The Easy Life: A Novel by Marguerite Duras Translated by Olivia Baes and Emma Ramadan

I am forever trapped by this story, this face, this body, this head.

This is the first time The Easy Life, Marguerite Duras’s second novel, has been released in English, originally published in 1944. The foreword, written by Kate Zambreno, introduces what Duras was going through when she wrote the story, her husband a prisoner at Buchenwald, her brother’s death, the loss of her child… it makes sense why such a heavy grief permeates the novel. Zambreno’s thoughts are a beautiful read, don’t skip it. It’s strange to think the ambivalence that a woman can feel about her own life reaches across time to other women, her worries just as relevant today. It’s not always uncertainty, though, there are waves of fear, grief, shame, hope, hunger, boredom, passion, desire and apathy. Francine Veyrenattes is twenty-five years old, while she witnesses tragedies on her family farm, seeks a lover, one asks… what part has she played in these horrible events? In the beginning we learn that Jérôme, Francine’s uncle, is broken in two after a devastatingly brutal fight with her brother, Nicolas. Francine is proud of her little brother, intoxicated by his power. It is all because of Clémence, her brother’s wife, that the rage is born. There is righteousness there, if only she can make Nicolas realize that. What is meant to be a ‘step into freedom’ leads to unforeseen events. Their lives have, for a long time, been one of chaos and boredom in Les Bugues. Francine feels that time is gnawing at them, and the thing she thought would fix everything hasn’t, instead her brother changes, and the arrival of Luce is loaded with possibilities, not all of them good. Her parents are at a remove, there “to be able to kiss them and smell their scent”. For comfort there is Francine’s growing passion for Tiène, who asks her uncomfortable questions about her intentions that led to the violence between her brother and uncle. It isn’t long before they are lying pressed together. Francine spends a lot of time caring for her nephew, Nicholas and Clémence’s son. Death visits again, in fact, the fate of men don’t bode well here.

Wrestling with immense grief, Francine leaves her family and Tiène for T., an Atlantic beach her family once wanted to vacation at. She longs to know the sea and herself, who is slipping away. There doesn’t seem to be a reprieve from the misery she left behind and though she claims nothing is happening, and everything is calm, her mind is as restless as the ocean. Pondering her own future seems ludicrous when another lies in the ground. She thinks of what it means to be a woman, and the abyss women carry “between their legs”, that so many long to fall into. It’s very French. She has a sort of awakening when she is by the sea, maybe that is the most important part of the novel. Her thoughts become almost meditative, a long conversation with that woman staring back at herself in the mirror. Throughout the novel she mentions boredom, but in the face of the destructive things that occur (she isn’t some innocent bystander in it all either) is it really boredom or just a layer over oneself to escape the mundane? Either way, her layers fall off at the beach. It’s funny she is ‘waiting for some event’ to occur in T., what more could? Death, murder, abandonment, her parents devastated… but we do wait, for what we often don’t know. Something strange occurs, and she is asked to leave the hotel, part 3 has Francine returning home to Les Bugues, ready to face her future. It is a novel of grand desires, false serenity and existential anxieties in the rural countryside of southwestern France. It isn’t an easy life at all. What fascinates me is I am currently reading a novel and the inner dialogue of the female character mirrors that of Francine’s, decades apart. A moving read.

Publication Date: December 6, 2022

Bloomsbury USA

The Woods: Stories by Janice Obuchowski

The woods are quiet. It’s an obscene quiet.

This collection came out on my birthday, which also arrived with a hurricane here in Florida, and that is why I am reviewing it today on the 21st. Is anyone else out there playing catch up with life like I have been? I think Vermont sounded like heaven to me, even with encroaching woods. In The Woods, of all the stories, The Orams was a worm that burrowed in my brain. In fact, I would love a novel about the Oram Brothers who live up the mountain, on the lesser traveled roads, and the six generations before them. Those Orams, who “could at least have the decency to keep their misdeeds to the woods,” make for good storytelling. What else would the locals do if they didn’t have the wildness of others to measure their own goodness against? Those Orams leave you guessing, what next?

