The Secrets She Keeps: A Novel by Michael Robotham

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“Jack and I had skirmishes rather than battles. We are like Cold War diplomats who say nice things to each other while secretly stockpiling ammunition. When do couples run out of things to say, I wonder. When does the passion wane?”

When do secrets become the norm in a marriage? And how was the dazzling Meghan to know that her secrets will become dangerous to her child? What about the secrets we keep in order to lie to ourselves, to build a life we want but don’t truly have? How do delusions overtake reality so viciously that it endangers strangers? When you first decide to deceive, the moment you involve others, you’ve already lost control.

Two women are pregnant but their worlds are vastly different. Meghan has a seemingly charmed life, one of wealth, beauty,  chic friends, a handsome husband, beautiful children and a popular blog. Agatha is her polar opposite, pregnant and alone, working in a cruddy job stocking goods in a grocery store (a job she desperately needs) barely surviving, uninteresting, unloved, nearly invisible. Her one joy is the chance to witness Meghan’s beautiful life, Meghan is the one fresh breeze that sweeps through the depressing store. Imagine Agatha’s joy when she discovers that Meghan and her are both pregnant, share due dates close together and become friends. Agatha doesn’t know Meghan’s dream life is falling apart, that everything that appears perfect and beautiful from afar may have severe cracks upon closer inspection. Agatha has secrets of her own, some devastating, others horrifying. She spends her free time waiting for her reluctant boyfriend away at sea in the Royal Navy to call,and denying to see the bleak reality of her unpromising future. That is when she isn’t busy spying on Meghan and her perfect world in her secret hiding place. How much does she truly know from all her ‘watching’, what doesn’t she see?  Both Meghan and Agatha are liars, but some lies are far more poisonous than others.

When a baby goes missing… the reader is privy to a declining mind, as much as a declining marriage, both Agatha and Meghan step in their own mess over and over again. Some mistakes cannot be fixed, some make a mother look downright guilty… where is the baby? No one behaves as you expect, not even when they suspect something untoward is happening. This is any mother’s worst nightmare, and yet the reader feels sorry for the perpetrator.  What happens when you’re mind is breaking and no one is there to hear? What do you do when your lies are coming to a head and your life is on the verge of collapsing?

Who can guess that a moment of female camaraderie will open someone to danger beyond their wildest dreams? The terror of this novel is in the plausibility. We’ve seen stranger stories ripped right out of the headlines. What is more terrifying than a story that could be a true crime horror? Yet, it also manages to provoke feelings of tenderness and invite questions about the state of mental health. It reminds us when unthinkable things happen to someone, they carry it in their cells, that human beings should be far more involved  in the healing  and others held accountable for what happens to victims. Sadly, that isn’t the reality. The truth is, so many people are on their own, cast out when they should be heard, supported, and healed.  This novel is disturbing, yet all the characters made me feel it’s more than just a thriller/horror. Horror? Yes, because what people do to each other is far more horrible than any imagined monster.

I couldn’t put it down, I found myself in both Agatha and Meghan’s shoes. Though living in two separate worlds, they have one vital truth in common- neither woman is what she seems, and their lies are going to change both their lives. Everything will be exposed.

Publication Date: July 11, 2017

Scribner

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore: A Novel by Matthew Sullivan

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“He was a shattered young man, Lydia often thought, haunted but harmless- a dust bunny blowing through the corners of the store.”

Lydia Smith isn’t just the keeper of the books in the bookstore where she works, but of the collection of customers and the lonely, BookFrogs. The BookFrogs, the ones who come into the store to escape from the ruins of their lives, to find comfort within the pages of books, seeking acceptance in a world where they are shunned. Little does she know that one in particular, her favorite, is about to rip her quiet comfortable world wide open. Joey McGinty has always liked Lydia best of all the clerks, “the wooden floors around his feet would be spread with books about subjects as far-reaching as his thoughts”, it crushes her when he commits suicide by hanging himself, more so because she is the one who finds him, in the store. More than the grief, she is left spinning when she inherits everything he owned, and it isn’t much. Curiously, there is a mystery within his books, strange messages, unless she is seeing something that simply isn’t there. What if these ‘messages’ were no more than a quiet unraveling? What about Lyle, just where is he? How curious that the man, though so much Joey’s opposite, that was always glued to Joey is suddenly missing in action. Joey was like a bird, taken under the wise, decades older British man, fellow BookFrog’s wing. The constant presence, always to be found beside Joey “folded into corners for hours at a time”, with an enviable, beautiful affectionate friendship. If she finds him, can he see the reason in the suicide?

