The Little Devil and Other Stories by Alexei Remizov, Translated by Antonina W. Bouis

Many things vanished, even very necessary ones.

Alexei Remizov was an author of literary modernism and an expert calligrapher. He was a great Russian writer of the Russian symbolist movement, which I know little about, and read that it was an intelligent and artistic movement at the end of the 19th century. It was its own branch from European symbolism. Writing about feelings rather than reality. It states within this collection that the author gave up his Marxist beliefs and “became completely immersed in philosophy, cosmogony, and Slavic mythology.” He also put a lot of stock in dream divination and having read Martin Zadeka, the dream musings were wonderful. Alexei was imprisoned and exiled himself in the North Russia, with the information provided before reading it helps to imagine where the seeds for his writing were planted. These stories are bizarre, old customs I know nothing about, folk tales, the Orthodox Church, mysterious happenings. The truth is, much of the meaning is likely lost on me but it didn’t detract from my enjoyment. His pen was masterful in creating eccentric stories, if this collection is any evidence, borrowing from medieval Russian literature. He wrote his own versions of old Russian texts, as warnings, as lessons, sometimes humorous and horrifying tales, some that were in pre-Christian tradition. Food for ever curious minds, ‘suspicious curiosity’ that is.

In the stories there are connivers, inseparable lovers, destiny, the will of human beings, the confusion of fate, death, long cold winters, shoemakers, the revolution, peasants, and a long suffering grandmother. It is this grandmother’s beloved Petka (the little scamp) that broke my heart. Trouble comes for he and his grandmother, with the turn of each page and not even crossing herself when she hears the sound of shooting like thunder, can protect them from a world of hurt. There are so many kinds of poverty, none like the poverty of the heart.

Sacrifice is the theme in the old Borodin house where Pyotr Nikolaevich, joker and eccentric with the odd, pale face lives as if undead. Though a man with strange passions for looking at dead bodies, he is adored by his wife Alexandra, who saves the home from ruin. Then comes the sorrow, the coffins, the funerals. Corpses, rumors, death, the blessed house becomes filled with “anxiety and eeriness”. In The Little Devil, there is a holy fool known as the Drowned Man, and pagan practices. An old woman, who isn’t truly old, falls in love which leads to the casting of a spell. Wanting can be a thing to fear. Children are troublesome or sick but Deniska keeps his sister entertained with his long and cruel stories. The two share a great dislike for the exterminator, the feeling is mutual. The man sees evil and filth everywhere, and he has his own deep secrets. People learn that a witch is better than all the riches in the word in a later story.

A collection populated by people expecting something horrible and unusual, which life readily delivers. The devil is always waiting, all it takes is a thought, and he will “come in a black whirlwind.” Not all hearts are evil, there are devout believers who remain steadfast in their faith. Intoxicating desire heats up in Princess Mymra when Atya is drawn like a magnet to the lodger in his family’s apartment. The boy cannot stop wandering into Klavdia’s room, this irresistible mistress who brings new life to everyone. There is humor in the boy’s innocence, one can’t help but feel for him. The stories are rich, the writing is beautiful and certainly there is an audience for it.

Publication Date: April 13, 2021

Columbia University Press

The Charmed Wife by Olga Grushin

Ah, but love for a man is nothing like love for a child, it would say in a sly, silky whisper. It is more like the sun that burns bright in your eyes, is it not- and when the sun is gone and you close your eyes, defeated, its afterimage is blackness.

The afterimage of this kind of love is hate.

The Charmed Wife is a fairy tale for adults that is exactly as they were originally meant to be, tales of warning, betrayal, and brutal lessons. What is more brutal then love between a man and woman gone sour? Love when all the charm is gone and the shining sun of the ever after is eclipsed by dark, mean reality? At the start of the novel a mother is telling, yet again, her little girl’s favorite bedtime story, Cinderella. But the beauty of it, the happily ever after, perfect mindless pleasures feel like sour lies on her tongue and hence, the re-telling is born. In this story, hate “tight as a fist” has Cinderella quietly slipping out of bed in search of a witch and a spell. Her husband isn’t the darling Prince she married years ago, No longer can she bear the lies of storytellers, of fools. She is awake, she is painfully awake! She will brave the shadows and all things dark at the crossroads, a place of disorder.

