The Blurry Years: A Novel by Eleanor Kriseman

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I wanted to stop driving, even if where we stopped wasn’t home. I wanted my world to narrow to one point again, to stay the same in front of my eyes, wanted the landscape to stop blurring as we sped by life instead of living it. We were in limbo.

A coming of age set in the late seventies early eighties Florida. This isn’t the sunshine state all the tourists and snowbirds know and love. There aren’t trips to theme parks and lazy beach days with coolers full of food and drinks, a parent’s watchful eye for her. Callie (Calliope) grows up starved for more than food and a place to call home. Affection and attention is fleeting, she is exposed to the seedy side of life where her mother Jeanie can’t keep herself together let alone be a role model for her child. The places she lives have thin walls, too much noise, bugs, rodents. The fun her mother and friends have when they aren’t working crummy jobs is full of partying, and conversations her young mind can’t decipher, nor should she be exposed to. The men that surround her life don’t concern themselves much with age, young girls are all the more appealing.

Just when her mother gets herself into a jam, they decide to return to her grandmother June’s place in Eugene, Oregon. It’s the very place her mother Jeanie fled so long ago, but the best laid plans often go awry. Callie is her mother’s rag doll, dragged along, at the mercy of her whims. For a time, Callie feasts on love and stability when they shack up with Jeanie’s best friend Starr and she wonders how long this happiness, as thin as it is, will last. Her desire feels muddled, inducing shame and hunger, changing the way she thinks about women, men and love all because of her adoration of Starr. The only constant in Callie’s life is that her mother will get restless, or find trouble, surely the lull in the chaos of their existence won’t last; happiness for Callie rarely does.

When they are back in Florida again, Callie’s soul becomes as bruised as the Florida sky during a thunderstorm. Offering herself up to an older guy, desperate to feel wanted, loved, to feel anything but the emptiness of goodbyes. This wanting, over time because a sense of owing, owing people (mostly men) pleasure, payment for any drop of decency shown to her. With teachers lecturing on their usual spiel, ‘you can be anything’ and working as a babysitter for a wealthy couple she has to wonder if someone like her, who comes from nothing, could ever find her way to a fuller life. How do you believe in a bright future when the only evidence before you is contrary to your dreams? Or worse, what if you don’t even really have dreams because you’ve learned far too early that world is off limits to the likes of you. All you have been witness to is adults failing, living in the gutter, not one story worth latching unto? A mother who for all her presence is vacant, unable to share any intimacy with her daughter Callie, but is fast to drink with her, include her in her raunchy escapades. With a mother who encourages her into sleazy situations and then fails to protect her, how do you believe in a better tomorrow?

This novel is an all too familiar story where I am from. Don’t be mistaken, there are plenty of children living in poverty whose parents give them love and affection, who guide them. It just isn’t always the case that poverty equates with neglect, poverty makes things harder, there is a lot of wanting that goes unfulfilled but parents can still nuture their children. However, Jeanie is a disaster, the sort of mother who never seemed to develop beyond her own reckless teenage mentality. She hates her life, resents the adult responsibilities raising a child entails and while it’s possibly a cycle where help was absent when she was ready for it, that doesn’t excuse the neglect of Callie. Far too often kids around Florida grow up too fast, exposed as they are to adult chaos or worse, predators who have easy access thanks to their self-centered parents. A single mother who herself manipulates, plays men to get what she needs when she isn’t running from abusive relationships isn’t aware enough to shelter her girl from the world she constantly lands them in. The darkness is always lurking but the biggest threat to Callie may well be her own mother. At 171 pages it is a fast read, and yet gritty as our sandy beaches. It is tragic because it’s too real. Florida isn’t the only state with these types of stories, most people have at least one friend or someone they know of who had damaged parents and it doesn’t always end with the child breaking free one day. Some become like their parents despite their hunger for anything other than… some don’t make it out alive and numb themselves with drugs, abusive relationships… you name it. How will it be for Callie?

