Where Dogs Bark With Their Tails: A Novel by Estelle-Sarah Bulle

Back then, Hilaire treated his children like he treated his animals: a glassful of tenderness, a bucketful of authority, and a barrelful of “débrouyé  zôt”- best figure it out yourselves.

A young woman ‘with a mind full of questions’ about her father’s past, and her family history in Guadeloupe (including Hilaire, a grandfather who lived to be 105), meets with her Aunt Antoine, the seventy-five-year old matriarch. A tall, confident, alluring woman with ‘a mixture of outdated elegance and anarchy” is more than happy to ‘open up’. Well aware she is the strongest link to the family, she has a beautiful manner in relaying the past. She tells her thirty-year-old niece that it’s like there is a whole century between them. She knows what her niece is hungry for, all the stories and understanding for where their place is, how people who must live in two worlds manage. With a three-month-old baby girl, it’s time to root through her family history, to learn just who they all are. So begins the tale of the Ezekiels, why some left and others remained filling a street in Morne- Galant (one of the islands that form Guadeloupe). Her father is known as ‘Petit-Frère’ (little brother) in a family of sisters, the women he’d rather run from. The narrator herself was born in France, a Métis girl (mixed race, a term rarely used) and a rarity in her community. Her father is West Indian and mother is French. Her family was ‘typical French’ and she, always a good student who kept a low profile, knows all too well what it means to be outside of categorization. Her curiosity fires up with others joking about her father’s accent, the ‘uniformity’ and peaceful coexistence of diverse lifestyles (for those willing to embrace French ideals) has often baffled her. She is confused about who she is. This is a novel about identity, how we define it, how those who settle in new places conform or refuse to. What is interesting is in the family history there was a divide when the Ezekiel grandfather (descendants of slaves) married a woman, from the family of the Lebecqs, who had been on the island far longer and were from Breton. There is mystery attached to them as well. She was a beauty that stood out in the poverty of Morne-Galant, her family were a people almost of a different world and the children were fearful of them. The reader learns how Hillarie charmed his way into their good graces, no easy challenge.

The children Hilaire and Eulalie have together grow up outsiders, both families seeing them as neither fully Ezekiels nor Lebecqs . Patriarch Hillarie remains to tend to the sugarcane, as his own siblings come and go from Morne-Galant. He holds tight to ‘absurd pride’, hurting his own family in the process, in favor of his extended family. For little brother, he grows up motherless, tended to by his sisters Antoine and Lucinde. They couldn’t be any more different in talents and temperament but both struggle their way to success. Through Antoine’s tale-spinning, she reveals how instead of money, they have their stories. With her strong ‘nom de savane’, to confuse the evil spirits, she goes by Antoine, not her baptismal name Apollone- as is the tradition. Antoine is the first to escape the island and all the unhappiness but not before caring for her brother, our narrator’s father. She bides her time and collects resentment toward those who stripped her mother’s things away after her death. The siblings each have their say, her father even warning her that her Aunt Antoine is exhausting, dirty, has her little superstitions and yet he lacks her great courage. It is to a cousin, Nonore (the Lebecq side) she turned to when she was just sixteen, hoping to make herself useful in Pointe-a-Pitre, just as poor a place as she escaped. Brave face forward, it is a fresh start, she convinces Nonore to try her out. Just when things go well, the husband returns, ruining it all.

Where Dogs Bark With Their Tales (the title also has meaning) is full of rich characters, the siblings natures are so different, even the way our narrator’s father describes his sisters made me laugh. Antoine baring her teeth when she came home to visit, Lucinde always going to great lengths to get what she wanted, the manner he remembers his father Hilaire- the people become real enough to jump off the page. The struggle out of poverty, the fight to make it when doors were closed based on skin color, the cultural divides, harassment women face and figuring out what is real from family fiction and legends. Antoine is far too clever to ever be a submissive woman, and the niece wonders why she couldn’t grow up in a more colorful, exciting place with traditions and history. Ponders on what she missed out on. Gorgeous story-telling. I was also intrigued by the writing about Antilleans and Black American culture, the commonalities with minority experiences but the difference between France and United states in role models, violence, etc. It isn’t something I have ever thought about until now. This is an intelligent read while also incredibly entertaining. There are tragedies and heavy loss, often someone will rise only to fall. The children took on a lot, and really did have to figure it out for themselves, especially missing their mother. It’s a trajectory that led to France. I fell in love with Antoine. The Guadeloupe of her family’s past is fading, the world is never the same for the descendants. Her family had to get used to concrete, over the lush land of their origins but they have kept so much flavor and life of their island. Yes, a beautiful read that my review isn’t doing justice to. Add it to your summer reading list.

Publication Date: July 5, 2022

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

The Gone And The Forgotten by Clare Whitfield

It’s quite desperate when you think of it, waiting in the darkest of holes.

