Time After Time: A Novel by Lisa Grunwald

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What Nora had never shaken was the memory of fighting to come out of the ether.

Nora Lansing knows where she wants to go, just not how to get there. She is young, ‘out of place’ and railroad worker (leverman) Joe Reynolds is captivated watching the confusion flit across her face in Grand Central Terminal.  “She made him think of the cats in the tunnels far beneath the concourse: coiled up and waiting, all energy, no telling what they were going to do.” A funny word that, ‘energy’. For what else can drive her? This ‘old fashioned woman’, so charming in dark times is all brightness, but something doesn’t fit. He doesn’t yet know that she is not just as graceful but as mysterious as a feline too. Her clothes really are out of date, though they do tell of wealth, maybe it’s a costume? What does he know of fashion anyway? It is 1937, it is their first encounter but will not be the last.

Joe’s desire to see Stonehenge makes the beauty of Manhattanhenge (or the Manhattan Solstice) nearly as awe inspiring. For Nora, it could well be the source of the strange turn her life has taken. What could the alignment of sunrise and sunset over Manhattan’s street grid have to do with her being trapped in time and place? Is she a ghost? No, she can’t have this much life in her and be dead. Ghosts can’t share a meal with a man in a coffee shop, exactly a year after meeting him. It’s not her beloved Paris where she had her first taste of freedom, but the grilled cheese and the company is delightful! Joe may well be the first man to really see Nora, to wonder at her very existence. With her laughter dancing through his ears, he is falling in love. Just when he plays protector, she disappears on him. Then, a phone call  he makes to Nora turns his life upside down.

People have seen her, he’s one of many, the first week of December always, the same place where he first set eyes upon her. She never stays. The reason is unfathomable, impossible!

1924 Nora is happy to be on her own in Paris, where being lost is a pleasure. An artist whose lucky day leads her to work as an assistant to the owner of a small art gallery, finding undiscovered talent, Paris is full of promise. There is no better place to be than Paris to hone her skills, where the light is best, where everywhere the eye settles it is like a painting, beauty abounds. It doesn’t hurt that she is a socialite, and has the means for such adventures but it isn’t to last, for home is calling to her and she must return to her beloved father. As soon as she arrives upon the ocean liner, she rushes to her father in hospital. Seeing him solidifies her need to be home.

Forced to take the subway after, when cabs are nowhere in sight, there is an accident, the train isn’t the only thing that derails. The delay takes years. When Nora opens her eyes, she immediately wants to contact her mother, but is met with the dreadful reality that there is no place for her in the world anymore, and time has moved on without her. This is a love story, certainly, but for me it related a horror, what is worse than being locked out of time, than having to prove who you are? Waiting for salvation that may never come? What would be more heartbreaking to a mother? Seriously, I had a lump in my throat when Nora is trying to contact her mom. If Nora gives Joe’s life meaning, he is the sole spot of joy she can look forward to upon every return, after so much hope seemed lost.

Nora’s unbelievable story opens before Joe’s eyes. With the World Fair being hosted in New York,  focused on the future “the world of tomorrow” it’s strange to be stuck in the yesterday and wrapped up in Nora. Once happy to wait for life to unfold, Nora has changed everything. The waiting is torture, time crawls when he waits for her to come back. No one has answers, not even an old Jewish woman who plays at being a gypsy. Of course they find each other again, and they steal as much time as they can. The fear is always there, what if she disappears again? They figure out a way to keep Nora anchored, living in the Biltmore hotel but life can’t be confined within a set distance for any of us. Naturally the best laid plans go awry when you take into account the rest of the world, Joe’s family, the fate of the city, war. Nothing remains stationary! Would that we could protect our love, whether we’re haunted or not. Can Joe and Nora truly live like this and what happens if she never ages? What are the choices we have to make, the things we must give up in order to embrace our fate?

A haunting of the heart.

Publication Date: June 11, 2019

Random House

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Deep River: A Novel by Karl Marlantes

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Anger at the senseless cruelty of it all kept her awake at night.

