Like Wind Against Rock: A Novel by Nancy Kim

“It’s not that I want you to suffer forever. I just want you to mourn, for a little while. You don’t even seem to miss Appa.”

Alice Chang never imagined herself living with her widowed, Korean mother “Ahma” at the age of thirty-nine. Alice’s husband Louis has filed for divorce, the apartment she has been living in during their separation is no longer an option, now that the landlord is converting them into a condominium and she never told her parents they were living apart. She and Louis will not be reunited, it really is over, despite her wishes for the contrary. When her Ahma offers her the chance to save money by living with her “for a bit”, she accepts, and has to tell her mom she hasn’t been living with Lois. It’s just a necessary yet small lie, telling Ahma that they are just ‘taking a break’. As a bookkeeper, Alice isn’t swimming in money, there isn’t any other option that is good for her meager budget. Still, sharing a home with Ahma, watching her rebirth is a shock to Alice’s system. On the heels of her father’s unexpected death, she is stunned by her mother’s ‘transformation’ from devoted housewife to a sexy single, and one who is suddenly speaking English all the time, moving up in real estate work. She has come into her own in a big way! Being the widow of a dentist she certainly doesn’t need the money, and why the rush with dating? The cherry on top, her sixty-two year old mother is dating much younger men! Didn’t she love Appa, Alice’s father? Weren’t they happy? Where are the tears? Worse, she seems to want to clean out every trace of him. When she is asked to dispose of her father’s things, Alice keeps his notebook written in Korean, desperate to translate it yet fearful of handing private thoughts over to a stranger. For now, she keeps it hidden from her mother, who is sure if he had something to tell, he would have told his daughter in life. Living in her old bedroom, hiding things, she feels she is regressing. Her mother is like a rising sun, full of energy, happiness and light. Why dos this sting Alice so?

If only Alice could know how her father felt, surely he loved his daughter? His little family of three? Her mother is blooming while she is flailing after her long marriage and trying to come to terms with her emotionally distant father’s death. He was solid, dependable, a good man if not demonstrative and as involved as her Ahma. Troubled that her mother seems to be on a quest to “catch up on the life she missed”, when she seemed happy enough, even if she was the one always showing the affection, could it be there are pieces missing in her family story? Victor, a man she works for, is translating her father’s notebook, but there are dangerous secrets and burning regrets that can only hurt Alice and her mother. They aren’t the only ones. Appa’s reserve hid a lot about his internal struggles, the painful choices that haunted his heart and kept his marriage distant and cold. Is Alice ready to unearth the truth? One thing is certain, her mother is a person too, one that longed for more than pleasing her husband and mothering her beloved daughter.

It’s a complex family tale, one that exposes the traps of marriage and the shame of yearning as well as the limit of choices. Cultural expectations, young hearts, and the hope for those who have a second chance at a different life. Alice has to see her parents and their marriage with adult eyes, a transition that isn’t easy when marred by regrets. Where does she fit in all of this? How can she move forward now and let go of the plans she made with Lois? What does her late father’s words have to do with her own future? Engaging and moving.

Publication Date: June 1, 2021 Out Now

Lake Union Publishing

Tears of Amber: A Novel by Sofia Segovia, Translated by Simon Bruni

She was tired of wanting the madness to end; tired of life in a country that could feel so much repulsion for a human being, for a child, for her child. She was exhausted from so much fear of the war- fear of losing it, fear of winning it. She knew that her little family wouldn’t win under any circumstances.

War, all of it’s horror stories, full of so many sides of the same coin, where despite the repulsion and evil deeds there is sometimes goodness. Goodness is easy when it doesn’t cost us yet it’s hard to find in darkness. When we must protect our family, it’s shocking what people are capable of. This novel is about two families uprooted by war and everyone they meet on their path. Children are forced to join the effort on the front, or if too young than to remain ever watchful in their homes, or if a captured enemy, then to serve your captor as a prisoner of war. Segovia isn’t concerned about victors, because in this novel everyone loses, there are no winners just people who crawl out of the rubble half human, if they are ‘lucky’ (that word like a razor blade in the mouth). Despite what we imagine, the movies we watch, the fictional and non-fictional books we read, even the experiences our own family members share, we will never be able to comprehend what survivors endured. Your own people becoming enemies, a war that grew into a monster that went out of control devouring everyone. Separation, starvation, betrayal, death and people who have no choice. One thing spectators of the past like to do is shout how they would be brave, how they would never go along with things, they would be giants but in reality, non-compliance and rebellion was met with death or something worse- because yes, there is always something worse.

