The Mars Room: A Novel by Rachel Kushner


Certain women in prison make rules for everyone else, and the woman insisting on quiet was one of those. If you follow their rules, they make more rules. You have to fight people or you end up with nothing.

Everything  has already been taken from Romy Hall, but at what point did her life, her little boy Jackson begin to drift away? With two consecutive life sentences to be served at the Stanville Women’s Correctional Facility in California’s Central Valley, tears will get her nowhere. The worst part of it all, her life was ruined over a stalker who wasn’t even her own! The book is so gritty I have to wash my eyes, and its wonderful for all its squalor. Working in a sleazy strip club, Romy has a little boy to raise, she does what she has to. Maybe she’s into drugs here and there, and stuck in the underbelly she’s learned how to handle herself, she certainly doesn’t make candy coated excuses for who she is. Don’t expect an anti-drug PSA, Romy loved the feelings drugs induced and won’t tell you otherwise. She is still the victim, regardless of what the court decided. Her life has been grim from the start, that it got far worse is evident from the beginning where she is being transported as a part of ‘Chain Night’, her first time. The women prisoners all have their chaos to impart on the reader, no hope for any of them, some happy to be back in prison, which like their families before them is a given, is as much a home as the outside. Naturally it’s shocking, some seem born under an unlucky star, others’ self-made luck simply ran out. At times, the games they played changed, played them.Or maybe, maybe something is wrong in their blood. The good are sometimes ugly, the bad are sometimes beautiful. This is the bottom of the well, there is nothing left to lose, there is no future, so why bother?

The stories bleed all over the pages, jump around like an addict in search of their next fix, and there is no redemption at all. No one is going to raise their hand in victory, crowing about how they always said they were innocent and now they’re free. No one is really inocent, least of all Romy, but what exactly did she do? Why? It doesn’t matter, because no one is going to fight for her, she doesn’t have the money that would be available to a different class of woman. It is a story about class, isn’t it?

You can’t look away, which is awful because this is someone’s misery, their absolute hell. It’s putting the book down and thinking, thank God it’s not me, like Romy once believed, until it was her. These sordid tales are like visiting another planet for some of us, we feel so far above it all, don’t we? Fictional, yes, but for others this type of life is a given, and the first thing we’ll say, “Well, why don’t they pull themselves out of it?” What soft, safe lives some of us live, through the lottery of our birth. There is a line that hits you between the eyes, it’s so true that when the ‘haves’ commit crimes it’s often excused as disorder. “We were not kleptomaniacs. That’s a term for rich people who steal by compulsion.” 

Don’t be fooled, there is corruption everywhere, the disease of greed, power visits many hearts. For some, their fall is simply self-preservation. The cast of characters in The Mars Room is of many colors, genders, and ages; some with power and others without. What an ugly novel, just as it should be! So good!

Publication Date: May 1, 2018




Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li


Uncle Pang was always picking something apart.

Uncle Pang is more than picking everything apart, he is the master controlling his puppets. Between the workers and the owners, the real action takes place behind the scenes, not with the patrons. Jimmy Han doesn’t want to work under his deceased father’s shadow anymore, he longs for an edgier more modern restaurant and no one is going to stop him. Certainly not his overbearing old mother, nor his do-gooder older brother Johnny. When he isn’t ordering his workers around, he is making plans, big plans for his future restaurant. Nan and Ah-Jack (my favorite characters) are both buckling under the demands of their loved ones. For Nan, it’s her wayward son Pat, “Nan wanted to believe that at Pat’s core, all his gentle selves were curled up, waiting to be awoken.” It’s too hard for her to admit just how much he has soured. Ah-Jack’s wife Michelle is sick with cancer, and he’s getting too old to be as strong for her as he once was. There is something that has always been special, that’s simmered between he and the much younger Nan. She brings out the poetry of his tongue, the youth of his old heart. The love Nan has for Ah-Jack ‘came slowly, as weaknesses in the body often do.” But how does he feel, anchored to his dying wife, whom he’s been tied to since his childhood? Annie is the privileged niece, working in the family business, enticed by bad boy Pat- but just how far will she go for a little excitement?

