Like Wind Against Rock: A Novel by Nancy Kim

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

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

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

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

Publication Date: June 1, 2021 Out Now

Lake Union Publishing

Three O’Clock in the Morning: A Novel by Gianrico Carofiglio

You know, when I look at you grown-ups, I think you’re trapped by things you don’t actually care about. How does that happen? When does it happen?

Three O’clock in the Morning begins with Italian born Antonio in 1983, struggling with epileptic episodes since he was a child. Comforted that his scary, strange fits were simply a thing that happens to some children, life went on with these odd moments occurring once a month or so until his teenage years when the epileptic bouts become more severe. Antonio feels his world shrink with a list of things he can and cannot do, places he should avoid, things he shouldn’t eat. Treatments are causing him to feel apathetic, as much as the changes forced on his young life, and it is why his divorced parents decide, together, that he must go to Marseille, France to see the best epilepsy specialist. With is parents beside him they take the trip together, and discover he will have to return in three years time to see what course his illness will take, as he ages. His life seems to level out so much that at eighteen he’d rather not even bother with the three year checkpoint. His parents are having none of it. More confounding is that it is his mostly absent father (a successful mathematician) who will be accompanying him this time, minus his mother who has an important conference to attend. This father, who he doesn’t really feel he knows, even resents for leaving his mother is the last person he wants to travel with back to that gritty, gray city. Antonio doesn’t even realize how hungry he is to bond with his father.

Upon Arrival, they are informed that Antonio appears to be doing good but only one test can really supply them with answers. The test requires he doesn’t sleep for two nights, inducing sleep deprivation to see if it will cause epilepsy. It is during this time that he and his father share intimacies getting to know each other for the first time, walking along the city streets, drinking in the scenery, the sea, the food, jazz music, the people, and his father’s favorite subject, mathematics. Normally that’s off putting to someone like me, whose math skills are abysmal at best, but Carofiglio’s musings are lovely. A harmony blooms between them and Antonio sees his father as so much more than he imagined him to be. Surprising details arise about his parent’s youthful relationship and marriage and his father’s reason for leaving. The story he imagined doesn’t line up at all with reality. As their connection grows his father imparts everything he has learned along way, including mistakes, and how his incredible mathematical gifts have changed with time. It’s just what Antonio, entering the rocky terrain of manhood, so desperately needs- this window into his father’s soul, that may help him understand himself. Sexuality, regrets, shame, what we do with our talents and love, it’s a beautiful father/son tale in a “modern bohemia” world. It is an easy pace, like a conversation with your best friend. A once in a lifetime meeting of the souls. Lovely.

Available Now

Publication Date: March 16, 2021

HarperVia

The Family Ship: A Novel by Sonja Yoerg

Babies are wonderful, Verity thought, because of everything they don’t know. They don’t know how to pretend, how to hide themselves. They don’t know how to walk across a floor of broken china acting like everything is fine.

On Chesapeake Bay, 1980 the Vergennes family run a tight ship being taught valuable lessons of responsibility and discipline aboard an oyster boat made into a destroyer called the USS Nepenthe. Their father Arthur, a former Navy man, believes it is the glue for family loyalty and that by earning ranks his brood will learn confidence. For their eldest daughter, eighteen-year-old Verity, the rank of Lieutenant Commander to her younger siblings no longer feels like fun. Not the type of person who enjoys giving orders, all she truly wants is a life of her own and more freedom to live it. Arthur’s plan to attend the local community college after high school isn’t what she wants. As much as she loves her siblings and parents what she wants is a chance to stand on her own, to discover who she is besides the eldest Vergennes girl. Despite secretly applying to college further away than her father would allow, she wonders if such a hope could ever come to fruition. Certainly, money is a concern, something she knows full well they can’t afford. Then, there is the guilt she feels for wanting to leave the nest, especially knowing her parents depend on her to help run their own little crew. With eldest brother Jude having jumped ship after a fight with his father, she shoulders the burden of being the ‘good’ child. With her mother’s latest pregnancy and exhaustion, how can she possibly be so selfish? Yet, what is so wrong about wanting a life of her own? Isn’t that what children do, grow up and leave home?

Arthur isn’t always the fair, calm master he wishes to be. His wife Maeve knows all too well that he “worried a great deal and blamed himself unnecessarily when life went sideways”. It is about to go sideways for them all when Maeve becomes pregnant again. Arthur is about to be tested, triggering off an incident from his past that has shadowed his entire life. Jude is the black sheep, persona non grata in Arthur’s estimation, but Verity needs him now more than ever to lean on, despite their rocky past. She isn’t the only one.