Escaping Russian rule, siblings Ilmari, Matti, and Aino immigrate to America joining other Finns in the hopes that they will find the perfect place to thrive. Ilmari is the first to leave Finland, to avoid being drafted in the Russian army he flees his homeland. In America, Ilmari is a devout man who builds a farm of his own and a blacksmith shop before his brother Matti follows. Helping his brother for a time with the running of things, he must make a life for himself. By Christmas finding work with the sole options being fishing or logging, he choses logging. Felling trees, a job that can crush a man, easy. With no idea how, he swears to himself he will one day have his own company! Last is Aino, seventeen- years old and desperate for work. Already having suffered for her revolutionary beliefs back in Finland, the fire burns just as bright now in America. She isn’t happy to settle as some man’s wife and men want a woman to care for their families not a maid. Marriage is still against everything she believes in, and if she ever marries, she has to feel love, hers is a heart that cannot in good conscience settle. There are more important things to her future, and her socialist desires. Life isn’t easier in America, everything is not golden nor as ‘free’ as she imagined. Instead, they meet with backbreaking, deadly work logging in the forrest of Washington, where workers are nothing better than slaves making money for others (capitalism). A staunch socialist, Aino is well read, and desperate to fight for laborers rights often at the risk of her very life. Conflicted by the expectations of women of the times (have a family, settle down) she’d rather take part in activism, even when love comes calling. Is it better to settle down, safer? She is fed up being a live in servant, did enough of that before, and marriage is much the same too. She works for a time cooking for hundreds of men at a logging camp, Reder Logging. It comes to be the hardest work she has ever known. The reality is often disheartening, even later when she is a wife living in cheap lopsided quarters, it isn’t enough to please her. She must occupy herself with a life full of purpose, helping others. Escaping the unrest of their own country only to land in a place where one must continue to fight for human dignity, America isn’t turning out to be the dream Aino envisioned. Women should know their place, and certainly not be slipping off for meetings threatened by raids! A man who works his fingers to the bone relies on his good wife waiting with a meal, the home clean and comfortable. She’s a feminist, a fighter, a woman who won’t be caged but I admit, she could come off as self-righteous and selfish at times too. Could motherhood settle her?

The men face loggers being killed, the equipment fails, people make mistakes that costs lives and no one is looking out for their safety. It matters to Aino. It is for ‘the common good’ and if she is called a communist, so be it, they must still fight! The powers that be don’t want strikes and of course will threaten those who dare strike with brute force. Naturally she finds herself jailed. The Koski  siblings will  rage against “slave wages, slave hours, and slave working conditions” and find their future as pioneers logging the vast forest of Washington. They will all search for their identity as they push for early labor rights or material success. From logging camps to fishing for salmon, strikes, Spanish flu, co-ops, the first cars, and captialism. Love and affairs, jail, unrest, starting families, and businesses in the new American dream. There is a lot happening in this novel that because of the historical scope it covers, the stories can sometimes leave the reader meandering. It is a rich, well researched historical fiction about the early days for Finish immigrants in the forrest and mills of Washington. More importantly it is a grim look at the fight for labors rights.

Publication Date: July 2, 2019

Grove Atlantic

Dawson’s Fall: A Novel by Roxana Robinson

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Now he’s back in another kind of conflict, the alarms and confusions of daily life.

While this novel is fiction, in the preface we are told that the author used authentic content, such as letters, diary entries and published sources of her own family, her great grandparents in particular. Her discomfort in the racism within’ her family is noted, but to ignore the attitudes of the times would be a disservice to the truth, especially of the hardships faced in the fight for equality. Both Frank and Sarah Dawson have thoughts that are easy to judge, such as the ‘distastefulness of mix racing’ Sarah feels. But then you have to sit with that thought, surrounded by the ignorance of the times, these are taught attitudes.

The novel opens with a nightmare Frank Dawson has just awaken from. Despite his wife Sarah’s intuitive nature, and the troubling feeling that remains, he can’t put much stock into dreams, he has enough pressing issues in his daily life than to allow a stranger in his sleep to torment him. As editor and part owner of the Charleston News and Courier his voice is his tool, his opinions strong and not always popular in the south where the war refuses to remain in the past. Death threats aren’t unusual for a man who tries to give black people political power. In fact, his ‘Southern roots’ certainly are in question, being England born can he really be one of them? Maybe he isn’t even really a Captain either! He loves his Charleston, and he wants it to thrive, but to understand the anger we must travel further back.