Uncle Pang is like a dark cloud that descends on them all, picking and chosing who to ‘use’ and who to ‘discard’. Pat and Annie get caught up in a game too big for themselves, and it will cost more than young love. It’s a story not just about the successful Chinese immigrants, but those who struggle to make their way to a better life for themselves and their children. It’s the complications of family, brothers locked in their roles one as ‘trouble’ the other, as reluctant ‘savior.’ It’s a matriarch that refuses to give up control to her foolish sons, and love that is never too late. It’s thinking that what you dream of is better for you than what you have and that sometimes we idealize something so much that once we attain it, we find we may not want it at all.

I enjoyed the humor, even the selfishness and greed but most of all I adored the relationship between Nan and Ah-Jack (the old fool by far the best character). Everyone seems to be  either manipulating each other, fooling themselves, or saving one another. A story of beginnings and endings, of many relationships that simmer beneath the roof of a Chinese Restaurant, that is for some a home and for others a weight around their neck.

Publication Date: June 19, 2018

Henry Holt  & Company


This I Know: A Novel by Eldonna Edwards


I make people nervous, even Daddy. Especially Daddy. I know this by how they look away, as if their darkest secrets will be exposed like tea leaves scattered in the snow.

Midwest, 1960’s and Grace Carter seems too small for all the ‘Knowing’ she contains within’ her. Having an Evangelical pastor for a father who believes her gift shames God makes her hide the truth from the light. At times, she fears her father is right. It isn’t normal to be able to talk to your dead twin, nor know all the secrets brewing inside all the people in her small town. Her mother’s sadness is a force, a bottomless well where all of them are drowning. If it weren’t for Aunt Pearl’s love, she’d be lost.

People in their town are wary of her, children make fun but then she is bowled over by a girl named Lola, whose parents live the bohemian lifestyle her father believes breeds sin. Why, then, does she feel nothing but comfort and acceptance around Lola and her parents? What about the homeless man Lyle, why do people who put their faith in God see nothing wrong in turning their backs on a man so deeply in need? Her family has known grief, and her mother is spiraling into hers after bringing home a newborn baby. Why can’t she be more like her sisters, even spoiled Chastity? Grace’s premonitions that saved her sister Joy Ann are forbidden, surely it was angels, or God and has nothing to do with Grace’s witchery. Heck, she doesn’t even look like any of them with their blue eyes and soft blond hair, sticking out as she does with her red hair and green eyes as if her “knowing” doesn’t make her different enough!

She may not understand where her ‘knowing’ comes from, but she is not a witch! She is not evil!

Her knowing always leads to bigger stories, unravels secrets others feel are best kept hidden. When children are harmed, it is up to her to find the strength in herself to speak up. The adults seem to be no help, and everything at home is getting worse. Momma is half in this world, half in the other and nobody believes her but is it because the truth can be terrifying, even for grown ups? Surely her daddy isn’t scared of anything, is he? Scared of her?

Will Grace ever be free to be herself, to use her knowing, or is she just crazy or evil like so many make her feel? This is an uplifting story full of hope just in time for Spring. I have to mention the cover, it’s simply lovely. Sometimes you just need a feel good novel, about a little girl finding her backbone and learning to embrace who she is.

Publication Date: April 24, 2018

A John Scognamiglio Book

Kensington Books




Baby Teeth: A Novel by Zoje Stage


Hannah kept the words to herself because they gave her power. Inside her, they retained their purity.  She scrutinized mommy and other adults, studied them. Their words fell like dead bugs from their mouths.

First it has to be said do not go into this lightly thinking you are going to be uplifted or that it’s a champion for those with mental disorders. Go back, turn around, this isn’t that type of novel. Baby Teeth cuts deep, leaves all the adults and other children who come in contact with Hanna wounded, bleeding, in fear for their lives. We Have To Talk About Kevin just tore me apart, it is one of my favorite novels, this is something else entirely. It’s a hard book compare with. With that said, it’s disturbing and dark. There is nothing darling here, and the mother isn’t without fault. I cannot imagine…

Suzette ‘rallies’ behind her girl, hoping to figure out what is wrong while Alex is adamant it’s nothing. I’m supposed to feel for her, but is she the problem? Does she need control, has this messed up her kid? There are small moments when it seems Hanna truly feels cast out by her mother, and we’re never really sure if it’s so. There is a tug of war going on to win Alex over, Hanna wants him all to herself, the only thing right with the world is her magnificent Daddy who sees nothing sinister about her. It’s clear he wants to believe the best about his child, but there is something broken within her. Suzette cannot muster enough love, not when the child she knows is not the same Hanna who appears before her husband. She pretends to be a good girl, she makes her mother into a liar. Or does she? For a while there, I wandered if there was going to be some mind bending twist. Maybe it’s good old mommy imagining things?

