Like Wind Against Rock: A Novel by Nancy Kim

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

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

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

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

Publication Date: June 1, 2021 Out Now

Lake Union Publishing

Madam: A Novel by Phoebe Wynne

“We shall need you to start impressing us, Rose, rather than having us tidy up your mess.”

Rose is stunned to learn she has been hired to teach at the grand, all-girls boarding school Caldonbrae Hall, an ancestral castle that looks down upon the world from its proud perch atop the rocky Scottish cliffs. Known for its excellence, churning out the cream of the crop, she has been chosen as Head of Classics. It all feels like a strange and yet happy stroke of luck. Her mother is pleased as punch that Rose will be earning her living at one of the most famous, prestigious schools and Rose is thrilled to be getting out from under her mother’s control. Her career is full speed ahead, even if she is more than a little intimidated and full of doubts that she is up for the challenge.

Once inside its great walls, she feels swallowed up by the great swarm of girls, all eyes upon her. Already shame rises, feeling shabby by comparison to these fashionable, fresh-faced beauties. On her first day teaching, despite her experience, she finds herself slipping with little mistakes. Caldonbrae isn’t a place that allows for failure, nor for one to question how things are done. Rose is on her own for the first time and is set on giving her all. She manages well enough until her class with the older girls, bursting into puberty, challenging her from the start. She looks young herself, at 26, and the students test her right away, madly curious of why she is teaching them when she isn’t even married. As if having a husband is a requirement. She feels like she has been thrown to the wolves and knows she must gain the upper hand, or she doesn’t stand a chance.

She takes her job preparing the young ladies for their bright futures seriously, and what is better than a top education? Yet her ideas may be a bit too liberal for the lives these daughters of Caldonbrae Hall are meant to lead. Every school has its traditions, and for 150 years Caldonbrae has produced young women who serve society to make for a better world. As a trip disrupts her teaching, Rose wonders what exactly the students are being presented for, what could be more important than their classes? What has their young, impressionable minds so preoccupied? What is it exactly they are really busy with? She stumbles across a desk drawer with a mysterious handkerchief, remnants of the former teacher she has replaced. There are traces of the woman everywhere, and the students don’t hold back in comparing her to their previous Madam, Jane. The place feels completely out of touch with time, it’s far more “old world” than she could have imagined. As she tries to gain solid footing, she learns there is no limit to the school’s reach. Caldonbrae asserts itself like a master in her entire life, everything within its walls is an old relic, it’s unnerving.

There is a student following her like a shadow, and the former teacher’s absence haunts her. Something is very wrong here. Feeding the girls a diet of classic, feminist heroines, like Dido, Rose is teaching the students to take their lives into their own hands. But will the expectations of their school, parents, and society erase any hope for freedom they may entertain? Can courage be taught, particularly by Rose whose own life has been guided by her mother? Is it possible to imagine a life outside the path laid for them? Rose’s own road has ‘diverged’ with a troubled student, Bethany. Suddenly she is preoccupied with the girl’s tortured mind and disturbed by how the school handles such a delicate situation. Rose starts making a mess of things, risking her future as a Madam, poking her nose where it doesn’t belong. How far will she go in following in the former teacher’s footsteps, will it lead her to the real story of why Jane left?

Institutions like Caldonbrae demand their staff adhere to its strict traditions-with such impressionable, fragile, young, minds it’s always best to maintain an outward display of self-control and respect of the old ways. Rose just doesn’t understand, her modern beliefs don’t fit the mold that has thrived behind these walls for well over a century. Is she really strong enough to handle the truth? More, is she brave enough to confront such a challenge? Does she know best what’s good for the ‘lucky girls’ anymore than those in charge of the place?

There is a gothic feel and with the school cut off even from the locals, it’s a world unto itself. It’s a funny question, how does a woman serve society… hmmm? I agree the tale seems so far from modernity, but the timeless feel is a way to show how sheltered and controlled everything is. How easy it is to do whatever you please when those in charge are complicit in what they believe is for ‘the greater good’. It was a decent read, and the feminist theme using classics to start a fire in young minds was clever. The ending was interesting. I think Rose is meant to be odd herself, afraid of life, seemingly unadventurous, hence she appears to be someone that would easily fall into line with the school’s rules and demands. We wonder, does she have her own flame burning? Curious what others will make of this mysterious, dark tale.