Cinderella has earned her way, she has suffered, but it never is its own reward, suffering. Not for a woman, not even royalty. Where has her patience, her woe gotten her but at a cauldron seeking a spell to rid herself of her husbands anger, control, betrayal? There are no happy endings, there never were. Her marriage was a happy beginning but it has descended into misery, on a nightmarish journey she never would have taken had she known. This evil act though comes at a price, one she truly doesn’t want to agree to, but as all good little girls and women do, she can’t resist obedience. As the reality of her story becomes clear, of all the women who have shared her same dreary fate, she decides to up the ante. She want her beloved hubby dead. No longer is she the beauty that captured his heart, after the children she feels the pinch of exhaustion, the demands of motherhood and sleepless night, the absence Prince Roland, forever off on his travels. Roland, whose attention has been diverted by other women and no longer seems to be the devoted husband.

Here comes her fairy godmother, the meddler. But is she too late to stop the spell? I love the witch and the fairy godmother trying to sway Cinderella’s decisions. One demands she accept her lot and feeds her “placid wisdom” and the other snarls biting retorts about the idiocy of submitting, of closing one’s eyes just to keep peace.

Each character has a story, of wanting knowledge, not just love, to never be the subject of poisonous gossip, for love to be loyal and not betray them even if they one day look like a hag or lose their spark, for children they raise to remember and honor them, and more than anything for the courage to be bold, especially in their defiance. And our modern day storyteller, well maybe she too will realize a few ugly truths about herself in combing through her own ending.

It’s a clever, rich, re-imagined tale that doesn’t put all the blame on Prince Charming, the dope but truly explores generations of unhappy women.


Publication Date: January 12 2021


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 Mermaid from Jeju: A Novel by Sumi Hahn

After she coughed the ocean out of her body, her mind cleared, leaving behind a clear picture of everything that was going to happen.

Jeju is south Korea’s ‘Island of the Gods’, but the sun has set on paradise. We begin in 1944, Goh Junja longs to be a haenyeo just like her mother and grandmother before her, women who make their living plunging into the dangerous depths of the sea, collecting it’s bountiful blessings; abalone, shells, food and pearls if they’re lucky. Their sleep is filled with sea dreams, for they are mermaids that walk the land, visiting the sea king and his maidens. On Junja’s dive, she goes too deep but the sea king spits her out alive, she is a woman now, carrying on the tradition of the haenyeo. Having survived her near-drowning she is one of them, joining the women at the shore, no longer left behind to care for her siblings at home. When her mother is worried about leaving her work of leading the women divers safely to a fellow diver who has been spooked recently, she relents and allows Junja go in her stead on her annual trip to Hallason. Tasked with delivering abalone to the pig farmer’s wife and securing their own pork (piglet) for the winter, Junja is thrilled to climb the mountain on her own. She couldn’t imagine that she would meet Yang Suwol and fall in love. While surrounded by the lush beauty of the mountain, visiting the shrine of the gods she and Suwol encounter a soldier, searching for communists. It’s a prelude of what’s about to come. Something terrible has happened at home, in a rush she arrives to be at the side of her dying mother. The sea will take her, but the mystery is far deeper.

In a day, the world they’ve lived in has changed. Her dream speaks of a future far from the island, of marriage and daughters. Soldiers are taking over, American and Korean, the mountain is no longer safe and worse, her little brother and sister will no longer live with Junja and her grandmother. The old woman is acting strangely, she has befriended a constable, but she has secrets of her own and the death of her daughter has her hungry for answers. Junja is still in the dark about her family’s true history, and grandmother can’t keep her safe forever. As the threat of political unrest burns closer, it is up to grandmother’s sharp intellect to keep Junja alive but horrors and misfortune are on the horizon. It isn’t the first time, for Japanese occupation had invaded their lives before, so long ago- demanding sacrifices that grandmother carries within her. Through cunning, she will see that Junja doesn’t drown on land. But what will become of her, what will happen between she and Suwol when he is arrested and accused of working with communists?