Out now

Two Dollar Radio

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Who Cries for Mother Earth: A Novel by Margaret Hines

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I Am Yellowbird Woman. 

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

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

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

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

Publication Date: Available Now

Concierge Marketing Inc.

Brings Good, LLC

 

We Were Mothers: A Novel by Katie Sise

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

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

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

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

Available Now

Little A

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Available Now

Penguin Group

G.P. Putnam’s Sons

 

Time for Bed, Miyuki by Roxane Marie Galliez, Seng Soun Ratanavanh (Illustrations)

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“Miyuki, it’s time for bed.”

“But, Grandfather, I must water my vegetables.” “All right,

Miyuki,” Grandfather sighed.

“Water your vegetables, and then it’s time for bed.”

Miyuki may well be creating a Canopy for the Queen but she is the Queen of Stalling. This beautifully illustrated children’s bedtime book is a French import with Japanese culture as its theme. Having lived in Japan, it’s imagery is a reminder of the years my family and I spent there. Miyuki is one of my favorite names too. There is such a gentle tenderness, a patience in her grandfather and this illustration in particular moves me.

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(Image copyright Seng Soun Ratanavanh, 2018, text copyright Roxane Marie Galliez, 2018. Courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press.)

My daughter used to stuff her little feet into shoes just like the one that becomes Miyuki’s bed in the above photo, long after she outgrew her favorite pair. The mushroom, the details in all of the illustrations are perfection. I miss fun, sweet illustrated children’s books.

Like most children when it’s time to wind down, Miyuki’s imagination is running wild, her energy is contagious and lucky for her, Grandfather is more than willing to go along on her journey, accomplishing her many tasks. His soft sighs are the only tell that he is worn out. It really isn’t time for bed, no way, not yet.

The carp streamers (windsocks) known as Koinobori, that she sits upon in one of the illustrations dominate the towns during Children’s Day in May. I remember the beautiful colors the first time we saw them, isn’t it lovely, a day to celebrate children? This book is a nod to nature and it’s elements too. Lily pads, dragonflies, frogs, snails for travel, tiny birds, ants hard at work… its perfect imagery for a little one’s mind before entering dreamland. Growing up in the late 70’s and early 80’s children’s books had the best illustrations, I am so happy to see such artistry dedicated to the young today.

I am going to find a copy in French too for my grown children, it’s very sweet!

Out today!

Princeton Architectural Press

When Your Eyes Close by Tanya Farrelly

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The images shift between his life and the unknown.

Nick Drake has always had a taste for alcohol, but now he is so far gone that if he can’t get it under control, the doctors will refuse to put him on a transplant list and this is do or die! With a divorce behind him, life has had its difficulties, and with AA failing to help maybe hypnosis is the key. As he closes his eyes during a session, his life is swallowed by memories of someone else. Soon the visions playing in his head turn into to a blood filled nightmare about another man and his family, a man who may well have been a murderer. Surely this is some confabulation in his mind, this can’t be real! But what if it is? What if these are someone else’s memories, or his own from another life? They feel as real to him as his own.

Michelle is Nick’s girlfriend, she has known something is terribly wrong, that he was keeping things from her, but she never could have imagined the wild truth. There is another woman, but one that may have been Nick’s child, when he was someone else, in another time. This person is real, Caitlin is a solid, living breathing reality, not just some fantasy he conjured while under hypnosis. She will find a way to help dig into Caitlin’s life, because if Nick’s ‘memories’ under hypnosis are make believe, how come the people in them existed, the child now fully grown, a violinist, very much alive and real. Getting to know Caitlin seems all too easy at first, even if at times a wall comes up, or things don’t pan out, she refuses to give up, she’ll do anything to help Nick pull through because if he has a chance to get better, Caitlin is the key.