The Hahlbrock family have already survived the devastation of war, now the Führer has provided a life of order, food and a promise for a great future. When their youngest, Isle, is born they cannot imagine their Führer’s grand ambitions, nor what he has planned for his people and the rest of the world. Their darkest days are not behind them after all. The Schipper family’s youngest son, Arno, is celebrating his third birthday on the streets of Königsberg. It is this historic day, on the shoulders of his father, that Arno watches amongst a sea of people as red flags wave, slogans echo in the air, and heavy military vehicles pass in a parade of power. As a swell of voices chanting, “Heil Hitler!” dance in his head, it feels like confusion and when Hitler speaks through a loud speaker, Arno is too young to understand any of it, but it will change his entire live. Both Isle and Arno will be robbed of their childhood. As war approaches, school will drive home dangerous ideas, frightening parents, but one must keep their mouth shut and remain steadfast to the cause. Neighbors can’t be trusted, nor can soldiers. Fathers and sons are forced to either maintain their farms to feed the soldiers or join the war. When East Prussia starts to fall, Isle and her family are forced to flee. Januz, a forced laborer on her family’s farm (prisoner for all intents and purposes), dazzles young Isle with ‘tales of a besieged kingdom in the Baltic Sea from which spill the amber tears of a heartbroken queen.” Loyal to the Hahlbrock family, to the disgust of his fellow laborers, it is his mother’s stories that he uses to keep hope alive in the child’s beating heart. Something about Isle reminds him of someone he has lost, and for the first time, he feels cared for in a strange way, not much minding the hard work, now that he is no longer in danger of the wolves in the cold forest. But wolves are everywhere, and you can never trust anyone. Even when they must flee the Soviet Army, he remains steadfast, refusing to leave Isle, her mother and siblings to fend for themselves, even at his own detriment. Januz is my favorite character, and my heart was ripped out for it. As they escape, more than tears will be spilled.

Arno and his mother are going through their own dark winter of the soul, hiding in the ruins of a Königsberg mansion, with bombs falling around them, so much death from one day to the next, soon living like rats cowering in the shadows and rubble from the enemy. Neither knowing what happened to Arno’s father, or his siblings, afraid that maybe they were abandoned. His mother is losing faith and hope, weakened by her illness, unable to see the light at the end of this hell they now find themselves in. Tyrants and liberators are one in the same. Memories feel like nothing but fading lies, reality is distorted. Forced to give up their land, their very roots, each other… how is anyone to survive when bound to nothing, when loved ones are reduced to ash? Does it matter what side is winning when the world is decimated? Every character suffers invasion, and must do what they are ordered to do, so long as they have breath left within them. They must be grateful for another day, for crumbs. The war continues and they must give everything they have, including the lives of their sons and daughters. Some use stories to escape the scorched earth, but all stories must come to an end. The wind will change direction many times, and it is with a gift of an amber teardrop that will provide a future for Arno and Isle when their stories converge.

This is a painful read for every stage of life. Beautifully written despite the horrors because of the character Januz’s presence. He is able to warm the coldest heart. Yes read it!

Published May 1, 2021

Amazon Crossing

My Name Is Monster by Katie Hale

If places could move, these would scurry from my entering them like woodlice on an upturned rock.

Monster was already alone long before she emerged from the arctic vault, before bombs dropped, war and the sickness came and took all the living people. Loneliness was never her fear, in fact, all her life she preferred it, didn’t she? When she is spat out by the ocean on the coast of Scotland, all evidence confirms that she is truly the last survivor. She scavenges through what remains in the wreckage and ruins, visiting memories of her childhood, ruminating on what set her apart, the cold distance she kept between she and her parents, wondering still why others craved human touch, something she found repellant. Reading this book during covid made it that more illuminating, even when time crept along. Monster has always been an outlier, separated from life by more than just skin, unable to truly connect, to feel the same urgency of communion that comes naturally for most. How is it possible in this place, empty of human warmth, she will finally understand need and love beyond basic survival?