A couple disagrees about an Adirondack chair they received long ago as a wedding gift in “The Chair”. It represents one of the most thoughtful gifts they received, how could Cappie’s husband desire to be rid of it, seeing it as a relic. A bear incites a bit of sanctimonious snobbery towards ‘flatlanders’ in The Bear Is Back, anyone who has ever read neighborhood postings and snippy comments will relate. More so if you are not born to a place. A widow ponders grief and time as she gets lost on the trail behind her home, mesmerized almost as ‘the trees brought her into their hush’. Convinced that her mountain is playing some sort of trickery on her, she remembers when she and her husband first moved to Vermont, young and hungry intellectuals. The Forest Tavern deals with false history and the fascinating ways people fictionalize a thing, or a place, to give it shape. Potions is about betrayal but also how glorious it can be to wish things better with your child’s little hands clasped in your own. In Monsters Nana warns the grandchildren of monsters in the woods, naturally they think she is full of it. Then Nana shows them the critter cam. The siblings are already battle worn from their parents terrible marriage, what could a monster do? There are other tales about a couple who live in a house where tragedy took place, a friend who may be a ghost and woman who knows her plan to stop logging is stupid but can’t seem to help herself.

The stories take place in a small college town in Vermont, with locals and transplants dealing with aging, affairs, wild creatures, careers, loneliness and the woods that are always seeming to encroach. For some, the woods beckon, for others it is a threat or up to trickery. Several of the stories were moving, not all of them had me hooked, but it was beautifully written. If you need something to wind down from the chaos of living, this is the book. I enjoyed it.

Publication Date: November 10, 2022

University of Iowa Press

The Wilderwomen: A Novel by Ruth Emmie Lang

Recently, Zadie had felt like she couldn’t even see the shore anymore. Her family was somewhere in the salty haze, so obscured that she sometimes doubted its very existence.

When their mother Nora Wilder disappeared, Zadie and Finn were left reeling and soon split apart. Without a father, or anyone else to step in, decisions were forced upon them. Zadie, at 18, was too old for protective services to care about her and was left flailing and alone to figure her life out. Without a stable home to offer Finn, she wasn’t allowed to raise her, instead Finn went into foster care and for a while they visited each other as much as possible. Five years later they have drifted apart, and Zadie isn’t much closer to being able to offer her a place to live. They will soon reconnect on a trip celebrating Finn’s high school graduation, time together they need desperately to salvage the love between them. The sisters are troubled and keeping secrets from each other. What was meant to be a trip to Galveston and relaxing on the beach becomes a journey to search for their mother. Could she really have just left them, without a word? Years have tumbled by, and nothing points to Nora’s whereabouts. Zadie is ashamed, bearing in mind her unwanted psychic ability she has nothing much to go on. Finn is gifted too, able to sense echoes of the past, but when these ‘gifts’ come upon her, it can seem like a seizure. In truth, she steps into a person’s mind, reliving their memories but it is fragmented, leaving only a puzzle. Both girls have always been different, Zadie wants none of it, has hid it, allowed her psychic abilities to rust, but can’t stop what comes naturally. Finn is hungry to use the echoes to chase her mother and troubled by the fact that her foster parents want to adopt her. She fears embracing adoption, her new family, would only hurt Zadie. Finn also isn’t ready to give up on reuniting with her mother, who must still be alive. Accepting her foster parents offer feels like closing a door on the past, usurping her mother’s rights. Zadie’s relationship has crashed and burned, and she is with pregnant, terrifying facts that she isn’t sharing with Finn. It’s been lonely, a constant struggle building a life for herself, she has had no one to protect and care about her. Despite their longing to heal the wounds in their bond, all the things they are hiding is pushing them further apart.