Caitlin’s husband disappeared a year ago, she has received a call from man saying only that he is still alive and not to try to find him. She has built a life for herself, despite the mystery surrounding David’s disappearance. Stranger still are the odd messages on social media. Her friend Andy has been an oak through the long days of not knowing what happened to David, but can she really trust him? Is he just trying to take David’s place? Now there is a strange new couple, Michelle and Nick in her life and some things about them seem a little too coincidental. She likes Michelle, wants to trust in her new friend, surely they couldn’t have nefarious plans, they couldn’t be the ones sending her messages, though they happened at the same time as she bumped into  Nick for the first time, which he claims not to remember, says didn’t happen. Caitlin is schooled in controlling her emotions since her traumatic childhood, and doesn’t trust anyone nor take what they say at face value. As Michelle tries to ease into Caitlin’s life, to help Nick get answers, Caitlin isn’t so honest and forthcoming and is fishing for her own clues about Nick and Michelle.

With Nick wanting nothing more than to make right by Catilin this time around, they begin to dig into her husband David’s disapparance, never imagining it could endanger Caitlin, that maybe she has her own secrets. Reaching into Caitlin’s childhood past, Michelle finds an aunt who knows more than she ever told about Caitlin’s youth.  Then there were David’s secrets before he vanished, that begs more questions. What Caitlin remembers and confides to her new ‘friend’ Michelle doesn’t quite add up to what they know for fact, nor the memories haunting Nick’s mind. It could be a defense mechanism, but what if there is more?

Are some things better left alone? If Nick wasn’t meant to act on these memories, why is he having them at all? Someone has secrets, what began in blood could very well end in it.

Told in shifting perspectives, it’s easy to know that nothing is simple. It has a supernatural bend with Nick channeling a murderer that may have been him, in another life. But it’s also a psychological thriller with damaged characters, the past definitely catches up with people here. It is a story with a decent twist, though it crawled in places. I would have enjoyed it more if I was only in one character’s head, being in all three underwhelmed me because I never felt close enough to anyone but the very idea is enough to sell the story. It is a unique twist on what could have been a bittersweet story of past life, which we’ve read before, here we have a fresh, sinister spin on things.

Available Now!

HarperCollins UK

HarperImpulse

 

 

Ponti: A Novel by Sharlene Teo

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The distance between where she was and the glossy point where she wanted to be stretched and stretched. 

In Ponti, Szu lives in the shadow of her mother Amisa’s otherworldly beauty and small diminished fame. ” I marvel for a split second at the unfairness of genetics, mysterious spirlas of DNA coiling and cohering into life sentences: You will be plain. You will be beautiful. You will repulse mosquitoes. You will have an iron gut. You will be sickened by crabmeat.” Amisa’s career never took off with the promise her beauty once held. Having left her small village for bigger things, she works hard and falls in love with Wei Loong, they marry and she works full-time at the Paradise Theater until she is discovered by filmaker “visionary” Iskander Wiryanto. She has the perfect beauty, like a mask, exactly who he desires to play the Pontianak (folklore, a ghost of a woman who dies in childbirth and preys on men, in the form of pale beauty, long dark hair) in his films. We follow Amisa through the making of the film, witness to the ‘bloom of her ego’ even in the face of grief for her losses back home. Playing the Ponti takes it’s toll on her, the filmaker difficult, pushing her harder than she can stomach, not as enraptured by her sexually as all men are. Three films in, and her shining star dims, the movie becomes a cult classic, but of the times no one is interested in superstitions nor films about ghosts. The parts dry up, Wiryanto no longer needs his beautiful ghost and life with Wei Loong leads to just another part, of poor housewife. It isn’t long before she is pregnant with Szu, and feeling dreadfully close to her own mother and the life she trudged through. Amisa is more like a ponti now than a starlet. Wei Loong leaves before Szu turns 8, and then it is three, Szu, Amisa and Auntie Yunxi.