If only she could siphon the love her husband feels in buckets for their girl, but it’s so hard when it seems Hanna wants to annhilate her. When she poses an idea to send Hanna to school, all hell breaks loose.

I struggle with these sort of stories. I have a sensitivity to anything written about mental health issues, mind you this is s thriller, it’s fiction and it certainly grabs you by the throat. It is engaging, horrifying and a sprial into a nightmare. I took issue with Suzette, I know she’s the ‘victim’ but she is a little too quick to want to forget her child. I don’t know, maybe it’s a mother thing, maybe I love blindly but I cannot imagine pushing my kid off somewhere and brushing off my hands with a ‘well that’s taken care of, where was I, let’s make love honey.’ But that is why I tend to read more literary fiction. I knew what I was getting into, and for that- this is a hell of a disturbing novel.

This is the story of a born psychopath, what’s scarier than a child harboring such violence, hatred, a twisted mind? It’s terrible, the paths her mind takes, particualrly the fascination with a witch. The reader sees what’s coming, while mommy and daddy are oblivious, thinking maybe things will calm down now that they are both aware. Suzette is terrified of her little girl, for good reason. It’s a novel that will make a lot of people uncomfortable but it is well written. There will be many different reactions, and it depends on your reading ‘fix’. Why do I imagine this as a horror film, that comes out on Christmas, because it would rattle people?

If murderous children are your thing, this is right up your alley!

Publication Date: July 17, 2018

St. Martin’s Press

Look At Me by Mareike Krügel, Imogen Taylor (Translator)


She got concussions and cuts and extensive grazing, was bitten by dogs and swans, and managed, with the assurance of a sleepwalker, to find the rotten branch in every tree she climbed.

Katharina has discovered a lump in her breast, but she doesn’t have time nor the desire to ponder what it means, particularly the haunting possibility of her death. What would her husband Costas, son Alex and daughter Helli do without her? The novel begins with Katharina heading to school to rescue her daughter from her gushing nosebleed. It’s the ‘here we go again’ prospect of dealing with the staff, exhausted by Helli’s overwhelming presence. Looking like a horror movie scene, she takes Helli home, naturally Costas is away for work and again she must cancel her music class.Surely the parents of her students are fed up with her. Everything between her and Costas is a mess, constantly fighting, weekend partners. Killian is coming for a visit, her best friend from her student years. Her body is hungry for love, touch. Maybe she can seduce him, her husband has chosen a party over coming home for the weekend, a party he claims he definitely won’t have fun at. What choice does he have? Her job playing ‘music time’ with kindergarten children won’t feed them all, right?

Their daughter Helli needs so much of everything. She creates chaos even when she isn’t trying to. At times, she doesn’t seem to need her mother at all, at others she is too much even for herself and needs rescue. A curious child who has meltdowns, who barrels on regardless of who or what is in her way, there is so much she admires and finds exasperating about her girl. A clever girl, but disordered. Katharina knows she and Costas need to talk about Helli, do something, but there just hasn’t been time.

Which is worse, facing everything wrong in her life, or chemo? With her family history, she knows her chances don’t look good. This lump must be the end. She can’t stop poking the fear, she can’t figure out what to do about her daughter. What about Alex? One moment she is questioning his sexuality and disinterest in girls, the next he has a girlfriend. Her children are hurtling into adulthood, so much happens in one day.

What if she dies, how can she when Helli needs her. “Mum, if I didn’t have you, I don’t think I’d know what to do.” Katharina isn’t sure what to do either to help her daughter.