Just how much does it cost to be given the keys to a kingdom?

Set in 1993: Prue doesn’t doesn’t know much about her family history, only thing she knows for sure is that her mother is unstable and that after sixteen years of being alive, she still has no clue who her own father is. Her mother breaks down, often, and this is just the latest collapse. Her Nana is gone, leaving grief in her wake, and years of unanswered questions. Aunt Ruth has never confided either but promises this time, if Prue comes for a sorely needed vacation in her home in Shetland, they will talk. Ruth, the aunt who married a wealthy man named Archie (a stranger to Prue) is easier to get close too but she isn’t exactly spilling any secrets. Ruth had no idea just how serious her sister had sank into her depression, this time Prue’s mother needs a place that can really help her and Prue needs room to breathe, away from her mother’s heavy needs. Prue reluctantly departs her best friend’s home and makes her way to the small island of Noost, never imaging the family secrets that are lying in wait.

Once on the island, Prue meets her Uncle Archie and his peculiar grandmother, Ronnie- the only relatives still alive in his family. In her seventies, the woman tends to her many plants like children and lives in a universe all her own, but she is sharp and in perfect control of her mind and body. She tells Prue right away that when she heard she was coming to stay, she just knew it would change everything. She tell her it’s a good thing she is there, ‘the spirits want it to happen,’ and gushes over her. Ronnie is a proud woman from a long, Scotish line of MacNairs, who landed on the island due to ‘following a boy’ long ago. Ronnie comes off as very intense, believing in energies, and extremely uptight about Prue touching her precious plants. Straight away, dreams from when she was a little girl of seven begin to haunt her. It’s the place, surely. Memories she has scrubbed away about her baby sister Holly, as slips of our early childhood hide from us with age, but surely there is more she just can’t recover? In a family of secrets, is it a surprise she keeps stories even from herself? Then the crime the woman Joan Gardner committed, it’s all returning to bite her. Ronnie seems to warm to her and where Aunt Ruth remains tight lipped, Ronnie gushes about her own past and that of their huge, old home.

The island has a magical energy that feeds the artistic palate of her aunt and new uncle, Archie. Ronnie warns her, their work is strange! It is unsettling and the house itself seems to be alive with eerie sounds. It isn’t the relaxing escape she was looking forward too, in fact, more questions than answers are arising, especially about Archie. He is ‘a proper bloke’, intimidating, a man who takes up space and is nothing near as welcoming as her Aunt Ruth’s first husband. Locals think he is guilty of something terrible, even if they can’t say what or prove anything. When she ventures out, fully immersed in her first taste of freedom, she encounters a local woman who warns her about Archie, the only good to come out of it is she meets a boy after being scared away. The two form a relationship, but she can’t help but poke the accusations she hears about Archie. Then to learn that there have been strange accidents, deaths, tragedies tied to the home only makes her more frightened of the place. In fact, the very room she is staying in has a story she can’t quite help but fear.

Is Prue ready to know what she has been asking for years? Does she truly want her own spoiled family history, that reeks of damning sins? Will it finally help her understand her mother’s lowest of lows? Archie, she should be weary of him, but even that is changing.

This was an engaging tale of family sins, of the ways people will bury their shameful history despite the cost. Prue may well have to face herself, and her own actions. A bit of a twist, with a sad past. A good read for anyone who enjoys mysteries of family sins and tragedies.

Publication Date: June 9, 2022

Head of Zeus

Apollo

Notes On Your Sudden Disappearance: A Novel by Alison Espach

On the way home, there was no more screaming. Mom and Dad were just quiet in an awful way. It was certain- you were dead, and we were just people in a car again. How could this be? The world was over, but we still had to do things like obey street signs and traffic lights.

Life goes on, our bodies have demands that remind us of that reality, as much as the rest of the world crashes in on our grief. It’s an indescribable abyss of loss for adults and even more confusing for children. Alison Espach’s characters fall apart, questioning their role in tragedy, however accidental, and the effects of pain don’t really ease with the passage of time. People learn to live with loss, there isn’t another option, but the missing never fades.

Kathy Holt has a desperate crush on Billy Barnes, spending nights filling her little sister Sally’s head with information she treasures, like his wild antics and imagining the sort of man he will grow up to be. When Kathy joins him in high school, their bedtime routine is now filled with her reminiscing about their chance encounters. Sally delights in her sister’s glow of affection, she herself stuck in middle school, a smart girl that doesn’t quite turn the heads of any boys, it is Kathy who is beautiful. Sally lives vicariously through Kathy’s heart, passions for the boy. Then summer break arrives, an incident occurs that pulls him into their circle. It isn’t long before Billy and Kathy are sharing kisses and falling in love. By Kathy’s junior year of high school, the sisters spend less time together, with Kathy’s social life kicked into high gear. It makes Sally feel excluded, lonely even, still she would do anything for her sister, to remain in her orbit. Tragedy hits, and she blames herself in the wake of her sister’s death.

