The Flight Attendant: A Thriller by Chris Bohjalian

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For a split second, her mind registered only the idea that something was wrong. It may have been the body’s utter stillness, but it may also have been the way she could sense the amphibian cold. But then she saw blood.

Cassandra Bowden suffers blackouts from her binge drinking, she often wakes up with a different man full of shame and self-disgust and has to remind herself this is just who she is. Her career as a flight attendant has afforded ample opportunity for such wild times, an anchorless existence but this time, when she finds herself waking up in bed with one Alex Sokolov, she knows this will be a ‘morning after’ she will never escape. What does she do? Runs, of course. Surely she could never explain this death to the authorities, particularly in Dubai! Her memories of the night before are a mess in her mind, she remembers the woman who joined them, Miranda. Could she have been drugged? Miranda is the only one who knows that Cassandra was with Alex in that hotel room. It is vital she makes it to America, and figure things out from there, and lie of course, to everyone. How does she know what her co-workers saw? Likely they witnessed her flirting, but there was nothing out of the ordinary there for her. Her mind returns to Miranda, and the drinking. Could she have been drugged? Surely Cassandra gets into messes when she drinks, but she knows she isn’t a murderer!

So begins the nightmare, just who did kill Alex? Why? It’s a terrifying prospect, waking next to a dead stranger you picked up, a sudden suspect in a foreign country and not clear on just what the hell happened. Cassie is a wreck, and I didn’t warm to her but on the other hand, let’s face it one’s demons aren’t easy to shake off and though we may want to be better, so many of us are stuck on self-destruct. Surely we all know someone who just can’t stop wrecking their lives. That’s Cassandra. The murder is so much bigger, on an international level, than she could ever invent.Take her childhood trauma into account, the addiction in the blood and it’s easier to understand her behavior but it doesn’t make you like her anymore. This is one wake up call!

The FBI investigates and naturally the flight crew is interviewed,  her included, but that’s it. It was almost too easy, getting away. She meets another man, you’d think she would be terrified of all strangers after the horror she just went through, but no. Back to her ways, one could say ‘maybe it’s shock’, wouldn’t you imagine serious PTSD after being involved in a murder? But drinking… it’s so good at numbing you! We return to what we know, like a dog returning to it’s vomit. She will unravel, of course she will! How can she not when she sees her photo on the New York Post website?

Spies, the KGB, cold-hearted executioners, just what does the FBI think Alex was involved in? His work did take him to Russia. Why did he never mention this Miranda woman to his co-workers? It isn’t long before she thinks she is being followed. Those involved are hoping that maybe the problem, being Cassandra, will take of itself…What’s worse than one’s reputation exposed to public judgement? She is such a mess already, surely she won’t be able to face the shame? How far does she have to fall before she hits the bottom? A death isn’t enough? With the digital age, there are no secrets, and she is exposed.

It’s not the FBI she needs to worry about, or whether or not anyone will ever believe her story about this mystery woman Miranda. It’s who is really after her, who wants hee silenced. Espionage in stories usually involve characters of high intelligence, not drunken ‘tarts’ who black out and find themselves through happenstance caught up in international incidents. I like the idea, she is just absolutely clueless and from the moment she wakes up all the way to the end she is completely lost. Let’s face it, her life was a total disaster before Alex Sokolov. The one constant is that she puts her foot in it, and leaves tracks.

I didn’t really care for her, I was actually more invested in Miranda. These sort of thrillers aren’t my usual go to read and I will say Bohjahlian gives readers something completely different eat time he writes. I prefer Midwives and Sleepwalker personally, but I cared enough to see this to its conclusion. Usually I shy away from anything involving spies, but the idea of a woman blacking out and finding herself next to a dead body reeled me in.

Publication Date: March 13, 2018

Doubleday

 

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Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover

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“There’s a world out there, Tara,” he said. “And it will look a lot different once Dad is no longer whispering his view of it in your ear.”

