Every Other Weekend: A Novel by Zulema Renee Summerfield


It is 1988 and America is full of broken homes.

I devoured this novel, I absolutely loved Nenny and her entire wacky, lost family. I’m nostalgic for the 80’s, and I kept thinking about tv shows and toys as this novel took me back to my childhood, though my elementary school years were the early 80’s. It seems families started cracking, splitting more around that time than any other. This is a story  about a family as it dismantled told through the eyes of the charming Nenny. Nenny isn’t perfect, in fact early on its obvious she herself isn’t found of happy, nice kids who have mommy’s that bring them hot lunch everyday and live in a home filled with the adoration of both parents, still married. She’s sarcastic, funny, and very sad. She fills the reader in on, ‘A Brief History of Why Everything Sucks’, in her life. Her brothers, Bubbles and Tiny are funny little characters too, especially the youngest Tiny. Mom and Dad destroy their world and divorce, then along comes Rick, mom’s new man and his children Charles and Kat. Bingo, Bango- she now has more siblings, an instant family.

We follow Nenny as she navigates the construction of their new world, in stops and starts. Through the loyalties, rejections, and mysteries she stews in fear of something awful happening. She was born with ‘a natural predilection for alarm.’ She couldn’t have conjured the tragedy that occurs even in her worst nightmare. Her weekends with her dad are gloomy, he seems to have fallen in a constant dishevelled state without her mother. He tries, he really does try to be fun, to make the most of their weekends together, but somehow his happiness dissipates and lies on the ground like a limp balloon. One house is full of chaos and noise, new sibling who are  and the other is take out food, a pool you can’t swim in and a new friend, Boots.

An older sister isn’t the fantasy she once longed for, as the only girl in her brood, anymore than the dog who decides to be their pet is the fluffy stuff of dreams. In fact, one is just fleas and mange and the other infected with a case of the ‘teens’. Then there are horror stories on the news at night and there is the looming threat of masked men. They could come after her! As if being a kid of divorce wasn’t bad enough already!

Though the tragedy that happens is a shockingly horrible event, this novel is a quiet, humourous tale about the torment Nenny goes through when her parents split up. It’s a child’s perception, and the bigger meaning is always running around some corner her mind isn’t grown up enough to capture. It’s tender and moving. “Mysteries abound when you are young. Some unravel and reveal themselves over the course of your lifetime, but most remained unsolved.” 

She doesn’t always get it, but she’s trying. The grown ups all have their own messes to slip in, some more bloody than others. The kids are in constant struggle trying to merge in this family they didn’t pick and all the new faces that make up their new life (exes, step- grandmother) just leave Nenny with more mysteries to poke and prod. Sometimes she finds clarity but more often than not, her world is just turned upside down and how in the heck is a little girl like her supposed to understand her life if the adults can’t get it right?

Funny, tender, sad, and horrible moments swirl through the novel. I tore through this book in 2 days. I love Nenny, and I have a soft spot for Tiny, the runt.

Publication Date: April 17, 2018

Little, Brown and Company


The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind: My Tale of Madness and Recovery by Barbara K. Lipska;Elaine McArdle


Despite all my years of studying brain disorders, for the first time in my life I realize how profoundly unsettling it is to have a mind that does not function.

The doctor becomes the patient in this fascinating memoir. Exhibiting symptoms of dementia and schizophrenia, much to the horror of those who knew and loved her best, Barbara Lipska’s doctors do everything possible to figure out what is going on.  Why was her frontal lobe failing her? From where was her madness coming from?  It is melanoma, brain cancer. Amazingly, when immunotherapy began to heal her, she remembered everything that happened during her descent into madness, bringing with her firsthand knowledge about what happens in the mind (brain), aiding science in better understanding.