Billy isn’t dead, but a part of him dies with Kathy, he wishes it were him. Sally is ashamed that she isn’t physically damaged, that would be more righteous. Through the trauma of the event, everything Billy was before no longer fits what remains. Sally, in longing for Kathy, turns to Billy to keep a tight hold on the past, even though their friendship is strictly forbidden. Her mother is cracking, her father closing off, buried in anger, both of them too overwhelmed to pay attention to their remaining child and Billy is the only one who can lift the heaviness Sally is cloaked in. At least briefly, when they talk, it seems healing is possible. With Kathy in the ground (her beautiful, vibrant sister, unfairly in the ground) no one seems to concern themselves with structure, punishment, keeping track of Sally. The most terrible, nightmarish reality has already hit them head on and there is nothing left to fear. The sunshine has left their family, now there is only pain, separate worlds.

Billy and Sally crawl into the future with aches shared and experiences denied. Their bond is the ruins of life after Kathy. Without her big sister, Sally gets to know more about Billy than Kathy herself had the time to learn. Both are changed. Billy’s promising future as a star athlete vanishes, and Sally is searching for her own identity, without Kathy to guide her. Nothing in life ever feels as joyful as it should as the years collect, tinged by sorrow. She refuses to remain frozen in time, to be eaten by anguish. She has to build a future, go away to school but how will she do that without Billy? He has his own struggles, an incredible amount of shame to contend with, that sometimes forces Sally out of his life, for years. Still, they cross paths now and then.

This is a sad and hopeful story, about what happens in the aftermath of unspeakable tragedy. It is a tale of guilt, how it can bury us and the possibility of new beginnings. Where do you lay blame when fate touches you with a cruel hand? We all need a place to direct our misfortune, our resentment too, but it costs so much, the anger, whether we place it upon another’s head or internalize it. It is about pushing people away and drawing them closer. This is beautiful and heavy, I wanted more from the ending but I could relate to every character. Billy’s self-punishing decisions, Sally’s loneliness and ache for Kathy, her parents emotional disasters and resentment, anger. Most of all, the love Sally never loses for her big sister drives the story, and her life, on.

Publication Date: May 17, 2022

Henry Holt & Company

The Half-life of Snails by Philippa Holloway

She could become lost in these moments- by the rhythm of them, the realness- if the threat of losing it all wasn’t a constant itch, like nettle rash, in the back of her mind. If there weren’t plans for a new nuclear power station to replace the one that has dominated the coastline since before she was born; land acquisitions and groundworks already underway.

Helen and Jennifer are sisters living in Anglesey, both on opposite sides of the nuclear industry. Jennifer and her partner work there while Helen has been fighting the new nuclear power station’s development, refusing the very idea of selling her ancestral land, the family farm. A single mother, she is obsessed with raising her son to be able to withstand disaster. The home they live in is spartan, there are no luxuries for Jack, like a television or the distractions average children, “soft” children are spoiled by. It is Helen’s purpose, to assure that her son can stand on his own, feed himself, stay alive when their own Chernobyl or any such disaster occurs. Jack is a strange child, his mother’s anxiety growing like a tumor within his small bones. Fearful of ‘indoctrination’ from the plant, ideas a child so young shouldn’t be thinking about, at least to Jennifer’s thinking, it seems the true indoctrination is his mother’s conspiracies. A boy with no friends, except for his snails in a jar, every interaction is awkward. He doesn’t handle socializing well, but let loose in nature, on the farm, he is like an uncaged animal, happy- free. He is a survivalist in the making, his mother’s son to the core, for better or worse. Helen admires that her boy is capable, so far ahead of his peers in self-care and if he isn’t like other kids, it’s for the best. Jennifer and her husband Ioan’s house sits on the edge of the Anglesey coast, Wylfa Nucear Power Station is barely a mile away, and Helen along with her son Jack, often come to help out with the animals on the farm. Five years of never staying with his aunt, suddenly Helen is leaving him while she travels to Chernobyl’s Exclusion Zone. This part of the novel is interesting and only lends credence to much of Helen’s fears, but there is a trauma that changed her long ago. Jennifer is just as nervous as they are about the plan but she doesn’t understand it is a test. Helen has recently discovered something bad, it is time to prep Jack for the possibility of her permanent absence one day. Her family already knows about illness, their Mam has cancer. She sells his stay at her sister’s as an adventure, a challenge. But she cannot imagine how hard the adjustment will be nor that fate may well prolong her trip. No one can ever predict how people will react to change, or how good intentions can sour and turn dangerous.