This is a story about family, guilt and redemption. It is about the ways we blame ourselves for things out of our control and the terrible effect it has on our relationship with others. It is a tale of being forced into roles that no longer fit, of not knowing how to move forward in forgiveness. The Family Ship proves that we can’t always control the ocean of life, that we can only steer the ship and hope the direction we are headed leads us to a safer shore. We cannot control fate, nor protect our children or ourselves from the waves of tragedy but we can decide what to do with what is left of us once we’re shipwrecked. A heartfelt read that tugs at the heart as the adults begin to unravel.

Publication Date: February 23, 2021

Lake Union Publishing

The Theory of Flight by Siphiwe Gloria Ndlovu

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

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

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

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

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

Publication Date: January 12, 2021

Catalyst Press

The Wonder Boy of Whistle Stop: A Novel by Fannie Flagg

For the life of me, I still cain’t figure out why Whistle Stop went to seed like it did.

Fannie Flagg’s return to the small town of Whistle Stop, Alabama and the people of the beloved Fried Green Tomatoes At The Whistle Stop Cafe had me jumping for joy. I always wondered who little Bud Threadgoode would grow up to be and what life would do to him. Some of the favorites are now themselves old timers and gossip still finds its way to their eyes and ears despite that Whistle Stop has “gone to seed” just like all the other ghost towns scattered about America… We join former Sherriff Grady Kilgore, now retired and in his seventies (but still a bear of a man), living in Tennessee as he brings his grandson where the cafe used to stand. He is heartbroken with what stands before his eyes, nothing but Kudzu vines. With a tear, he reminisces.

Then we jump back and forth between past and present, Idgie and Ruth’s friendship and antics, a little refresher for those who never read the first book and everything that followed after the birth of Buddy Jr. Twenty-five years since his birth like a flash, the little cafe bustles no more after the decline of passenger travel and Idgie is Florida bound. Dot keeps up her letter writing to “keep the community of Whistle Stop connected”. Times are a-changin, Bud is all grown up with a family of his own and as with us all, time rushes at him as fast as the train that once took his arm. Life has been full of blessings and losses, so much living and now in his declining years he wants nothing more than to return to the place and time that filled his heart with so much happiness and love, Whistle Stop. He will do anything to get there, now a wandering old man who puts his daughter Ruthie out of sorts with worry for her old dad. Ruthie, whose own love story has its complications, struggling to be good enough, with her own children to fret over, a never-ending circle… Who could forgot wild Idgie? Idgie will still touch all their lives, as characters return to finish the story started so long ago.

I enjoyed the sequel, sure you still have snobbery and mean spirited fools but the main theme is old friends and love, people coming together to lift one another up. Bones may creak with old age but there is still fire in their hearts and a youthful glimmer in their eyes. Good old southern fiction! We love people and lose them, the price we pay for this strange journey called life. I can still hear the distant whistle of the train… Perfect for fans though can still enjoy the novel without reading the first, I highly recommend you read Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe and see the movie, both are wonderful.

Publication Date: October 27, 2020

Random House

The Sweeney Sisters: A Novel by Lian Dolan

For all the sadness they had experienced here, the sweetness was stronger.

Is the sweetness enough? A literary legacy isn’t the only inheritance Sweeney sisters Maggie, Eliza, and Tricia are left to deal with when their father, acclaimed American author Bill Sweeney, dies. No strangers to death after having lost their beloved mother to cancer many years ago, the sisters were always held together by his commanding presence. Elizabeth “Eliza/Liza” married up but has done well in her own right, making a name for herself by opening a successful art gallery. On top of it all, she is a fantastic mother raising twins, even if her husband hasn’t ever warmed up to her father, it is a marriage she takes pride in. Maggie is the free spirit, or if you’re feeling meaner, the lost, mad sister. Made up of a starter marriage, failed college attempts, a short lived acting stint, bouts of depression, terrible choices and at the moment, as a mediocre artist, she gives her siblings plenty to talk about and judge. Then there is Tricia, the youngest, who was born accomplished. Prep School, Yale, marathon runner and currently making great strides in a law firm; if Maggie couldn’t communicate her life choices to Eliza, no way can Trish understand. Trish is grace, intelligence, and the spokesperson for them all.