The above quote is true, in a sense, for all children but more so in certain families. This was one of the most captivating memoirs I have ever read. Ideas can be dangerous, and children are nothing if not always at the mercy of their parents. They are our Gods, they rule the universe until we are able to fully think and decide for ourselves, but how do you do that when you’ve been conditioned? What about being kept out of school, taught to distrust everyone that doesn’t share your parents beliefs? Here is the truth, when your world is small and contained you are so much easier to control, to manipulate. Maybe all parents poison the minds of their children with their ideology, often not meaning too. We can’t be right all the time, and aren’t as progressive as we imagine. Every parent has allowed their prejudices to bleed into their children, well meaning or not- born out of fear or from horrible experience that colored our thoughts and those things can wreak havoc for life on our children, carried well into adulthood. How do we purge the rot and nurture the seeds of good our parents have placed inside of us? As with all of us, Tara Westover spent much of her life sifting through her education, life lessons, religious beliefs, etc. A child of survivalists, believing the end of times is always around the corner, forced to prep endlessly, that the rest of the world is full of sin, forbidden to be seen  or treated by doctors (because God and nature heals, not man) barred from school (because it’s brainwashing) her father is first and foremost a faithful servant of God. Early on he has episodes, everyone must fall in line to his demands, even her mother forced into midwifery and healing. Her brother is brutally abusive, and abuse is something no one really understands until they’ve lived through it. Good, Bad… how do you make that separation with nothing to compare it to? You can only dissect things with what you are aware of, what do you do when it’s been drilled into you that all you can trust is your family, forced to view the entire world as ominous and evil?

Tara, of course has an inborn feeling of right and wrong and an intelligence beyond what is ‘acceptable’ but there is a struggle with religion and the love she feels for her family. While her father has spent his life sure the rest of the world is a threat, out to brainwash godly people he himself is guilty of such. Be it an unamed illness in him or manical faith, a label changes nothing when behavior is enabled and beyond anyone’s control. Yes, any sane person would be horrified by the things she and her siblings were forced to do, things even strong grown men would be hardpressed to take on, and why does she see it through? Because parents are in control, there is no other option, and later to protect others. It does dawn on her that her life is hardscrabble and brutal, and as quoted above, when one of her brothers seeks a different way of life and escapes (which is a mean feat) she finds her own way out.

Being out is a loaded thing too. Chosing anything other than the life her father has mapped out for his children is to be excommunicated! It’s siblings having to chose sides, it’s relying solely on oneself. Tara is one hell of a strong woman, and the madness of it is her parents, in all their outrageous expectations and teachings still are a part of the reason she turned out the way she did. What a thing to chew on! We become, either in spite of or because of, don’t we. We discard what’s been forced upon us, embrace it, or ulter it until the fit is right. Even the most horrific of things we have survived are a part of our evolution, so to speak.

Tara loves her parents, there is no doubt but that doesn’t mean she can’t see their flaws. It’s a miracle anyone survived her father and his ideas, and her mother- because she allowed it, she took part in it. The dizzying moments come when things do turn out, when her parents have success or share a scrap of tenderness, that’s the confusion for her. Surely, if they are right about this than maybe she is the bad one?

I can’t even begin to do justice to this memoir, it’s so hard to review them anyway as you feel like you have someone’s life in your hands, such an over-exaggeration I know, but really, this is a raw account of Tara Westover’s heartbreaking and inspiring struggle to free herself. Do not be fooled by the cover, it isn’t just about education nor off the grid survivalists and religion. I couldn’t put it down, and spent so much time collecting flies with my mouth gaping open in shock. There is a lingering sadness inside of me, even for her brother whom wronged Tara in so many ways, and that is how it is for her.I could write paragraphs about everything I felt and thought along the journey of this memoir, but the best I can do is tell others to read it!  I hope there is another book one day, she is someone you long to check in on, that you’re rooting for. I don’t think I could have found my way as she found hers, it takes courage and something more that so many of us are missing. It’s so much easier to play possum and just accept the devil you know, but I kept hearing ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ and ‘rely on yourself’. She sure did!

Yes, a must read for 2018!

Publication Date: February 20, 2018

Random House

 

She Regrets Nothing:A Novel by Andrea Dunlop

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Her cousin, whose life had diverged from her own by a twist of fate, and who had endured so much, needed her. It was an opportunity to set right some misalignment in the universe. Liberty would do whatever she needed to help her.

After all, Laila was a Lawerence. And wasn’t keeping family close what mattered most of all?