As she rummages through Joey’s belongings, her violent past creeps back into her life, a world she has made safe, unassuming, and simple. Her past begs the question, how much of a violent encounter during her childhood did she really understand? Just who was Hammerman? Why did he do what he did? Was she truly spared, or did her life end on that night too, just in a different way?

Lydia may be living in a safe bubble, hiding with her books, her customers but the Hammerman has never released his bloody claim on her. The tragedy of Joey’s suicide serves as breadcrumbs leading the past straight to her. When her childhood friend, Raj, happens upon her, she can no longer deny the hands of the past reaching, pulling her back home to unmask a killer. Estranged from her father, is it safe to return to the man whose behavior was increasingly bizarre? The man she abandoned to save her own sanity, family or not? What a child remembers and leaves for the adult self to sift through is often at odds with the truth, none more so than in Lydia’s mind.

What happens in this novel goes from heartbreaking, to downright brutal! I really had a hard time putting this book down when I was reading it. I held my fingers back for months as it isn’t out until June, burning to review it because I enjoyed this book for so many different reasons. The start of the novel eviscerated me, I hated Joey’s suicide so much more by the novels end and I was wounded and limping through everything that happened to all the characters from Lydia’s childhood. The senselessness tragedy of the crime, the terrifying fear of a young child and later, her father- how one moment of chance destroys more than one future, there is too heavy a reality here. Without going into details about my private life, this novel was read not long after something horrific happened to two people I knew and it made it seem less fictional. How could so brutal a story manage to make my heart tender too? With gorgeous talent, Matthew Sullivan took what could have been a horror story and turned it literary fiction. Often, thrillers have a way of making the reader feel detached, this is the opposite. I put the book down and felt a stony sorrow in my heart for quite some time after. Violence is a monster that stalks it’s victims, and all the bystanders, long after horrific acts are committed. How many lives are destroyed?  In the end, even with the truth unmasked, does it ever truly settle us? It opens other wounds, and reminds us that sometimes reason is a hollow excuse. I kept thinking ‘there is no why’ to these terrible acts in the end. Oh so sad! Yes- add this to your summer reading list!

Publication Date: June 13, 2017

Scribner

Kingdom of Olives and Ash: Writers Confront the Occupation Michael Chabon, Ayelet Waldman

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“When laws are irrational, and paranoia is rampant, and ancient hatreds undergird both, life becomes a series of frustrations and humiliations, and humiliated people are either broken spiritless or, with nothing to lose, are driven to acts of violent desperation. The young people tasked with enforcing these dehumanizing laws and regulations become, too,  less human- they become callous, irrational, finding perverse pleasure in the willful exercise of power.”  

As someone that grew up in America, I can’t begin to scratch the surface of understanding the conflict between Israel and Palestine. That former Israeli soldiers break their silence, speaking up about injustices they witnessed while serving in occupied territories is nothing short of moving and of vital importance in understanding what is going on. I had to read these stories in spurts because it was too disturbing, and how lucky for me that I can remove myself, unlike the people living under occupation. The closest I have come to understanding how occupation affects people is through my own father and his family, who fled communism. What happens when you’re on the land that is occupied, simply by the happenstance of your birth and the world doesn’t listen, or if they do, doesn’t seem to be able to change much? How do we get to the point where we dehumanize each other? At the heart of all human beings, we want to build families, to see our children educated, healthy… simply to thrive, to worship as we see fit and yet, we deny others that human right.