Gathering together for his wake, which has to be an extravaganza befitting the Irishman and his greatness, they are blindsided when the mysterious blonde turns who captures their notice on the dance floor turns out to be their father’s fourth daughter, an illegitimate child from an affair. Then there is his missing manuscript due at the publishers, a memoir of sorts that ‘really lets it all hang out’. How much? What, exactly, were his sins? Then there were the money troubles he never mentioned. Now, with this ‘love child’ Serena Tucker, what will happen with his legacy? What does this devastating betrayal mean for the history of their parents marriage, had they misunderstood their whole lives? How could he! Returning to their childhood home in the seaside town of Southport, Connecticut should be filled with happy memories but now it’s spoiled by questions surrounding their neighbors, The Tuckers, and the sordidness of their father’s affair with Birdie. Then the fury for their beautiful mother Mauve, with both parents now deceased, how are they to confront this betrayal?

All of this set off because Maggie took a DNA test, proactive in breast cancer awareness after the loss of their mother. Now, Serena can stake her claim, provisions have been made but how are the Sweeney girls to wrap their mind around a sister they never knew, and aren’t sure they want to? There is their father’s shame before his death, he did know! Naturally Liza is ashamed, her Husband Whit’s family isn’t involved in scandals, certainly not soap-operatic ones like illegitimate children born out of adulterous affairs. She has always been in charge, guiding the others as the eldest, now Serena (older by two years) is about to upset their entire lives and steal her role in the process. Everything is falling apart and worse, her first love is back. The girls can only hope that their mother never knew, never felt the ache of betrayal the sisters are now confronting.

Serena has her own cross to bear, namely the ‘pedigree’ she had thought she was a part of. A success story herself, always doing what was expected of her, until she became a journalist, the origins of her genetics left her feeling paralyzed. What’s expected has always been the problem between she and her mother, one her own DNA kit has put into question. That she is William Sweeney’s daughter lends light into how she felt in her own life, ‘like a fake’. It’s not just about Eliza, Maggie and Trish’s feelings and her curiosity is enough to drive her forward, but not without feeling she really has no place in their glorious universe. She is still outside of things, just like she felt growing up under the impression that Michael Tucker was her father, a man emotionally distant.

They must show a strong front of sisterhood when meeting with Serena and Trisha certainly doesn’t trust this interloping half-sister who in her mind is first and foremost a journalist! She could write about this, their humiliation for all the world to see! It helps that the sisters decide to stay for the summer until everything is figured out but no one will remain detached. Each sister has resentments towards each other, their father, anger toward the assumptions about their parents marriage, and confusion about navigating the future of their sisterhood. They have their thing, they don’t need a fourth this late in the game! Each is thrown into a new role with Serena’s arrival, as Liza is feeling her accomplishments shrink by comparison, Maggie is sick of being the mess but unable to change, of feeling left out and thinks maybe Serena is the chance for her to have an advantage for once. Serena, though, isn’t betrayal that she gets caught up in. Trish just wants to control the flow of information, contain the spillage.

Each character has their motives, not necessarily ill intended, but a shake up is long overdue. The past takes on new meaning as truths are exhumed. Marriages are tested and it’s time for each of the Sweeney sisters to thoroughly examine their choices, and maybe to understand how they let their love and admiration for their father dominate the narrative. I particularly enjoyed the way the story turned for Serena and her mother Birdie. How quick we are to judge, even our own loved ones, without understanding the whole story. No one is more misunderstood as a person than our mothers, Birdie and Mauve both are a world unto themselves, unfinished stories, in a sense. But if mother’s are a puzzle, nothing is more mysterious than the relationship between husbands and wives, except maybe sisterhood. The novel swims in many directions, it is not just about the Sweeney girls, it may not be a thrill ride but it’s certainly an engaging tale about family and how we use our origins as a foundation for who we want to be. What happens when our roles are threatened? Our truths?

A messy, loving family headed up by a complicated and sometimes selfish man. A solid read.

Published April 2020

William Morrow

The Dazzling Truth: A Novel by Helen Cullen

You never have to lose anything, or anyone, ” she often said, “if you just change the way you look at them.”

The Moone’s first meet in 1978 when both are students at Trinity College in Dublin. The thing Murtagh notices initially is Maeve’s tomato-red suede platforms, her beauty, her low pitched whine and her American accent. He doesn’t realize it yet, but this woman from Brooklyn is fated to be his wife. An actress on scholarship for the summer is about to fall for Murtagh, future potter studying ceramics, and her future husband. Something about the man softens her rough edges, and he has no idea how much she has endured just to get to where she is now standing. In short time, Maeve decides not to return to America, to make a go of schooling at Trinity for her final year and to invest her heart in Murtagh. It is the first time she has been free of her former self, here she can become something other than the troubled girl.