Hope is dangerous, Zadie figures her mother may as well be a ghost, just as unreachable. She resents everything that has befallen them since Nora vanished. None of it makes sense, there is a lot of anger aimed toward Nora, and herself. There may have been one moment when she could have prevented it all, something Finn isn’t aware of, Finn convinces Zadie to search, but she is still conflicted. A strange premonition is haunting her, the phrase “The sky is full of birds.” Useless, she thinks, despite it ‘sticking to her brain like a burr’. Finn is tapping into their mother’s memories, and it is far more powerful than any other echoes she has experienced, they just have to find places Nora has been, and this leads them on a bizarre journey, like the Constellation camp sleeping under stars that speak (via horoscopes). They also meet people on the way that have their own strange abilities. Will their meandering truly give them the answers to the biggest mystery in their young lives? The echoes Finn experiences are starting to take over, how much of herself must she sacrifice, is it worth it? Will Zadie lose the only family she has left, if nothing comes of their search? Just where did Nora go? Are they ready for the truth?

It’s a decent magical realism story and the ending is as odd as the cast of characters. At heart it’s about family and identity. I only wish we had more of the past to feed on, I think it would have pulled me in more.

Publication Date: November 15, 2022 Available Now

St. Martin’s Press

They’re Going To Love You: A Novel by Meg Howrey

I’m aware- always- of tension or stress, a possible fracture, in the lines connecting the adults of my life.

This novel beautifully expresses how it feels for a child who isn’t quite sure of her place in her fractured family. How there is a hunger to be inside the enchanted world she believes exists that only adults move freely in. Children are born into worlds and stories that existed before they entered the scene, and it is complicated for Carlisle Martin, whose mother is a former Balanchine ballerina and gay father Robert (who once danced) lives in Greenwich Village with his partner, James, who mentors dancers. Her father has always been a private man, one she is shy around, it is James who is the candid partner, who explains many of her father’s mysteries. Carlisle wants nothing more than to live with them, rather than remain a visitor. Even if she has to keep silent and be gentle around James, who has issues with his feelings (depression), she longs to be anchored in their lives more than she wants ballet, which is in her blood. There is a sickness killing gay men, also in the blood, and she doesn’t quite understand the tragedy that is touching James and Robert’s friends. It is a tragic grief that hangs over their heads, a threat even. She also feels as if her mother is a joke to the pair, feels protective of Isabel despite the emotional distance between them. She is worried that by wanting to nest with them her loyalty is split. Isabel’s having a baby with her husband Ben, forming a family that Carlisle will never fit in with, is a thorn in their bonding. Her mother never wanted her daughter to follow in her footsteps, feeling herself finished with that world, but Carlisle’s father and James are all too happy to feed her dreams. When she is accepted into a performing arts school, ballet is within her reach, it is also a ticket into Robert’s home on bank street. She has always imagined their apartment like the fictional Manderley, well into adulthood she longs for it. There are challenges with ballet too, her height being one, although she wants to belong to something, she isn’t as gifted as her fellow dancers. Illusions die hard, but the adults have their fantasies too, their false narratives. They have seen dreams come true and others fizzle out, and it is devastating as time has its way with them all. As she is taken under James’s wing, he shares confidences, shares more of himself than both of her parents offer her. She also learns more about AIDS. The two are thick as thieves, but it is Robert whom the most loyalty need always be shown. As much as she loves James, it hurts that her father’s true ‘family’ will always mean James, not her. She collects fragments of their history, her mother’s early days performing, Robert’s falling out with LaGrange, his partner’s sacrifices and her own story, but these offerings don’t always form a clear picture. She doesn’t understand the things she learns, being too young to absorb such adult struggles. James often treats her like an equal, well intentioned or not, it doesn’t bode well.

The chapters go back and forth between the present day and the past with the rift between Carlisle, James and her father Robert slowly unfurling. She loses dance for a while, at twenty-four she is finding her identity in Los Angeles and still trying to present herself as something of value to the two when she gets pulled into their relationship “troubles”. James enlists Carlisle to do something for him, without fully grasping the situation, she loves them both so dearly that she plunges headfirst into disaster and deception. There is a torrid, ill-advised love affair that destroys everything, and leaves Carlisle banished from her father and James. When we meet her at forty years old, she is still wrestling with her inner child, with ghosts of the past but has landed on a career, choreography. Through the wreckage, life has opened and no longer is she under the influence and scrutiny of James and Robert. A phone call forces her to confront the past, meet with death and reach out to her father Robert, who has always seemed so very remote.

