Book Preview – The Confusion of Languages by Siobhan Fallon

While I don’t quite remember what it was about the description of Siobhan Fallon’s upcoming The Confusion of Languages that caught my attention, I do know that my initial impressions while reading it were that this wasn’t the story I’d been expecting. In the case of The Confusion of Languages, I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all (especially since I can’t remember what it was I was expecting). On the contrary, I found the novel to be a fascinating character study of two American women living abroad and the unusual nature of their friendship.

Cassie is an experienced embassy wife. She and her husband, Dan, have been living in Jordan, the site of his latest posting, for a while and decide it’s about time they sponsor a few newcomers to the extended embassy family. Margaret and Cassie’s friendship appears to be on solid ground when a small fender-bender requires Margaret go to the police station to deal with the authorities. Cassie is left to babysit Margaret’s toddler son, Mather but as the day wears on, Cassie can’t get in touch with Margaret and the recent cracks in their friendship begin to come to light as Cassie passes the time reading Margaret’s diary and recalling her own impression of those early days. Continue reading

Book Review – The Leavers by Lisa Ko

In the current political climate, I’ve been drawn to novels tied to relevant subjects, no matter how loosely tied. Because of this, the description for Lisa Ko’s The Leavers drew my attention and interest. Though the core of the novel revolves around the personal natures and relationships of the main characters, the circumstances that serve as a backdrop for these characters do a fantastic job of subtly highlighting the intricacies of the United States’ immigration system and many injustices that stem from it.

For more than a decade Daniel Wilkinson knew nothing about his birth mother’s disappearance. One day she had been with him, talking about possibly moving to Florida, and another she never came home from work. But then an old friend from his childhood contacts him out of the blue with a clue to start him on the path towards finding her again and learning the truth about why she’d left him. Continue reading

Book Review – Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Victoria Aveyard’s Red Queen series is one I’ve had recommended to me several times but having read some young adult targeted series that were only okay or completely disappointing, I had put it off. Having crawled out of that disappointing streak, I finally put the first book on my library request list and then had to wait forever for it to become available but I’m happy to find that my search for compelling young adult fantasy-ish series is over for a while as I have a few books to catch up on in this series (and from everything I’ve heard, the second and third novels are just as engaging as the first but I’m looking forward to finding out first hand). Aveyard’s fantasy world wherein social and political strata have long been established and maintained based on blood and ability as well as the best means for bringing about change to such a system all speak to the political and social turmoil in the world today—in some chilling ways.

Mare Barrow is a Red pickpocket doing everything she can to help her family get by while her conscripted brothers are away fighting their Silver king’s war but her days are numbered as she reaches the age of conscription herself and her prospects for exemption remain nonexistent. When an unusual encounter lands Mare with a job at the palace and exemption from conscription, she thinks she might finally have found a way to protect at least some of her family. But an accident on her first day reveals Mare to be something neither Reds nor Silvers knew existed—a Red with the abilities of a Silver. Eager to protect the established hierarchy and perhaps appease disgruntled Reds and the growing threat posed by the radical Scarlet Guard, the royal family covers up the truth and presents Mare as a lost Silver restored to her kind and keeps her close. But Mare still bleeds Red and she doesn’t plan to let the royal family rewrite her truth so easily. Continue reading

Book Review – After the Bloom by Leslie Shimotakahara

For all the atrocities of foreign wars that take place on the front lines and in the nations where the battles are being fought, there are often atrocities that happen back home; atrocities that get swept under the rug of history or dismissed as unimportant in the larger scheme of things. One such atrocity that is coming to light more in recent years—thanks in part to recent political moves that echo the problematic themes of this atrocity—is the internment of people of Japanese descent during World War II. Until reading Leslie Shimotakahara’s recent novel, After the Bloom which is in part inspired by her own family’s history in the American internment camps, I had no idea that camps like that were established in parts of Canada too. What her novel brings to life so importantly is that these camps had lasting effects at all levels—the individual, the family, and the community.

