Days of the Dead by Kersten Hamilton

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Papi held me tight and told me Mamá’s depression was a sickness. We aren’t ashamed when people die of cancer or pneumonia. We can talk about it and cry. He said mamá had been too sick to understand how much her leaving would hurt us.

It’s been a while since I’ve read children’s books, as my son and daughter are adults now, but sometimes I see books that grab my attention. In Days of the Dead, Glorieta Espinosa is trying her best to move on from her mother’s suicide even accepting her father’s marriage to a white Texan woman, Alice. That doesn’t mean she has to accept Alice’s nightmare of a daughter, Lilith. Since she’s stormed into her life, she’s done nothing but rip off her friends and spread her cruelty. Angus, her new step-brother isn’t so bad, even if he sometimes thinks he is a truck. When she isn’t dodging Lilith’s twisted games, Glorieta is devising plans to convince her Tía Diosonita (the town patron) to allow her mother’s ashes to be buried with the rest of her family.

Tía Diosonita is a strict Catholic, she refuses to see the souls of her ancestors, their people, be stained with a suicide in their midst even if she loved Glorieta’s mother as her own. Glorieta doesn’t have a chance to see her mother’s spirit during los Días de los Muertos if she is kept out of the cemetery. Her mother will have no company in the afterlife, no chance to reunite when it’s Glorieta’s time to die. Tía Diosonita won’t even talk about her mother! Could there be things she doesn’t know, shame her own Tía carries with her about what happened to her mother?

How can she convince her Tía of anything when poisonous hatred is collecting in her own heart, soul? She wants nothing more than to see her tormentor, step-sister Lilith get her just deserts! After an incident with immigration officers she is traumatized, then raging but she must keep her word as an Espinosa to never reveal Lilith’s true nature, having struck a deal. That all changes when Glorieta goes above her Tía Diosonita, which feels like an unforgivable betrayal, a sin! Accident or not, it’s caused a crack in her family, one she isn’t sure she can ever mend. She feels cast out, as doomed as those in Fool’s Field, where the dead were too sinful in life to sleep (be buried) in consecrated ground.

This is when Glorieta will be tested, and discover if she is weak or strong.

This was a wonderful story about love, compassion, tradition and immigration. It would be perfect for 6 grade and up.

Available Now

Skyhorse Publishing

 

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The Witch of Willow Hall by Hester Fox

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“And Lydia,” she added before I could dart away back to the stable, “you must never show the world what it is that you have inside of you.” 

It is 1821, banished to ‘the edge of the world’, according to her sister Catherine anyway, the Montrose family find themselves living in the much more isolated Willow Hall, having had to flee Boston. A portrait of a doomed ancestor on the Hale side presides over the library, always watching, one of grim fate, that of a witch who was hanged. It seems that scandal seems to follow the women, and now thanks to Lydia’s eldest sister Caroline, they have had to give up life in society, no more parties, visits with friends and it all hits their mother hardest. Rumors destroyed them “We’ve only been here a day, but it already feels too full of ghosts of a happy family that might have been“, things will only get worse. Something sinister is lurking, and both Emmeline and Lydia will be caught up in its terror.

Little Emeline is dreamy, delights in exploring their new surroundings with images of mermaids playing in her mind. It may well be this childish fancy that endangers her. The romance isn’t all hummingbirds in the heart, Lydia isn’t as beautiful as her sister Catherine and her intended needed, for appearances sake, to be well rid of her and the stink of scandal. Maybe it wasn’t a great love, but it aches all the same that he abandoned her  when family could have used some support and broke things off, chosing the cowards way. Is love through with her? What is the story behind the mysterious Mr. John Barret, whose partnered up with their father? Are the rumors true, that ghosts and all matter of supernatural beings haunt their new home? Emeline believes so. After their chance meeting with Mr. Barrett, Catherine delights in having visitors, male ones to be exact. Lydia knows she is scheming, her beautiful sister is always up to something. Her improper sister seems bent on ruin.

Lydia’s peculiar nature is growing stronger, she is seeing things, messages in mirrors, a woman in the night, or is it simply a ‘figment of her imagination’? Whom dare she confide in  about the things that are happening to her? Everything is about to turn dark, and Lydia’s powers bind her to her dear sweet sister  Emeline in ways she never had imagined. Caroline has her own future happiness, survival to contend with and she will do everything she can to secure it. But at what cost?

Lydia’s family isn’t the only one whose past is clouded, there is more to Mr. Barret than meets the eyes. Not all menace comes from outside forces either. Her inheritance is an unusual one, an ancestor long dead may have answers, but her mother may have been keeping her in the dark. What are her reasons?