 

After the death of her mother, 23-year-old Laila Lawerence is orphaned, her father having died years before. Something happened long ago causing a rift between Laila’s father and his prestigious family so when her glamorous cousins appear at her mother’s funeral, veritable strangers, it is the first step of discovery that she is not as alone as she thought. It is also a possibility into the world she never knew she belonged too, and believes she was unfairly robbed of. She never felt she belonged where her mother settled, nor was she happy in a life destined as the wife of a dentist.  Why shouldn’t she partake of the wealth and notoriety her cousin’s have spent their entire lives feasting on? Now that everything is ending, it’s time to cast aside the old life and move to New York.

Laila is many things to her cousins (twins Nora and Leo and eldest Liberty), a mystery, a fascination, beautiful in ways Nora never became, – she is some exotic creature, the polar opposite of them. Laila to them is seemingly cursed with bad luck, where they live lives untouched by hardship and loss,  and she will be welcomed into their world, everything will be made right. The decadence of their lives is startling to Laila who wonders at and resents the reasons her father chose to reject it, why her mother held her tongue, eager to meet the grandfather (patriarch) who has been denied her and terrified that some have chosen sides, in a fight she knows nothing about. Why didn’t her parents tell her about her cousins? Why so much secrecy? For Laila it’s like being reborn, life as a Lawerence so much like a glamorous tv show and the more she is exposed to, the hungrier she gets for more.

Not everyone is charmed by Laila, Reece (Liberty’s best friend) sees her as an interloper and for some reason can’t warm to her nor feel compassion for all she missed out on. For all the men, it’s another story. It isn’t long before Liberty affords Laila an oppurtunity in the publishing world that has her meeting an author and maybe can be the start of a love affair. If Laila is seduced by everything the Lawerence have to offer, then others are seduced by her beauty and artlessness. She is starved for family but the opulence of this new world is a temptation she can’t resist, and why shoud she? It’s time to get her hands on everything she was wrongfully denied. With an ‘heirloom’ of her mother’s, there may be a clue in what caused the rupture between her father and grandfather, that made her uncle too turn on his own brother, chosing sides.

Laila finds herself caught up in the deceptions, manipulation of the elite but is she clever enough to survive? Just how much should she trust her family that she is only now learning about, and what about the Lawerence’s? Just what are they risking by letting the black sheep in? Why is she a disgrace, is it the sins of the father, the mother? Is it blood gone sour? So much of the time it seems the siblings humor her, at once adoring of their ‘less fortunate’ cousin while also mocking her ‘commonness’, even if just to eachother, unaware of their snobbery. Just what do the cousins owe her anyway? Is blood thicker than water, should it always be?

It’s hard to review this without giving away the secrets. It starts out as uplifting and hopeful then turns deceptively dark and disturbing. I think there is a love hate relationship with all the characters, truly. It’s well written, and with Laila I get the kid in a candy store feeling. Once you see what you’ve missed out on, it’s so hard to imagine going back to the drudgery and struggle of the old life. The cousins are flawed too, even in their perfection, treating her in turns like little orphan Annie or a curiosity (which is how Leo tends to see her), maybe even like an answer to a dream (for Nora), or simply a way to do good in the world for someone (as Liberty attempts). Two worlds meet, but what will this turn of fate mean for them all? Coming Soon, add to your reading list for 2018!

Publication Date: February 6, 2018

Atria Books

 

Peach: A Novel by Emma Glass

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Through the suds I watch my tears drown, fall down the drain. I want to follow with them.

The writing style of Peach was very hard for me to get into, but once I did there were things that jumped out at me. Peach has survived an attack, she is pretending nothing happened, trying to block it,  yet tormented by the violence and her parents are clueless. What worked for me there, is how blind adults can be to intense pain and suffering in their children, seeing only the surface, on a sort of auto-pilot, assuming trouble wears a neon sign. Girls are very good at supressing the terrible things done to them, I would go so far as to say taught even.

The nararration is almost as disjointed as her reality that is spawning a nightmare, hunted by the very thing she wants to just forget. The physicality and open sexuality between her parents almost makes me cringe, knowing what has happened. “She pinches my bum as I move past her.” How different such things feel ‘after’ being violated. Of course, I could be reading it entirely differently than other readers, putting meaning where none is intended, that’s the beauty of this type of story. It seems artless, but it isn’t. It does feel like I am reading some teenagers diary or something, crawling around in the muck of Peach’s mind, all over the place, non-sensical and it’s a dizzying trip.