Publication Date: May 18, 2021

St. Martin’s Press

Tante Eva: A Novel by Paula Bomer

To Eva, Maggie was like a gift from God, a God who often was unkind, as anyone who’s read the bible knows. Eva knew suffering, so when something miraculous came along- a niece who was more like an angel, a twin in a different time, as if her own youth were given a new chance at life- she knew to be grateful.

Eva carries her suffering from her head all the way down to her legs, troubled by varicose veins. When she isn’t spending her days dodging the skinheads outside her apartment building in East Berlin, which feels more slum than home, she is washing pills (not as easy to obtain now that she is a retired nurse) down with sour wine as she listens to blues records and waits on her lover Hansi. She knows all too well about the blues, lyrics she can feel in her soul. Her beloved niece Maggie lives in America and writes her beautiful letters, ones that even Eva’s young neighbor Krista looks forward to. Krista gives her more attention and care than her own daughter, Elena, the poor girl’s life revolving around her ailing mother and has become a friend of sorts to her. Eva is beyond thrilled that Maggie plans to move to Berlin, as if choosing her over her own mother (Eva’s younger sister Liezel) and though Eva shouldn’t delight in it, she does. Liezel turned her back on the past, embracing the materialism, greed, and western values long ago and there is muddied water under the bridge of their sisterhood. It feels like a small victory that Maggie is becoming more like her, even if Eva has never been political, the two are like twin souls. Maggie, who hates America and cares for the poor, feels more like her true child having always reminded her of her own sister when she was still sweet, when Eva had to raise her as her own after their mother’s death. Elena, her daughter, resembles Eva’s dead husband Hugo (a Jewish atheist) more than her in looks and temperament and the two have a strained relationship. Elena seems to blame her for raising her in the GDR, for having no father (as if Hugo’s death was her fault) and Eva’s heartache and disappointment that Elena seems like a child still, the very embodiment of underachievement, has diluted their bond. Worse, Elena doesn’t think much of Hansi, who means everything to Eva. She has remained in Berlin for him more than any other reason.

Middle-aged though the lovers may be, Eva still gets high on Hansi’s touch, the very brawn of him and his ‘air of menace’ excites her like nothing else. He has his secrets and she loves his mystery, doesn’t dare to ask how he affords his lifestyle, the nice car, his many privileges. There is anger living beneath his skin, but Eva knows better than to question his business dealings, she is good at waiting, a steadfast woman and wise enough to keep the desperation she feels to always have him beside her well hidden. If she wishes his wife were dead, well who could blame her? What has life in the GDR taught her but to not question things? To ignore trouble? To accept whatever demands and restrictions life, or dear Hansi, puts on her?

In her joy with her ‘angel’ Maggie’s arrival, she fails to notice danger even when it smacks her in the face. Maggie and her boyfriend Tom begin to seem ‘off balance’, her lovely nice begins to lose her shine, her fresh beauty. When everything goes off the rails, how much is Eva to blame, for being blind to reality? Don’t all grown women have their ‘troubles’, it’s a part of growing up, right? How are Tom and her niece’s troubles tied to her Hansi? She can’t keep her eyes closed and make excuses forever.

Eva is first to defends the GDR, freely admitting it had its flaws while pointing out that the whole world has imperfect systems too. In fact, at times, crime seems worse now, as if everyone is on their own. The West is just about having ‘stuff’, she declares, while clinging to the robe from her Hansi and moved by her jazz and blues records. She’s allowed to be contrary, no? She is morose, but her life has been full of small tragedies and betrayals. Family alienation not the least of it, haunted by dreams about her dead husband as guilt and shame weighs her down, but what is she to do? Never move on? A perceptive story about how one family is affected by the changes of their country and how clinging to the hurts of the past can harm the present. Eva isn’t always likeable, she often seems indifferent or numb, but it is how she’s survived her situations, deflected pain. Addiction, to drugs and unhealthy love.

Publication Date: May 18, 2021

Soho Press

The Weak Spot: A Novel by Lucie Elven

At the end of my studies the town had appeared on the list of possible places to train. I wanted to see if I could measure up to this wilderness. No one had quite said I couldn’t, so I applied.