I was shocked, nothing short of shocked and horrified by what I read. It truly is grim, and who better to give voice than those living within’ the chaos? I felt numb, but I feel it’s vital to try and listen to people, to understand, to open our eyes. What good are words if we cannot speak them, our stories are witness to all human experience, there isn’t a story in the world that doesn’t have something to teach us about ourselves, and each other. That on both sides there are people that want peace, that see the wrong and are willing to stand up for what they believe is right gives me hope for humanity as a whole. There was so much I didn’t know, and putting myself, my family in the stories of the people within,  I spent quite a few sleepless nights  wondering how do they survive? Resilience is a necessity, one even children seem to have. Children for me is always the gut punch, I had to catch my breath at times. I don’t want to dissect any of the essays in this collection, I feel people need to experience what they read in their own way. I am reeling, and wondering what is the answer? What can be done? What role does the Western World have in all of this? It’s an incredibly detailed insight into the occupation. In The End Of Reason by Eimear McBride, this really stood out to me. ‘But “I don’t need your tears” a woman in Nabi Saleh said, after I’d watched a home video of one of her relatives dying horribly, bloodily, from a tear gas canister being fired in his face. And it’s true, the emotion of well meaning outsiders like me is of no worth.” It’s something that can be applied to so much of the world, what good are tears? It won’t fix anything.  This is heavy reading, it weighs on me still though I am a fast reader, I found myself at times needing a break, luckily for someone far removed from the realities others live with I could put the reading down and tune out.  Writers that contributed to Kingdom of Olives and Ash: Colum McCann, Jacqueline Woodson, Colm Toibin, Geraldine Brooks, Dave Eggers, Hari Kunzru, Raja Shehadeh, Mario Vargas Llosa and Assaf Gavron,  editors Chabon and Waldman  

Publication Date May 30, 2017

Harper Perennial

Girl In Snow: A Novel by Danya Kukafka

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“If this moment were a song, Cameron thought,  it would be a quiet song- the sort of song that drowned you in your own miserable chest.”

Every school seems to have their ‘golden girl’, some have several, and usually they aren’t so golden. I think of the quote by Leo Tolstoy, “What a strange illusion it is to suppose that beauty is goodness.” So many people are blinded by it, just as much as being different often leads to shunning. Let’s face it, people that are misunderstood are often feared. Any deviation from the norm is suspect. So what happens when a beautiful, popular darling Lucinda is found brutally murdered?

Cameron Whitley loved Lucinda, he knew her more intimately than anyone, though they didn’t speak. Everyone knows he is weird, that he was obsessed and watched her. Love makes people do strange things, but with her death he begins to unravel. He deals with his grief and horror through his art, but do the drawings tell a story of their own, one he doesn’t want anyone to know? His actions are getting even crazier, and people have him pegged as the killer, after-all, unrequited love is often a motive! He is a watcher, but he isn’t dangerous, is he? How caged he feels, how animal simply because of his inability to navigate the world just like all the ordinary people. Why, why does he have always have to be cast out? Why does he flip between a childlike innocence and creepy stalker? As they say, even serial killers have mothers who love them.

Then there is the hateful, angry, bitter Jade Dixon-Burns who could always see right through Lucinda’s phoniness. She knows firsthand how imperfect the darling was. Jade knows that she wasn’t the angel everyone imagined her to be. Lucinda cost her so much more than her job! Lucinda’s beauty, her very existence was a black-hole that ripped everything Jade had from her. The wounds were bad enough, but the salt was Lucinda’s indifference to the hurt she caused. Jade had genuine love, in her best friend  Zap (Édouard) but she took that too. It’s no wonder she can’t dredge up enough empathy for her little sister Amy, mourning the loss of her friend’s older sister, but it’s a bitter brew when someone eclipses you. If such suffering isn’t enough, her mother is an abusive nightmare. While Lucinda lived the charmed existence of a beloved daughter, admired older sister and popular school girl, Jade suffers at her mother’s hands for adding to the disappointment her mother feels about her own miserable life, her looks guarantee she’d never be popular among her peers, and her family’s financial situation made her job vital.  She is no one’s ‘beloved.’ Her tongue is vicious, the result of her poisonous surroundings. Hiding her suffering, only one person was allowed access to the bruises on her skin and pain in her heart and that was Zap. If only she could go back in time, if only her changing body didn’t betray her, if only life wasn’t a popularity contest some of us are bound to lose, then maybe she wouldn’t despise Lucinda’s golden life, then maybe she could feel sorry for her and squeeze out a lone tear. What ifs are fantasies, and Jade knows this more than anyone. So the princess suffered, so what? But did she kill her? Could she hate Lucinda so much that she would leave her lying dead in the snow?