There is beautiful writing, particularly when she discovers a lone, unkempt, wild child and allows the girl to enter her world, teaching her the skills of survival. The way in which each perceives the world in the landscape of their own unique minds intelligently questions the meaning of existence. Our desires, needs, wants are never in tune, and we have so much to teach each other. Where to Monster the world is empty, for this girl it is full of life, from the bugs to the wild creatures that roam with hungry bellies. There is hope, there is a future and there is always the possibility of others. It doesn’t have to end with them, does it? How could Monster truly know what remains in every corner of the earth?

Even in this void, with Monster as her only mother, she questions the knowledge, pushes the limits, needs to think beyond what Monster tells her is fact. Even when people are all but erased except for them, there is so much possibility, a chance for rebirth, continuation. Monster seems so cold and disconnected until this child raises like a sun in the bleak future, and it is her thoughts that are a light in the darkness. Monster knows so much more than her, but not everything, the child learns there is so much that Monster doesn’t know, cannot seen, doesn’t feel.

An interesting book, and normally I avoid post apocalyptical novels, ones full of sickness, end of days- I think reality is hard enough and for a time there were so many on the shelf it was suffocating, but the beauty with which Katie Hale has the child expressing emotions was tender as a wound. “Everything collapses inside me, then, like a stone wall tumbling, as I realize that Mother doesn’t know. She has no idea. I am the only on who knows the terrible thing that has happened, and now I have to break it to her.”

Monster is the rock, the hard place but she is also the wound. The child is the light, the hope, the pressing question and maybe an answer. It is a beautiful debut and I can’t wait to see what she thinks up for her next novel.

Published June 2019

Canongate

Night Rooms: Essays by Gina Nutt

My dread has no origin. It extends back as far as I remember.

Moments in life can induce emotions not unlike those horror movies provoke. Unsure what’s creeping around the corner, insidious illnesses, dangerous strangers, being swallowed by the dark… stage fright. Maybe so many people gravitate towards horror films because it is an escape from all the real things in life that give us the “heebie jeebies, the creeps”. In this collection of essays, Gina Nutt examines moments in her own life and scenes from horror movies, translating distress, deflecting misfortune, mulling over displays at the Pharmacy Museum in New Orleans and the many instruments of horror from days of old. Nature isn’t off the hook, it can devastate too- as she ponders the many disaster rides at theme parks.

There are the terrors particular to women, our biological clock, sometimes faulty. How we feel about our bodies, desire, our very sexuality which can be both pleasure and pain. Sickness that hits us from nowhere, feeling like a specimen before the doctor, wondering if something lethal is inside of you, the sickness of stress. Obsessive focus on worst case scenario scenes, and having filled up on horror movies supplies endless fodder for that. The mad feeling of an unquiet mind, the torment of knowing death waits for us all and how do we live happy lives while that hangs over our heads? Okay, so going to the Morbid Anatomy Museum is a little, well… morbid- but one has to wonder, if yesterdays science and norms are todays horrors, doesn’t it translate that the same will one day be said of our norms? We humans are strange creatures, and Gina Nutt indulges all the things that people are meant to avoid. It truly is the distance watching horror films provide that makes it ok to enjoy them, right?

Life has it’s grim moments, if you live long enough you will house illness, be party to grief, loss, have your own dark night of the soul, but there is always poetry and hope. There is balance, there will be sunny days, but remember too much light can be brutal too! As Gina Nutt writes, “Horror movies are contained catastrophes.” That could be it. We can live out our biggest fears and walk away alive.

This was an interesting, unique collection- I watched a lot of horror movies as a teenager. It was fun to be spooked, scared stupid! She takes intimate moments from her own life and intertwines the memories with pieces of horror films she has feasted on. It’s not all dark humor, there are tender and heartbreaking incidents, one involving suicide. Yes, a solid read for anyone who loves personal essays or horror.

Publication Date” March 23, 2021

Available now

TwoDollar Radio

Satellite Love: A Novel by Genki Ferguson

But I still can’t let go of what I wanted to believe as a child. I don’t imagine any of us ever do.

When Anna was younger, she spoke to satellites, but now that she’s older, they don’t respond. A lonely satellite herself, she has a lot on her shoulders, caring for her elderly grandfather who is lost in his own confusing world of senility while her mother is gone weeks at a time. In his mind, that is more of a sieve, he forgets he has a granddaughter and it is his ever questioning mind, lost in a maze of time, that is heartbreaking. At school Anna is an outcast, to them, a child who will never grow out of her fantastical daydreams, a target to be mocked and ignored. It seems no one in her universe understands her but one night a Low Earth Orbit satellite, Leo, comes to life under her penetrating gaze. The birth of Leo is a gorgeous meditation on what makes us real, the grace of love and attention, in stark comparison with the erasure of indifference.

