constant presence.

If you’re unfamiliar with Russian, German, Georgian history then you will be better informed after reading this novel. I can’t imagine a reader unfamiliar with it being able to understand the choices made nor the traps the characters all fall into. It makes for a more involved investment not all readers are interested in making. I, however, ate these pages. The horror of the times isn’t lost on me, my family has a history rife with Russian occupation and bullets, after-all Russia invaded Hungary. Poverty, hunger, cruelty, war, death, civil unrest- it feels like my own family history. Choosing which side your loyalty lies in a divided country is like choosing your own poison. People talk big who don’t understand living in fear and this novel certainly sheds light on the terror of the powerless.

There is a line about Kitty branded in my head, ‘she was a survival artist’, and the truth is every woman in the Jashi family has to be with their rotten circumstances or curse… “tomato, tamahto”.

I was riveted from the start and urge readers to dig into this novel full of riches. You can’t shake more story out of it. I was exhausted with all the emotional hijacking and I loved every moment of it. I won’t gush in a long winded review, because you need that precious time to invest in this novel. The characters fall into such a deep abyss that it’s a wonder there is a descendant (Brikla, for whom this is all told) that made it through her family’s traumas at all. It’s hard to feel sorry for myself looking back on history.  I don’t say this often, but Nino Haratischwili is a hell of a writer. How do her characters occupy her head space, with all their desires, regrets, rage? Yes, read this book! Remember you have been warned, it is not a light read.

Available Now







Let the Willows Weep by Sherry Parnell


With her voice long hardened from smoking Kent cigarettes, she spat out commands and insults that tore at your heart. I guess my father left before there was nothing left of his.

Children are victims of their parents circumstances, more often than not. The leaving between their parents feels more like abandonment of them, particularly when left behind with the domineering person one parent fled. I love a good southern fiction, and the willows will weep for Birddog Harlin, whose own mother has endured a rage that hardened her when her own father fled her mother’s meanness long ago. A slamming door echoes through the decades, turning a little girl into a hard woman who doesn’t have empathy for her own child, Birddog.

Birddog is nothing but a disappointment to her mother, protected by her beloved older brother Denny ( who seems to give the only scrap of niceness in her life), more often than not she is dodging her  rival, other brother Caul’s inborn meanness. Naturally the boys can do no wrong; the sun rises upon their shoulders, Denny’s in particular. Birddog adds to her mothers worries, fighting with boys, often covered in mud, her messiness the reason her mother can’t invite respectable ladies over for tea. Nothing like her beautiful mother, who her father admires so, despite her disappointment with the meager life his job as a miner gives them. Certainly not the low down job she ever wants her boys to do. Her adult life is just as tough as her youth was, slaving all day with chores, feeding her family, raising an impossible, disobedient, little girl are just some of the complaints that fill the air between she and her husband. Birddog knows her father feels shamed by her mother, but at some point her rage will always turn to her instead. When he defends his daughter Birddog it only strengthens her wrath.

Her mother wants nothing more than to enjoy tea with the ‘refined ladies’ of the town, just another thing a miner’s pay will never afford her. Worse, the gossip she is positive her shameless daughter inspires with her unladylike behavior makes that an impossibility. Birddog knows the truth of how things stand, as well as her father does. That just they don’t even exist in the eyes of polite society. If not for Daddy’s intervention, life would be nothing but darkness. Mother’s desire for better makes it impossible to feel and see just how much her husband adores her, and after a tragic turn of events, it’s too late to change things.

Weighted down by a deep blanket of grief, the children now have to step into adult decisions to keep the family afloat. Choices narrow for Denny as steps into his father’s shoes, Birddog’s mother is still jealous of the bond she had with her father, and a parting gift seals the distance between them. Caul comes into his own and seems to sail further from them, everything changes and mother fears all her children leaving. On the same breath, afraid of being left alone, she rips into Birddog- who still can’t live up to the sort of daughter she desires. Laziness won’t be tolerated, and soon Birddog is forced to take a job working for Ms. Tarmar who will teach her more than sewing, share her wisdom with her and have more room for compassion than her own mother.

Love finds her older brother Denny, and it finds Birddog too. Nothing is more doomed than forbidden love, as she will soon learn when she meets a caretaker named Samuel and his sweet, childlike brother Diggs. If only one could love away from the eyes of their ‘own kind’. This is another shame she’ll bring upon her family, and no one will forgive it. For a time, this man will open her eyes and heart to genuine love and kindness. But as he tells her, “there ain’t no place for that kind of love in this kind of world.” They don’t know how true his words are, and what love will cost both of them, body and soul.