Officer Russ Fletcher has ties to Cameron, and a heavy guilt that he carries. Will his past cloud his investigation? Everyone is pointing at the strange boy, and there seems to be a lot of signs that point to Cameron, which sets a personal dilemma for the detective.  The town itself “knows the truth”, they have their criminal drawn and quartered in their mind. It’s easy to solve the case, it could be no one else but Cameron, right? Cameron and Jade are pulled together, and every one of Lucinda’s secrets come out, reminding us we never truly know things in the way we think we do.

I wouldn’t compare this to other novels, it stands perfectly fine on it’s own. It made me feel people’s most common thoughts can be their worst. I’ll be watching this author.

Publication Date: August 22, 2017

Simon and Schuster

 

 

 

The Road To Bittersweet

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I thought The Education Of Dixie Dupree was fantastic. Everhart’s forthcoming novel is about fourteen-year-old Wallis Ann Stamper, her family and their lives in the Appalachian Mountains.  When the Tuckasegee River bursts, they must flee and everything changes. For those of you that request arcs, have a look on Edelweiss for more.  I can’t explain what set off my love affair with said Mountains, but I can never seem to get enough fiction set there. I’m looking forward to Donna Everhart’s new novel, looks like it won’t be out until December 26, 2017. Fingers crossed for an arc!

Not The Only Sky by Alyssa Warren

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“I want to meet him.” When neither Bee nor Luvie respond, Tiny Mite kicks the leg of her TV tray. “I want a dad.”

Bee lays down her fork. “Most kids only have two parents, but you’ve got me, Luvie, your mother and Jiggs, which makes double what they got, and don’t forget Henniker, our free legal counsel.”

“Luvie says he’s a pervert.”

Bee nods. “True, but you never know when you’ll get sued for breathing in this country.”

This novel was such a blast for me. The first half when Tiny Mite is little, before she grows up becoming Clea and no longer goes by her nickname, we run around with this peculiar, sometimes savage other times tender fatherless child as she tries to get her mother’s affection. Velvet’s plans didn’t include being stuck in Big Bend, she didn’t sacrifice her first love for someone untamed to abandon her and their unborn child. It’s a hardscrabble life, and her future is a dark, monotonous, shriveled thing. Her mother’s pious acceptance of mediocrity is torture, she can’t bond with her odd little girl who spends more time running around half naked and seems stuck in the same time warp as her Aunt Luvie and mother Bee. Velvet and her mother can’t seem to agree on anything and her constant reminders of how hard she had it in life sets Velvet’s teeth on edge. “Why do you have to make everything better, mother? If your life was as bad as you brag, why didn’t you just shoot yourself?”   Bee herself suffers the verbal attacks with optimism but still feels every biting rebuke as a laceration. “Bee’s bones feel like they are disintegrating when she and Velvet argue, and it’s no wonder, she thinks,  when Velvet’s never-ending misery rattles every nut and bolt loose in her body.”  What mother doesn’t want happiness for their children, regardless of the situation she got her self stuck in? What mother doesn’t ache over the disharmony between her and her child. But Velvet will never be able to survive if she remains under her childhood roof. Time doesn’t stand still in Big Bend, it stops altogether. Working meaningless job, making minimum wage is no life for anyone and at this rate she won’t have enough to make sure he daughter Tiny Mite can escape the dead weight of Big Bend.