Mental illness today is still a mystery, there is so much we just don’t comprehend. How does a brain injury alter behavior? What about traumatic events? Are the answers only in the brain? Is schizophrenia a disease, something going haywire in the brain, what about anxiety? Depression? How do such conditions relate to Lipska’s brain tumors and the effect they had on her mental state? Thirty years of studying mental illness couldn’t teach her as much as her own experience. More than anything, this memoir is eye-opening, humbling in relating what those with mental health difficulties and brain disorders live with.  It is frightening to think no one is immune. At any time, an injury, an illness, a mental disturbance could plunge our fragile mind in a state of madness. It’s easy to dismiss this brain we don’t think too much about, that does so much for us our entire lives, never imagining it could fail or trick us. We all will age, studying the brain is crucial to our health, to our very being.

I remember a law class I took in high school, meeting a lawyer who warned us against riding motorcycles because he had a client that was in a horrific wreck and suffered a brain injury. He told us, his entire personality changed, this once kind man became violent, believing he was being persecuted by everyone. What can understanding cancer, brain injuries do to help with treating dementia? Other mental illnesses? It’s important to understand the science behind the mind, what a vast universe that demands exploration. Could it help, I wonder, understand how our environment, our experiences change our brains? The mind is a mystery, as Lipska’s unraveled she was able to find the right treatment and return to herself, mind intact and with first hand knowledge to add to her years of study.

I’ve always wondered, what is it that causes the individual with mental illness to lose their grip on reality, why does a certain treatment work for one person and yet not another. Is it all the brain? How do experiences in life alter the mind, why? Is mental illness a curable disease? Is it something bigger than science? I have an uncle who has schizophrenia, it is somewhat known he used LSD during his time in Vietnam (in the army).  He also had something traumatic happen, either witnessed or was involved in. He was never the same. We always wondered, was it genetic, caused by drug use, trauma? A combination of all three? I don’t know the answers. I hope in the near future we understand mental health far better than we do today, and more that we can have compassion. Truth is, it terrifies people, it makes them uncomfortable and it’s a shame because instead of understanding what is happening in the mind, people are shunned. My son has an austism spectrum disorder, so understanding the science behind the mind has been important to me. How does it happen? When? Thinking on Autism alone, there there are so many variations, different ways stimulating the mind can help with higher functioning. As much as we know, there is still far more we don’t.

It is vital to every human being to understand the workings of the brain, we all have one, despite evidence to the contrary we sometimes see. All kidding aside, this is a fascinating memoir. Also, anyone dealing with mystery illness can relate to the struggle of trying to get the proper diagnosis.  Dr. Barbara Lipska  is highly educated, she has the means, and even for her it’s a fight to understand what is happening. Imagine the obstacles for those with little to no money and poor access to the best doctors. It’s vital we understand our own health, our needs. Demand doctors who are knowledgable in whatever disease, or mysterious illness that we suffer from. Easier  said then done, though.

A memoir about a woman who is both patient, and doctor. Interesting read.

Publication Date: April 3, 2018

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Our Little Secret: A Novel by Roz Nay


“Oh, I don’t want to talk about Saskia the whole time.”

Novak’s teeth are flat at the front, four of them in a row. “She’s kind of the main event.”

We meet Angela at the start of the novel in an interrogation room. HP’s (an ex-boyfriend from her youth) wife is missing, and we wait to find out just what she might know, or be hiding about this ‘main event.’ Angela’s parents ‘moved a lot’, when she was growing up and a childhood spent on unsteady ground, never knowing when she would be yanked up by her roots and planted elsewhere, forced to start all over again was not, she assures us, such an adventure in your teens where loyalties, cliques and relationships already seem cemented, no room for outsiders. Her tenth grade year they move to the town of Cove, Vermont and that is where the story of her first love begins. She is met by the ugly cruelty of pretty girls, until HP steps in.  This is where the popular, beloved, golden boy entered her life and the stage is set for eleven years into the future, where a crime has occurred.