This is how people become hardened, the world will beat you down, if you don’t know how to rise. No one escapes the pain loving brings, and maybe Birddog isn’t so different from her mother after-all.

Let the Willows Weep is about poverty, love, intolerance, shame, racism and family dysfunction. Rage is a circle that even the wisest who wish to escape can become trapped in. How is one to hope when life just keeps bringing you nothing but grief and loss? Love takes such strange shapes, it gives and takes indiscriminately in this sad tale. For those who love southern fiction with enough grit to make your eyes water.

Published October 2019



Take Me Apart: A Novel by Sara Sligar


That was how it was sometimes, in the archive. Big discoveries sandwiched between trash. The day-to-day touching the phenomenal.

Kate Aitken, now an ex-journalist (copy editor), has a chance for a clean slate, it’s time to leave New York, which has become contaminated for her. Kate’s life has imploded, and a very important man has taken measures to make sure she does not find work anywhere. When Theo Brand, son of famed photographer Miranda Brand, hires her to archive his late mother’s work it is a chance for her to start fresh- in California. Her aunt is there, which is both a good thing and trying. It won’t be easy, not with a woman whose death is surrounded by mystery and rumors, many that follow Theo like a dark shadow. He confesses his mother was a bit of a pack rat, so one never knows what treasure or trash Kate will uncover. Theo himself isn’t the easiest man to figure out, nor the warmest and it certainly doesn’t help when her own aunt is sure he is worse than the locals say. That maybe he was involved in his mother’s mysterious death, despite being a child when she died.

Her own life in a tailspin of sorts, Kate wonders if taking this job makes her vulnerable to danger. Sifting through the house most people would kill to snoop through, it is hard to separate fact from fiction. Could the many rumors and conspiracies be born from truth, isn’t that often the case? Doesn’t her own life have its own secrets and lies? Hasn’t she learned that a man can hide his dark nature behind his success, wealth and name? Is she attracted to Theo, or are the intense emotions, racing heart she feels around him a warning? After-all, she knows that attraction and panic often set off the same feelings within a person. Could he be as bad as everyone claims?  It’s hard to think so seeing him interact with his children, even if her presence seems to upset something in him.

Excavating Miranda Brand’s past is an emotional journey. Despite her awe inspiring talent, behind the artist was a woman who was falling apart, questioning herself, coping with the fragility of her mind. Everything Kate discovers feels like an exposure of a woman who wanted her private life to remain sealed. Art should stand alone, not be influenced by the person behind it. Instead of a contained woman, Kate discovers confessions, and painful admissions. Here was a woman who found mothering challenging and her marriage no better as it was under intense strain. A woman lacking much needed compassion and support, instead had a husband who seemed both exhausted by her needs and competitive over her work. Miranda missed who she was before the life she and her husband Jake created together. What made her decide to leave it, in such a dramatic, horrific fashion? Will Kate uncover more than Theo wants her too?

Their relationship is unbalanced already, Kate arrives with her own future in ruins while Theo appears to be a man who has his life together. There belies a coldness in his desire to wrap up his mother’s life, now that his father is gone and he is free to take charge of the past and all it’s dirty secrets. For Theo, Miranda wasn’t a famous artist who died at the height of her career, she was his mother, at times a distant star physically and mentally. Why does he resent her? Seem to hate her?

Answers may lie in Miranda’s diary, a discovery Kate intends to keep from Theo. It soon becomes obvious he has ulterior motives, could well be misleading and using her- but why? Her own wounds are fresh, the remnants of her own therapy sessions are a lifeboat to cling to as she sorts through Miranda’s past. Kate’s own narrative is as elusive, a thing we glimpse in starts and stops. Everything Miranda was suffering, particularly sensitive information that got out in public, is easy for Kate to relate to- however uncomfortable it feels. There are so many ways a woman is stripped of her armor.

Two women, decades separating them, face metamorphism of the self. This is who I wanted to be, this is who life demanded me to become. For Miranda, her husband is unforgiving, treating her after her unraveling as something he is chained too. Kate’s fall from grace is a different sort of humiliation, an utter failure of the self. There are abuses both women suffer at the hands of men with the upper hand. For women, it is all about how people interpret you, be it your behavior, decisions, weaknesses, mental state or refusal to give in when it’s demanded of you.