Part Two it is 2001, we come to know Dr. Moon and learn what has become of Junja. Dr. Moon has carried ghosts and torments of his own, never imagining in his youth that he would one day raise daughters in a foreign land “American girls”, no longer holding to traditions or “superstitions”. He is mourning a great loss, and haunted by the voices of spirits demanding he ‘go back’- the dead will be honored. “There’s a space inside you waiting for the spirit, and if you do not fill it, that space will gather darkness instead.” He will return to visit Korea, much to his children’s shock. “Everything that has been forgotten about the mountain must now be remembered, what had been taken from the sea must now be returned.” Time is vast as an ocean.

Junja is naïve at the start of the novel, through no fault of her own, it’s for her protection that some truths are hidden but the ravages of war steals innocence and shallows lives whole, by part two we get to know her a little better but the strongest characters end up being her grandmother and Dr. Moon. The myths, legends and traditions of the haenyeo make for a beautiful, “magical saga”, that they are real is a nod to the power and strength of women. The bonds of family, their power and status as divers does feel magical but the story is dark as a fairy tale when those leaning toward communism go against the American troops establishing their presence on Jeju. Escape is the only option, if you can make it out alive. I went on to read about Jeju and it’s ‘independent spirit’ throughout history, it made for a richer understanding of what happened in this novel. This is quite a debut that feels magical, but the magic is smothered by the harsh brutalities of war and politics, turning it into heavier read.

Publication Date: November 10, 2020

Alcove Press

Bestiary by K-Ming Chang

You think burial is about finalizing what’s died. But burial is beginning: To grow anything, you must first dig a grave for its seed. Be ready to name what’s born.

Generational history, fabrications, mythology and wildly imaginative tales entertain the readers of Bestiary until its ‘tail’ end. It’s nothing out of the ordinary for the characters here to pour salt on festering wounds of their elders, like Ba (Agong) – whose memory is nothing but snakes. Fleeing their homeland, learning the strange new customs of the Western world, remembering rivers that swallowed young men during war and leaving behind firstborn children to birth new ones… this is the cage, the past that the Taiwanese women carry in this family.

With Ma (Ama) searching for the gold (their future, security) Ba ‘misplaced’ along with his mind, their daughters are digging holes in the earth searching. This is the freedom they first learn on new shores. It’s a strange inheritance, a pit of loss, a collision of cultures. They cannot outrun their buried shadows, as we follow three generations of women. They know too well how to scratch the earth, much like chickens, trying to make a living.

Now a mother with her own family, Ma lives in a city far enough away from Ama and Agong that she is close enough for their needs and yet comforted by the distance. With a main lander husband, more disappointment than good fortune, she waits for his checks to pay their rent while their son and daughter dig into the earth, waiting to see what it will give birth to. Feeding their heads with fantastical tales like that of Hu Gu Po (a tiger spirit that longs to be human, attained only by feasting on the toes of children) is it any shock that Daughter wakes up with a Tiger’s tail herself? Her own mother’s price were her toes, stubs now. When father lets them down, is away with the kites, Duck Uncle steps in, but nothing good can last. In Daughter, hungers rise that must be named and fed. It is beside her friend Ben “the one who’d come halfway through the year and could spit a watermelon seed so fair it skipped the sea and planted in another country” exploring each other’s blossoming bodies, that her tiger heart soars. Ben whom she shows the holes in their backyard to. Ben is a willing captive, befriending the wild beast she is becoming.

The stories are meant to save the daughters by serving as warnings but in the end Ama, Mother and Daughter are the same story, looking only for a cure, ‘which is to survive’. Survive the snakes in the river, the soldiers, lies, ghosts, the dead and anything that lives off a woman’s body. Then there are Alma’s mysterious letters, a bit like riddles, written to her eldest child first, as if she’s a corpse. A daughter whose father was imprisoned, accused of being a ‘red father’, the reason that the entire family must avoid shoelaces, like a curse.