But first we are led into the past, a tale of friendship and love. We listen as the intimate tale of her friendship with HP unfolds. The two are moving towards something intense, deep, and strong. Angela’s parents expect nothing but the best from their daughter, an educated life and her ticket out of the small New England town will take her far away to Oxford University in England and threatens distance between she and HP. There is no choice, you don’t pass up Oxford. They demand she goes, it’s a chance of a lifetime, she may not know she wants this golden opportunity but they know she will regret it with her every breath if she doesn’t take it! He will visit her, he will wait, everything will be beautiful but another woman enters the scene and everything goes awry. Angela is rooted to the past, her love is a black winged creature, and Saskia is a cage. She cannot let go of the past, and she knows HP feels the same, she knows that the only obstacle is Saskia.

Flashbacks between her high school days getting up to trouble and love with HP and friends clash with her university years and now the present. Where does HP fit in the puzzle of her adult life? In this room, the detective reveals poisonous little tidbits, facts he has unearthed, overturning rocks in her life beneath which dark pale bellied creatures live. Then there is Freddy, a soft shoulder, a dear friend to help lift her out of the gaps of time when HP is being pulled away in the rip tide of Saskia. He is her anchor, he longs to heal her, fix her and Angela is blind to the possibilities because all she can see, feel and taste is her first love. Fate could never divide two people who are meant to be, nor could new people, be they lovers or children. Right? If it’s destined, no man can divide such affection, nor can time. What is the passing of years compared to the measure of such love?

I felt passing moments of likability  and pity for Angela but more often than not she is selfish or confusing. Is she shy and weak, or an outcast smoldering with rage? Is she an ungrateful child or suffocated by the whims and big dreams her parents have for her?  I wish her personality had a little more time to come to a boil, as I wasn’t really sure how to take her. She’s bitter as an adult, greedy to meet her own needs, blind but where is her intelligence? This is a woman who went to Oxford! I get it, she is consumed by love (obsession) but something is amiss. That aside, I was engaged. The ending was good, well… well then. So that’s how it ends!

Chapter after chapter of the story creeps closer to what happened to Saskia. Dark is the heart of obsessive love, but did Angela come unhinged? Could she really have blood on her hands? Could she have killed for love? Just what would Angela do for her soul mate, what wouldn’t she do? Is she misunderstood, are they way off? Is Saskia just pulling some silly stunt for attention? You have to read to find out.

Publication Date: April 17, 2018

St. Martin’s Press



Aetherial Worlds: Stories by Tatyana Tolstaya


They passed on, their personal suns went out, and there was no one left to speak of them, to think of them and to tell their stories, to laugh and shake one’s head while remembering.

I loved each of these stories, from tales about art, love and loss, politics and war, childhood and aspic, there wasn’t one story that didn’t captivate me. How does a man falling in love with a marble statue lead to losing his wife and children? Is a gypsy to be believed when she tells a woman every man who loves her will die? How does a life go on with the sad order of ‘vitamin drops in the eyes’ and ‘big stiff pillows in her bed’, as if love just flew out the window?

The artist Kazimir Malevich in The Square makes quite a name for himself after painting a thick black square the ‘most famous, most frightening, enigmatic painting known to man’. The author ties an experience Leo Tolstoy had years before that to the meaning behind the painting. The dissection that follows is engaging, death meets life, and expresses itself through art, a sort of terror facing us all.

Aspic reminded me of the horror facing me in the refrigerator when I was 4 years old. In Hungary they call it kocsonya, a pork broth that is jellied, cold after setting in the fridge in which is suspended pig knuckles, rinds, and ears. It’s more of an entire meal for us and nothing in the world could get me to have another bite when I was little. As an adult, my palate craves the foods my family made but that niggling fear from childhood always rises. I laughed when she wrote, “Truth be told, I’ve always been a little afraid of it, since childhood.” Because it can be intimidating. I am reminded of my childhood friends staring at some of our other dishes while at my house, curious, afraid (even if it was just chicken paprikash because so many american children hated vegetables, and who ate cooked peppers floating in gravy in the 80’s). We always ended up throwing a burger or hotdog on for said friend. That fear always came alive in me in the face of kocsonya, much to the shame of my grandparents.