Leo learning about humanity, and Anna’s world in particular is both horrifying and exhilarating. That even a satellite turned boy can immediately pick up on the ostracism, the parts of herself that make her stick out and put people off, makes for an emotional study of our intolerance. Anna’s life, he observes, is nothing but a constant test she is bound to fail.

Anna wants Leo to become his own person, to combat becoming her mirror. He is just a ghost of a thing, unseen to all but her. Anna is Leo’s creator, and is ashamed of bringing him to this rotten earth. Anna is many things, but like all of us, she is deeply flawed and Leo isn’t the only being she has brought to life with her hungry need for love, friendship. Soon, Leo spends his time trying to comprehend his creator, but she is just as alien to the world she inhabits as he. Her tragedy slowly unfolds with Leo as her sole witness. Anna realizes her mistake was in bringing Leo to earth and devises a plan, she will build a machine that will put the two of them where they truly belong, and as the millennium comes to a close (it is 1999, Japan where the story takes place) timing couldn’t be more perfect.

Soki has moved with his mother and father to Sakita, dissappointed in this new city that feels like ‘a city filled with ghosts’. A forgotten place left behind by the rest of the world, lacking in progress. His father hails from a long line of Shinto priests in charge of looking after the shrine, one day he left it for good, never explaining why. This has been a great shock to Soki, whose path was to follow in his footsteps. His father now works as an ‘urban planner’, the family of three moving around often, leaving Soki yearning for their life before. In the city mall parking lot Anna happens upon their car where he sits waiting for his mother, and the two strike up a conversation. The two cross paths again at school, and fall into a discussion on religion, and ‘kami’. Will he become her friend or turn out to be just like everyone else?

There are moments the author so perfectly pins what it means to be human, ” I had been so caught up in Anna as an idea, I had forgotten about Anna as a person.” It is an absolute for us all as we are all guilty of loving versions of people, of casting them as we see fit in our own story. We are always projecting our needs and our demons, missing the sum of one another, and we must include ourselves, denying our own parts, sometimes only seeing the edges of who we are. Anna is slipping away, and no one of flesh and blood (beyond her satellite boy Leo) is truly playing witness, caught up in their own life stories. Anna fails Leo too, though, as she has her other imagined creations. There are other characters that make for an interesting read as we journey through Anna’s mind. Anna visits an elderly, deaf and blind man named The General. His life is shrouded in mystery and as they communicate through Morse Code, she is digging for wisdom and missing what is in front of her eyes.

Nothing about life is any clearer for Anna than it is for her senile grandfather, new boy Soki nor Leo. She is struggling and all she wants is to escape into the vastness of space. I ached for each character but Anna most of all. What a gorgeous novel.

Publication Date: March 2, 2021

Available Now

McClelland & Stewart

Annie and the Wolves: A Novel by Andromeda Romano-Lax

The predator can spot weakness. The world was full of wolves.

Annie Oakley, born Phoebe Ann Moses in 1860, went on to become a legendary sharpshooter charming the world over, performing in Wild West shows and even meeting royalty. A mean feat for a girl whose early origins were brutal, whose very hunting skills provided food and money for her family at a wildly tender age. This novel, however, is not solely focused on her fame but on the wolves that haunted her mind. She was a survivor, first and foremost, and this novel takes us through the real event of a train accident she was injured in and how it derailed her life, for a time. Annie’s injuries were severe, leaving her with yet another mountain to climb in a life full of obstacles. Yet, this novel is about the wolves that haunt us all and parallel to her tale is the very woman obsessed with researching Annie, through combing through Oakley’s past she exhumes deeper truths she has been avoiding about her own sister.