Death is silence, but Miranda could still have the last word. Does that frighten Theo? What if the truth challenges the story men, like he and his father, have controlled? What about Kate and her own voice, her own past? Is it wise to get tangled in desire for Theo? What if… what if Miranda was murdered?

What kept me reading was Miranda’s story and how she was mistreated, demeaned and misinterpreted- even after her death. Though the person hardest on her, as is often the case with women, was herself. What it nails is how narrative can alter lives, for better or worse. Sometimes the truth must lie in wait, but it will have it’s pound of flesh. Sometimes it pushes us to be more too. Kate was harder for me to bond with, but Miranda- I think Miranda echoes what many women go through and feel too ashamed to give voice. Theo was important, but he wasn’t the heart of the story for me anymore than the attraction between he and Kate. I was in it for Miranda. You could feel the pain of feeling judged, especially for things you cannot help. How easy it is to fall from grace for showing yourself as a fragile human being and why people try and hide when they feel themselves slipping. The breaking is so much worse when the one who is meant to be your anchor fails you. A strong character in Miranda if the others lacked substance. She was worth reading!

Publication Date: April 28. 2020

Farrar, Straus and Giroux


Your Ad Could Go Here: Stories by Oksana Zabuzhko


“Every fear has its volume and weight…”

The women and girls in this collection of stories face hardships that are common to all women the world over and other tragedies that test their courage beyond boundaries some of us will never know. War is brutal, and sometimes women are a debt to be paid. Women choosing between actualized children and the unborn, suffer through interrogations by the KGB, how a mother’s phantoms can be visited upon the daughter. Reach further back still into the family history of ‘the camps’, the misery still chasing them.

In Girls, a grand and severe passion for another, “Like a dormant gene of an inherited disease”. Darka divulges of her first love, sexual awakening with another student named Effie, a desire that gets swept away in dishonor and maybe something more dangerous, an informer in their midst? A lesson in betrayal, out of jealousy, desire to possess. The scandal that unfolded Darka only finds out much later, and how girls are so easily ‘dishonored by the obscene’. For Darka, Effie always remains a longing for another life, another self, even long after who we were so long ago is no longer remembered clearly. Could the worst sort of ruin be conquered in the future?

One of my favorites is The Tale of the Guelder Rose Flute, about a girl Olenka, born to good fortune. The firstborn is destined to become a princess, a queen, never could she be a common peasant. The second born intent on torturing the first, and so the rivalry begins, and intensifies when little Hannusia blooms herself. Gifted with skills of her own, jealousy to rival Cain and Abel consume the sisters. Is it the parents, the all seeing eyes of the village, the man come to court, or the matchmakers that birth such disharmony? Liberation in sin, ignorance in not heeding advice, women damned.

In I, Milena the surface hides everything, and all is not fine. Milena is a journalist of the finest sort, and she is in competition with herself for her husband’s affections. He is hungry for the Milena that is broadcast on TV, but there is a huge division between the onscreen and offscreen woman. Is she losing her mind?

Grannies who are made of sterner stuff, young men losing limbs, pasts mothers would rather bury,  daughters who don’t speak the same language as their experienced, hardened mothers, Russian bullets, barriers, national patriotism, and the rest of the world watching from the sidelines. Despite what happens in a country, the home and family is still it’s own battleground and sanctuary. War presses each of these characters between the pages of a photo-album, even war within themselves.

Publication Date: April 28, 2020







The Last Summer of Ada Bloom by Martine Murray


A foreboding had gotten inside Ada and she couldn’t get it out again. Something felt threatening and inevitable.

The Bloom family unravels during one summer, but the fault lines were there long before. If Ada and Tilly’s mother Martha is ‘straining against the confines of her life’ then Tilly is straining against the confines of youth. It may well be that the endless possibilities for her daughter’s future reminds Martha of her own failures and roads not taken that are closed to her now. At seventeen Tilly has ‘taken on grown up airs’ and the distance between the sisters makes Ada feel lonely. Observing her sister is like being tangled up in a mystery that is waiting around the corner for her too. Then there are boys who will take notice too. Martha still has Ada to mother, but life is one big dissatisfaction, she feels time rushing along and nothing to show for it all, with the exception of her three children. Martha knows they won’t need her for long and now her body is beginning to slowly ‘undo’. Her desire has plummeted, but she still loves her husband Mike, doesn’t she? The true test may come with the arrival of ‘an old flame’, but nothing is as it seems, and the biggest mystery may not be the shucking of their daughter’s youth but the turmoil that arises with his visit.