Ama’s daughters have been made unclean by holy hands, they are born laughing, tying knots or meant for America- a strange type of afterlife. Husbands and men seem to be ‘synonymous with the missing’, either through imprisonment, abandonment or buried by their own scrambled minds. Ama’s husbands, soldiers always, aren’t the true fighters, it is Ama- the only country Agong ever needed. Ama’s warnings to her grandchild about keeping ginger root between her knees to ‘ward off boys’ isn’t so much corruption as security. Ama knows the truth of why Daughter digs holes in her yard, these instincts are in the marrow of her family’s bones.

Ma’s stories may not be as full of soldiers as Ama’s but there are always wars and struggles, living with her sister Jie, Ba and Ama in Arkansas until debts could be paid. Then to California, it’s cleaning houses, factories, fires and her beloved sister Jie fleeing the main story. With her tail twitching mean, Daughter longs to understand what her mother is trying to tell her, what Ama’s letters explain, better to return them to the holes in the ground. Did Ama feed her daughters to the river? Is she trying to kill off Agong? Can Ama ever be forgiven? Is fluency really about forgetting? Is the price of having a body really hunger? Is it wrong, the hunger Daughter feels for Ben? What are they digging for? Truth, treasure, memories? Can you dig too deep?

A beguiling, bizarre novel about family history as folktale- an engaging, unique debut!

Publication Date: September 8, 2020

One World

Random House

Follow Me to Ground: A Novel by Sue Rainsford


There is something Cures don’t know about their curing. The sickness isn’t gone. It just goes elsewhere.

Ada and her father are some sort of creature that is both human and not. Of course, her father is wilder than her, hunting in the night on all fours, but not Ada. She has her own desires. Their purpose is to heal the “Cures”, the local humans who come to them for help for all their maladies. Sometimes its requires rooting around through the body, a singing and for others it’s to the ground they go, never remembering quite any of it but always feeling refreshed, cured! This mysterious ground where both Ada and her father come from, a hungry ground, opening and closing as it will, where it will is all they know of their origins, they are not meant to be a part of the people so it serves them well that the locals remain weary of them. Beyond the healing, no one gets close to them, which is a lonely existence but doesn’t much bother Ada, until Samson.

Ada is tired of the healing, of her father’s control and adherence to the ‘tradition’ they have been born for. Ada has yearnings of her own, like any ‘human’ child does and through Samson she feels she can be different, life can go another way, she can be more human than creature. She has heard a lifetime of warnings about the ground from her father, it is an entity of it’s own, it has a dangerous power, but must she always heed his warnings? Does father really know what’s best? They’ve been chasing away the sickness inside of people’s bodies, but some sickness can’t be seen, understood, healed. The healing can feel so good, too good maybe for some Cures. Love can be trouble, but Samson becomes so much a part of her days, a pattern, the poetry of her heart. What troubles him most is his sister, the widow Olivia. Samson’s sister Olivia is a schemer, but his loyalty is always with her, as orphans they have only had each other. Samson and Ada have many secrets between them, but as Ada abandons the ways of her father everything begins to sour. Just what will she do, to protect her love? She can’t hide what’s between she and Samson, and she cannot, will not give him up. Desperation darkens the mind. Regret has no place here, what’s done is done, then comes the crush of years, the waiting.

What happens has far reaching consequences, that lead to more creepy secrets. This tale feels like a love story but how it bends and exposes horror, both human and creature. It is about sickness, disturbances in humans and ‘monsters’ alike. It is a fascinating blend of magical realism, family dysfunction, love and horror.  Need is greedy, and a starving heart can attend to all sorts of horror, in the name of desire. Yes, read this! A nod to the beautiful cover too.

Publication Date: January 21, 2020




Taína: A Novel by Ernesto Quiñonez


By this time the air had gone flat in Taína’s life and it was her mother who answered all the questions.