Murtagh would have her even if she were a complex puzzle missing all the vital pieces. He is besotted, even if she seems to push him away, mysteriously. He is going to learn how to love her, he won’t be put off, and it will be trial. Her truth will bond them closer, they will both be better for it.

They were Moones now and a whole new life awaited them.

They make a decision to move to a cottage on the island of Inis Óg, a chance Murtagh would be crazy to pass up. Even if it means Maeve has to alter her plans, so he can have a thriving pottery business. Through it all she sees her dream of the stage fading away, but from the first this cottage feels like home. She refuses to indulge her sorrows, but they do return. The island itself lends a moody atmosphere. She finds an outlet for her creativity, her love of the acting, but will it be enough? Of course Murtagh feels it’s important for her to have something of her own. Years pass…

2005 It’s Christmas Eve and Queen Maeve, as as Murtagh affectionately calls his wife, overseas their family’s many activities and traditions. Their children Nollaig and Siv (girls) and their twin boys Mossy and Dillon, are well tended by their mother who reigns supreme. Maybe it isn’t perfect, but it is a home of love, warmth. This morning as everyone awakens, Murtagh’s wife isn’t on her side of the bed. Surely if she slipped out for a walk, she’d be back by now. His nerves begin to rise as they look for her.

We start at the beginning of their love, and the many trials in between. The family crashes into a wall of grief, but Murtagh’s journey must continue on and his heart alters them all in unpredictable ways. Shaking the foundations of the island and his grown children’s world, his affections give rise to many torments. Maeve may well have had many periods when ‘the crow came to sit on her shoulder’ (I can’t think of a more fitting symbolism for depression) times that stole her focus away from everything in her life, but she knew her family better than they knew themselves, her beloved Murtagh in particular. The children suffer, through no fault of Maeve nor Murtagh’s, how can you lay blame on a disease that most of us don’t understand. It’s the illness, there are times it overtakes despite her best efforts to remain on an even keel. There are good times, there are bad times. ‘These thoughts run relay races in my mind’, and Maeve can’t always master them. Pills aren’t always the answer, so she attempts to expunge these thoughts through her own methods. Sadly, some ‘spells’ last longer than others, and it’s exhausting for her. It’s so exhausting pretending she is fine, hurting those she loves. It’s nothing new, it’s always been a part of her life, the very darkness that worried her parents when she first traveled to Dublin as a young woman.

Other strained relationships make more sense as the novel goes along. The beauty of the story is the hope of love, the refusal to abandon it. Loving people even when darkness descends, selfless love. We can’t cure all that ails us, anymore than we can save those we love from themselves, from their afflictions. But we truly never have to lose people if we can accept them, broken, lost, confused as they may be. Murtagh’s love for Maeve is never in doubt, not even at the end when it changes direction with the wind. It’s heartbreaking, Maeve’s dark crow times, how it affects the entire family and the struggles Murtagh confronts in trying to hold them all together. How he doesn’t always see what is in front of his eyes. It’s not about pity, it’s about one family’s journey. A story of loving differently, and how that challenges us all.

Publication Date: August 18, 2020

Harlequin

Graydon House

An Elegant Woman: A Novel by Martha McPhee

For as long as I could remember, my grandmother was dying and telling stories.

How does this story travel downstream? Distilled to its essence, who then takes it and transforms it to legend?” Stories travel through myths and legends in the mouths of their descendants, but the real mystery is the point of origin. An Elegant Woman is a tale of two sisters, one is beautiful the other not. Isadora is a writer who is sorting through her deceased grandmother “Grammy’s” possessions hoping to get to the truth of the “elegant” woman’s family history. In every remnant of her rich, long life, there is a story often connected to the objects of their inheritance, but how reliable are these reminders of a past long gone? Isadora’s mother, Winter, doesn’t put much stock in her own mother’s old, repetitive tales. She knows better than anyone how skillful her mother was in weaving a narrative. How does Isadora separate fact from fiction in lieu of Grammy’s death when the lively, sophisticated, elder woman’s confabulations made her dizzy with adventure all her life? Grammy was a hardworking nurse who hitched her wagon to a star by marrying Charles Brown, an educated, wealthy, lauded man who ran a shoe company. Buster Brown Shoes of fashion footwear fame, so the family story goes. Many of Grammy’s personal effects tell a different story than the fictions Isadora was fed, tales that exasperated her own mother Winter. Is identity malleable? Can you discard the identity forced upon you by the birth of your circumstances?