Jennifer runs into a wall when it comes to Jack, has a hard time connecting. He is often cold, seeming to lack empathy, but like her sister Helen it’s possible he is just practical, grounded. Jack’s outbursts at school becomes a problem and it is on her shoulders to make decisions that are for her sister Helen to make. It disrupts her own work, but she can’t let Jack down, even if it threatens her job. Helen would never forgive her. She loses contact with her sister and with violence and protests rising in Kiev and trickling into the place Helen is visiting, Jennifer is worried. Helen was warned away while touring Chernobyl, but she didn’t listen, and now she is in the midst of danger she didn’t predict, violent crowds fighting state corruption. She must find a way out, to avoid the worst of clashes, but time is running out. The tour guide who warned her is willing to help, but she knows better than to count on anyone. There is an accident she didn’t predict and she loses all contact with home and her son, unsure of who to trust. If she was looking to cut the cord, to use her trip to prep her son, she has lost all control. Now she is trying to make her way back under the threat of her life. The truth is, you can’t always prep for the unknown.

Back home it is all falling apart. Jack is lost without his mother, but he wants nothing more than to prove his worth. Jennifer and her husband Ioan are having a hard time without Helen’s help on the farm, trying to keep a little lamb alive and to take care of Jack, who despite his many strengths, is still just a little boy. Ioan is much better with their nephew than Jennifer is, and to add more worry her mother is not doing well with her cancer. It’s too much pressure, worse, she is slowly coming to discover how Helen and Jack have been living, deeply concerned for the child’s well-being. With the days stacking up and his mother remaining away, Jack is not obeying his aunt and he believes his mom is gone for good. It is time for him to act! Will he survive his own personal disaster?

This is original, I couldn’t warm to Helen at all. I think her hardness makes sense, after we learn the entire story, but she is extreme. It’s hard to live between two worlds, any child would falter. The best intentions certainly go awry. She feels she is raising her child to be strong in any event, surely the point is in Chernobyl they never imagined such a disaster, so why not in Anglesey? Also, her touring such a place and not really comprehending the country itself and it’s heated political issues highlights her tunnel-vision. Her own beliefs often serve as an erasure of realities she doesn’t want to tackle. It’s a decent read, but I was certainly frustrated by the adults. I think Jack and what he does makes perfect sense, poor little guy.

Publication Date: May 7, 2022

Parthian Books

Just Like Mother by Anne Heltzel

Once again I had the feeling of being non-existent, of the things and people around me being imaginary.

Maeve and Andrea grew up in a cult of mothers, but it is their bond that has provided the only love and nurturing in their lives. Maeve’s whole life has revolved around Andrea, even more so in the aftermath of a dark night, when the two are ripped apart. Maeve’s act of bravery, or betrayal to the cult, is the catalyst for the ruin of their life together. Maeve is adopted by a kind, older couple and eventually overcomes her own trauma, wondering forever what happened to Andrea. Now both adults, they find each other through a DNA website, but Andrea doesn’t want to dwell on the terror of the past. Maeve is an editor, mostly in fiction, always loving escapism. It is other people’s stories that have always interested her and she longs to know all about Andrea’s life since they’ve been separated. Andrea has risen above being unwanted as a child, in and out of foster homes, used her business degree to create her own company, starting out as a life coach. She is the CEO of “NewLife”, dazzling with it’s cutting edge technology. Hot with the Silicon Valley crowd, and married to Rob, a ‘Groundbreaking Vigeneros Tech’, her life seems far more adult than Maeve’s. She and Rob have suffered a deep loss together, but have made peace with it. There is nothing Andrea has wanted more than a family and finding Maeve ‘feels like a gift from the universe.’ Both their lives are about to change, this time through unification.

Maeve is still living her single days, not interested in having children, the opposite of Andrea’s entire purpose. She is surprised Andrea, who has been living a life filled with travel, great success and excitement, could ever miss her. She promises Maeve, you never lose who you were as a child, and she has always loved her, they are family and that’s a strong bond. It’s time she lets someone in, and no one is closer to her heart than Andrea. She is on her way to their home in the Catskill Mountains, where she will soon be immersed in their lives, being around her business partner Emily (who is worshipped even more than Andrea by Silicon Valley), joined by her husband and young son. She is out of her comfort zone, and the product Andrea is testing (more of a cause) leaves her unsettled. Is technology used to heal grief a good idea? She can’t deny her cousin, she owes her for upending their lives all those years ago. She swears to do whatever Andrea needs. Rob and Andrea’s friends can’t understand why Maeve doesn’t want children, it’s ‘unnatural’ to their way of thinking. Then Andrea makes a request, it is too much to ask, despite wanting to please her cousin. The ties of family are knots that aren’t so easily undone.

The story gets much more complicated and darker from there. As present and past collide, the reader learns the terror and cruelty of their early childhood and just how it has left its mark on them both. The mothers weren’t so nurturing, it was a sick, twisted cult. It’s creepy, it’s about trauma, grief, loneliness, and how misguided and brutal ideas can be. What a strange novel, I keep thinking ‘someone will make or movie out of this.’