Without giving anything away, I found the story similar to gothic stories I used to read in the summertime, well-loved, battered copies from my grandmother’s bookshelves. I was always surprised that despite its lack of sex there was always some depravity within. The same holds true here, nothing was easy for women back in the day.  Easy to scoff at what was considered ‘ruinous’ in bygone days but reputation was serious, it was about more than just being snubbed. Any whiff of indiscretion and there goes your standing in society, your very livelihood too, business connections, even maids would leave you standing in the lurch. It didn’t make for sisterly affection when one sibling is self-involved at the risk of brining down her entire family. Imagine the deeds of other family members barring you from future success, or hope for a happy marriage? There is romance, but it isn’t the entire story. It is about protecting family, even to one’s own detriment. Supernatural forces come into play, wreaking havoc on a family that already has disturbances of its own making.

Secrets have a power of their own too, depending on who knows them. Will Lydia be strong, brave enough to embrace her abilities and salvage what she can from her family ruins? An enjoyable read that has haunts, family scandals, deaths, and a witch whose blood still flows in the veins of her descendant. This is will be out in October, the perfect month for all things otherworldy.

Publication Date: October 2, 2018

Harlequin

Graydon House

 

 

 

Hag:A Novel Kathleen Kaufman

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You will see the places where time touches other paths; you will see all the what-ifs and possibilities. You will know things that others do not, and they might fear you for it.

Hag tells the story of a bloodline of women that hail from a Cailleach (a divine Hag of Scottish roots). Many generations come to pass, some in hiding from their abilities, others with the power to heal or harm. The common thread is the fear others feel, damning them for their powers, haunted by superstitions, marking them as evil. It spans the old world, and America as each daughter is meant to learn the old ways, as the Cailleach is a watcher of sorts from her cave, waiting for another to take her place.  Some daughters throughout the story embrace their inheritance, while others run from it, but there is no corner of the world far enough.

The women are timeless, and much wiser than the people, regardless of the era their story takes place.  The novel begins with  six-year-old Alice, playing in the Glasgow rain in her red rain boots. Already she has the gift of foresight, and understands there are paths in life that change the outcome of the future. Maybe she won’t grow up to run the shop, selling herbal tinctures, as her mother did before the war. These red rain boots have other plans for her, and her future is waiting in Colorado, the United States. So opens her path. As she comes of age, with the gift of knowing, she lives a life of desire and passion for a while, knowing it can’t last, finding herself caught up with a dangerous man, Tiburon in Venezuela, another story, another path she has to close. Then there is Paul, deceptions and his family blaming her for everything, as seems to be the way for all the women of her bloodline. There are many examples of just how intuitive and wise she is, from her days as a teacher to her love for Tiburon.

Throughout the chapters about Alice, there are the stories of her many ancestors and their gifts. I particularly enjoyed Catriona’s tale during the Spiritualists movement, how mesmerized she is by ‘the Russian Woman’ during a time when so much chicanery was taking place, and much of high society itself was bamboozled. It’s an authentic part of the novel, considering all the theater the fraudulent clairvoyants took great lengths to create. She should have heeded her mother’s warning. But there are other great powerful women in the line, weaved into the story, just as interesting. Muriel for instance,  who learns upon the heath that her moods  are tied to manifestations, that with her mind emptied she can control nature, to an extent. Gifted with herbal knowledge, she too has her patrons in neighbors, who come to her when in desperate need but also whisper about her. As people are want to do, they may appeal to the women in the line when it suits them, and yet turn on them with suspicion, mistrust and hatred dependant on any event that demands a target for their woes. Rather than your typical witches in the mainstream these days, Kaufman paints old world witchery that comes off as much more genuine.  While there is love, Hag isn’t a romance novel where one’s gifts lead to happy endings with suitors. It is more often that the blood flowing through each character dooms them, in a sense.

Time doesn’t really flow in a straight line, it is more circuitous as is evident in this tale. There is a child, Coira and soon a long-awaited homecoming.

Perfect if you enjoy folklore and witches.

Publication Date: October 2, 2018

Turner

 

 

Miss Subways: A Novel David Duchovny

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But her senses were too acute to be failing- she could feel everything around her, smell the grass and the musky standing water of the pond, see the moon and make out the face that always looked aghast to her- as if the moon, in its slow orbit, were watching Earth the way drivers slow down at the scene of an accident. Each long night was a new, slowly unfolding catastrophe.

Emer spends most of her days as a New Yorker riding the subway, above ground and under (not unlike Persephone). Never without a book in her hand,  she harbors her own literary aspirations but focuses her energy in supporting Con as he works on his “opus”. Exhaustively fanning the flames of his passion, making him seem successful to others, she herself is collecting dust, ah the things we do for love. Delighted by the placards of random literary quotes and philosophy that catch her eye on the subway, her mind whirls with musings. Losing herself in her own curiosity, Emer is the dreamer and often touches the old scar on her head to ground herself in the now. She lives with her boyfriend Con, and is very much in love, but that life is about to go to the Gods, whichever Gods they may be. Enter a story rich in myths and religion and Gods that are bored by us diluted mortals. Emer seems to be their latest victim, either that or she’s losing her mind.