Sometimes you read a book that is both hazy and clear, this is such a novel. The narrator of The Weak Spot has come to an unnamed town on a mountain in Europe to apprentice with a pharmacist. A town that serves as a safe haven, she recalls from her youth, for all unsavory sorts of people. August Malone is the pharmacist who hires her and upon her first interview with him it’s evident he is a contradiction, someone who is on guard, behaving strangely as the observed often do. Interesting for a man who is king observer himself! Malone’s belief is a pharmacist’s purpose is to ‘enhance the locals’ potential by listening carefully’. It becomes her job to do as much, as she passes her time alongside Elsa who tends to the dispensing station. Elsa relies on her to confront the things she wishes to change about the pharmacy, as Malone can be intimidating. Elsa has a terminally ill sister named Nelly, whose garden she covets, herself having been left with only a small patch of grass that the sun apparently shuns. Mr. Funicular, is a costume designer, costumes being the only thing he is ambitious about, a superstitious fellow who tells stories about a beast the long ago wreaked havoc until the village dealt with the creature.

Mr. Funicular’s grotesque to ward off beasts reminds her of her mother and her illness, alternative remedies and death. As time passes she hopes to be trusted by the locals, accepted. Malone is a person whom one cannot catch, whose productivity she admires. Their job is to comfort, to give people something to hold unto in their words that heal body and soul of whatever plagues them. Malone eventually takes a sort of ‘sabbatical’, once he has decided to go into politics running for Mayor and what better way to use his skills learned behind the counter listening and learning about the locals needs, desires. Politicians must understand everything about their people.

Our narrator herself learns about performance, giving the customers what they have come for by presenting a sort of confidence. By asking the right questions to get the people to talk and reflecting back at them the pharmacy becomes the perfect place to disappear and feel nothing. At home, she does much them same, refusing to invest herself in music nor art, anything that makes her feel. She says as much, that she seems to be living in a long pause. Either I missed something or she is meant to remain as elusive as the rest of the happenings in this strange village. Reading this story felt more like I had walked into someone else’s dream, and was attempting to understand the symbolism and failing miserably but I delighted in the play between customers and our narrator, their struggle between wanting to believe medicine has answers and disbelieving at the same time. Something is just completely strange about the entire place and it’s people, intimidated by Malone. It’s an odd novel, but the writing was sometimes lovely. I know there are mysteries, weird things happening beneath the surface and we’re scratching to get to the meaty worms but I never felt I captured them. I’m still at a loss for what it’s about beyond the narrator wishing to just forget herself entirely by turning attention to other people.

Publication Date: February 9, 2021

Soft Skull Press

The Hare: A Novel by Melanie Finn

With him, her blood felt different in her veins, warmer, smoother, just as her hair was blonder from the sun.

I devoured this novel and it certainly sat heavy in my gut. Standing witness to a young woman who hasn’t had the time nor experience to fully form as a person, to fill her space in the world, to have the freedom to ‘become’, is nothing short of horrific. As an early reader there wasn’t anyone to discuss it with and I couldn’t wait to share it. We meet Rosie Monroe when she falls for a worldly, upper crust, dashing New England man, twenty years her senior, twenty years the wiser. Rosie is hungry for experience, desperate to escape the confines of her strict grandmother “Gran’s” house and too young to realize what trap she is setting for herself. Led by her passions and her dream of being an artist, far from the solid, frugal, bland life her grandmother envisions for her, she applies to art school in New York City during the 1980’s and wins a scholarship. Once there, she begins to feel as lonely as before, not quite fitting into the scene of the ‘hipper’ students but finds something far more thrilling to occupy her. She might not make powerful art statements, nor create compelling, important performance art but she draws the eye of a hulking, fascinating man. Seduced and possessed by the charms of Bennett when she meets him at the Museum of Modern Art, Rosie finally has someone to fill her loneliness. With his world offered on a plate she expands her own and shadowed by his hulking, strong presence she feels far more alive than she ever felt in the subdued loveless life beside her Gran.