Publication Date: May 17, 2022

Macmillan-Tor/Forge, Tor Nightfire

The Lovers: A Novel by Paolo Cognetti

The mountains determine the human lives that are drawn to them, and those lives are in turn humbled by nature’s implacable beauty and truth- even in the terror it can unleash.

Fausto is a forty-year-old writer, in looking for a place to start over, he chooses the mountains he knew well and loved as a boy, Fontana Fredda. Renting a place after the end of a relationship, he enjoys freedom, even if the solitude isn’t always welcome. With the arrival of winter, he needs a job, and finds one when he dines at Babette’s Feast, run by Babette. Babette herself left the city and took over a restaurant that is anything but lively and busy. Luckily for the people in the remote mountain village, she takes in strays and helps solve problems but is it what she truly wants to do with her life? From the kitchen, he gets to watch the sweet, much younger waitress, Silvia. To his surprise, he is soon exploring Silvia’s body, more incredibly their passion begins at her invitation. They part in the spring, each with plans, her to work and Fausto has things to settle back in Milan. They certainly we meet up again.

Nature is beautifully explored, just as much as the relationships between the characters. In winter it freezes to the bone, in Spring it gushes with an unstoppable force, as creatures awaken from their hibernation and crossing paths with ferocious mating animals can be dangerous. As Fausto climbs up the snow lie and walks through the woods, it is a beautiful setting. Babette closes her restaurant while she leaves for an island, a vacation spot she doesn’t name. Time passes and she still hasn’t returned, her own heart is spent, having once fallen for a mountain man. Does she want to return? When Fausto discovers that Santorso, the snowcat driver, hunter and former forest ranger, has been taken away in a helicopter after an accident, he rushes to the hospital. The solitary man (and watcher of wolves) has a daughter, and his story grows. A lone wolf enters the novel, now that he has more freedom and no one is there to stop him. Nature and man, living side by side.

There are deaths on the mountains from simple mistakes, particularly for climbers. Threats are always looming in such glorious places. Silvia is ascending to higher elevations with Nepalese guide, finally on her great adventure, heading to The Quinta Sella Refuge to work on a glacier. She spends time thinking about Fausto and chewing on memories of her mother while in the company of the Buddhist. Fausto, in the meantime, works as a chef for loggers, filling up on stories of work accidents and intense risky labor. He treks to Silvia, sure to warm any heart. The characters stories and the choices they make are all entwined. While they may come and go, the mountains simply exist, standing long after the dramas are played out.

It was a good story and I always enjoy nature’s presence, which is truly a humbling experience for them all.

Publication Date: June 7, 2022

HarperVia

The Children on the Hill: A Novel by Jennifer McMahon

Some monsters are born that way. Some are made.

Grandchildren to Dr. Helen Hildreth, an extraordinary, brilliant psychiatrist and champion for the mentally ill, Violet and Eric bloom under their Gran’s care in the 1970’s. Living on the same land as her patients, privy to her work at the Hillside Inn, located in Vermont, it’s only fitting Violet longs to follow in her Gran’s footsteps and become a doctor. The hospital (a place for lost causes) is privately run ‘more estate than institution’. Dr. Hildreth believes in the most hopeless cases, and knows that mental health treatment involves more than just medications. She and her staff have taken on a more holistic approach, believing in the curative powers of nature, art, music, gardening, meditation and even pottery. Violet’s belief in monsters makes this environment, one full of people who behave abnormally, the perfect backdrop for study, eavesdropping on the doctor’s conversations, wildly curious and hungry for more about the dangerous patient S. Violet has been taught that people do terrible things, not because they are evil, but that they are suffering from illnesses of the mind but could it be possible Gran is harboring a murderer? Who is patient S? Where Violet’s mind bends to investigation and science, a fan of the movie Frankenstein, her little brother Eric is a sensitive savior of animals, particularly those their grandmother keeps in her basement (lab). Dr. Hildreth and her colleagues are pioneers, changing the face of mental health treatment, focusing on individual needs and their future potential. She expects nothing less from her own grandchildren too, giving them lessons in chemistry experiments, evolution, studying under the microscope in her laboratory but only upon invitation into her basement (off limits normally); their Gran provides them with a top education and encourages to hold themselves with pride and self-respect. They consider themselves lucky to be under her protection, full of love and support.