Son Ben is the adored one, given far more freedom than Tilly, though he is only 15.  Ben even has his own Bungalow, being Martha’s favorite, which of course is heaven for him. It never sits well with Tilly, who knows if there were ever a threat, he’d be the first one saved. Martha is cold to Tilly, if love is an effort with her husband Mike, it seems more so when it comes to her eldest child. The biting words seem to escape of their own volition when she interacts with her daughter, her jealousy and regrets arising with the blossoming of Tilly. Martha is far more demanding with her, and the weight of her mother’s ugliness, evident in Tilly’s sadness doesn’t inspire shame or pity in Martha, but strangely more anger. It’s painful to witness, but the reasons Martha pushes Tilly away are more about Martha and her past. The stink of secrets we throw down the well of our past can easily be detected. Martha isn’t as indifferent as she seems. In her clouded mind, every single person in her mediocre life is failing her while she does her best to pretend that all is well.

Mike isn’t any happier, thinking of his wife and her severe ‘unnecessary scrutiny’ of all things, her disappointment with their conventional lives and Arnold’s swooping in and upsetting the balance. Why was his approval once so vital to Mike? Arnold who ‘had always been a silence between them.’ He is proud of his little life, of the family he made, but he is still a man who needs to feel the pulse of being alive. Why should he feel like he can live up to what Martha needs? Why isn’t what they have made enough?

Ada’s curious nature is fed by an abandoned well and rusted old windmill, all sorts of things can end up in that abyss. Maybe even the innocence of childhood. Ada sees something that changes the structure of her family, and burdens her with secrets that should never have to be shared. The adults are failing each other, and everyone in between. A story of family fractures, shame, regrets, betrayal and blossoming- sometimes you have to shed the old ways to be born into something new. But do they have enough hope in their hearts? Can you make good on all the pain you have caused to hide from your own shame?

Ada’s naivety took me back to that fragile time when you are on the cusp of understanding, when knowledge seems to spoil one’s carefree existence. It starts when she feels something is off, but doesn’t quite comprehend what she instinctively knows. The relationship between Tilly and Ada is tender, even if it feels like Tilly is drifting away. Even sisterhood can lose it’s balance, without ill intentions. It’s easy to be hard on Martha, but she is a mess trying to contain itself and Mike fails his children too, in a big way. Ben is self-centered, and of course it’s forgivable in a boy, especially as the favored son but for me the heart of the novel is born from past transgressions. Motherhood certainly doesn’t fit every woman like a glove, and sometimes the worst in us is so hard to overcome, as can be the things that happen to us. I really liked it, it is far more realistic than explosive dramas, it’s the silences between partners that make for the richer novels.

Publication Date: April 7, 2020

Tin House Books

Square Haunting: Five Writers in London Between the Wars by Francesca Wade


“Though they arrived at Mecklenburgh Square at different stages in life, moving there provided each of them a fresh start at a critical moment: the way they each chose to set up home in the square was a bold declaration of who they were, and of the life they wanted to lead.”

Square Haunting focuses on the influence living at Mecklenburgh Square in London’s Bloomsbury had on the poet H. D., detective novelist Dorothy L. Sayers, classicist Jane Harrison, economic historian Eileen Power, and author and publisher Virginia Woolf. Each lived here at different times, choosing not the expected path for women, marriage and children, but feeding their ambitions, a break for freedom from the social norms of their time. Here they could ‘follow their own pursuits’, and meet with like minds. They had to work to earn the lives they wanted, of course some had the wealth of family but money was a necessity one always had to fret over. Geography matters, it is always conducive to one’s education to be at the heart of things, politics, revolutions, and around people and places that ‘stimulate the intellect.’ 

We remember these women as established writers but it is the making of them that is often forgotten. Their fears and of course the fight to be more that their mothers before them were ‘allowed’. To reach for the things their fathers and brothers were given simply for being born male, all those opportunities women were shamed for wanting.  In the midst of wars, modern culture on the rise, bohemian life, Bloomsbury was often thought of as a ‘vulgar place’. Here was a changing society, moving fast, too fast for some. But for women, it truly ‘offered a room of one’s own.” Our great authors wanted a different life, Mecklenburgh Square is where they would be shaped, a common thread in their world. Or it is where they were meant to find refuge, and engage with others to escape their own mind.