It is 1861, young Sarah Morgan is nineteen-years old and the ‘war is scattering her family’. The south doesn’t want the north interfering in its affairs, and the anti-slavery perspective isn’t one the south shares, after all they believe they ‘take care of their slaves’ and that they’d be helpless and lost without such care. Fate is about to turn against her family, with the war taking her brothers and threatening every southerner.

In Southampton, Englishman Frank Dawson stands on the deck of the Nashville (a steamer, once a mail ship to be fitted for war)  as one of the crew. Unlike the other men, Dawson has a fine education, can speak four languages, read music and has a gentleman’s manners. Certainly he doesn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the rougher men. Little can one imagine he will rise through the ranks of the Confederate navy. In America, Dawson’s ‘network of friends’ and his intelligence, connections will teach him about the south. Here, he will support his brothers in arms against the north. From the water, he will turn to the land joining into the army. Sarah in the meantime taps into her own shocking nature, finding it necessary to arm herself with a pistol. They are under siege and must run from Baton Rouge with whatever they can carry. Chaos reigns, everything is in ruins, as are the people after the shelling. Sarah is fierce, and often the cries in her diary are, “Oh if I were a man!”  because then she could fight off these hypocritcal Yankees, who are destroying everything people like her family have worked for, killing off all the men! He family gets smaller and smaller with each death. It is a world now of devastated women and children.

At the end of war, Dawson has been wounded, desperate for money and a job he soon has an offer to work for the Examiner, but soon Dawson  meets B. F.  Riordon, with whom he would later create a newspaper with. But first, as the assistant editor for the Charleston Mercury his views on the Fourteenth amendment don’t sit well with the bosses, staunch supporters of Confederacy, not one’s to ‘swallow’ the end of their empire and embrace the future. With the paper failing, it’s an opportunity for Dawson and Riordon to run a paper with truth and promote their south.

Soon, Frank Dawson and Sarah Morgan’s paths merge when Jem, Sarah’s brother, is seriously injured during an ‘incident’ and Dawson rushes to be at his side. So too, does his love blossom for Sarah. One small hitch, Dawson has a wife already but one who is gravely ill. After her passing, the two bond over literature but how to convince Sarah to marry him, particularly when she has no interest in doing ‘what is expected’ of women? The two begin to write each other, and I’m guessing the letters were authentic, oh what a dying art!

You know they marry, or else how could there be this very book about the author’s great grandparents? Dawson’s fall could come from anywhere, his progressive views (such as his stance on anti-lynching), the stories he prints that tell the truth about crimes by condemning always what is wrong, even if it means exposing ‘white South Carolinians’, particularly in the case of the Hamburg Militiamen massacre. History sidenote: Hamburg was an all black Republican community who had members in the militia, which were formed to safeguard said communities. Research the Hamburg Massacre, it will explain the gravity of the situation and why siding with the black community infuriated citizens. There was courage in Dawson and Riordon chosing to speak in defense of the militia, the truth can be dangerous! Lynchings, racism, rapes, war… this novel deals with seriously taboo subjects, history rears its ugly head.

Then there is the sleazy neighbor Dr. Thomas Mcdow who seduces Dawson and Sarah’s beautiful, young, Swedish governess  Hélène. A man with murderous intentions who feels Dawson is interfering in his every plan, threatening to ruin him. Not that I particularly liked Hélène but I imagine being 22 and working as a sort of servant, though maybe higher on the totem pole than the other help, she’d be hungry for love, a husband. Sure, she was lucky to be a part of a respectable, important family but the young still have their fanciful ideas and are ripe for certain worldly wolves. What will it mean for Frank and Sarah?

There is a lot happening in Dawson’s Fall, looking back into your family history can be crushingly heartbreaking but it’s only because you are on the outside and know the end. As in all lives, there are sweet spots despite the tragic curtain fall. For fans of historical fiction, there is quite a bit of the past to chew on, a lot of shame as well. It seems Frank changed with the times and tried to be just, and that says a lot when it’s with great risk you go against popular thought. Morality is a strange beast, there are certain wrongs against nature that no amount of justification can excuse. History isn’t pretty, for one family war took and gave in equal measure but sometimes it is those closer to home that can seal your doom.