Love divided, Con and Emer are split apart and upon the threat of death, she proves her love by erasing him from her current life. Delete, fate is unfair! She wakes up new, with a niggling feeling that something is misaligned. Con is nothing but a man from her dream, but how real it feels. She throws herself in her job teaching second grade at St. Margaret’s Catholic School on the Lower East Side. A treasured teacher, she still manages to muck up her reputation by introducing a myth about a crow and forbidden fruit, a watermelon. As I write this the crow I feed is outside cawing, I can’t make this stuff up! A crow is just the latest strange creature that has entered her life. She’s always been a waking dreamer of sorts, so is it all just her overactive imagination, fed by all the books she’s devoured or does it have to do with the difference in her brain? Is it her secret seizures that make her sense things that probably aren’t there?

If her mind is attuned to parallel lives and beings, then her father’s is a stark contrast, suffering from Dementia. It isn’t long before even he seems to be making appearances in her lucid dreams. There is no way to know if any of it is real, his mind scattered to the wind with the disease, how can she question him and trust the answers? What about the Polaroid of Emer with a man, is this proof that her dreams exist as a real life? Things are getting curiouser and curiouser. The story is about Emer’s love for Con, but more than that it is about Emer finding her strength and power. Emer’s tepid love is not enough, it is through the meddling of the gods and mythical beings that the brew of her heart grows stronger. It is when Con is caught in the West African trickster Spider God Anansi’s web, that everything becomes twisted. To what ends? Are Con and Emer just pawns in a game, begun long before they were born? Why does Anansi want Con? Why not? Why is one of the mythical Irish Bean-Sidhe (who is definitely not a leprechaun!) paying her visits, tormenting her? Is she losing her mind?

This is one of the strangest stories I’ve read in a long time. It is full of clever humor, and a nod at what likely many travelers on this polluted earth of ours are pondering from time to time. At the start of the novel Emer is as average as any of us come, going through the motions, loving on automatic as we do but one difference, she has a bridge between the two halves of her brain that is maybe a supernatural gateway, or maybe it’s just a rich imagination. You decide.

This is the first novel I’ve read by David Duchovny, I was pleasantly surprised, his writing is solid and thought-provoking. I enjoyed the aftermath of Emer’s incident in the lunchroom with her three students, the ‘weird sisters’. It’s not earth shattering, unless you’re a teacher in this time where students have more power than the teacher.  At time when teaching children about other cultures verges on criminality, how can you not laugh, uncomfortably of course, at Emer being in ‘trouble’ for daring to tickle children’s imaginations with a story? How did we become so ridiculous, so bland, so numb?

Out today! May 1, 2018

Farrar, Straus, Giroux

Lost In The Beehive: A Novel by Michele-Young Stone

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“You’ll get better at this place. They’re going to make you like everybody else.”

Nothing scares people more than someone who strays from the ‘norm’ and nothing is more horrifying than loved ones trying to fix you, to make you just like ‘everybody else’. The bees have always come to Gloria Ricci, she is touched by them, and they tell her things in their own way, always near for pivotal moments in her life.  Sometimes sad, terrible things unwelcome things like death, and others a presence When she meets Isobel, she feels alive for the first time, to understand intimate things about herself, feelings and emotions that feel natural but are damned by others. When they are caught in an intimate forbidden kiss, the police are involved. It is decided that Belmont is the place to cure her of her illness, homosexuality. It is easy to feel disgust towards her parents, but mind you this was 1965 and there is a lot of fear for their child fitting in, that having this ‘unnatural predilection’ will make life hard, make her a target. If others were successfully cured, then why not their daughter? Surely, it is in her best interest.

At the institute she must hash out every intimate detail, and is shamed, told she is a sinner, the devil’s instrument. The only joy is meeting the beautiful boy Sheffield “Sheff” Schoeffler, who breaks the rules with a simple smile directed at Gloria, who needs the gesture badly. Sheff has the same illness as her, in fact he’s a repeat offender and his humor is the alliance she should stay away from but can’t resist. Fast to learn the rules and speak the words Mrs. Dupree wants to hear during their sessions, it isn’t long before she is allowed to return home, to be a good straight citizen.