Naturally, such passions blind Rosie to the inconsistencies in Bennet’s life. His meaty opinions, his sense of entitlement, the strength and power she observes in the very manner he occupies his body, and asserts himself in every situation, particularly where she’d be cowed, assures her of his importance. But beneath the surface, his criticisms bite, infect, aren’t necessarily for ‘the betterment’ of her being. At the beginning, nothing is more alluring than his desire for her, his terror that Rosie might leave him. What is more flattering than another’s need for us when we’re young and lonely? Like a hooked fish, she lives at the mercy of his whims, which isn’t bad at all when she is so unsure of herself. She feels special, consumed by the pleasures of their lovemaking, feeling lucky she was chosen to spend her summer by the sea with this amazing man who runs in circles of famous people and understands the world of wealth and all it’s secret surfaces. Before long, they are living together and she gets to play at being an artist while staying in a boathouse on his wealthy friend’s estate. But like all dreams, it doesn’t last. She is pregnant and Bennet’s logic is full of holes, as much as his sentences. It doesn’t change her love for him, like a violence.

Things sour after their baby girl, Miranda, is born and Bennet is in trouble with his ‘business’, forcing the little family to an isolated cabin in Vermont. Here, life is savage, raw compared to the luxury and comfort of the boathouse. A cold, infested house, with a brutish, strange neighbor next door that doesn’t much warm up to strangers. As Bennet begins to spiral, he spends more time away with his new job leaving Rosie to figure how to survive their crude conditions. His money comes and goes, giving them just enough until the cupboards are bare. His tenderness is a ghost of a feeling, the only thing giving her body and soul warmth now are the woodstove she spends endless, sleepless nights feeding. Once again, she is invisible in isolation but here, she transcends her former, girlish self. Rosie might become something a man can’t strip to the bone with pretty words, cultivating a strength beyond anything Bennet can offer.

Rosie represents a lot of women in varying stages, to my way of thinking. Soft, naïve, hungry for fulfillment, love, to be seen, sacrificing ambition and dreams for what seems like a gift. Later, a waking dreamer trapped in a nightmare of their own stupid making and as she ages and finds strength to raise their girl, a fierce mother. I loved this story, but it is dark, a painful shedding. Life, even at it’s bleakest, has it’s surprises and help comes from unexpected places. She grows, she has no choice but to feel the bruises of her mistakes. It’s when you have to scratch for survival that you find your backbone. There is so many painful awakenings in this novel. Readers will judge her, for her blindness, it’s easy to do from the safety of distance, it’s what women face from the time they are born, these incriminating missteps dragging behind us like a rotting dead horse. We always pay with a pound of flesh.

Yes, read it. Can’t wait to see what others think.

Publication Date: January 26th 2021


Two Dollar Radio

The Family Ship: A Novel by Sonja Yoerg

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

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

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

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

Publication Date: February 23, 2021

Lake Union Publishing

When in Vanuatu: A Novel by Nicki Chen

Snap out of it. Lately, she’d been having these little spells of expatriate ennui.

Diana is living in Manilla with her husband Jay, after being swayed by the freedom to finally start a family and take time off. This move was Jay’s chance at his dream job, everything would line up for them both, even if it meant giving up American luxuries. It has been 4 years and Diana is still yearning to get pregnant and nearing the age of 35, she knows time is of the essence. Both are perfectly healthy, so why is she unable to conceive? Is it the stress of the Philippines? Truly when they were newly arrived, they were happy to join their friends on trips to vacation spots on the beach or in the mountains, but that was before the dangerous coup attempts after the People Power Revolution. Is it the mounting tensions they have no control over or is that just an excuse to explain away the fading charm of the island? With Diana’s fertility doctor assuring her there isn’t anything wrong, that she just needs to relax considering stress has a negative impact on conception, Diana is resolved to be the most relaxed person her friends know. She starts with her own little aquarium of fish. Anything to keep her mind off of anti-American demonstrations, the strain between she and Jay, and her longings for a child. Maybe the prescription of yoga and meditation will be the cure, but how is one meant to truly “relax” when they are consumed with the need to relax or when Diana can’t stop thinking about getting pregnant? Too, there is Jay’s constant worry and caring watchful eyes, deeply rooted in the tragic loss of his first wife. How is a woman meant to let things happen naturally when nature isn’t taking it’s course in a timely manner? How is a wife to enjoy herself when she has to sneak around just to get out of her own head?

When Diana’s best friend Abby learns of her own husband’s job opportunity it means a move to Vanuatu, an island country located in the South Pacific. Diana is sad to be losing her companion and Abby is adamant she won’t go, sick of conceding her own desires In the end, she and the children follow her husband. Diana is surprised when Abby’s angry letters change to happier missives, reminding Diana about how she once felt about discovering all the new delights of Manilla. It gets her thinking that after four years of living Jay’s dream, it’s time for her own. She wants to move to Vanuatu, even if it means putting her foot down with her husband.