In the novel, the men, though they lead unconventional lives, still manage to be inside her head so much that her choices orbit what they would do. They are like Gods to her, but humans can’t tower like giants forever. She desires their approval desperately. They appear, from the start, refined, important, their lives richer than the simple domesticity her mother seems to have settled for. It’s exclusive, James and Robert’s complicated relationship, but it’s only a matter of time before she falls from their grace and loses the respect and admiration she tried so hard to earn.

This is a fascinating novel, it isn’t just a passionate story about the arts, expression through dancing; it is also about the choreography of life and relationships. It is about dreams, the fiction we create to excuse our failures, how we reinvent ourselves when what we want slips from our grasp and who we are when we no longer have giants guiding us. It is the unbearable weight daughters often bear in wanting their father’s acceptance, attention and the shame they carry when they don’t receive it. I know there is a lot to unpack, particularly the distance also between Isabel and Carlisle. The silence about her own story, how James is the one who reveals the past that her parents should be sharing, it explains why she hungers to be invited into Robert’s home. No wonder choreography becomes a way for her to understand her existence, to embrace and escape her pain.

Yes, a good read!

Publication Date: November 15, 2022

Doubleday

Now Is Not The Time To Panic: A Novel by Kevin Wilson

It was like the epicenter of the disaster, where we were recovering, but the ripples of it, the seismic activity, was still reverberating farther and farther out into the world.

Sometimes what saves us can slip out of our control, the bonds we make that feel like a magical salve and the art we create can also bury us. Frankie meets new kid Zeke at the public pool in Coalfield, Tennessee one insanely hot and boring summer. Zeke imagines her loneliness mirrors his own, but for Frankie, she tells herself it’s something to occupy her time, she isn’t looking for a friend. Their bond is fast, both know what being left behind by their fathers feels like, the pain of it. Frankie finally has someone who understands the tug of aesthetic pursuits, she is a writer and Zeke is an artist and he has an idea. They will make stuff all summer, what else is there to do in the boring small town? Frankie is so much lonelier than she realized, not really having any friends since elementary school, always a misfit, indifferent to the things that thrill other girls, like malls, and mooning over boys. Finally, she has someone to confide in and more importantly, someone to share kisses and be weird with.

When they make an art poster, remaining anonymous, it shakes up the town with the mysterious phrase “The edge is a shantytown filled with gold seekers. We are fugitives, and the law is skinny with hunger for us.” It ignites a fire that burns through the minds of the locals, soon the copies are all over town, and it becomes a sort of monstrous fear when two teenagers use the posters as evidence to get themselves out of trouble. Like a feral creature, it escapes its makers, people believe it’s a cult (maybe even satanic), soon the summer Frankie imagined for them grows thorns. Dangerous incidents are occurring, inspired by their “fugitive” work, Zeke wonders if they should stop poking the town, feeling guilty but Frankie loves it. At last, something makes her feel alive and Coalfield was nothing before, just another rural town but now they are in the news all because of them. Coalfield matters, Frankie matters, right? It’s a thrill she isn’t about to give up, but Zeke is wrapped up in more troubling facts. His mother is keeping to herself in her childhood room, leaving Zeke stuck spending time with his grandmother when he isn’t bathing in the chaos of Frankie and her wild triplet older brothers. Zeke is also keeping his pain bottled up, his father’s sins aren’t sitting so easily with him and maybe Frankie isn’t enough to staunch the bleeding of his heart. It could be like a spell, healing him, if they can just keep saying it, “The edge is a shantytown filled with gold seekers. We are fugitives, and the law is skinny with hunger for us.”, then their fugitive souls will soar. Their friendship takes a disturbing turn, years pass, and it is no longer the mid-nineties, she has carried their secret into adulthood.

The past has returned to ruin Frankie’s life in the form of art critic Mazzy Brower, secrets have teeth, and it seems that painter Henry Roosevelt Wilson’s life is muddied up in Frankie’s. What happened after Zeke unfurls in a house the friends once visited in Memphis. It is a beautiful book about the past, about the courage meeting the right person can inject into your soul, about the imbalance of needs, wounds, feeling alien, holding onto one true part of you, the excruciating growing pains of losing people along the way and the refusal to step out of the flames, even as they threaten to burn you to ash. There is dumb wonder in not fully knowing the people who we feel closest too, including ourselves. A tale of the fictions we create and how to own the truth without hurting others.