May 1978: Violet and Eric know the Inn doesn’t treat children and are rattled when their grandmother introduces them to a girl, around Violets age (13), named Iris. Like a frightened animal, with evidence of abuse, wound on her head and her lack of communication skills, she is a strange patient. Discovering they are to welcome her as a sister, making Iris the exception to the rule of who Gran treats, she becomes their new project. Helping Iris, her Gran prods her, can only aid Violet in her future dream of becoming a doctor herself. She is clever and kind enough to help the child, together with her little brother Eric, maybe they will learn what has happened to Iris, break her out of the state she is in and help her recall her journey. They know all about trauma and memory loss. Violet wants nothing more than to remember their own parents and past, having survived the car accident that took them. The accident is one Eric doesn’t want to spend a moments thought on, too horrible. Now, with Iris, she can have a sister and a new member for their little clubhouse. There, they will discuss mysteries, study their recordings, and hunt for monsters under the full moon. Evidence is required to be sure of anything, monster and human alike, theories are not enough. Better still their plan to search through private records to discover Iris’s origins, it’s a top secret mission. What they discover will challenge everything Violet knows about monsters and love.

2019: Lizzy Shelley, 53, ran a blog based on her childhood project that has led to her popular podcast: The Book of Monsters. Last season she was a member of the team Monsters Among Us, has been featured in a documentary, been in ads and invited to lectures at colleges on monsters in contemporary society. All of her work and notoriety has afforded her the means to spread her message, ‘monsters are real and living among us’. Soon she will be searching the dark shadows for more than legendary creatures. Young girls are going missing in Vermont, the troubled kind no one cares about, and it makes Lizzy wonder if the monster she has been chasing her entire life has returned to invite her in a game of Hide-and-seek. It all goes back to the Hillside Inn. Who is the monster she is chasing?

This is a creepy, dark story. There are Frankenstein themes running through it, but even more, a twist that is a nightmare, at least for those who are considered inferior. This is a subject that was all too real in history, and immoral. I have been reading Jennifer McMahon’s novels for some time now and enjoy all of her stories, always original and intelligent tales. The Drowning Kind was a wonderful ghost story (add it to your list if you haven’t read it) and now we have a monster tale with The Children On The Hill. There truly are monsters among us, the trick is in how they hide in plain sight. Now I have to wait for her next novel, sigh…

Publication Date: April 26, 2022

Gallery Books

Scout Press

Unlikely Animals: A Novel by Annie Hartnett

𝑬𝒗𝒆𝒏 𝒕𝒉𝒐𝒖𝒈𝒉 𝑬𝒎𝒎𝒂 𝒅𝒊𝒅𝒏’𝒕 𝒅𝒓𝒊𝒗𝒆 𝒃𝒚 𝒖𝒔 𝒊𝒏 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒄𝒆𝒎𝒆𝒕𝒆𝒓𝒚, 𝒘𝒆 𝒄𝒐𝒖𝒍𝒅 𝒉𝒆𝒂𝒓 𝒉𝒆𝒓 𝒎𝒖𝒕𝒕𝒆𝒓𝒊𝒏𝒈 𝒕𝒐 𝒉𝒆𝒓𝒔𝒆𝒍𝒇; 𝒘𝒆 𝒄𝒐𝒖𝒍𝒅 𝒔𝒆𝒆 𝒕𝒉𝒂𝒕 𝒔𝒉𝒆 𝒉𝒂𝒅 𝒂𝒏 𝒆𝒏𝒐𝒓𝒎𝒐𝒖𝒔 𝒘𝒉𝒊𝒕𝒆 𝒅𝒐𝒈 𝒊𝒏 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒃𝒂𝒄𝒌𝒔𝒆𝒂𝒕 𝒐𝒇 𝒉𝒆𝒓 𝒓𝒆𝒅 𝒓𝒆𝒏𝒕𝒂𝒍 𝒄𝒂𝒓; 𝒘𝒆 𝒘𝒆𝒓𝒆 𝒃𝒆𝒈𝒊𝒏𝒏𝒊𝒏𝒈 𝒕𝒐 𝒉𝒆𝒂𝒓 𝒔𝒐𝒎𝒆 𝒐𝒇 𝒉𝒆𝒓 𝒕𝒉𝒐𝒖𝒈𝒉𝒕𝒔. 𝑾𝒆 𝒔𝒆𝒆 𝒂𝒏𝒅 𝒉𝒆𝒂𝒓 𝒊𝒕 𝒂𝒍𝒍 𝒊𝒏 𝑬𝒗𝒆𝒓𝒕𝒐𝒏, 𝒐𝒏𝒆 𝒐𝒇 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒑𝒆𝒓𝒌𝒔 𝒐𝒇 𝒃𝒆𝒊𝒏𝒈 𝒅𝒆𝒂𝒅, 𝒐𝒎𝒏𝒊𝒔𝒄𝒊𝒆𝒏𝒄𝒆 𝒘𝒊𝒕𝒉𝒊𝒏 𝒕𝒐𝒘𝒏 𝒍𝒊𝒎𝒊𝒕𝒔.