There is a sweet tender moment between Gloria and her mother once she is home again that made me warm to her, to forgive her in a sense. I think as parents fear can sometimes make us think we’re acting in our children’s best interest. Most of us just want to make their lives easy, thinking about the time period of the 1960’s, it would be natural to be scared knowing  that others see homosexuality as an abomination, and the terrible things people do to ‘teach lessons’ to people who are different. I imagine it’s scary still, decades later.

Most of us know people, some in our own family, who were shamed into hiding their sexuality. Homosexuality was something you didn’t admit to, a very hidden lifestyle. It brought shame upon your family, if you were lucky you were loved and your family didn’t disown you. But certainly you weren’t free to show affection even if you were able to find love and live your life with a same sexed partner. Even in being open you still had to hide signs of affection, too shocking for society, criminal even. These therapies that claim to be cures, seem more to be forced suppression than anything else.

When Sheff encourages her to leave for Greenwich Village, a far more accepting place, they find like-minded people. It’s a city where she can have anything she wants, even according to a fortune-teller. For once, both Sheff and Gloria are free to be their natural selves. But New York isn’t all thrills and funky jazz clubs, it has its darker side and Sheff’s ‘job’ troubles her, easy money or not. Her Peter Pan “Sheff” doesn’t ever want to grow up and it isn’t long before their New York dream descends into darkness.

Something horrific happens and then part two brings us into the future, it is aptly titled with a quote from Jack Kerouac. “This is America. Everybody’s doing what they think they’re supposed to do.” Gloria collapsed, is a former shell of who she was becoming. The bees aren’t done with her, even if she is ‘living’. She tries for a normal life, meets one Jacob Blount and marries him but then there is Betty. Her Peter Pan, “Sheff”  never leaves her either, not entirely. All she wants is a home, but where is the right abode for her and with whom? Jack has his own history, his own past, and demons. The ending is bittersweet but what gutted me was the author’s acknowledgements and her inspiration for Sheffield.   Without giving any more of the story away, I will say I wait to see books coming out by Stone, I loved Above Us Only Sky and this book is just as unique and meaningful. I can’t wait to hear what others think! I read this months ago and seeing as how my Goodreads buddy Elyse commented how much she loved the novel, I hit myself in the forehead and realized I needed to post a review!

Out tomorrow April 10, 2018

Simon & Schuster

 

 

 

Familiar Things by Hwang Sok-yong, Sora Kim-Russell

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“People live here, just like anywhere else.” She said.

“People? All I see are flies and garbage.  It stinks.”

It may be garbage now, but they say it turns to gold.” His mother said playfully.

Flower Island may as well be another world existing outside the city in South Korea. A landfill where families and single people dig through the trash for recyclable goods for their survival, Flower Island certainly doesn’t live up to its pretty name. Stinking of the rot around them, empty bellied and looked down upon by the citizens, 14-year-old Bugeye and his mother find themselves living in a shack after his father’s internment. There is little hope, and even less food. He is quick to learn that the ‘rich’, fortunate city people throw away food that is still good, even if he has to fight the flies for it. The things they throw away are so beautiful and new that people are quick to accuse the inhabitants of the trash heap of theft. Oh to be so rich, so wasteful, he can’t even imagine it. It isn’t long before he befriends an unusual boy with problems of his own. Baldspot is the son of the crew leader (Baron) and tells him his father thinks he is stupid, noting the boy seems a little slow, Bugeye is wise enough to understand it benefits him to get on the good side of this odd boy.  When Baldspot shows him mysterious blue lights, there is something spooky about them, and maybe something magical too, but he isn’t sure he is ready to find out.

The boys will become as close as brothers and find the lights are spirits that live in a sort of parallel world to their own only without the horrors they face, the trash or ugly shacks. But why are they here, what do they want? As good fortune lands on Bugeye, it’s hard to trust whether it’s a gift or his doom. Bugeye is well aware of how other people live, with their clean clothes, education, and plenty of food. There are many shaming encounters, especially when he goes into the city with Baldspot with money in his pocket, trying to give the younger boy a little joy. Even charity, and free food from the church has a way of making the poverty striken children feel shame. The smell that follows them is one city people can’t abide, and maybe the good women care more for being seen giving charity than being around the urchins. But food is food, pride won’t keep your belly fully.

Can ancient spirits change Bugeye and Baldspot’s dismal futures, or will life continue to strip the boys until they are nothing but bones? This novel hits you in the gut, it’s hard to imagine this is actually the life other people live, particularly from our beautiful homes full of stuff we don’t really need for survival. Bugeye and his mother are down to the basics, and barely that. To my mind, the scariest horror story is a life without basic necessities and that through the joy of Baldspot, there is still happiness to be had is humbling. This is the sort of story that makes you feel so far removed from true suffering that it induces shame for having so much. It’s a quick read with a gut punch at the end. Folklore meets tragic existance.

Publication Date: June 8, 2018

Scribe Publications