Thelma “Tommy”, Katherine and their mother, Glenna Idelia Slagle Stewart, are abandoning their father and the only home they know. Glenna, a beautiful, primary school teacher and staunch feminist, “in full possession of her own will“, believes real life waits for her in Montana. This is where Tommy, at the tender age of five, first begins pretending, aboard a train that takes them on an adventure and asks far too much of her, the eldest child. Glenna’s carelessness, her reliance on the kindness of strangers, teach the girls that they must rely on their sisterhood, because their mother has a purpose, campaigning for women’s suffrage, and it doesn’t include two little girls clinging to her skirts. When the girls aren’t hiding they are left fending for themselves, pawned off on strangers, moving, endlessly displaced or discarded- the sole constant is Tommy mothering her little sister, whose beauty and intelligence will beget her a richer life. Mother declares, “We’re going to have independent lives” and it costs Tommy and Katherine the greatest sacrifice. There is no room for fear, if it requires stealing to feed Katherine and herself, learning to trap animals (boys work), sacrificing an education of her own to make her sister’s life bearable, Tommy will do it. After-all, beauty is destined for greater things, it makes others proud to be near it.

Unappreciated, what happens when she wants more, begrudges the chances that Katherine, as she grows up, is too quick to throw away on impossible dreams? Can you walk a lifetime in another’s shoes?

Reinvention in the 20th century is the theme when tough-skinned Tommy decides to become an elegant woman. Why should others decide what the future holds for any of us? How do the stories we tell change the future of our descendants? Glenna was the first myth-maker and liar, the person who taught her daughters to be hungry for more than what’s on offer. Four generations of women in one family indulge in the privilege Tommy’s lies afford them as much as they suffer the consequences. Tommy’s hunger for refinement, particularly where her own children are concerned, puts a strain on their bonds. Our desires, fears, pasts, can create a void that no amount of family legend can fill. An Elegant Woman is an incredible chronicle of the west, women’s lives, how the times and our families, class, sex define us. It is about willpower, what we chose to include or omit in our own stories. Often, the very things we can achieve help as much as hurt those dear to us.

Tommy and Katherine’s lives, once seamlessly connected, fray and then split. On the social map, they may as well live in different worlds, and the same goes for those who come after them. Do we dare soar to heights above our status? Do we become a part of the machine that perpetuates class, race division?

The novel is engaging to the end. It’s about family first and foremost, but it entails so much more. The inequalities of class and race infect Tommy’s very own family, and she isn’t a stranger to hypocrisy, particularly where Winter’s children are concerned. The novel confronts the ugliness in Tommy’s own contrary nature and it makes her a solid character. She is opportunistic but in her shoes, who could blame her? What is a family but the stories we tell ourselves and each other? Read it, this is literary fiction at its best!

Published June 2, 2020

Simon & Schuster

The Family Clause: A Novel by Jonas Hassen Khermiri

It wasn’t a free choice. Love is the opposite of free choice.

It took me a moment to get into the flow as there are no names, just identifiers such as this, “a grandfather who is a father”, “a son who is a father” and “a sister who is a daughter but no longer a mother” and that one gutted me. This novel destroyed me with the every character’s grief and disappointments. Within this family, there are so many crossed wires of miscommunication that you expect them to implode. I seem to be on a kick of reading books about family and how they wreak havoc on self-worth from childhood on. How it all spills into every crevice of one’s life and future relationships. For the son, the father clause is an arrangement between he and the old man, one he is done with. He wants to renege on it- the time has come to put his foot down. Right now he is on paternity leave, and having a hell of a time trying to succeed at having an ordinary day with the same ease other parents seem to manage. To his own father, he is a failure. His father’s visit is making him a mess.

The old man knows what it takes to make it in the world. The father who is a grandfather is a wise man, he knows everything, and he can’t wrap his mind around the rest of the world and all the sensitivity. He is blunt, unafraid of words that come off as inflammatory or racist, people are too serious! He makes his son nervous in modeling how to be a real man, wishes his son would ease up for his children’s sake, at least. He’s one to talk, constantly irritated, a no show through much of the times the son and daughter needed him. Is he to be blamed for expecting his children to care for him, honor him? Aren’t grown children meant to do just this? Son and father are at an impasse, they cannot communicate, they do not understand each other. The old world versus the new world, one with no place for the masculinity the father who is a grandfather was nourished on. Suddenly he is the problem for everything!