I think it may be hard for some of us to keep up it feels like such a young read, I often feel this way just listening to twenty something year olds explain things to me. “Keep up, lady!” It’s strange, it’s unique but some readers will be thrown off and say ‘what did I just read?’ That happens as much with literature as it does with works of art. I imagined her the entire time with a smile full of stitches, ears tearing up going about mechanically and no one hearing her screams. Dead inside, needing help and having no clue how to get it.

It’s like a story written on shattered glass and hastily glued together, it’s like a crime scene. You really have to be able to get into the style or all is lost. An original debut, but not for everyone. I think a teenager or young adult will relate to the ‘grtty’ feel of it more.

Publication Date: January 28, 2018

Bloomsbury USA

Panorama: A Novel by Steve Kistulentz

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“It is a kind of delicious cheating to flip ahead, to know how everything turns out; to read the last page is to learn exactly how inevitable the events are in a particular story.”

Life, however is disorderly and not tied in neat endings set to a beautiful soundtrack. If we knew what would happen and could prevent or change it, nothing would ever happen. In Panorama a careless oversight causes a tragedy with life altering consequences for everyone involved. Richard MacMurray works in television, a well known tv pundit, part-time gadfly. While he is a guest on a news show, digging into an argument about the First Amendment, the anchorman gets word of breaking news, a Special Report– trigger words for Richard after tragedy struck his own father Lew, decades ago. Tragedy has found him again, this time his sister Mary Beth is one of the victims in a jet airline crash, leaving behind her little boy Gabriel, but he doesn’t quite know this yet. Before long, he will.

Richard is the remaining family, and knows it is now on him to take in his nephew. How will he be a father to a little boy who is very much a stranger to him? He isn’t the only person left reeling. Mary Beth had just begun dating her Boss Mike Renefro, fresh in the relationship not quite solidified but getting there, wanting to be more and now consumed by worry for the little boy whose mother is never coming back, Mike is a sort of outcast from those grieving, unofficial as he isn’t legally tied to the victim. Mike, who has no say in anything, who has no right to be ‘involved’ but desperate, knowing he must get to Mary Beth’s son, to be the one to tell him what has happened, rules be damned. Gabriel, a ‘strange and lonely’ child who feels the force of being the only child of a single mom, a boy who has a plan to be more ‘normal’, to be more likable and blend in with all those kids who leave him out, once his mother returns from her trip he will tell her how he will fix things. It’s too late, but he doesn’t know this, he has no clue his mother has died in a plane crash. There is something tender and horrifying, as if he is suspended in time, free from the devastating knowledge, but only a short reprieve. We wish he never had to find out.

This captures a moment that pulls so many into it’s tragic orbit, teenagers that are going about their day getting up to the things young people do that get footage of the crash, knowing it’s gold for any news station. There is Sarah who has been caring for Gabriel  while Mary Beth is on her vacation and waits for his mother’s return but soon has to pass him over to temporary guardian Maura Valle, who just doesn’t have the heart to tell the little boy his mother won’t be coming back. How does one go about being the person who delivers news that will rupture a child’s world forever? From a janitor, to a mechanic, a brother, a son and everyone in between, the reader witnesses how a moment can change everything. None of them get to skip to the ending, to change their mistakes or avoid the flight. Fate is set.

Publication Date: March 6, 2018

Coming soon from Little, Brown and Company

 

The Done Thing: A Novel by Tracy Manaster

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“We’d cremated her. Frank too. Everyone after Barbra, I cremated. The thought of another body in the ground. Still and wet, getting wetter. My horrible mind. I should have willed myself to sleep.”

Lida Stearl has never been able to move on from the murder of her sister Barbra at the hands of her brother in law, Clarence nor the fact that he once charmed her as much as anyone else. Always one to do what’s right and good, she fought to raise their daughter, Pam, the only child she and her husband Frank would ever have. Pam is grown now and creating a life for herself with her beloved husband Blue and his adoring family, her work with dogs. When she learns her brother-in-law is looking to connect with pen pals from his prison cell, the rot of an idea begins to take form. Apparently her “horrible mind” has fixated itself on Clarence, who certainly doesn’t deserve the “brightness of these fruits”, photos, memories connections to daughter Lida. She will see to it that his last days are torture to his mind, for he deserves no peace!