Tiny Mite is just fine, thank you. Sure, she hungers for a dad, she is a born misfit among misfits but she finds pleasure in her strange interests and loves to eavesdrop on all the adults around her.  When she isn’t snooping, she is taking photos with her homemade camera, which may well become a future passion. She can be found hoarding others treasures like old family photos. Some of her curiosities lean towards the macabre but it comes from an artistic mind. How could her family not rub off on her?  Bee is prepared for the end of times, and knows the devil is everywhere- in tattooed bikers her daughter is drawn to, in other’s thoughts and actions- but Aunt Luvie’s only evil spirits are brewing ‘in her cups’. Velvet hides and cries when no one is awake, only in the dark cloak of night can she release the flood of her pain where unbeknownst to her, Tiny Mite is witness. Where she goes for her nightly raid of the food pantry, she has the best seat in the house to Velvet’s grief. When Tiny Mite is running late for an important day of school, Velvet makes a rash decision that will change the trajectory of Tiny Mite’s life, and sour the already strained relationship between mother and daughter.

Now, Tiny Mite has shed her name and goes by Clea. Bee is aging and her health is on the decline, Aunt Luvie stops drinking and Clea, dressed in her granddad’s old clothes is shunned by her peers at school. Abandoned cruelly by her mother in a moment frozen in her psyche, Clea is just barely surviving, alternating between rage and self-blame about her mother’s departure. “Clea’s tireless rat heart couldn’t stop scratching, searching, burrowing, wondering.” It is the wonder and fire inside of Clea that drives the novel. Times have gotten even harder, money and food at home are scarce and her heart is a pocket full of holes. She makes a connection with a boy, Jerod who is far more misunderstood than her. Through him she learns not to take her ragtag remaining family for granted, and the little she has grows in volumes. A love blossoms out of the ruins of different tragedies Clea and Jerod have been through. It is one of the most realistic love stories about young teenagers I’ve ever read, their coming together is gorgeous.

The readers get snippets of Velvet’s life, minus Tiny Mite (Clea), but it doesn’t make the story any softer. There is so much pain and yet, hope. These are extremely flawed characters, and it makes for perfection.  Some run away from their pain, others towards it. It is a dissection of the life we are given in opposition to the one we think we should have. While it’s about a willful, strong, unique girl it is also a beautiful story about family and love; love that abandons and love that steps in. Jiggs relationship with Tiny Mite is beautiful, a reminder love and loyalty can be found in the least likely places. While Velvet is gone, she is a living haunt from the wall of a hallway where her portraits watch over or mock Clea. Velvet’s heart is a mystery, and maybe it is never too late to be a mother.

The beginning made me feel like a child, I loved it- Tiny Mite is genuine, silly, curious, naughty at times (a bit like I remember being) and the way it’s written sets the perfect atmosphere.Tiny Mite doesn’t really seem aware of herself in the presence of others, and most children are exactly like this. Running around half nude isn’t anything shocking to them, she represents the freedom of youth. Then when she grows up, the novel feels different but just as moving. The perspective transitions seamlessly to that of a more mature, angry voice. I hope everyone enjoys this as much as I did. Yes, it deals with mother/daughter complexities but it is so much more than that. Lovely and you, dear readers, are in luck. It’s coming out this month, April 27! I can’t wait to hear your thoughts. This is an author I will be watching!

Available April 27, 2017

Black & White Publishing

 

 

3 Forthcoming Books

Just saw on goodreads and Carroll’s facebook page he has a new book coming out in the USA in August. Poland will see it published in May. Can’t wait to hear the details but the cover looks really cool. As seen on Goodreads.

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While on the subject of forthcoming novels, any Alice Hoffman fans will be over the moon to know she will be releasing a prequel to Practical Magic titled The Rules Of Magic.  

Another forthcoming fiction I’m hoping to get an arc of is The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin said to be reminiscent of Everything I Never Told You. A story about the four Gold children whom hear prophecies about their lives from a traveling, mystical psychic. Said to be a story about the power of belief and family. Sounds exciting!

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Watch this space.