Ruth McClintock has ‘lost herself in the weeds’ of her work on Annie Oakley, wanting desperately to explain what drove the icon to encourage women to arm themselves. Ruth is sure that Annie’s suffering, poverty, abuse, starvation, and other far more sinister transgressions against her during her childhood is the seed that drove her to want every female to protect herself from the wolves of the world. The pressing issue is, how can she prove it? No one wants to focus on the ugliness of the legend’s past, allowing it to dim the shine of her amazing rise and success. Ruth is coming up empty, despite her search for evidence to back her claims. With an unfinished autobiography and a bit of correspondence remaining before Annie’s death, there is very little to find. Fate may be in her favor, an antique collector is sending her photocopies from a journal that, though not authenticated, could be Annie Oakley’s. This takes her down a rabbit’s hole, desperate to find out if Annie was ever secretly being treated by a psychoanalyst. Surely such visits are evidence that Oakley was suffering mentally about what happened in her youth. Ruth is dealing with her own demons and strange episodes of ‘out of body experiences’, changes in memory, time, events not unlike those Annie experienced. Her fiancé Scott has given up on her, on their life together, blaming her obsessions, her very negative views of life gone sour for ruining everything. Her life has slipped from her hands, and it’s time to confront the wolves of her own past.

High School Senior Reece offers to fix Ruth’s laptop, a whiz at tech stuff, her ex fiancé assures her. When Reece confides he is a problem solver, she lets him in on her research of Oakley. Already she feels a comfortable familiarity between them and he aides her in her pursuit of authenticating the journal. Without knowing it yet, he may also be a link in the tragic suicide of her younger sister, a past she has chosen to lock away inside of her, refusing to confront. Strange things have been happening to Ruth, uprooting her life, making her question reality and time since she survived an accident of her own. Life no longer seems to be keeping order , events and memories aren’t quite solidified. Could it be that Annie Oakley, through her own trauma, experienced the exact same uncontrollable escapes from her body and time? Is it a simple slip of the mind, a delusion? Why is Annie’s dark past, her tormentors so important to Ruth? What truths are Ruth, herself, avoiding?

This story turned out to be richer than I imagined. It’s not your typical historical fiction at all as it plunges the reader into the low bellied monsters that hunt the young. It attempts to explain how these dark souls escape the radar, how the victim is locked away in fear of exposure. It challenges how we cope with revenge, what it costs to fight smear campaigns in all their devilish forms. How do we push the dark forces into the light, when they are so good at protecting themselves? How do we make things right without ruining our own lives in the process? How does one truly move beyond the trauma they’ve experienced, be it violence at another’s hands or any other obstacle? This is why so many people prefer to remain blind or ignore the ‘red flags’. It was a heavy read and every character matters. Time, how we experience it, what we envision or dream, imagine or conjure… it’s all personal in the end. I need to read more by this gifted author.

Available Now

Publication Date: February 2, 2021

Soho Press

The Hare: A Novel by Melanie Finn

With him, her blood felt different in her veins, warmer, smoother, just as her hair was blonder from the sun.

I devoured this novel and it certainly sat heavy in my gut. Standing witness to a young woman who hasn’t had the time nor experience to fully form as a person, to fill her space in the world, to have the freedom to ‘become’, is nothing short of horrific. As an early reader there wasn’t anyone to discuss it with and I couldn’t wait to share it. We meet Rosie Monroe when she falls for a worldly, upper crust, dashing New England man, twenty years her senior, twenty years the wiser. Rosie is hungry for experience, desperate to escape the confines of her strict grandmother “Gran’s” house and too young to realize what trap she is setting for herself. Led by her passions and her dream of being an artist, far from the solid, frugal, bland life her grandmother envisions for her, she applies to art school in New York City during the 1980’s and wins a scholarship. Once there, she begins to feel as lonely as before, not quite fitting into the scene of the ‘hipper’ students but finds something far more thrilling to occupy her. She might not make powerful art statements, nor create compelling, important performance art but she draws the eye of a hulking, fascinating man. Seduced and possessed by the charms of Bennett when she meets him at the Museum of Modern Art, Rosie finally has someone to fill her loneliness. With his world offered on a plate she expands her own and shadowed by his hulking, strong presence she feels far more alive than she ever felt in the subdued loveless life beside her Gran.

Naturally, such passions blind Rosie to the inconsistencies in Bennet’s life. His meaty opinions, his sense of entitlement, the strength and power she observes in the very manner he occupies his body, and asserts himself in every situation, particularly where she’d be cowed, assures her of his importance. But beneath the surface, his criticisms bite, infect, aren’t necessarily for ‘the betterment’ of her being. At the beginning, nothing is more alluring than his desire for her, his terror that Rosie might leave him. What is more flattering than another’s need for us when we’re young and lonely? Like a hooked fish, she lives at the mercy of his whims, which isn’t bad at all when she is so unsure of herself. She feels special, consumed by the pleasures of their lovemaking, feeling lucky she was chosen to spend her summer by the sea with this amazing man who runs in circles of famous people and understands the world of wealth and all it’s secret surfaces. Before long, they are living together and she gets to play at being an artist while staying in a boathouse on his wealthy friend’s estate. But like all dreams, it doesn’t last. She is pregnant and Bennet’s logic is full of holes, as much as his sentences. It doesn’t change her love for him, like a violence.