A sister who is a mother is making dinner for the father and brother, naturally it’s minus the other part of the family (their mother) as her parents are no longer married and her own son is rejecting her and then there is her boyfriend (is he her boyfriend?) and no one is going to say what they really need to say to the father who has failed them both! Not hard to recognize a family that exists between the spaces of things unsaid. Ignore the festering wounds, pretend all is jolly good! Look at us here, being normal. How do a brother and a sister grow up with the same parents and turn out so excruciatingly different?

Another daughter who is no longer… what happened to her?

A boyfriend who is together with the daughter meets her father and it’s painful.

The children are adorable, genuine beings unlike children in other novels who are mentioned but not really present. These children are alive and require care, attention, and laughter.

The girlfriend who is mother to the son’s children is worried. He is slipping, failing (maybe the father who is a grandfather is right about him after-all). He is a deer caught in the headlights of family life. But the grandfather is a solid presence, so much will happen in this story. The father who is a grandfather just might be presented with the chance to be there!

As an aside, the father who is a grandfather personifies so may old men who suddenly feel like their role is one of enemy, their worlds really have turned on them. Is it strange I really warmed up to him, recognize him perfectly?

I felt for every character. The stitches that hold them together are bursting. What is held back- the emotions, words, history like a loaded gun, is a low hum that gets louder and louder. They hurt each other deeply, as those who know us best often do. I know my review is strange but this book was an experience. The novel managed to burrow inside of me, to make me feel close to the characters without naming them and that requires incredible skill. I need to read more of Swedish author Jonas Hassen Khermiri’s work, because he understands human nature at our very core. It’s possible to love people despite their errant ways, even cantankerous father’s, exhausted mothers, failing sons, and terrified daughters. The next generation will do the same dance…

Publication Date: August 25, 2020

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

The Resolutions: A Novel by Brady Hammes

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The architecture of her life began to crumble.

In The Resolutions by Brady Hammes, the architecture of all three siblings lives (Sam, Jonah and Gavin) have begun to crumble. Sam was so full of promise, a talented, skilled ballerina before an injury destroyed her dreams. Salvation came with a Russian dance company northeast of Moscow. Living at “Chàteau Oksana” feels more like a campus, which is exactly what everyone calls it. Meant to dazzle, charm the guests at monthly parties, her life is wearing her down, but nothing more than her old injury and the death of her days dancing with the New York City Ballet when she was only 18. Heroin is an escape from everything that pains her in this place that is a blanket of snow, the perfect place to bury one’s dreams. Isolated though this place may be, such demons can only be tolerated for so long.

Jonah is the intellectual in the family, distanced from his artistic siblings. He feels lonely, ready to attempt to strengthen the bonds. Jonah came to Gabon, Africa to assist his thesis advisor at Vanderbilt, studying the vocalization of forest elephants, planting ARUS (Autonomous Recording Units) to better understand how the animals communicate. It’s important work, but a mountain of pressure when his advisor takes ill, leaving Jonah in the forests of solitude and danger.Just as he is readying himself for a trip home, hoping to connect with his little sister and older brother he falls into an abyss of trouble all because his camera gets stolen. Soon he has the threat of poachers looming over his head, but that is just the beginning. Trouble rises, someone has a plan and he has no choice but to obey. Sometimes it’s the stable, quiet one whose mistakes could cost lives.

Gavin is the actor, but a decent face isn’t always enough to bounce back. Maybe his career was thriving years ago, but now it feels like “making it big”in the industry just isn’t going to happen. What was it all for? His relationship has ended and now, his show. On the horizon there is Marina and a cabin in  Taos, but all that glistens isn’t gold. He is too old to feel like he has to start over again, too old to believe his dreams will come true and definitely old enough to know better about… well… everything.  Now he is sorely needed at home. Just who needs saving? Maybe they all do.

This novel explores the shifting dynamics within sibling relationships, and how our dreams sometimes have to die to be reborn into something new. The slightest change in our fate can send us hurtling, but what is life but weather? The damage we try to keep close is sometimes best shared with our loved ones, because sometimes they really do have to step in and help steer the wreckage we’ve made of ourselves. Even the perfect, most promising child can trip up. Sometimes saving others saves us too.

Publication Date: May 5, 2020

Random House

Ballantine Books