H.D.’s time spent in Mecklenburgh Square tinted her whole life, writing of how men hindered her (a female) as an artist. Disinterested in being Pounds protégé writing autobiographical work, exposing real people with her pen, layered truths and fiction. Born an outsider, understanding all too well how unrealized dreams could hinder a woman, as with her own mother, she would never confine herself so. Playing with her gender, shirking rules, rebellious and vulnerable, London was just the place Hilda would belong. Enthralled with suffragettes, finding a perfect circle of friends, London itself was a place in her writing that her characters, heroines too could find confidence in ‘work and herself’. H.D’s hungry mind could feed on manuscripts at the British museum, marriage with Aldington was a joining of like minds, but the Bloomsbury sets pleasures were interrupted by war, patriotism. No one could remain untouched. Devastation would come soon enough, personally as well. A place is both freedom and later, “four walls about to crush her”, when her marriage began to crumble with infidelity, and deep loss.  Mecklenburgh was formative, even when she was wrapped in misery, for it is here she found herself.

One common theme is women deciding to be neither male nor female. For “it is fatal to be man or woman pure and simple”, particularly for a writer. For these famous women it reduced them to be one or the other, to be defined, to carry the weight of expectations, of one’s sex, better to be both- to have an ‘androgynous mind’ is the only way to a limitless existence.

Dorothy L. Sayers seemed to torture her long suffering parents with her big dreams, ‘yearning to achieve success through her writing’, she didn’t want to be a teacher. Not surprising from a woman who was one of the first females educated at Oxford. She felt “her brain growing rusty” when she settled upon teaching, so she followed her heart and a man to France and with the sour end of that venture, knew it was London that shined with possibilities. She felt at home immediately at Mecklenburgh Square, where for H.D. it was collapse of her marriage, it was independence for the single Dorothy. Living life differently in London left her with a brave feeling. working on translations for extra money so she could continue to write her poetry and chilling stories. Here she wrote her first novel featuring Lord Peter Wimsey, and everything in her surroundings supplied her with plenty of material for the future of her work. This was the only place that could guarantee her artistic success. In time, love would test her too, and her feelings about her work and social norms. Sayers, just like H.D., would discover the cost of freedom for a woman is much harsher than for any man. Work is where a woman like Sayers healed, and she pored herself into it.

Jane Ellen Harrison is this books enigma, a woman who came to Mecklenburgh Square at the advanced age of 75, “having renounced her comfortable life as a Cambridge don”. She destroyed evidence of the life she led before and as Francesca Wade notes, for Harrison it was a rebirth, not a beginning as it was for H.D. and Sayers before her. It would also be her final home, as she died there. A bit of a myth maker about her own life, what mattered most wasn’t intimate revelations and exposure about herself but that it’s possible to shake off and discard anything that doesn’t provide what is needed, for one’s work or happiness. Many lives, regardless of age, are always possible. Once called one of the cleverest women in England, she too chose of life of intellectual stimulation and  struggled with the in between time of success and uncertainty about her future. She was passed over often, as women often are, for posts that she certainly deserved even if she didn’t like such a fact to be known, never one for being pitied. From Archaeological digs and her study on man-made hierarchies and ” the gradual erosion of women’s importance in Greek society” she drove home with factual evidence the vital roles women played in history, challenging the institutions run by men. What a greater inspiration to other young ladies, and female writers coming of age, then the findings of Jane Ellen Harrison and learned ladies like her? Of course, she was accused of debauching young minds. A woman’s education could go further, and should, then motherhood alone. A staunch believer in being a ‘free woman’, but much like the others also was adamant about not categorizing brains into male/female. Eventually into her life came Hope Mirrlees, a relationship that gave her so much of what she needed.

Eileen Power is another whose history has been partially erased ‘for reasons unknown’ by her own sisters after her death. A serious scholar, but as a woman seen by her male peers as ‘an anomaly’ for women surely aren’t this clever. Subordination seems to be a role women like Power and Harrison fought against and yet understood all too well. Her years in Mecklenburgh Square showed other women there was much open to them, a feminist, a pacifistic, who ‘owned her independence.’  She wanted her work to prosper and her surroundings, home should allow for it. She wasn’t one to let her personal life interfere with her important professional work, but it was vital for her to find like minded female friends with whom she could be herself. Her biggest cause, she said, was the cause of women. That women keep their individuality after marriage, ‘that love is not the only thing in the world’. 