Things sour after their baby girl, Miranda, is born and Bennet is in trouble with his ‘business’, forcing the little family to an isolated cabin in Vermont. Here, life is savage, raw compared to the luxury and comfort of the boathouse. A cold, infested house, with a brutish, strange neighbor next door that doesn’t much warm up to strangers. As Bennet begins to spiral, he spends more time away with his new job leaving Rosie to figure how to survive their crude conditions. His money comes and goes, giving them just enough until the cupboards are bare. His tenderness is a ghost of a feeling, the only thing giving her body and soul warmth now are the woodstove she spends endless, sleepless nights feeding. Once again, she is invisible in isolation but here, she transcends her former, girlish self. Rosie might become something a man can’t strip to the bone with pretty words, cultivating a strength beyond anything Bennet can offer.

Rosie represents a lot of women in varying stages, to my way of thinking. Soft, naïve, hungry for fulfillment, love, to be seen, sacrificing ambition and dreams for what seems like a gift. Later, a waking dreamer trapped in a nightmare of their own stupid making and as she ages and finds strength to raise their girl, a fierce mother. I loved this story, but it is dark, a painful shedding. Life, even at it’s bleakest, has it’s surprises and help comes from unexpected places. She grows, she has no choice but to feel the bruises of her mistakes. It’s when you have to scratch for survival that you find your backbone. There is so many painful awakenings in this novel. Readers will judge her, for her blindness, it’s easy to do from the safety of distance, it’s what women face from the time they are born, these incriminating missteps dragging behind us like a rotting dead horse. We always pay with a pound of flesh.

Yes, read it. Can’t wait to see what others think.

Publication Date: January 26th 2021

OUT TODAY!!!!

Two Dollar Radio

The Charmed Wife by Olga Grushin

Ah, but love for a man is nothing like love for a child, it would say in a sly, silky whisper. It is more like the sun that burns bright in your eyes, is it not- and when the sun is gone and you close your eyes, defeated, its afterimage is blackness.

The afterimage of this kind of love is hate.

The Charmed Wife is a fairy tale for adults that is exactly as they were originally meant to be, tales of warning, betrayal, and brutal lessons. What is more brutal then love between a man and woman gone sour? Love when all the charm is gone and the shining sun of the ever after is eclipsed by dark, mean reality? At the start of the novel a mother is telling, yet again, her little girl’s favorite bedtime story, Cinderella. But the beauty of it, the happily ever after, perfect mindless pleasures feel like sour lies on her tongue and hence, the re-telling is born. In this story, hate “tight as a fist” has Cinderella quietly slipping out of bed in search of a witch and a spell. Her husband isn’t the darling Prince she married years ago, No longer can she bear the lies of storytellers, of fools. She is awake, she is painfully awake! She will brave the shadows and all things dark at the crossroads, a place of disorder.

Cinderella has earned her way, she has suffered, but it never is its own reward, suffering. Not for a woman, not even royalty. Where has her patience, her woe gotten her but at a cauldron seeking a spell to rid herself of her husbands anger, control, betrayal? There are no happy endings, there never were. Her marriage was a happy beginning but it has descended into misery, on a nightmarish journey she never would have taken had she known. This evil act though comes at a price, one she truly doesn’t want to agree to, but as all good little girls and women do, she can’t resist obedience. As the reality of her story becomes clear, of all the women who have shared her same dreary fate, she decides to up the ante. She want her beloved hubby dead. No longer is she the beauty that captured his heart, after the children she feels the pinch of exhaustion, the demands of motherhood and sleepless night, the absence Prince Roland, forever off on his travels. Roland, whose attention has been diverted by other women and no longer seems to be the devoted husband.

Here comes her fairy godmother, the meddler. But is she too late to stop the spell? I love the witch and the fairy godmother trying to sway Cinderella’s decisions. One demands she accept her lot and feeds her “placid wisdom” and the other snarls biting retorts about the idiocy of submitting, of closing one’s eyes just to keep peace.