In Smoke and Shadows, it feels like an affair against her desires. How can she possibly be in love with Eric, this man who is so very limited and yet she is. She sits down and eats  the meal his wife prepared, imaging hatred in the woman’s heart. It could be the exoticism he projects on her Russian background that has him enraptured. But what is it about him that has made her love for him obsessive. She sinks into a fantasy about his wife, that witch Emma.

The Invisible Maiden was my favorite, with one of the best lines I’ve read in years. “Growing in it were yellow lilies that smelled like mermaids.” What a beautiful sentence, lilies that smell like mermaids, how perfect. The family arrives at the dacha, and prepares it for their stay. It’s atmospheric, I fancied myself alongside them all, inhaling the smell of fried potatoes, cozy in the warmth. Who knew kombucha could be a pet, this before kombucha became all the rage with Americans aspiring to be healthy. Each character is a creation, alive as you and me. Curly, the ‘imbecile’ who built the dacha, and how he came by the moniker tickled me. The grannies, oh the wonderful grannies Aunty Lola and Klavdia Alekseevna and their sad, beautiful habits. This chapter would make a wonderful novel, dare I hope? I wanted to get lost in this family and remain.

The stories are full of humor, wit and intelligence whether about love, death, politics or tradition each is engaging and invoked memories of my own childhood. I could be laughing about her cynical take on life or feeling gutted over a disappearing , an old woman simply left with nothing and hoping to fade quietly. Tales from the Russian perspective, wonderful! I understand why Tatyana Tolstaya is a celebrated author.

Publication Date: March 20, 2018

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group


Bizarre Romance by Audrey Niffenegger Eddie Campbell (Illustrator)


While this isn’t my usual pick, the moment I saw it was by Niffenegger, I had to request it. Wonderful illustrations accompany uniquely strange stories. The Composite Boyfriend is decent but something I think my younger readers would like. I enjoyed the tale of aging in Backwards in Seville, it is moving and heavier than the rest. There is something endearing about the drawing of Helene with scarlet lips, and lipstick smudges on the glass. Digging Up the Cat, seven years the animal rested in his grave, why the heck are the digging him up? Each tale is odd, it’s hit or miss, but always original. I’m just not always sure what was being said, whether the story tackled religion or art.

It’s a hard collection to review being as I don’t read graphic novels. Some of the stories left me confused. Getting Out of Bed is really good, one for the artists. It is a creative book, it’s strange because in some of the stories I preferred the art to the prose and in others the prose to the art.

I think it is for a different reader than me. All in all, it’s quirky tales that soar or confuse.

Publication Date: March 20. 2018

Abrams ComicArts



The Pisces : A Novel by Melissa Broder


I fell asleep out there every night, tipsy on white wine, under the Venice stars, with my feet tucked under Dominic’s gut, belonging to nothing familiar.

Lucy is stunted, far too many years writing her dissertation about Sappho, the love between her and Jamie coming unbound, but surely he only wanted to put space between them? It’s not a for good break up, right? She does something a little crazy, thus ends up leaving for Venice beach for the summer and ends up housesitting for her sister. Not much is expected of her beyond caring for a diabetic dog, Dominic and attending group therapy to contend with her obsession with love. This group forbids ‘hooking up’, or getting your next ‘fix’ in the form of men, it is better to date yourself, know thyself and to thyself be true. Refuse the urge to fill yourself up with encounters and relationships, it will never be enough, that hungry beast inside of us all can’t be filled by another person. This wisdom falls on deaf ears, in Lucy’s case.

Lucy is having none of it, she has a dark unsettled thing dragging her down, so she decides to date because nothing revives her like the chase. Her encounters are meant to be erotic, but so many end up being ridiculously hilarious. Nothing romantic to see here, just painful prodding and playacting, and for what? That’s her problem, isn’t it? Trying to attain some intense feeling that seems always out of her reach. Playing the role of vixen, so she can feel the hunger and desire of men. Until she falls for a Merman, and things turn bizarre. Surely this will be erotica for other women, for me what worked was the funk in her head space. Even fantasies don’t stay within the bounds we create, run amok, take us down. It’s all about committing and choices in the end.