Can you seduce your old friend while chasing after rats your husband thought would be good pets for your family? Can you ignore your worries over your health, your failing marriage, and all the fears for your children long enough to sink into a kiss?

Look At Me has Katharina looking at herself and figuring that although her life is a mess, it’s a mess she loves. There is humor, I particularly loved Helli, and there are quiet sad moments too. Nothing riveting happens, and yet things are changing.  Just a moment in the life of a harried mother.

Available Now

Text Publishing

Translated from German


The Break by Katherena Vermette


“There was an incident just outside your property, Mr. McGregor,” the young officer continues. “Your wife witnessed some sort of assault.”

Stella, a Métis woman knows she witnessed something violent outside infant son’s window. Shamed by her inaction, she calls 911, because it was definitely something horrible, but she had her children to worry about. What mother would just rush out and involve herself, unsure of what she was really seeing? The police believe it had to be nothing, just some riffraff, some fight… she’s just overwrought, surely. Just a tired mother, imagining something more than it was. It’s interesting how she is treated by the police.

That one moment of inaction is yet another link in a chain, and each of the women of four generations is connected. How could Stella possibly know who the victim is, or just how brutal and cruel the crime. Had she known, would she have reacted differently? The chaos makes her think of her Kookom, her grandmother whom she’s neglected, yet another guilt to add to her mounting shame. Stella left them all for her ‘white husband’, her cushy ‘white life.’ But tender memories of her loving Kookom are falling on her like the snow outside.

Phoenix is straight out of juvenile hall, looking for a place to hide. She lives and breathes violence, her actions too big for her years. She doesn’t care about her own life, why should other people matter? Cheryl is working on a series of paintings, her ‘wolf women’. Rain was her first subject, her beautiful sister, lost to her now. The reader knows she is dead, something big happened that haunts them all.  Emily and Ziggy are trying to party with the big kids, but they will learn a lesson they will never forget.  A spirit lingers, frustrated, waiting and watching her daughter. Something brutal happens to Emily, the only thing more shocking than how she is vilolated is who did it, unimaginable. When the police come to the hospital, Officer Tommy Scott is quick to see his partner Officer Christie’s disgust towards native people. It’s a case that will require him to be calm, collected and if he is to connect the dots, it’s vital he finds way to get his partner as engaged. As a native he knows all too well how little his people matter to the likes of people like Christie. He understands the criminal side of his city as much as the tradition and struggles his people are forced to cope with. He teeters between loyalty to his people, and  dedication to his job.

The women are all victims and fighters. They have each suffered incredible loss, of loved ones, of innocence, of hope. They are terrorized by men and find it hard to trust love when it shows a kind face. When we finally come to the end, we hear Rain’s story and how inconsequential she was to the world, and how she meant everything to her children and family. This is how it feels to be disposable, and yet in the end what does it mean if those who are to blame never face justice? What happens when they do? Where does the monster that rises in some people come from, where does that monster go? Misery circles back. The novel has a few ‘Kookoo-isms’ that warm the heart and the story is so disturbing that it needs all the warmth it can get. This is one of my favorite interactions, ” Jeff’s really good. He’s a good man, Kookoo, but he just doesn’t get it.” Stella’s voice is a little louder, a little stronger. “He just doesn’t understand. ” She sits there with her knees pulled to her chest, protecting herself. “None of them do.” I chuckle a little and think. “It’s not their job to understand.” “I don’t know if I can be with someone who doesn’t understand.” Her young face rests on her knee, looking away. “Then you will be alone, and that will be fine.” Kookom is the wisdom, but it’s not without earning it with life experiences most why be left devastated by.

While there are a lot of characters, and the narrative changes with each of them, it’s an important tale that needs to be told. It’s not an easy read, what befalls the thirteen-year-old Emily is beyond shocking and I imagine a lot of readers will wonder about Phoenix. How did she get to that dark place of her soul? Is it surprising the wreck she is? Curious what others think about her.

Publication Date: March 6, 2018

House of Anansi Press


Rust & Stardust: A Novel by T. Greenwood


And she forgave them their meanness. It was no different than forgiving the sun its heat, the moon its tidal pull. This was simply the nature of girls. She knew they couldn’t help themselves, and oddly, it made her love them all the more.