Each character has a story, of wanting knowledge, not just love, to never be the subject of poisonous gossip, for love to be loyal and not betray them even if they one day look like a hag or lose their spark, for children they raise to remember and honor them, and more than anything for the courage to be bold, especially in their defiance. And our modern day storyteller, well maybe she too will realize a few ugly truths about herself in combing through her own ending.

It’s a clever, rich, re-imagined tale that doesn’t put all the blame on Prince Charming, the dope but truly explores generations of unhappy women.

AVAILABLE NOW

Publication Date: January 12 2021

Putnam

The Tool & the Butterflies by Dmitry Lipskerov, Reilly Costigan-Humes (Translator), Isaac Wheeler (Translator)

Iratov knew very well that hell is shame, not some frying pan full of sizzling oil. Shame elevated to an absolute. Burning in hell is burning with shame.

What is a bigger shame in a man’s soul than losing his very masculinity, his virility, his… precious male organ? In The Tool & The Butterflies, fifty-odd years old Arseny Iratov, a strong willed, very wealthy man who has wronged many people in his life, is deeply loved by Vera. His darling, beautiful, young thirty-year-old Vera, with whom he enjoys ‘unwedded living arrangements’. The Russian woman knows how to love a man, raised just right, perfectly devoted to Iratov and well kept by his generous wealth- he’s not tight fisted, mind you! For years he has taken pills to help him sleep, burdened by panic attacks. One night deeply absorbed in torment free dreams of bygone days his full bladder wakes him. Half asleep he makes his way to the bathroom, reaches into his pants and discovers nothing is there! With his brain suffering disbelief, unable to process what is obvious and yet impossible-he can’t understand how his “tool” is gone! Gone!!!! So begins the shame.

A medical marvel, indeed, what can be done? Maybe were he a different man, having a hole like a woman would be a blessing. How will he satisfy his Vera now? He certainly can’t give her a child, as she desires. Where did it go? Stranger still, Iratov’s “tool” is born, a strange, motherless creature all alone and confused in another village. The story ties together the fate of many people, especially those that Arseny wronged along the way to his greatness, those he never acknowledged, leaving his seed here and there, others he used for his own pleasures or got tired of on his way to a fruitful, brilliant, if illegal, future.

The more absurd it gets, the stronger the connections. Granny Ksenia wakes to the sound of whispering and finds her 13-year-old great-granddaughter Alice holding a strange creature. Alice insists it is a Smurf! Not that Granny Ksenia has any inkling of what a Smurf is. Accusations fly and she is adamant the little hussy has given birth! What will become of this strange being?

Who is the enraged, jealous young man at the theater, longing for Vera and why is he so eager to tell Iratov’s story to the world? Just who is Eugene? What is happening to the men? Sex, vodka, misogyny, Russia of the past and present gives us a cheeky, absurd novel. We go back to Iratov’s youth, where he gorges himself on ‘the fairer sex’, until his love for them fades as the women wilt in his esteem. There is the attitude towards the disabled, with the story Dasha and her love for vacant, little Joseph ,whom other caretakers at the children’s home see as a hopeless. To them, he has no future, just another worthless “vegetable”, like all the other disabled children. The story is all over the place and can be hard to follow at times, but certainly it pokes fun at the post-soviet stance on the roles of male and females. Certainly, discrimination goes both ways in Russia. I remember reading a piece that claimed in divorce women keep the children. Culture forces people to maintain a façade, in fact even Arseny Iratov, the older he gets and resigned to his situation, saves face in seeming more master than he is. It’s all about stereotypes.

In this crazy tale, the men recognize themselves in strangers and progeny alike, even while despising what is mirrored back at them. I probably only understood half of what I read, but it was a break from my usual reading. This is creative satire at it’s best, while looking for a missing “tool”, which defines a man, is the star of his tale, he may instead set some butterflies free….

Publication Date: January 12, 2021 Available Today

Deep Vellum Publishing

The Theory of Flight by Siphiwe Gloria Ndlovu

Like any event, what happened to Genie did not happen in a vacuum: it was the result of a culmination of genealogies, histories, teleologies, epistemologies and epidemiologies- if ways of living, remembering, seeing, knowing and dying.