For all the important women in this book, their thoughts echo many of the same things. That they are a person, that love isn’t the only thing in life, that an education, intellectual stimulation, a profession, passion is vital for every human being. Mecklenburgh Square was a hive of activity that fed them with the very things they needed to grow and to freely be themselves. Despite their intelligence, each saw the same “unchallenged assumptions” again and again. Maybe this is why they were found walking straight into what had always been predominately male territory. In London, they were able to cultivate friendships, connections to make the life they wanted a reality, despite the expectations of their time.

Virginia Woolf is the last, her time in Mecklenburgh Square was tense, with ‘political crisis’. There wasn’t fresh hope to be had, for Woolf a cloud of grief followed she and her husband Leonard after a wretched year. They were to manage their time going through a war. Back and forth, solitude and city- for her ‘peace of mind’ during a deep depression. When in Mecklenburgh Square they could entertain and debate with fellow writers. The lively discussions lifted the mood but her storms always returned. Not unlike the women before her, her love life was complicated and non-conventional in it’s own right. Partaking in an affair of her own with Vita Sackville-West, their marriage had it’s problems. Leonard was the one that tried to nourish her so she could write, despite her fragile mind. Like the others, she too was invested in defying conventions, in exploring how such things effect people, their life choices, their happiness, work and love life. It seemed she too was influenced by the environment of Mecklenburgh Square, tacking questions of womanhood, personhood. Yet with the destruction and looming threat, she couldn’t be truly at ease there. She still hadn’t truly found a room of one’s own.

This book is about women shaping their own worlds, trying to be self-sufficient in incredibly  difficult, often chaotic, war-torn times,  breaking with social norms. Wanting nothing more than to be a person, not confined by gender or any other roles society seems fit for them. They struggle with work and relationships, with family and destiny, and some with the state of their own mind. Sometimes the women are contrary, but always curious, intelligent and inspiring. It is an engaging read, sometimes heavy and sad, but it couldn’t be any other way when you strike out to change the world, or discover your place in it.

This is how one place shaped the lives of these famous women. Yes, read it, my review is flimsy by comparison to Wade’s work.

Publication Date: April 7, 2020

Crown Publishing

Tim Duggan Books









The Quantum Theory of Love and Madness: Stories by Jerry Levy


“In these grossly materialistic times, people are dying for some spiritual guidance. They want to nourish their souls. There’s a whole lost generation looking for itself.”

The stories in this collection from Canadian author Jerry Levy are engaging and at times bizarre. A welcome break in the routine of days, these tales are sometimes silly and other times make you uncomfortable just like my favorite, Butterfly Dreams. A lesson in letting go or holding tight, a man named Ashton makes himself at home in his ex-girlfriend Evie’s apartment when she isn’t there. Oh he is devious, creeping like a ghost, disturbing things just enough that an observant mind would notice. He’s the most clever spider building his web, until there is a snarl.

Starchild is about a one-of-a-kind sort of boy, a ‘lyric savant’. Why can’t songs stand in for normal conversation? Aren’t there enough songs to apply to every situation? He is a very special kid, but what happens to children who have to grow up and enter the real world that demands conformity? Maybe he is more than special, maybe he could look skyward?

Grotesque makes you think what is the most grotesque, a creature or a human. Sadly, sometimes it’s humans who are truly the wild animals. There is a hint of magical realism and the supernatural here.

There are chance encounters that fizzle out, a 6ft 2 man who lives above the ground on a high wire, trips that force a man out of his comfort zone, children who become orphans until one becomes a fire lover, what ifs, terrible poetry, and writers block. It is a unique collection that can be read in a short duration of time. Not all stood out for me, but those that did are memorable.

Publication Date: April 1, 2020

Guernica Editions

Godshot: A Novel by Chelsea Bieker


I was thinking in glitter and gold. Thinking, with my hands raised in praise right there in the shower, of Vern’s original miracle, the way he’d cured the town of drought years before when I was just seven years old.

Call it fanatical religion or a cult, it’s a fine line here my friends. Vern will bring the rain to this drought ridden land of Peaches, California. What was once a fruitful, prosperous place is dry as the devil’s heart. It is through ‘assignments’ that the rain will come, there will no longer be barren crops, for God has control and through faith and obedience the holy will be saved. The people are desperate and downtrodden, some proud men have even taken their own lives for the shame of it. Vern is their only hope for salvation, for he is the one who has God’s attention. He has proven he has the perfect holiness within him and 14-year-old Lacey May’s grandma Cherry was witness to it all, a devotee of Vern’s ever since.