It’s a strange story, but I loved it. Read why Kevin Wilson wrote the novel, his past served as a channel for the characters Frankie and Zeke. The thing I enjoy about Wilson’s novels, aside from the originality, are the depth and confusion of his young characters. They always seem to be getting to know themselves, even into adulthood. It seems many of us are truly construction zones, figuring out who we are at many stages of life and attempting to grasp what the past made of us.

Publication Date: November 8, 2022

Harper Collins

Echo

The Last Chairlift: A Novel by John Irving

This gets complicated, because I know that not all ghosts are dead. In certain cases, you can be a ghost and still be half-alive- only a significant part of you has died. I wonder how many of these half-alive ghosts are aware of what has died in them-dead or alive- if there are rules for ghosts.

I have always enjoyed reading John Irving, even though I am not from New England (my husband has family up there) it’s such a beautiful place and Irving transports the reader there. His stories never fail to engage me. Adam is a novelist first and foremost, also a screenwriter. Born to unwed mother Rachel Brewster “Little Ray”, an expert skier of diminutive size (whose lifelong job is as an instructor on the slopes; she was too small to compete) he spent ski seasons feeling like an orphan. Living with his grandmother and grandfather, fussed over by aunts and alongside older cousins, it is tomboy Nora that holds a tender space in his heart. Nora sort of serves as the big sister, the insight. Adam was determined to hate the very thing that took his mother away seasonally, refusing to learn to ski or at least to ski poorly. Adam is obsessed with wanting to know what happened in Aspen and ponders how his mother couldn’t have known Marilyn Shaw “Snow Baby”, coached by the same instructor and both of them from Vermont. He also wonders about how she got knocked up with him and who his father is; she isn’t saying. Nothing drives children to dig more than having things kept from them. She cares so much about the state of the Hotel Jerome that naturally his history leads him there, where many ghosts exist. Of course his family is eccentric, it’s what I always enjoy about Irving’s characters, when his mother marries Mr. Barlow it challenges societal norms as well as their family, Irving was doing this long before present day with his fiction.

Adam’s love life is a mess, mostly sexually. There is a lot to explore beginning with the 1940’s to current times, sexual repression was very real and families generally didn’t divulge things in the presence of little ears, or hands as may be Adam’s case. Families were often tight lipped and intolerant of deviations from the norm. Fear leads to judgement and shame. He is his mother’s true love, even in innocence it can be a confusing adoration. You know there is going to be ridiculous encounters in bed,unlike in the movies, physical interactions in real life are often humiliating, disastrous but we keep at it anyway. Homosexuality, transitioning, death, love, family, identity, politics, marriage of convenience (or necessity) and ghosts- what isn’t in this novel? It didn’t feel new to me without the ghosts, it reminded me a lot of The World According to Garp (my favorite Irving tale), with the wrestling, Barlow’s choices, his mother’s progressiveness, Adam’s journey, the unknown father, but I still wanted to read it and see how things played out with everything going on in the world today. It’s a different place now in that people are more open to ‘unconventional relationships’ and identity issues. Adam, I wanted to feel closer to him, sometimes he felt far from me which is strange when he is telling the story. I do like that he is clueless about so many things growing up, that’s how it feels when we’re young. We don’t have the full picture or if we do, our young minds can’t fully absorb it. Irving manages to take subjects that are a loaded gun and deal with it through lightness, laughter.

If I were to unpack every situation, tragedy it would take me days. I just can’t wait to hear the thoughts of fellow readers. John Irving fans, I don’t need to say read it, the rest- it is a lot to take on but worth the time.

Published October 18, 2022

Simon & Schuster

Such A Pretty Girl: A Novel by T. Greenwood

Mother or Monster?

The headline asks a question, but the implication is clear.