Spanish Harlem, fifteen year old Taína and songbird of young Julio’s heart, is a virgin… a pregnant virgin! She tells everyone, “maybe some angel entered the project”, impregnating her. She has never been with a man, no way! Her mother Inelda (Sister Flores)  would never allow such a thing, and she tells the elders at her Kingdom Hall of Jehova’s witnesses as much, it’s not even possible because she is always present, she is the all seeing eye in her daughters life, besides God, of course. No way would they go to the hospital, subjecting Taína to such an intrusion (examination) to prove her virginity!  Instead, they resign themselves to a sort of imposed silence in public, “The two women were living in a universe of two, and it seemed that not even the crowds could disturb them.”  Julio wants the feeling Taína inspires with her singing, angelic in and of itself, able to make people weep, “so I could hear love.” How different Taína is in person, with her foul mouth and fury. What is the shame that happened? The shame people speak of that marks Inelda as a bad mother? Why is Taína’s beauty suspect, why do social workers come to their door, ignored like everyone else?

One thing is certain, Julio is going to sneak his way into Taína’s life, one way or another! He will keep visiting her door until he is let in to her home and heart. Let the residents of “Spanish Harlem” believe the worst, believe in some tragedy, he will chose instead to believe in Taína, even if he makes a fool of himself, it’s a tale worth believing. Who hasn’t been a fool for love, eh?

This passion will have Julio visiting a prison to question a dangerous criminal, teased mercilessly at school for being ‘crazy’ (and not just for believing in Taína’s angelic conception), wasting money on offerings for the forthcoming miracle baby, and getting caught up in crazy schemes for money, maybe even dealing in posh dogs. Sneaking out at night, after his parents fall asleep,  he meets El Vejigante who tells him “Many people don’t know me because old people are invisible”. This strange man wearing an old, fading satin cape may just be his ticket into Taína’s good graces. He is the once famous Capeman, keeper of the night, his name is Salvador but just who is he to Taína and how  he can help won’t be known until their next secret meeting.

Julio is a good boy, but good boys can do questionable things when they think it will help another. What if his mother takes him back to the psych ward, because of his visions which are tied into Taína, solidifying his belief in the miracle of her pregnancy? He tells the reader, he believes he is free to make choices and “but I would be held accountable for my choices”, still he would not turn away from her as the church has, even if his mother demands it. Even if he promises to stay away from her, his inner universe of belief won’t let him.

There is a challenge of loyalty, Inelda and Taína need the help of Peta Ponce, “she is known all over”, an espiritista (spiritualist) but it takes money to get her to come to them, money they do not have surviving off WIC checks and this… this is where Julio comes into play. Inelda isn’t the only woman of the project they live in to use Peta Ponce’s services, but that’s a whole other fork in the story. What sort of magic can this woman practice that leads Pureto Rican women to have more faith in her than in actual doctors? Sal knows, but he isn’t forthcoming with answers to all of Julio’s questions. One thing the reader knows is, Julio doesn’t know much about anything. Through the story, many secrets of his own mother’s past comes to light, as does Taína’s mysterious tale and if it makes him feel ‘paralyzed with happiness’ just to be in her presence rubbing her swollen pregnant feet, who are we to question it? It’s time for Julio to figure out his hustle, to be the man and savior she needs.

The novel veers off her and there, meandering through other characters origins and their pasts, like Peta Ponce, Salvador, Inelda, Julio’s mother and father. There is magical realism, poverty, multicultural flavors, coming of age as a misfit, the difficulties Puerto Ricans face, Julio’s visions, “Whom I saw was my mother. I saw her dreams, I saw my fathers dreams too. They were trampled and unfinished.” It’s a strange novel, Julio is both oblivious and hyper-aware and it leads to all sorts of confusions for the poor boy and his family, some run ins with the police. Even so, maybe be can be their salvation. Maybe we will get to the bottom of Taína’s miraculous pregnancy. Sometimes I lost the plot, but it’s a decent book, it just needed some containment, it runs off a bit with the telling and characters. A unique story, the cover is fantastic.