She meets other love addicts in her meetings, headed up by Dr. Jude. Of course Lucy can see how some of the women deceive themselves about the men they are trying to get over. Like many of us, her insights are spot on when it comes to those other lost losers. Too, it feels more like a ‘misery loves company’ club than support. She scoffs at the idea of self-love, and finds a connection with Claire. Claire’s chaos isn’t a different brand than Lucy’s, though she can point out her every flaw. Both women are reaching for unavailable love, gorging themselves on men, occupying their time with rejection and fleeting sexual encounters rather than examining what is wrong, broken and limping inside of them. Surely their sorrows cannot all be laid at the feet of men.

The funniest moments were Lucy’s liberated sexual encounters, because she isn’t doing it for her. She isn’t really thinking about her own pleasure. It’s just the men running the show. Grin and bear it… sure, but why? I think a lot of women, though not as many as who will admit it, have been there; doing things their partner wanted that did NOT feel good for them for various reasons, at different points in their life. It is cringeworthy and I had a visceral reaction to the bathroom romp as well as to the aftermath. As humourous as the novel is, there is serious dysfunction. You never win love by acting like a lunatic, and going on the attack, not love worth having at any rate. When she falls for Theo (the sexy Merman who seems to only want to pleasure her) she longs to attach herself to him like a barnacle. With Theo pulling her out of the dark pit of her love for Jamie, what will happen when he reaches out again? Jamie is an earthbound man, he is her history,  and he has legs!  Is any of this real, is love really salvation? How do you separate fiction from fact in any love affair? Is it necessary for Lucy to maintain a distance, in order to desire a man? What will Theo demand of her and more importantly what will Lucy demand of herself?

Just what is Theo? Why has he come in her life now? You have to read the story to find out.

Publication Date: May 1, 2018

Crown Publishing




Whiskey: A Novel by Bruce Holbert


“Is that your dog?” he asked

Andre shook his head. The man wore pressed gray slacks and a blue polo shirt and leather loafers with wine-colored socks.

“Seems friendly.”

“Anything’s friendly if you feed it.”

Not a lot of ‘friendly’ encounters in this novel about two brothers, Smoker and Andre, going back and forth through the years with their feral parents and broken marriages, and never quite reaching the bottom of the whiskey bottle. There’s a saying, “A cat’s a better mother than you”, in truth, a demon would be a better mother than Peg. As a child, “she was mean weather, not a misguided urchin.” To be fair, her upbringing wasn’t exactly all sunshine and daisies. When their father Pork and Peg are together, its hurricane season and the boys are the collateral damage. How could they come out of this wreckage without clenched fists and wild in their eyes?

Why did Claire and Andre’s marriage fall apart? Why has a religious cult taken Smoker’s daughter? Rest assured, the brothers are going to go after Harold and find his girl. Run ins with the law, detox, their parents, bears, cults… these two seemed doomed from the start set on rescuing others, but unable to save themselves, it’s more a lament on hard living.

With an eye on their parent’s courtship and fleeting glimpses into their upbringing, the savage birth of their futures seems foretold. Love can’t be maintained for either men, and if Smoker’s fathering skills serve as anything, it’s a warning that maybe the child is better off without him, or his careless, messed up wife. Nature, nurture, either way they were screwed. The writing style won’t be for everyone, and at times I got a little lost. Big things happen, but it’s over before I followed what was happening. I would have loved more story into Peg and Pork’s past, particularly the tender spot in the novel, Penny. Penny could have been the heart that beat a little longer, but it was such a fleeting moment, horrific and sad. Too, I wanted more about Harold and his little cult. Engaging one moment, losing me the next yet there was a lot of humor. It’s a barren existence for every character. Don’t look for hope. What happens to their mother, what they chose to do was heartbreaking, despite her meanness. Just when I started thinking things might turn around for the brothers, the author pushed my optimism off a cliff, and it ended just as it should. It’s a novel that is more like sitting at the bar as liquor burns your throat and belly, while a drunk is regaling you with tales about the lives of crazy folks he used to know.

Publication Date: March 13, 2018

Farrar, Straus and Giroux