The subject of monsters often leads us to humanity’s deviance, and in this novel, it’s the implication that former child actress Ryan Flannigan’s mother, Fiona, may have involved her daughter in sordid things in the1970’s. This pretty girl was eleven years old (with the face of a woman and the body of a child), when Henri Dubois (beloved father figure to Ryan) took a photograph of her titled Blackout. A ‘powerful, dangerous’ one, as it turned out. What disturbs the most, is that the never seen before portrait has been found, present day, in the hands of a billionaire pedophile and trafficker of young girls, shockingly signed by her mother with a cryptic inscription. What may have been artistic and precocious then, is suspect now. Ryan lives in Vermont, away from all the fame that threatened to swallow her long ago. She is no longer the erotic symbol of fantasies that made her famous, nor is she prisoner of her mother’s needs, demands and hunger for fame. Instead, she is happily raising her daughter without her mother’s influence, in a sense, her mother has become a fiction. She had to disconnect from Fiona, all the coaching, from the abyss of need that summed her up and suffocated Ryan.

Fiona gave birth to Ryan in Vermont at Lost River, a compound built as a summer respite for actors working in the city and for aspiring actors, like her mother who never left, by a former stage actress and her director husband. Acting with the River Kids came naturally, a birthright for Ryan, a seasonal family she grew up with, but her mother’s longing for lead roles inspired her to move them to New York City. Fiona wanted better parts, the right place to audition was in the city, but it was Ryan who was discovered. Fiona needed attention, while she channeled her energy into Ryan’s career, it wasn’t without jealousy, envy. Her parenting was haphazard and as Ryan sinks back into her past, we begin to understand why she trusted and loved Henri so dearly. The novel makes you ponder the meaning of exploitation and parental boundaries. The damage that being partners, pals instead of mother and child manifests through the years, affecting Ryan’s own hopes and fears for her talented daughter. With the headline forcing her out of the shadows, she must comb through her memories, and the relationship she had with both her mother and Henri. What did she miss? Her mother was always theatrical, and that hasn’t changed. Fiona has always claimed she sacrificed for her daughter, never failing to make Ryan feel guilty for outshining her. Was she the ‘good mother’ she presented herself as? What did Ryan’s rise to fame cost? How did her mother know the monster? In her memory, she was the one taking care of Fiona, financially and emotionally. She could never settle into the pride of her accomplishments, facing her mother’s severe barbs and inconsistencies. She wasn’t protected, and her mother’s own needs always left her wrecked but could Fiona have truly been connected to someone so vile? Is she ready to discover the truth?

You only must look at famous child stars to see there aren’t many out there whose parents didn’t sell them out for money and attention. Somehow there are those who make it out stronger for it, others who are left flailing. Expectations are a heavy burden for children, more so in the limelight. Pick any decade, you will find a fame hungry parent somewhere, I don’t care if it’s for performing arts, sports, or intellectual pursuits, someone is being pushed to live mom and pops dead dreams. Here is a glimpse of the incentives that lure such parents into living through their children, at any cost. Also, a tale of the hunger for love and family as well as who controls the narrative and what it does to innocent people. T. Greenwood never fails to deliver. This novel would make for interesting discussions at reading groups.

Publication Date: October 25, 2022

Kensington

Find A Place For Me: Embracing Love and Life in the Face of Death by Deirdre Fagan

Walking numbly back to the parking garage holding hands with Bob, only dimly aware of my own body, we began the long walk toward Bob’s death and our departure from each other.

“Till death do us part” seems like an insignificant saying when you first marry, always thinking of some distant future that has nothing to do with us. We know we’re all going to die, but the reality of this fact isn’t something most of us gnaw on and confront daily. When your partner is diagnosed with a terminal illness, it’s not long before the truth brutalizes you. Deirdre and Bob have two young children, Liam and Maeve, and an eleven-year marriage when Bob is diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig’s disease. There is no cure and as the illness progresses, it steals more than time. Dierdre is no stranger to terminal illness nor how quickly it robs you of your loved ones. Could fate really be so cruel again? Why Bob, why her family? Now, she struggles not only with seeing her beloved Bob’s health deteriorate as well as the creeping loss of his independence but the jolting shock of what it will mean for their children to grow up once he is gone.