Lida’s anger is a poison she nurtures, what else is there to do with all her free days now that she’s widowed, alone. Revenge, a slip, a madness will make the ugliness inside of Lida rear it’s head. Clarence has always been orbiting Pam’s life, and his mother has lurked like a threat. Who is to blame for the terrible action Clarence chose, who suffers more than the survivors? Lida disgusts the reader just as much as the violent crime her brother in law committed. The reason is flimsy at best, but the reasoning behind most murders committed are. Clarence isn’t the only character full of guilt, but the bitterness inside of Lida is about more than her sister’s murder. How is the violence her heart harbors different that the anger Clarence was fueled by when he killed? We hate to think of comparisons to those who have committed the most heinous of acts.

She loved her sister, but Barbara had her flaws, her deceptions, her cunning and flippant ways. Lida slowly begins to shrivel inside, her hurt turns mean, getting in the way of the love she and her niece share. She is hungry to be the star in her heart, and is selfish of any lingering desire Pam has to know the father who has been locked away for much of her life. We’re not supposed to like this, because it’s ugly, and I thought of how such a situation is a reality for some people. How do you allow a relationship to grow between a child you love and care for and the parent who murdered your loved one? It’s a raw situation, it’s the unimaginable. I suppose many people would deny said parent the right, but how does that effect the child?

Pam is in a difficult situation, wondering her whole life over if ‘blood will tell’, being told over and over of her goodness, but of course we are all a little like our parents, the good the bad and the ugly. We are all ‘just people’, and even the most foul among us has some kernel of decency if not goodness inside of us. Lida never wanted Pam to think for a moment she is anything like that man! Which will likely make a child compare herself even more, and inspire curiosity. Of course Pam hungers for her father into adulthood, but she surely can’t do so freely without hurting her aunt who has been her only mother since the murder of her own. Lida would never stand for it, Lida sometimes forgets the horror wasn’t hers alone, that not all decisions are hers to make. Lida creates a fake persona in letters between she and Clarence. Just what is her end goal? She plays at more than that when she begins to visit his mother. Oh how ugly she becomes, how closely she resembles hatred, the sort of hatred that spawns murderous ideas, that makes Lida a person as rotten as Clarence. It begs the question, just how low can any of us go if the circumstances push and pull on us?

Morality is always easy when you’re never tested, isn’t it? We all love to think we’re good, we would do the right thing, but what do we know of our own hearts? I often thought, “good Lord Lida, you need to get a grip, your cruelty is showing.” Something in her has soured, this inner struggle with self-blame, regrets, shame, and petty jealousy. She has been Pam’s salvation, but hate is spoiling love. This is such a strange story, it is certainly more an examination of Lida than it is of Clarence’s violent act. It’s another form of victimization though too, Barbara was murdered but something was damaged inside of Lida and Clarence’s mother too, punished and cut out of Pam’s life simply for being the vessel that birthed a killer into the world.

I think it beautifully represents how insidious anger is. Lida spent so much time burying the pain over Barbara’s murder to run her practice (she’s an Orthodontist), raise her niece, and keep her marriage healthy that now in the quiet years of her life like the undead that buried anger is rising to the surface. Justice costs every family member, victims like dominoes. Clarence’s execution date is looming, but Lida is imprisoned as much as he is. What will her plan teach her about herself?

Publication Date: December 5, 2017

Gallery, Threshold, Pocket Books

 

 

 

Woman at 1,000 Degrees: A Novel by Hallgrímur Helgason

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“You are still, however, my sons, try as you might to  fight that fact. And that is and will undoubtedly be your everlasting handicap.”