In Rust & Stardust, T. Greenwood writes a fictionalized account of the true crime story that inspired Nabokav’s Lolita. It’s 1949 in New Jersey and eleven-year-old Sally Horner steals a notebook, her mind willing to commit her own ‘terrible’ crime for the sake of fitting in with girls who never take notice of her. This could be her ‘in’ with them! She nearly makes it out of the store without being busted, when one Frank LaSalle grabs her. He is, he tells her, an F.B.I agent and then manipulates young Sally, using her naivete against her. A freshly released ex-convict he devises a plan that has Sally taking part, unbeknownst to her, in her own, easy kidnapping; like taking candy from a baby. The chosen excerpt above… how it grabbed my heart by relaying just how forgiving and sweetnatured our Sally is, all the more awful what befalls her.

Desperate not to go to prison, she does everything she can to hide her crime from her mother, convincing her she has been invited on a vacation to the shore with her friend.  Hardworking Ella, widowed by her second husbad and suffering from a debiltating condition gives her permission despite any misgivings. LaSalle is practiced in the art of deception,  he has his own ‘cast’ performing their part, assuring his sort of abduction is quiet, no scenes of kicking and screaming to alert anyone, convincing Sally’s mother everything is on the up and up.

The story isn’t so much the part of being taken, it’s everything that follows. It’s witnessing a little girl who is full of shame, clinging to her mother in the before, a mother who is too tired to know something is off, reading along already knowing it’s going to happen and just like Sally and her poor mother Ella not being able to do a damn thing to stop it. It’s being in Sally’s mind as she starts to understand she’s been had. It’s the crushing fact some of us can be consumned by evil in the world, while others go on in their safe bubble. Ella figures out soon enough, despite sunny postcards from Sally, that she has been the worst sort of mother when her oldest daughter Susan and her husband Al begin to question her about the mysterious Mr. Burke.

Sally is Frank’s prisoner, and she is forced to change her name, to follow his rules, brainwashed into good behavior. She is assaulted again and again, swallowed whole, until she accepts this as her ‘new life’. She is no longer the sweet, illuminated little Sally Horner- she is forever Florence Fogg, or something in-between. Frank creates an entire new identity for her, complete with school. He is her ‘daddy’ now, and why doesn’t anyone notice the wrongness of it all, she wonders, where is her rescue, her salvation?

In her new role, the reader keeps waiting for her to tell. But being a good girl is costly, Sally/Florence has always obeyed, as good girls are taught. The adults around her complicit, because they too have their own dirt to keep hidden. Back home, her one almost friend Vivi feels Sally’s absence ‘like a missing tooth‘. Learning too soon what all children should never know, that ‘terrible things happen’, that the world can be ugly. The adults don’t have all the answers, they are just as helpless as Sally on the day she was taken. There aren’t any real ‘safe’ places. If the worst happens, mommy and daddy may not be able to save you.

Florence goes to school, then she makes an adult friend, and we beg please… please someone, anyone save her. Everyone they encounter and befriend knows something isn’t right but don’t do enough. It was a safer world then but these ‘sort of things’ just didn’t happen much. There weren’t milk cartons, kids weren’t afraid of playing outside or aware not to trust other adults, as has been ingrained in all the children of my generation and every one that followed. In fact, good boys and girls always obeyed the adults and did what they said or else you’d ‘get it’ from your parents when you got home. Frank doesn’t just violate Sally’s body, he is like a worm in her brain. Greenwood did an excellent job writing about Sally’s sweet innocence, so sure she would be sent before a judge, tried and possibly sent to prison for life (which would shame her family) for stealing a notebook, and back in the 40’s you can be sure stealing something as insignificant as a notebook  felt like a grievous sin to a child. It’s the horror of her gullibility that sank my heart, before the violations she later suffers obliterated any hopes I had left. What a novel! Just a quick nod to the gorgeous cover too. I sat on this novel for months, having read it in the moutains of North Carolina over Christmas. I hated holding off on my review but didn’t want to write one too early. This is definitely a novel to add to your TBR list!

The ending is just as gut wrenching as the rest of the novel. One day Sally was taken, and she never really came back.

Publication Date: August 7, 2018

St. Martin’s Press