Many books about illness, usually fictional, are upbeat. You know, doom and gloom until love saves the day. In real life, that’s not how it ends. Dierdre and Bob’s journey is an unflinching look at the fears, strengths and weaknesses that flood them. Dierdre doesn’t shy away by martyring herself, in fact, she and Bob are very open about the emotions they are feeling. Flawed, imperfect… human. There is laughter with tears, it’s not always grim. As they learn about expressing their affection and love for each other, the variety of ways it is still possible to physically engage in, they do so with humor. It is an education, one that begs the question, why is sexuality when disability or illness is involved kept in the dark? It’s enlightening to be privy to the insights they discover. I can’t help but ache for Bob as he has no choice in leaving his family, it is a certainty, and no amount of optimism will change the outcome. It’s a fearful, painful fact but somehow he remains a pillar. Dierdre faces a future as a single mother, her solid, strong, practical husband will no longer be there to anchor her. She and their children will be witness to Bob’s immobility struggles, it is a terrifying prospect and what if she fails? What if the children do not understand? How will she keep her emotions in check, to be brave for Bob, to be strong for their children? Mothers cannot fall apart.

Dierdre already fears losing her partner, emotional support, affection, how can she not? How can she hold it together when she knows she will soon be alone? It’s not surprising to see her fishing in the past, her mind full of what ifs.

Bob wants nothing more than to spend the time he has, while his body is still functioning, loving his family and living a joyful life. Dierdre wants to support him. They reach out to family and friends, giving all their loved ones a chance to spend time with Bob. She wants to give Bob an endless party ‘until he’s had enough’. It’s a collection of last moments full of heart.

This is a beautiful, raw look at marriage, love and terminal illness. Coping with ALS isn’t what Bob nor Dierdre chose, but they must answer questions and make choices that carry unimaginable weight. ALS is a fast-moving train, there isn’t time for sparing feelings or hiding from hard facts and with fierce love Bob and Dierdre spend their last moments as a family with grace. They are not characters in some fictional weeper, it isn’t always pretty, how the body fails us, nor what our hearts demand and this memoir is a no holds barred account of loss. It is the finer moments as much as meeting Bob and Dierdre at their lowest. Beautiful.

Publication Date: November 1, 2022

Pact Press

Savor: A Chef’s Hunger For More by Fatima Ali with Tarajia Morrell

It’s funny. When we think we have all the time in the world to live, we forget to indulge in the experiences of living.

Fatima Ali, a New York chef born in Pakistan, is known for competing in and winning an episode of Chopped on Food Network. A fan favorite, she also appeared on Bravo’s Top Chef but within this memoir we are on an intimate journey from her childhood, where she shares what gave birth to her love of food and cooking, to her battle with cancer and her farewell to family, friends and fans. Tarajia Morrell was asked by Fatima to collaborate on a bucket list book based on her dream travel and meals, but life had other plans, her book became something else entirely. Cancer invaded her body, yet another obstacle in her life, one that she fought to the very end. Farezeh Durrani (a contributor), Fatima’s mother, gave her daughter permission to write this book, despite knowing that she would, as Fatima said, bear the brunt of her child’s searing revelations, shames and regrets. For how can Fatima give an honest rendering of her days without writing about her mother, stripping them both bare in the process? Fearless, that was always what her beloved child was, tirelessly forging a culinary career, living life on her terms, and trying to be a good example for young Pakistani girls. Some gifts are painful, and that’s what this love letter to food and life is.