I couldn’t wait to read Unlikely Animals, as Annie Hartnett’s novel, Rabbit Cake, had me hooked. If you haven’t read her debut novel, I highly recommend it. Her newest forthcoming novel is another original, at times a bit wacky, strange tale full of humans and animals, both living and dead. It seems no one is truly at rest here, troubled by their worries and the entanglements of others, especially Emma Starling herself. Emma was born with the gift of healing. Her father just knew she was special! When she became best friends with Crystal Nash (the tough new girl), together the two ran a healing business of sorts called “The Gentle Touch Society.” Crystal was great managing things, coming as she did from a life without money, even when she was just a teenager. Maybe a little envious of the mansion Emma lives in. She always encouraged her best friend to use her gift for profit, until things soured. Did the gift fizz out, was it ever even genuine to begin with? She has her doubts. When Emma graduated high school, she left the amateur business, Crystal and the town of Everton, New Hampshire behind for medical school in California. The friendship took a nosedive, the two fell out of contact, with Crystal feeling she would be stuck forever in their small town. Twenty-two now, Emma is coming home feeling like a failure, having dropped out, in fact, she never even made it to orientation. She has her secrets, but the dead can hear them. Bad enough she is returning with the weight of her choices, but her father, Clive, is dying of a mysterious, degenerative brain disease, and doing all sort of abnormal things, like seeing rabbits in the kitchen. There is a rift between them based on other incidents, can she forgive him, now that they are on borrowed time? Her brother Auggie is a mess, a former star athlete who has a little ‘pill problem’ following serious injury, his future upended. It seems her entire family has lost the very things that once seemed to mark them for sunny, happy life.

More unsettling, Emma’s mother tells her that Crystal is missing and has been for months. Back in her childhood bedroom, every worry swirls through her head. Every disaster she now has to face makes her homecoming far less charmed. Is it possible Crystal just escaped the town? Or could it be something more sinister? Why don’t the authorities care? Emma feels incredibly guilty about how everything turned out. Her father has another hallucination, Ernest Harold Baynes. Baynes was a naturalist, a writer and New England’s very own Dr. Doolittle. Baynes came to live in Corbin Park with all creatures of the earth. The man and his wife had wild animals in their own home, and his ghost is the inspiration when Clive makes a secret, pricey purchase that will throw his marriage in an uproar. Even Emma’s mother, Ingrid, has her limits and Clive has made a mess of things now!

Emma finds work as a substitute teacher, deals with her father’s madcap antics, flirts with a guy who was years ahead of her in high school, and investigates Crystal’s disappearance. The reader is privy to local ghosts in the cemetery and all their commentary, the many ‘hallucinations/visitations’ between Harold and Clive and the emotional turmoil of every character. There is also a rich history and asides about Harold, his many animals and his relationship with his wife Louise. Together they photographed wildlife and were very important to Corbin Park, conservation. I think most readers will be curious about Baynes, I met he and his wife for the first time inside this fictional tale. It’s a gorgeous story, in fact, Crystal’s brother, Auggie’s, struggles are a dose of reality in such a fun, supernatural (with the ghosts) sort of tale. Fun novel with it’s tender moments. It’s a tale anyone would enjoy, but especially aficionados of ghosts, animals, healing and nature. Again, I would be remiss not to remind readers of Annie Hartnett’s debut novel, Rabbit Cake. I didn’t officially review it, just stumbled upon it when it came out and devoured it. I should remedy that and write a review.

Publication Date: April 12, 2022

Random House

Ballantine

Stories I Might Regret Telling You: A Memoir by Martha Wainwright

If you’re an artist, your kids are bound to end up artists, too. To put it another way, once you’re in the circus, it’s hard to get out.

Born to folk singers/songwriters, Kate McGarrigle and Loudon Wainwright III, Canadian singer Martha and her brother Rufus certainly remained in the circus. In Stories I Might Regret Telling You, there is plenty of family drama, personal struggles and music. Both siblings are gifted artists, with Rufus being a bit more well known here in the USA. I actually enjoyed the honest insight into Martha’s life and the sibling rivalry, admiration of her famous older brother, the need to find her way out of his shadow but the real story was her upbringing, the relationship with each parent, and her own future love life. After a rocky marriage, her parents divorced, and Martha lived mostly with her mother in their native Montreal, visiting her father in New York, sometimes in London. There was a distance, emotionally, between she and her father, Loudon, but when it came to her mother, she says ‘there were scenes’. Certainly, Martha and Rufus grew up in an unconventional household. Oversharing, breaking parenting rules, a much more bohemian upbringing that while frustrating and hurtful could also be magical. No doubt the people who came and went influenced her future career.