This story is about Imogene “Genie” Zula Nyoni, her life, her death and all the people caught beside each other in the web of her fate. There is magic, love, envy, betrayal, violence and the greatest catalyst, wanderlust. It is true that Genie hatched from a golden egg, but magical beginnings do not guarantee perfect, happy lives. Does everything begin with Genie’s ancestors, or is that like asking what came first, the chicken or the egg? Are each of our stories one never-ending saga, chained together and dumped into the ocean, vaster than us all, an ocean that Genie’s grandfather Baines Tikiti walked into? Genie is bound to dreams, myths, hope and tragedy with a grandfather in the ocean and a father who dreams of the sky. A golden father, Livingstone Stanley Tikiti better known as “Golide” Gunmede who shoots a plan down during the war. His own father Baines had the good fortune of an education, thanks to a gentleman farmer Mr. Charmers, and with this education a world of possibilities and opportunities were birthed. He became a traveling salesman and a charming, slick one at that. This is how he falls in love with Prudence Ngoma, who will be mother to his son. A restless man, with South Africa in his eyes, Prudence makes her way to visit him only to discover a man in love with his new obsession, planes. He plans to set up a home and life for his little family, and when it’s time he realizes it can never be, rejected Prudence returns to her birth place, Beauford Farm and Estate but not before their son, Stanley, is mesmerized by the magic of flight. Prudence learns a lesson of her own, and it’s all about character. With this knowledge and experience Prudence raises Stanley to become a man that people gravitate toward. During the war, Stanley falls in love with Elizabeth, a Dolly Parton look alike country western singer. Elizabeth is sure her future is waiting for her in Nashville. The only plan truly in the process of hatching is a child.

Genie comes of age on Beauford Farm and Estate, once the lush, verdant village of Guqhuka before it became a settler farm. A land that violence isn’t quite finished with. For now, Genie runs around with her best friend Marcus Malcom Masuku unconcerned, as children are, with the recent war and its atrocities. Between them always is vast happiness and a thirst for adventure that guides them to leave the compound, despite what wickedness may lay beyond. Discovering a field of sunflowers, it becomes their secret place and warms their hearts almost as much as listening to the stories Genie’s mother Elizabeth tells her during bath time. Marcus’s own secret, falling asleep beneath their window ‘lulled by the warm vanilla scents and their soothing voices’, far from the cold, harsh grandparents. One day on their excursions they discover an abandoned car, a precursor to other changes hurtling their way, and with a glorious return that makes Genie’s heart sore comes a loss when Marcus is taken away by his parents. He never wanted to let go of Genie, not even if it isn’t safe to remain on Beauford Farm and Estate.

Golide’s return enriches the lives of the people on Beauford Farm and Estate, who soon believe they too are capable of flight through his vision. This vision, born with the hope he, his wife Elizabeth and daughter Genie will fly away to a better place, is the only hope they have for safety. The people soon become followers and take part in the dream but it is this very vision that endangers them all. Golide is wanted by the sojas, but Genie knows he and her mother flew away sadly leaving her behind. Genie’s grown friend Jestina witnesses evil first hand and together the two run away before Genie is adopted by the Masuku family, a dream come true for Marcus but not everyone is welcoming. His jealous sister Krystle doesn’t want any princess, unfortunate or not, usurping her position. Her little girl heart demands to be the only princess in their family. A mean selfishness that will later haunt her. Eunice, the grandmother, can’t stand the very ideal either, her son isn’t political, and she questions why he is taking in the daughter of a family who ‘dabbled in politics.” This is the divide of before and after, we watch Genie come of age and the evolution of her love for Marcus, what can be and what never will. At heart it is about love in all it’s variations but too it is about the atrocities of civil war, of betrayal. It is about the wrongs we commit to save ourselves and sometimes the evil we commit with no rhyme nor reason. More, the novel tests the assumptions we make about others, in how Gina really feels about being a part of the family, in how she protects what she left behind, the horrors- the true horrors she doesn’t share. Her decisions rock the family but the heart will have what the heart wants.

Rich, magical, historical, this is a novel you have to immerse yourself in undisturbed, as there are many tales forking in separate directions that later fit together. HIV, colonialism in South Africa, class, war, flight, hope, vision, sojas, Jesus of the streets and how one woman carries within her magic. Many times Genie is saved, but in the end she too is a savior, even as she is in a coma. It is a hell of a debut novel and I barely summarized it, yes read it!!!!

Publication Date: January 12, 2021

Catalyst Press