Publication Date: May 14, 2019

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Sarah Crichton Books

 

The Organs of Sense: A Novel by Adam Ehrlich Sachs

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But he could not stop. He felt he had a “compulsion to look,” to look closer and closer, “a looking-closer-and-closer compulsion.” What (he wondered) would it take to stop looking, “to look this closely, and no closer? Through such and such a magnification, and no higher?”

Certainly the strangest book I’ve read this year, and in fact last year. We are told that G. W. Leibniz, who was throughout his life “an assiduous inquirer into miracles and other aberrations of nature” is on a mission. It seems fitting he would want to uncover the truth behind an astronomer’s peculiar prediction. The German philosopher, mathematician, and logician, is on a quest to reveal whether or not a blind astronomer could possibly be able to study the stars so accurately as to have predicted an eclipse at noon and on the last day of 1666, that will leave all of Europe in complete and total darkness. This man’s prediction is made more shocking by the fact that he has empty sockets where his eyes should be, can you get any blinder? Sure, he has been ‘rumored’ to have built the most power telescope of the times but powerful or not, one still needs eyes to peer into telescopes, no?

Leibniz intends to remain at the observatory long enough to test the man’s reason (sanity) and if the eclipse happens he is certainly an astronomer if it doesn’t it means nothing because astronomers can be wrong. So begins the stories the old shriveled man tells Leibniz, and he discusses how one must “truly see”, what could a man with empty eye sockets know about seeing? Well, with his trusty instrument (the telescope) he has seen a lot! A lot, I tell you! And he demands of Leibniz that he “prove that I cannot see what I claim to see”, we have a conundrum tangled in philosophy and history. How did the old man lose his eyes anyway? What is truth? How do you get into someone’s head to determine what they are experiencing, what their truth is? Words, can words reveal what is in another’s head? Mere words?

Can one go through life without the ‘belief in other people?’ The astronomer tells Leibniz that what he means will become clear, I think most readers will try to grasp at the silliness and science but clarity may not be easy! Maybe a lot of readers are more like the astronomer’s father who wasn’t interested in the sky, and cannot be tangled in knots because they just don’t care to ponder. The play on faith as what we devote our existence to is evident in the astronomer’s father’s inventions…a box is just a box is a box, no matter how we decorate it, it will not open the cosmos to us. Be you a surface dweller or a plunger of depths, does it matter where we put our faith? Does madness await us all either way, what is sanitized madness? How does an Emperor, art , or an automaton head lead to the astronomer losing his eyes so that he can truly see?

This was a dizzying book. It takes a ‘discerning mind’  if you’re going to be a thinker and one must lose the eyes that deceive us even if that’s a straight plunge into ‘philosophical torment.’ This is meant to be amusing, I think it’s more scientific/philosopher’s humor and it is easy to get lost. What do we really understand about our the world or each other, whether we’re filled with genius or disinterested in anything beyond the surface? It’s okay if you can’t engage with the witty humor and philosophy within, you can always gaze at the cool book cover with your actual eyes!

Publication Date: May 21, 2019

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

 

The Red Daughter: A Novel by John Burnham Schwartz

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She survived her life, which maybe under the circumstances is maybe sort of heroic.

John Burnham Schwartz takes liberty with his fictions, imagining the life of Josef Stalin’s daughter Svetlana Alliluyeva, as she defects from the communist state to America in 1967, leaving behind her son and daughter, carrying with her the stain of her father’s infamy. Always thereafter to be ‘a foreigner in every sense of the word’ having left her homeland, a terrible mother to the two children she abandoned, that even Americanizing herself through marriage, now Lana Peters can never remove the blood that runs through her veins. Though there is an electric current that runs between Svetlana and her young lawyer Peter, loosely based on the author’s own father, the meat of the novel is in the tragedy of being Stalin’s daughter, it is a poisonous legacy. The cruel truth behind her mother’s erasure, the rest of her people ‘exiled or in prison by her father’s decree’, aunts and uncles arrested and executed, even her own brother Yakov captured by the Nazis wasn’t worth a prisoner trade. Her father controlled her life, who she was permitted to fall in love with, the state too ever a watchful eye reporting back to Stalin, there wasn’t an emotion felt, a movement made that wasn’t under scrutiny. A caged child, fed a diet of lies, not even knowing the truth behind her mother’s death. Daring to fall in love with a Jewish filmmaker, which her father forbid it seems no shock he was sent to labor camps. There was an arranged marriage, producing her daughter Katya. There was a deep love for an ill Indian man, whom she met while in hospital for her own treatment, of course she wasn’t allowed to marry him. Within the novel as in life, she journeys to India to scatter his ashes upon his passing. With her father’s death, the only release was to make a new home, to become someone else and remaining in her homeland was an impossibility.