Lacey May’s mother Louise Herd is an alcoholic, a disaster as a parent. She has her beauty though, a means to bring evil doers to the church, beauty as dangling carrots for such men. But like all women she must be clean, and boozing one’s days away, keeping a filthy house, taking up with wild men are just more marks against this stained women, already marked with a bastard daughter. In a moment of grand betrayal, chewing on  rotted memories of the many times her mother has failed her through selfishness, instability and her addiction, Lacey May chooses Vern, damning her mother in front of the congregation. They are all too happy to see her finally brought down, this evil woman who is ‘always out looking for the devil’. How could she know what the consequences would be, in speaking her truth? How could she have known her mother was keeping her safe all this time with silence, that despite her stained soul, it was Lacey May she was protecting? It’s too late now, her Judas kiss sets off a chain of events, her mother is banished and leaves with a man, a stranger.

Lacey May will find out what ‘assignments’ entail for young women like herself. As she searches to find out what happened to her mother, she comes in to contact with unholy people in the town, like the Diviners: A Lady on the Line (phone sex workers). Witches who would love nothing more than to strike men dead, if Vern and his people are to be believed. She longs for her mother, where is she? Why doesn’t her Grandma Cherry care about her own daughter’s fate? Now that enlightenment is dawning on Lacey May, she understands men are meant to lead the church and it will cost no one more than her. Everything that is expected of her, that she blindly agrees to, begins to feel wrong. It’s too late now, what’s done is done and there is no going back. Her own mother’s words were truer than she knew. “Get used to it,” she said. “Women have a long history of suffering.”

Girls don’t need their mothers, do they? But there is so much she hadn’t taught her yet, things a girl needs to know to make sense of the world, and themselves. All these terrible biting things she didn’t understand. In some ways, she is very much her mother’s daughter, filled with her passion. Could she too have a “natural disposition toward sin”, her Grandma Cherry will keep her on the clean, on the straight and narrow. Now her cousin Lyle is going to help guide her on the right path, help her with her bible studies. He gets closer to her as God shines upon him. There is a stranger come to town named Stringy, the lawn painter, someone who will notice her beauty now that her mother is no longer there to pull the eyes away. Power is humming beneath the surface, something big is coming, bigger than Vern’s first miracle. They must all remain humble servants, in order to receive the ‘perfect holiness’, from whatever vessel Vern deems worthy to deliver it.

There is blind faith and faith born out of witnessing miracles, or maybe it’s great timing? We believe what we need to. What can induce faith greater than feeling as though you are highly prized? Chosen? This is how we wrong our girls, our women, and it isn’t just the men partaking of purity. Sometimes a trapped bug prefers the burning light, because it promises such warmth. It’s easier not to question too many things, for how can anyone question what God asks of you, or your body?

It’s the girls who assure a congregation will grow in numbers. Fear is the way to get what you want, fear and blindness. But there comes a time when the cracks appear, the filth, the cheapness of it all, and that is when you truly see your life for what it has become. That is when the turning away begins, and it is all doomed to failure.

It’s painful to witness and not so far fetched as in times of mean desperation, people will cling to the wildest beliefs if they’re scared. Of course, somehow girls or women seem to be the ones sacrificing. Yes read it, get Godshot yourself with a dose of Vern and his delusional followers. There is no shortage on novel’s in this vein, cults (religious and otherwise) but here, with failing crops, drought it makes it easier to relate to why they fall under the sway of Vern.  It’s a solid story, when beliefs chafe against reality, you either close your eyes or accept you have been fooled. The writing is beautiful, I felt like I was in Lacey May’s confused little mind and body. Not always an easy thing to accomplish in a novel. Can’t wait to read more from Chelsea Bieker.

Publication Date: April 7, 2020










Sin Eater: A Novel by Megan Campisi


I only follow that I am not to be hanged or fined. I am to be given a different punishment. 

The punishment May receives for stealing warm bread is to become a sin eater. A clever, original idea for a historical fiction novel, I’ll give Megan Campisi that! Sin eaters, however, are not made up in the writer’s imagination, they actually existed. Said to go back as early as 1600 (in the British isles) it was a job where sins of the dying/dead were consumed in the form of food, hence allowing the sinner a sort of absolution that allowed them into heaven. As is human nature, the sin eaters were outcasts, damned by the very absolution they provided, swallowing poisonous sins. “The sin eater walks among us, Unseen, unheard”…

Once the Makerman places a collar around her neck, so long as she serves faithfully with true piety and obedience, keeping silence, carrying the heavy sins of others to her grave,  her soul may rise to the Maker. Easier said than done. May stumbles home only to learn that her punishment bans her from the life she knew before. No longer will anyone talk to her, not even her own kin, nor will anyone explain to her what she is meant to do. All she knows is she is meant to go to the other. There is another in the village damned just like her.