Out Today! September 3, 2019

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group


Dark Mother Earth: A Novel by Kristian Novak (Translated by Ellen Elias-Bursać)


When one person took their life, the disease was theirs alone. When four people took their lives, the whole village was afflicted.

Successful Croatian author Matija’s creativity, born out of a disconnect from the torment of his past, seems to have abandoned him. His third book is a failure, nothing is going right since Dina walked out of his life. A pit is opening inside of him, abandoning himself to the abyss he must confront the past he has buried in the dark mother earth of  the Croatian village of his childhood. Fear has been at the heart of his creations, his make believe life the safety net that has maintained his sanity, kept the demons of the past from pulling him back to the trauma he has repressed. He doesn’t even truly know what he has buried. Dina wants his memories, whether they expose his fragility or not, this is the meat of any solid relationship. How can love be real if you don’t share your childhood, the glory days and the goofy awkward stages? What if all you have is horror? How do you share memories you don’t even have? Some things are better left repressed. Some memories are wild animals, animals he left behind before he and his family moved away to Zagreb. But memories have a keen sense of smell and can track you down, no matter how many years pass in between.

Reaching back, further back it all began with the passing of Matija’s father when he was only six or maybe the rot seeped in because of the legend his grandmother told him. Something about the soil of that burial ground disturbs him, some sort of ‘staged’ feeling about his father’s funeral births mistrust of the villagers. This child’s disbelief in the face of loss, death is the seed that germinates into abandonment of reality. Grief gets tangled into stories about the will-o-the-wisp folk, and what is real for a child? What about the world is solid when you are still trying to wrap your mind around all the big and small  nagging questions of the world? What happens when the village starts watching you because they think you are different, a ‘troubled’ child? What happens when you start to see things, know things maybe even become the catalyst for tragedies, and realize that they could be right about you? What’s a boy to do when the brutal dark ‘things’ visit him, as if summoned by his need?

This novel is a strange type of horror story whose engine is revved all because of Matija’s love for Dina. Everything rises to the surface, you must face the dark earth of your origins in order to have a chance at love. The past always comes back for us. For Matija  the things left unexplained have soured his thoughts, a curious, intelligent, creative little boy left to makes sense of the wounds of losing his father. He never really recovered from that first loss, and everything that followed; the suicides, the terrible things people hide from each other in any village or town haunts him so much that any fabrication is better than facing everything he knew. He doesn’t understand his father’s death and his mom and sister are so swamped in grief they don’t know how damaging keeping him in the dark will become. His strange drawings don’t help, he feeds the villagers fear of him, he can’t seem to help it. He is fated to be an outcast, every village needs one, it makes it so much easier to avoid the real horror, within ourselves and each other. Collectively, these people are suspicious and distrusting of anything different, they can overlook the ugliness in those nearest and dearest so long as the person seems admirable, clean..etc. The horror is in that.  War is looming, at least that is something solid to fear and maybe they can turn their hate there.

There is an eeriness in what Matija starts seeing, and the overwhelming horror of fantasy that becomes a threat for others near him, which at the heart really comes from a place of love and grief to have his dad come back from the dead. The scariest moment is in his fervent, childish hope by the water with his friend. His mother just wants him to act like a normal boy, because behaving like his ‘natural’ self carries the threat of being taken away. He learns early on how to betray himself, and in turn, how to betray others in order to ‘fit in’. It’s hard to blame his actions, who doesn’t want to feel accepted somewhere, especially when you’re young and have been on the outside for so long? Sadly, it’s one of the biggest mistakes of his life, some things can’t be fixed. Is he the disease in the midst? Is he really to blame as people begin to take their own lives?

“Things you’ve forgotten bide their time. They keep an eye on you, poke each other in the ribs, and snicker softly so as not to disturb the sanctity of the delusion. They only start getting louder when you begin to stagnate, when there’s no forward movement and that’s when they go after you, seething because you’ve forbidden them from coexisting with all the new things you neatly pack into the storage unit known as your life.” 