Aunt Yunxi and Amisa earn their living as fakes, mediums who ‘trade in hope’, milking the desperation of their clients. It’s necessary to con people for their survival, what with her tragic mother more a ghost of a woman, sleeping away her life. Szu is a misfit and completely friendless, until she befriends Circe. The two of them ‘citizens of nowhere’, feel unique, bonding over their discontent with the world. For Circe, the allure is Szu’s mother and mysterious aunt, even in their ugly home, there is a pull. Jump ahead to 2020, Circe’s team is going to be working on promotions for the new re-make of Ponti, hence “it feels like a can of Amisa-shaped worms has been opened.” The reader is dragged through time, guest to each character’s perspective. Szu, once seeming so bitter, strong, solid begins to fade, retreat into herself.  Something many female relationships wrestle with is the discomfort of familiarity, seeing too much of yourself in another. Sharlene Teo exposes this uncomfortable bond perfectly, there is a pull and push between Circe and Szu, a sort of marriage. They feel warm and cold toward each other, until Circe can’t stomach Szu, when Szu needs to be anchored most to the here and now! “She started wearing her hair in a bubble ponytail just like mine and mooched  about my house all day drinking gallons of diet coke and draping her sadness over my things.” It’s too much heavy sadness, Szu is dwindling, and she isn’t going down with her!  Circe wants to be young, fun, free and this friendship is suffocating, she needs to shake her off, shake off this stale depressive air. Circe of the present day isn’t sure she wants that Szu back in her life, and is surprised to hear of a Szu who turned out differently then she imagined.

Szu doesn’t really hate her mom, she hates that she wants her love and never gets it. That her mother was more a phantom through her entire childhood, never happy to play her part in her real life role. What is more melodramatic than a fallen star? Despising all the ordinary living that remains. How did Amisa, so beautiful, so alluring allow her promise to fizzle out? How could this woman, who as a young girl showed so much grit and courage by venturing into the city, the unknown to become something more, simply surrender? Auntie Yunxi is the bones of the household, maintaining the only structure in Szu’s life. But she is a mysteriously strange woman herself, and where is Szu’s father? Is she right in blaming her mother, for chasing him away being like a Ponti, a threat to his happiness? When he makes an appearance again, after life turns tragic, he has some truths to unveil.

This novel is disquieting, because the real ghost here is grief, blindness, and starry eyes. It’s about the whims of fate, beauty isn’t always a promise of anything solid either, you can’t bank solely on dreams nor a face. It’s giving up and closing your eyes to what you have, haunting your own future and destroying those nearest you in the process. It’s a child trapped by her mother’s shadow, who sees nothing but disappointment reflected back at her, a girl who hungers for the love she will be denied even from the grave. It’s clinging to another person for dear life, because they are a sort of stand in for the mother/daughter bond. Circe and Szu represent that awkward hunger girls have for connection, and how easily it can turn monstrous and all you want is your freedom. The Ponti in this story isn’t so much about the folkloric ghost, the more terrifying creature is Amisa, and what she allows her disappointments to do to her future.  She was so sure her beauty signled her out for more, made her special and she simply retreated from life when it knocked her back to earth. Szu follows in her footsteps for a breath of time, devoured by her own form of grief, like a disease. I found this to be terribly sad, heavy to carry.

I admit I was disappointed by the ending. I felt the story was a gathering storm, waiting for a climactic moment (big things do happen throughout, in their own unassuming way, with death) but I was waiting to be a part of Circe and Szu’s reunion, which was more hinted at. It never culminates. The writing is gorgeous, it’s an emotional upheaval which is strange considering there is a great distance between all the characters. There is an air of detached coldness, but it seems more a defense, Szu isn’t as strong as she seems. Her anger is a wall. Maybe it’s true that grief  ‘makes ghosts of us’ and that is part of why Amisa is more a suggestion of a mother, having lost someone dear to her early on. I am mixed on the novel, this is a talented writer but again I kept waiting for the big ending. Despite the aforementioned issues, the novel itself is beautifully written.  Circe is haunted by the past friendship, and years later carries the burden of her reaction to Szu as she began falling apart. It’s a complicated look at friendship, unwanted motherhood, dead dreams  and the terrible ways we allow certain moments to define our lives, for better or worse.

Sharlene Teo is one to watch. I am wildly curious what her next novel will be about.

Released Today! September 4, 2018

Simon & Schuster