It is through this other sin eater, also a woman, for only women can eat sins, that May learns the way. Mouth shut, and nothing to look forward to, no husband, no children, not a lover nor friends. It’s like being the walking dead. Soon after she attends a dying man as he confesses sins, and foods are called out to cover each sin. Such as Oat Porridge and dried raisins for holding a grudge and faithlessness. At least there will always be food, she will never starve.

When the Queen’s messenger calls them to the castle, May discovers there is a deception taking place. A deer’s heart represents murder, a sin the royal governess never confessed. The elder sin eater’s refusal to devour it seals her fate, she is taken away and May knows she herself must partake of the deer’s heart if she has any chance to save her mentor. But nothing ever goes to plan, and she has become trapped herself in the deceit at the royal court. How can someone who cannot communicate, who others shun so as not to be cursed get to the bottom of such treachery?

One thing is certain, there are many sinners at court and lies can alter even the fate of one’s people. There are many reasons for lies, hunger, fear, pride, vanity, and our own safety.

I enjoyed the story, and the choices May makes in the end. Sometimes we have to embrace what’s thrown at us. It’s a rotten existence, but more than anything it was a unique idea for a novel. I had never heard of sin eaters, just another page in the strange history of human beings. I am always tickled by the old superstitions and folklore and wonder what people of the future will think about our beliefs, traditions one day. I wanted more from May, more fight, more anger and life. I wanted to care about her more, and I was expecting the tale to turn out differently in regards to the mystery at court. Still it was a strange journey and a decent read. And a nod to the book cover art.

Publication Date: April 7, 2020

Atria Books

The Resolutions: A Novel by Brady Hammes


The architecture of her life began to crumble.

In The Resolutions by Brady Hammes, the architecture of all three siblings lives (Sam, Jonah and Gavin) have begun to crumble. Sam was so full of promise, a talented, skilled ballerina before an injury destroyed her dreams. Salvation came with a Russian dance company northeast of Moscow. Living at “Chàteau Oksana” feels more like a campus, which is exactly what everyone calls it. Meant to dazzle, charm the guests at monthly parties, her life is wearing her down, but nothing more than her old injury and the death of her days dancing with the New York City Ballet when she was only 18. Heroin is an escape from everything that pains her in this place that is a blanket of snow, the perfect place to bury one’s dreams. Isolated though this place may be, such demons can only be tolerated for so long.

Jonah is the intellectual in the family, distanced from his artistic siblings. He feels lonely, ready to attempt to strengthen the bonds. Jonah came to Gabon, Africa to assist his thesis advisor at Vanderbilt, studying the vocalization of forest elephants, planting ARUS (Autonomous Recording Units) to better understand how the animals communicate. It’s important work, but a mountain of pressure when his advisor takes ill, leaving Jonah in the forests of solitude and danger.Just as he is readying himself for a trip home, hoping to connect with his little sister and older brother he falls into an abyss of trouble all because his camera gets stolen. Soon he has the threat of poachers looming over his head, but that is just the beginning. Trouble rises, someone has a plan and he has no choice but to obey. Sometimes it’s the stable, quiet one whose mistakes could cost lives.

Gavin is the actor, but a decent face isn’t always enough to bounce back. Maybe his career was thriving years ago, but now it feels like “making it big”in the industry just isn’t going to happen. What was it all for? His relationship has ended and now, his show. On the horizon there is Marina and a cabin in  Taos, but all that glistens isn’t gold. He is too old to feel like he has to start over again, too old to believe his dreams will come true and definitely old enough to know better about… well… everything.  Now he is sorely needed at home. Just who needs saving? Maybe they all do.

This novel explores the shifting dynamics within sibling relationships, and how our dreams sometimes have to die to be reborn into something new. The slightest change in our fate can send us hurtling, but what is life but weather? The damage we try to keep close is sometimes best shared with our loved ones, because sometimes they really do have to step in and help steer the wreckage we’ve made of ourselves. Even the perfect, most promising child can trip up. Sometimes saving others saves us too.

Publication Date: May 5, 2020

Random House

Ballantine Books