We are the horror. It’s a solid novel, it put me in a strange place. We forget how fear can consume young minds and how destructive fantasy can be. What a sad tale.

Publication Date: January 14, 2020

Amazon Crossing

Even That Wildest Hope: Short Story Collection by Seyward Goodhand


Because her pleasure looks so small, I suspect Agvagvat of thriving on minutiae.

The stories in this novel are intriguing, sometimes peculiar particularly when you enter the realm of the galatrax, So I Can Win, the Galatrax must die. A beloved, woodland creature with a gamey taste just going about living the life of  ‘fuzzy innocents’ until… How many stories can set off your gag reflex and sympathy at the same time? It is What Bothers a Woman of the World, The Fur Trader’s Daughter  and Hansel, Gretel and Katie that had me riveted. The stories do flirt with the fairy-tale realm but if you pick it clean you feel the hum of reality within’ the lines. Wax girls, “if she’s bad I can melt her back down into wax”, are we all at some point being molded, others trying to form our personalities so we don’t spoil or turn? “Don’t stare, what kind of daughter are you? Pervert.” This story caused a revolt inside of me, is it generational, the type of girl you’re meant to be, what kind of daughter are you, indeed? It turns brutal, as dark and grim as any genuine fairy-tale. There is a line, “My father erupted off the couch” and the violence of it, what writing!

What Bothers a Woman of the World is painful, another creature following a narrator around but just what is this creature that ‘nothing sticks to.’ Life causes the mutilation, hope survives still somewhere hard inside of a woman, this is by far the best story in the collection. We’re half alive in there somewhere, lying in wait for a time when being pleasing isn’t instinctual. Mother, batten down the hatches of your eternal hope, get on with life, want not.

Hansel, Gretel and Katie, is a bitterness, a raging hunger and someone must provide reluctant nourishment, if not love. This is what it means to try and remain human, this tale is a little confection with a bite at the center. Maybe the best we are, even though it could be the worst, sometimes has to be enough. I wasn’t engaged in every story, but the ones that burrowed in, didn’t let go. I think Seyward Goodhand can whip up a hell of a story and I have my fingers crossed that a full blown novel will hit the shelves one day. Some of the stories flirt with horror, because what is uglier than what is put upon us or the shame we carry? There are always ghosts of our actions waiting in the night, sometimes people, sometimes just thoughts. Yes read it.

Publication Date: September 16, 2019

Invisible Publishing



The World That We Knew: A Novel by Alice Hoffman


She would do whatever she must to save those she loved, whether it was right or wrong, permitted or forbidden.

Said to be a book about good and evil, it encompasses all that humanity is. In a safe world where we don’t have to face choices between life and death, nor chose to side with those that evil has trained their eyes on it’s easy to imagine yourself as a hero. Reality is a multifaceted beast though, if we’ve learned nothing from history, good and evil can live inside all of us. Every choice is the difference between cowardice and bravery, but for a mother she wouldn’t blink at damning herself to save her child. There is a line in the novel that says “A wolf will seldom attack, Bobeshi always said, only when it is wounded or starving. Only when it must survive.”  People however, are different creatures entirely.

Berlin in 1941 Hanni Kahn, with the help of a rabbi’s daughter Ettie, will conjure a golem to protect her beloved daughter Lea. The golem will remain beside her, guide her in escaping the Nazis. Ava is brought into existence, meant to remain by Lea’s side with no thought of her own being, always to protect her as fiercely as her own mother would. The two leave for a convent in France, Lea will never see her mother again and the world that they knew will be forever changed. It is a tale of magical realism during a time when evil was spreading throughout the world.

The rabbi’s wife knows it is the men of the Jewish tradition who can give Hanni what she wants if it is even possible, it is not for the women to dabble in such things, for it takes educated scholars, women are only for bringing babies into the world. With the rabbi’s wife dismissing her, it is the rabbi’s progressive, intelligent daughter Etti who will help Hanni but for a trade, for she too has a plan of her own as desperate for escape as anyone. A plan that includes her sister, jewels and tickets on a train to Paris.