It is beside her maternal grandmother, Nano, whose masterful bargaining at the markets in Pakistan and delicious kitchen secrets that Fatima first apprenticed. Her father, too, loved to watch cooking shows and indulge in exotic ingredients he bought on his travels through different parts of the world. Despite being a lawyer, it was his love of food that he shared with Fatima and her brother Mohammad, encouraging them to try them all. Not even moving to the other side of the world nor the breakdown of her family could change how she felt about cooking, a lifelong passion. While this is a beautiful trip through flavors, textures and smells that inspired Fatima’s future career, it is also a harrowing tale of trauma and illness. Family secrets altered her young life, and no matter how hard her mother tried to shelter her child from ugliness, to raise her to be a proper, respectful Pakistani girl, it is her own fears that cost her daughter the most. The reflections are not about punishment, it is a cleansing through confronting uncomfortable truths, as if to purge it from her soul. With Ewing’s Sarcoma (a rare bone cancer, tumor) making a return after she fights it off, robbing her of her future dreams, there isn’t any time left to live in the dark. Never does the reader doubt the bond Fatima and Farezeh shared, nor does any account of the ways she failed her daughter detract from the love between them, love that not even death can erase. I believe if she could have traded places with Fatima, she would have done it without hesitation. Farezeh’s chapters made me feel compassion for both of them, but nothing stunned me more than the courage that burned within Fatima. Even at her sickest, in most painful moments, she wanted to live a meaningful life, to inspire others and go forward being true to her heart’s desires, shame be damned. Her strength isn’t without fear, of her illness, of slowly seeing her days disappear when all she wanted was to ‘cast the cancer out through sheer will’. How can it be that for all the odds she beat, the demons that didn’t destroy her when she was an innocent child, that now this evil disease won’t retreat? Despite her own suffering, she still cared about the children on her floor and the unjust facts of the disease that would take their lives too.

I think about Farezeh often, despite feeling deeply touched we can put the book down and move on with our lives, while ultimately it is an ever-present void for her, the place her Fatima once occupied. There is courage in her heart too, in sharing such a private relationship with the world, Fatima confessed that her mother deserves credit for the force of her will in fighting to stay alive. As a mother, I couldn’t help but cry, particularly for the helplessness we feel when our children’s lives are on the line. As a patient who has dealt with illnesses, I know all to well the cage of disease. The anger that boils when our body can refuse our needs, demands- so much crueler for the young. It is inspiring, beautiful and devastating. Not just a book for chefs, food lovers, or those battling cancer, it is a memoir that will move any reader. Fatima’s road to a culinary career, her culture, travels, family and love make such a bittersweet memorial. Yes, read it.

Published October 11, 2022

Random House

Ballantine

A Child Alone Alone With Strangers: A Novel by Philip Fracassi

Let it come, Henry. Life is pain, boy, but this is a gift. You know what you do with a gift, right? You open it son.

This novel managed to break my heart from the beginning and then creep me out. Not many horror stories tug at your heart, this one did. When terrible things happen to children, it makes you hate the world and all the monsters in it. It’s the human monsters that are the worst. Henry has lived through terrible loss and the callous whims of fate doesn’t seem to let up when a traumatic experience occurs. What he is left with, after losing everything again, is what some would deem a curse, other’s a gift. More than anything, it is pain. He comes out of the incident with some sort of… anomaly, which makes him feel like a freak at school, and a target for bullying. All he wants is acceptance, but even at home with his family he feels his ‘uniqueness’ is something others fear. With an uncanny ability of discernment, he still doesn’t know just how ugly people can be.

When Henry is kidnapped and taken to an isolated farmhouse in the forest, he is afraid of what his abductors have in store for him, but he may well know some things they don’t, giving him an edge. There is something ancient lurking in the dark, a primitive, inhuman presence. Somehow, he is able to open his mind to it, which may well be the only chance he has to survive their cruel plan. There is something in the cellar too, something Henry can feel with his mind and soul, his abductors think their scheme is going to run smoothly, that it’s in their control, but they will learn how wrong they are.

I adore Henry, he is such a cool kid, a survivor and his interactions with the rotten people he is held captive by were clever, mind games beyond his years. It’s so much more than a supernatural, horror, thriller because at the heart of it is loss and living through the fog of grief. I think rather than getting a character who endures endless horrors we get into the mind and heart of a wonderful little boy dealing with unimaginable, atrocious events. I liked the ending too. It is dark, make no mistake, and has gory happenings but for me, the draw was the light inside Henry. Perfect book for October! This is my first-time reading a Philip Fracassi novel, but it won’t be my last.

Publication Date: October 25, 2022

Skyhorse Publishing

Talos