Martha holds her own, and while she and Rufus work together in the industry, the biggest influence seems to be her mother Kate, on both of them but in completely different ways. Growing up, she often felt mediocre in her mother’s eyes but she didn’t seem to have the big, hungry ambition that came naturally to Rufus. Rufus seemed to be adored by their mother Kate, leaving Martha to feel like an outsider at times. Certainly, as business goes, she wasn’t one to mold herself into what commercial success requires and as a daughter of famous musicians, her journey seems to be a lot harder than sons of rock royalty. Her father, ‘often retreated when he was most needed’, and the pain of such neglect and often cold comments, certainly comes across in this memoir. Loudon, as a songwriter, certainly expressed himself in his art, painful words in his song lyrics, exposing how he feels about his children, how could a heart not harden against such mean, raw honesty, and be left reeling in agony? It isn’t a book of whining, more a purging of past hurts. She certainly admits her own faults and weaknesses while sharing the rise of her own star, choosing not to be eclipsed by her brother, whom she absolutely loves. There are stories of her performances, sacrifices, her friendship with Lorca Cohen (Leonard’s daughter) that soured, deaths, births, drugs, marriage, building a family, and a stream of heartbreak. All the life experiences that make for good songs.

Martha is a force herself, sharing her journey of self-discovery, and the devastation of losing her mother; a moment that taught her how much she loved and needed Kate, despite their differences. The timing was incredibly hard, as at the time she was coping with pregnancy and the birth of a child who had serious health struggles. This memoir is a reckoning with the past, and a dream for the future, one filled with her children and blooming love, while still untangling herself from her own broken marriage to her sons’ father. As the books comes to the end, we find Martha growing older, accepting herself more, and coming to terms with the distance between she and her father. There is so much she learned from her mother, things meant, likely, to toughen her up for the life she has chosen. Her father has left her with advice too, even if he and his children struggle to connect, heal. Always there will be music- it is in her blood, it is how she communicates to the world and her story certainly isn’t over. This memoir is an engaging read about the rise of talented Martha Wainwright, who has released critically acclaimed albums and is a star in her own right!

Publication Date: March 29, 2022

Hachette Books

Shadow Girls by Carol Birch

She was right, I was horrible, nasty, mean, a bully. Oh, the cruel cold depths of me.

One thing never seems to change in most teenage girls, whether it’s the 1960’s or current day, one girl is always the focus for intense dislike, which leads to mean, nasty, cruel bullying. Sally and Pamela are friends, but annoyed by the more posh, proper little miss Sylvia. With her beautiful singing voice, so full of promise, and her weird way of interacting, naturally they can’t stand the smug girl. Always looking down her nose at others. Pamela is the type to blow off school, confrontational, unapologetically bold. The sort of girl who is considered to be a poor influence, and most people do not like her one bit. A big, coarse girl who curses like it’s nothing but makes life so much more fun and interesting to Sally. People fear her and her ‘nasty streak’, of course she encourages Sally’s contempt for Sylvia. They have a ‘silly séance’ in the biology room with other girls, it gets interrupted by Mrs. Kitney who chews them out and scolds them over messing about with such things, game or not! Later, Sally wonders if it was the cause of troubles that followed.

After an incident, Sylvia is on the mend and attends, much to Sally’s dismay, a party and her boyfriend Robin pays the insufferable prig too much mind. Soon Sylvia is swooning in attention from her beautiful singing. Robin is just being nice to Sylvia, Sally has nothing to worry about. Back at school, something odd happens, something frightful. Things get really weird, when she goes into the forbidden greenhouse on the roof, she sees Sylvia, but how could she be downstairs and on the roof at the same time? She knows that she is a rat, the one who gets her and Pamela in trouble even if nothing is adding up. Sylvia, causing trouble for them, and their friendship. They get revenge in their own calculated ways, as girls are wont to do. It just makes them look bad. Sylvia always seems to be the ‘good one’. Her boyfriend doesn’t take her fears seriously, how can she stay with him feeling like this? Things escalate, girls on the roof are a dangerous thing. When someone is hurt, assumptions are made, but Sally knows deep down the tragedy isn’t so simple. She suffers a shocking loss. It stays with her, whatever happened on the roof, everything she saw, the thing that wasn’t Slyvia but looked like her, how could telling the truth cause another person to breakdown? After a crushing time, she and Rob lose touch and life goes on, mysteries are never solved.

Sally decides on anthropology at Kent in Canterbury, Rob goes to Liverpool to study architecture and they drift apart. Years later, they reunite and she discovers he is living in her old school, turned into flats. It’s a ghost of a place, living inside of her too, even seven years after the tragic events. It begins ‘eating her’ again, or is it the past and all her shame and regrets. She sounds mad, and Rob doesn’t know how to comfort her or make sense of what seems to be only happening in her mind. We follow her downward spiral.

It’s an interesting novel because it begins with those difficult adolescent years, when we’re at our worst and often transfer our own securities unto other people. We let so much get under our skin and take things far more seriously than those with the wisdom of years would, and yet during this time for Sally her mind is either tricking her or something unexplained, almost supernatural is happening. It never gets dealt with and rises again to confront her. But is it something happening within or is it external? A peculiar, interesting, creepy novel. Is it mental illness or is she truly haunted? It is a slow but well written fiction.

Publication Date: April 14, 2022

Head of Zeus

Apollo