All Lea knows is this strong, tall woman named Ava is her cousin and will be her companion on her journey to safety. A cousin she has never heard of until today. She will no longer be Jewish, in order to survive she must become Lillie Perrin. She is to be the link in her family’s future generations, if there are to be any, she must survive. She must say goodbye, for if she lives on so too will her mother, and her mother before her. Setting her child free is sometimes the most terrible choice, the only choice, and the greatest gift of love any mother can give. But this ‘cousin’ behaves strangely, and has an odd encounter with Ettie and her sister Marta, who have also boarded the train. Surely something is afoot, Lea knows there is more to this ‘cousin’ Ava than her mother let on. How can Lea not resent Ava, whom she doesn’t even really know, when it is her mother and grandmother she longs to be with, not this strange ‘cousin’ who acts like a guard dog. Her heart is breaking inside, she never wanted to leave her mother behind, never! But her mother had to remain surrounded by all the demons and care for her invalid grandmother, Bobeshi as their world grows smaller and smaller. Lea will keep the memory close to her heart of their last dinner together, and the beautiful gift (given to Lea early by her mother Hanni) meant for her thirteenth birthday, a day that they will never share. Lea must promise to obey her mother, no matter how much her heart breaks at their final goodbye. Obeisance comes in the form of keeping close to Ava.

Something horrific happens on that train, that Lea and Ava witness. Ettie and Marta walk among demons themselves, and Ettie will swallow her sorrow on the run and become many things, to survive. Working her way through the countryside of France, forsaking her orthodox Jewish traditions, waiting to know her fate, whatever it may be, with unflinching bravery. She bides her time working where she can until the time comes to rise, to fight. She must be as strong as the golem she brought to life.

Lea and Ava seek sanctuary with André Lévi , a dangerous thing for the Lévi family to take  more strangers in with the Germans coming after Jews in the streets of Paris. What is there to do? They cannot turn away these distant cousins. Lea and their son Julien fall in love, much to the dismay of Julien’s mother and always under the watchful eye of Ava. With his elder brother Victor’s disappearance in the night, he is the only son left. Sadly, this is no longer a world made for young love and family loyalty is above all what sons and daughters must first cling to, Lea herself has to understand that. Lea and Ava must journey to the convent if they are to remain alive, there she gives offerings of bread and milk to a heron, comes to the heron with requests. The heron is a symbol of hope and messenger of love. Can her love for Julien survive in a world full of hate and violence?

In another village Marianne and her father have always done what is right and saved those in need of rescue. She comes in contact with an old friend whom she had lived with in a Paris house for five years, and he informs her that he has joined up with a group of Jewish resistors and has been living in the forest. Their story will burn again, now that they are together but the blows will still come. Evil will win, but so too will good, it is a never ending struggle on this scorched earth.

Magic can save some of us, but not without a price. For there is always a sacrifice. “You cannot hide who you are without doing great damage,” but there is no other choice than to bury oneself. By the end there will be so much lost, bones in a field, tests of faith, love lost and found and lost again, so many wounded souls in need of healing and new beginnings. Will a mother’s love and the creation of a golem lead to the survival of Lea and future generations? You must read to find out.

Alice Hoffman’s tales always have a mystical touch that so many fans love, and this is magical realism but without the usual lightness because it a story of such an ugly time in human history. It starts with the purest act of love, a mother wanting to save her beloved daughter. What love is greater? Tell me? Than a mother’s love for her child? There will be loss, evil actions and more hate than we can swallow, history is it’s own horror story. Destiny will have its way with every character here within, and not everyone will survive to the end but it’s their burning hearts, their fight that makes this a beautiful read.

Now we wait until Alice Hoffman’s next novel, with hearts full of hope after such an emotional read.

Publication Date: September 24, 2019

Simon & Schuster