“Svetlana’s entry into our marital orbit was something neither Martha nor I ever recovered from. Our own personal Cold War, you might say…”  of course the story fictionalized a romance between Peter and Svetlana, their intimacy a window into her unsettling life in America. It would be a spot of happiness were it true too. Here, she will never escape being her father’s daughter, not even by marrying Sid and giving birth to an American son. We follow her tortured path, living with rumors about her Russian children, Katya and Josef who have forsaken their mother (were barred really from speaking to her, as she was a traitor to the Motherland) and wonder will they ever reunite but knowing that if the ‘future has defected’, then the past keeps its grave hands upon her feet. We suffer with Peter, who can’t help but wonder at the woman behind the eyes and fall in love with her. A love cultivated in letters and visits. In 1984, Svetlana appears as a star of the international press conference at the Moscow offices of the Soviet Woman’s National Committee. With her son Yasha, she shockingly renounces her American citizenship. She was ready to unite her family at last, return to her now grown children, who needed her. It wasn’t to last, tumultuous winds were always blowing through her life and again she leaves her homeland.

It would do one good to research the real story behind Svetlana, but this was a fascinating novel regardless of how true to facts the author leaned. She did seek political asylum and she was invited by Frank Lloyd Wright’s widow to visit the studio in Scotsdale, she did marry an architect and have a child with him, but it was a daughter named Olga not a son. Looking her up, she seems like a very fascinating woman too. John Burnham Schwartz tells us in his author’s note that he used his father’s ‘expansive Svetlana file’ with original material as his father ( lawyer Alan U. Schwartz) did travel under CIA cover to escort Svetlana Alliluyeva, the only daughter of Josef Stalin into the United States. She was a part of his family, that much is fact, but it is a fictional novel and his father did not have a love affair with her. Living in the shadow of such a father as Stalin (undeniable monstrous) , one can only wonder at what went on inside of her, stuck between cultures, unable to shed the horrors of her father, removed from her children… it’s a hell of a life.

Publication Date: April 30, 2019

Random House

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek: A Novel by Kim Michele Richardson

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The goodwill died on my tongue.

Throughout time there are certain constants, for example ignorance and cruelty. This novel is an ode to the pack-horse Librarians who rode their way throughout Kentucky inspiring people of all ages to read. Richardson takes this historical story and blends it with a tale of the blue skinned people, ostracized cruelly for their differences. Nineteen-year-old Cussy Carter of Troublesome Creek, Kentucky spends her days delivering books to the people of the mountains, her Dad’s fervent wish and promise to his dying wife was that Cussy would find respectability. She needs to stop carrying on with book deliveries, now that he is making money in the mine again, killing himself more like. He wants nothing more than security for his girl, and nothing can offer that for a girl in 1936 better than marriage. “I could barely meet someone’s eyes for fear my color would betray my sensibilities.” A young woman who can turn ‘blue as a damselfly’ when blushing, heir to a strange condition that began with a French great-grandpa, there is no chance any respectable white man would ever stoop to marry her. Upon her deliveries she encounters many who shun and shame her, but if this program can get even a blue like Cussy reading, well it promises to spread literacy to anyone!

Nicknamed Bluet by the locals, her father begins sending suitors her way, the most horrifying of all is when she is courted by the kin of Pastor Vester Frazier. Pastor Vester, the preacher that decides who bears the mark of the devil, and ‘chases them out by baptizing those sinners down in the cold, fast waters of Troublesome Creek’, sometimes ending in life or death! Surely her father can’t possible think anyone tied to the Frazier family can save her! This can’t bode well.