The title refers to Eighty-year-old Herra Bjornsson who will be cremated when she’s dead has a standing appointment while she’s alive. While she waits to die she has her fun wiling away the days living in a garage in Reykjavik playing around with fake identities on social media. She can be young again, she can be anyone! Maybe there is cruelty in some of the deceptions, but it’s keeping her young, right? This is like sitting down beside one’s fiery grandmother(if you’re lucky enough to have one) with a history far more adventurous and ill-fated than you could ever conjure. Her youth enraptured me, I have a fondness for characters that have lived through atrocities, I wonder at the strength human beings are capable of. As they say, you are stronger where you break. Or so we hope. “Human beings have always had a need for disasters. If nature doesn’t provide them for us, we create them ourselves.” If that isn’t a nugget of truth, I don’t know what is. In war, there is a strange order in the chaos. Everyone is suffering, everyone’s ‘life is raped’ and it requires a certain numbness to survive.  No one can empathize with another’s plight too much, as everyone is living with horrors. Terrible things happen to Herra Bjornsson and warmth, humanity is found in the strangest of places. With her fierce youthful curiosity she befriends a prostitute, while skipping school. As she points out, behind each door in the war-torn cities there is a woman, doors leading to lives as if in grand novels- tragic, dramatic, horrific. I enjoyed following her escapades of youth, scorned or broken women whispering secrets to her like “Don’t become a woman.” As of there is a way to stop it, telling her to ‘be a person‘ instead, and she does try over the years and has her fun, her many partners, her drunken nights rich with conversations.  In such times, what could be worse than being a woman, losing sons, husbands, being raped or forced into prostitution or worse, and there is always worse. Forced to separate from her parents, sent to live on an ‘island of women’ with war on, staying in the home of Frau Baum she shares a room with Heike, and becomes just another mouth to feed, hence she accidentally becomes a little Icelandic girl helping Hitler’s cause. Hunger, absence, frugality, the small business children learned to run to put food in their belly- these are things most of us can only read about and try to wrap our minds around from the distance of the present. Sharing a hungry love in the forest with a Polish man named Marek, until she becomes nothing more than a foolish “Germnay Girl” in his mind. There is no innocence left after but her grenade remains with her to fuel the memories of wartime. War shaped Herra Bjornsson, an orphan of war, a victim and yet a survivor, a fighter!

I didn’t always like her, let’s face it, she has her selfish moments as a mother but I felt for her. Her youth and the war had her begging to be seduced by a Nazi/Poet, and shamed for it but really, who can’t understand the unimaginable hunger for human warmth, the confusion and chaos of a teenage girl who is learning firsthand the brutality of men? Of war? Admitting to the eroticism of the forbidden, her youth is far more obvious. She always seems to understand the measure of every situation too late. How soon she will learn just what Nazi’s are capable of.

How was she as a mother? …”I’m on my way to the oven.” She tells her sons, with her old beating heart and stale thoughts, her boys whose names they share with three Norwegian Kings, sons that have shoved her in a nursing home, one she immediately escapes. Sons she has dragged around like luggage as she finds a life that doesn’t confine her just to be a woman, a mother. In the present she hates the “Rainmaker”, wife to her youngest, and gets up to mischief to expose her sins. What’s a little cyber-crime anyway for an old woman not long for this world? What can she do to wake her son, to shake some back bone back in place?  The boys she took off to Paris to raise, boys who saw men come in and out of their mother’s life until it was time to leave the beauty and return to the ugliness she missed in her homeland. Not much of a mother, the boys raising her, as she fights the role of motherhood and male dominance. But nothing seems to ever be still nor settled for her. None of her plans turn out as she imagined them, some ending even in death- of strangers, lovers, a golden child…

The story jumps through time and memories branded in Herra Bjornsson’s mind and not many of them happy ones yet there is humor. This is meant to make you uncomfortable, it was an ugly time. If Herra has any luck, it’s  for survival but it costs her. She certainly has a rocky fate and meets earth shattering tragedy but somehow manages to cling to life. Her early childhood was one of privilege but her dad’s loyalty to the wrong side in war becomes a  ‘plague o’ your house’- channeling a little Shakespeare there, I am. I don’t know if everyone would enjoy this novel, I have grown up with so many stories of war and occupation from my father’s side that I tend to devour books written about such. It’s rich in painful memories, and a little disjointed but it worked as it’s coming from the aged mind of a dying woman. War does something to people, it hardens so many, and as she tells us, there certainly wasn’t salvation back then, no psychologists looking to shake the horrors of war out of anyone, let alone poor Herra. The ending is abrupt, but then again- death is too so it follows.

Publication Date: January 9, 2018

Algonquin Books