Vanuatu might just be the place where she can feel joy again, soothed by the beauty of their surroundings and an escape from the dangers of Manilla, but nothing ever goes to plan. She finds herself thinking about Jay’s first wife, wondering if she is competing with her memory. Then she is threatened in an unusual incident. Just when it seems like things are finally happening for she and Jay, hard times hit. Will they be able to move past their sorrows together here in paradise? Is happiness about one’s location? Will she ever escape her own worries and losses?

The novel is about the things we want in life and the things life wants from us. When In Vanuatu is quiet story about the expat life, what we take with us despite the places we leave behind and how it changes a marriage. It is about the pressures of a woman’s body, her own power over it when the clock is ticking and the conflict between going with the flow and fighting the tide through our desires.

Publication Date: April 27, 2021


The Invention of Love by Sara Schaff

I allowed myself a good, satisfying minute of deep resentment.

The women in Sara Schaff’s second collection of stories face and often wonder at their former selves, are plagued by the aftermath of their decisions, long for who they could have been, wonder how they can still be, fight the shifts of time as years slip through their exhausted fingers, and try to make sense of love. Pivotal moments are sometimes dull, other times ugly and filled with betrayal.

In Affective Memory a woman recalls her short-lived relationship with a man named Luke and the ‘particular pain of this receding moment’. The contradictory emotions that plague us when what we have slips away and we grieve it even if we don’t want it. The title story The Invention of Love delves into a strange incident one night at a party and its tie to an art student’s hunger to create something meaningful. She is loaded with envy for the true genius in her lithography class and maybe wants his attention? Something Else is a ‘grad school coming-of-age story’, a tale of being over educated and under employed. Big things are happening for one friend, while others are settling to the bottom.

House Hunting after the loss of their mother, who died in the very place she herself hated, always wanted ‘someplace prettier’ siblings Diane and Toby must decide what to do with the smelly, eyesore that is their pitiful inheritance. Overwhelmed by shame and guilt, Diane escapes by house hunting for gorgeous homes she will never live in and makes a surprising decision in the end. We Are Ready is about much younger siblings and their grief at having to leave their home in the country for the confinement of the city and their sad mother’s unbearable reality.

West Lake an expat must deal with the looming birth of her daughter in the midst of her husband’s infidelity. She chooses to walk out of her life, to deny her husband the vision of her most naked and animal self. What feels like revenge could be self-discovery and a fresh outlook. Noreen O’Malley at the Sunset Pool is the cost and weight of poor decisions, a young woman realizes that wanting a thing to be true doesn’t make it so.

Our Lady of Guazá  Sisters, Marcela and Valentina born to different fathers fight over their dead mother’s jeans in Bogotá, but more it is what the jeans seem to represent. My Husband’s Second Wife is my favorite, it is beautiful and raw. Anger, admiration, the glamour of the very woman who has stolen the narrator’s husband is impossible to resist… but why are the works of Tolstoy ‘like a brick’ to her? This story has the makings of a full novel, the things Schaff could explore. It’s funny how betrayal creates connections.

Claire Tells A Story is about escaping the tediousness of one’s own life by sinking into the tales of someone else’s more ‘colorful’ existence. The All Clear is about an artist who isn’t creating anymore, stagnating, too tired with the demands of survival (family, work) to even remember who she was when she finished the work in her old portfolio.

The End of Workshop is about the strange envy a successful professor feels towards his female student who strays from his assignment with an idea of her own. The Man Running the Hiring Committee is how women are disqualified in the hiring process, but it’s not sexism, sure. Everyone Gets It a copywriter throws her hat in the ring for a job, deals with the heavy weight of politics during the 2016 election while fighting the misogamy in her office, and waits to win… and waits… and waits.

These stories have one thing in common, the unreliability of life. Who doesn’t face that at some stage on their journey? The big moments often sneak in through our missteps, it’s what we do after that matters. Even if it’s just stepping back to reflect.

Published June 15, 2020

Split/Lip 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

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

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

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

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

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

Publication Date: October 27, 2020

Random House