The pastor isn’t the only one she has to fear, and her fierce nature has her risking life and limb just to share her love of books with folks. Of course not everyone is thrilled about their wives or children reading, not when there is work to be done, no time for idleness yet clever girl that she is, Cussy finds ways to keep those hungry for books well fed, despite protestations from fathers. Devoted to her deliveries  upon her stubborn mule Junia, she meets Jackson Lovett who surprises her with his kind intelligence, but surely she can’t dare hope to ever mean anything to him, can she? Love isn’t meant for a “Bluet” like her. Town isn’t anymore welcoming, “I always felt like a thief sneaking into town”, with the “NO COLOREDS” signs banning her from socializing  her life is that of a spectator, filled with longing to take part in gatherings like the Pie Bake Dances. Color could be catching, right? Then there is the doctor who wants to poke, prod, take samples from her to figure out what is causing her strange affliction. Her people hidden for so long up in them mountains, fear of persecution and worse, should she trust him as she is the last? Are her blue folks on the brink of extinction?

This isn’t a happy read, not at all but it remains true to the torment being different rains down on a life. It is exposure of the worst sort of ignorance, which we all know in human beings is completely infinite. Maybe there is a cure out there that can make anyone who is ‘different’ look just like you and me, sadly there is no cure for cruelty, nor human stupidity when a mind seems bent on it. Cussy is full of fight and hope, but the reality of the times made even the fiercest of men and women break. It is a painful Appalachian tale, based on real historical happenings. This intelligent sad little novel piqued my curiosity about the blue people of Kentucky and the genetic component behind it. People always fear that which they don’t understand. The novel reads true, the language made me feel I too was among the folks of Troublesome Creek and I was engaged until the very end. For anyone who loves Appalachian Fiction, Historical Fiction or strange medical conditions this has it all.

Publication Date: May 7, 2019

Sourcebooks  Landmark

The Lost History of Dreams: A Novel by Kris Waldherr

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A last display of care before consignment to the grave.

Robert Highstead spends his time daguerreotyping corpses as keepsakes for grieving strangers, a far cry from his years at Oxford University as a scholar of history. Understanding all too well that loss and tragic turns are like a contagion, this work becomes personal. His own wife Sidda’s accident altered their future, he walks closer to death than life. When his famous cousin and poet Hugh de Bonne dies, Robert must take his remains to be interred in his stained glass chapel on the moors of Shropshire where he will be reunited with his deceased, beloved wife Ada. Here, Robert is to make his daguerreotype. He’d much rather remain with his own ‘fading’ wife, than engage with the world, nor honor any tasks put to him. Yet travel he must, it’s the honorable thing to do. “This was his cousin. His cousin was dead. Though it made little sense, Robert stepped toward the coffin as though not to disturb it.”

Hugh’s fans journey to the chapel, all longing for their piece of the love story between Hugh and Ada, but for her surviving niece Isabelle, the story isn’t the fantasy that’s been toted as truth. Robert is not welcome, and Isabelle’s refusal to embrace the return of Hugh’s body is suspicious, and infuriating. Her own past is a mystery, but Robert won’t bend to her will, finds a way to stay and earning a semblance of her trust becomes audience as Isabelle reveals the tale of Ada and Hugh as she knows it. She wants him to record it in a book. Yet Isabelle herself remains behind her cloak of privacy, until it’s no longer possible to hide. Why does she not allow anyone entrance to the chapel? What secrets are hiding there?

Both are unable to release themselves from the chains of guilt, haunted by ghosts of time and battling with the demons of their choices. No one punishes either Isabelle or Hugh more than they do themselves. The strange pair push and pull each other, and what appears as solid becomes fluid, changes. This gothic novel begins with a curious profession that bleeds into the tale of why death is easier to befriend than life. Love as muse, ghost, poetry, guilt, blame, and rage. Characters begin desperately in love, and weakness blooms for some as fate tests the soul. A heart can turn cruel when love is stolen by the hands of fate. People can love romantically and yet absent themselves in other horrible ways. Isabelle’s story is revealed as her defenses are stripped and her tale tugs the heart. The dead are not silent here. I rather like the ‘eye’ that Hugh had painted in miniature of Ada because for me as Isabelle tells the tale from Ada’s perspective it becomes symbolic of an all-seeing eye and yet what should be obvious to the characters is hidden.

A gothic love story that one must chase like a bird that disappears into the darkest of skies. Naturally love is the ruin of many, will there be time to set things right and maybe live again?

Publication Date: April 9, 2019

Atria Books