Rita knew her mother, Lily, had spent time during the war in an internment camp in California but since her mother never really spoke about it, Rita knows very little about that period of her mother’s life. It’s clear that it might be linked to the ways her mother can become ‘confused’ but Rita has more pressing things to worry about in the wake of her recent divorce and subsequent move. That is, until her mother goes missing. The police investigate but with no evidence of foul play, there isn’t much they can do. Rita takes it upon herself to look into why her mother might have left and where she might have gone. The more questions she asks, the more the answers seem to center around an incident that happened at the internment camp. Continue reading

Book Review – Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

Another of the fantastic novels recommended to me by friends, Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies is an examination of a marriage that breaks from the traditions of so many marriage-centered novels. While Lotto and Mathilde face many challenges along the way, they tend to have more faith in their marriage than they do in themselves individually. Exploring the ways they view themselves as well as their spouse, Groff’s writing style is unique and not just in creating two characters with such distinct voices and perspectives.

Lancelot “Lotto” Satterwhite was born to privilege. With family money spouting from a bottled water business and parents who thought he could do no wrong, Lotto seemed poised for greatness from an early age and his mother especially encouraged that attitude to flourish within himself. But everything changed with the sudden death of his father and his mother’s grief-stricken turn inward. Eventually shipped off to a private school in the north, Lotto drifted easily through school and girls until the day he met Mathilde just a few weeks before graduating college. Within two weeks the pair had eloped to the shock of their family and friends. While they struggle to make ends meet in the wake of being financially cut off by his disapproving mother, Lotto is certain of one thing—his and Mathilde’s love for each other—but how much of the Mathilde he loves is really her and how much is who he thinks she is? Does it even matter? Continue reading

Book Preview – The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova

I have had Elizabeth Kostova’s debut novel The Historian sitting on my To Read shelf for some time so while I recognized her name when her upcoming The Shadow Land came up in my possible preview pile, I hadn’t actually read her work before. The Shadow Land also fell into my recent inclination towards historic fiction that explores the nations of Europe in the aftermath of World War II so I jumped to preview it. Though it proved for me to be slow reading, the depiction of life behind the Iron Curtain in the 1950s is a harsh one that the area struggles to deal with even in the decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Alexandra Boyd decided she needed a change so she signed up to teach English in Bulgaria but before she can even reach her hostel and start to settle in, things begin to go wrong. Assisting a middle-aged man and his elderly parents into a taxi, Alexandra soon discovers that one of their bags has gotten mixed in with her own. Containing the ashes of someone obviously dear to them, she sets about trying to find them again so she can return the urn and apologize for the mix-up. Her taxi driver, Asparuh who tells her to call him Bobby, offers to help her in her efforts to track the family down. Receiving an address from the police, Alexandra insists on returning the remains personally. As she and Bobby follow a trail of breadcrumbs, it becomes clear there’s more to the story of the man in the urn and his family than they realized. Continue reading

Book Review – Heartless by Marissa Meyer

heartless - book coverHaving so thoroughly enjoyed Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles, her latest novel, Heartless was one of the first I purchased with the gift cards I received back at Christmas. A stand-alone novel rather than the start of a new series, Heartless delves into the life of the young woman who becomes the Queen of Hearts and terrifies Alice on her journey through Wonderland. Once again, Meyer demonstrates her skill at paying homage to the source material while expanding and incorporating additional elements, including characters from nursery rhymes and poems.

Cath is the daughter of the Marquess and Marchioness of Rock Turtle Cove in the kingdom of Hearts but what she wants above everything else is to open a bakery with her best friend, lady’s maid Mary Ann. Though Cath has already caught the king’s attention with her tasty treats, someone else has caught her eye—the new court joker, Jest. As a Jabberwock begins terrorizing the kingdom, Cath learns that there is more to Jest and his presence in Hearts than she’d originally thought and her dreams will clash with both reality and fate. Continue reading

Book Review – The Girls by Emma Cline

the girls - book coverEmma Cline’s The Girls was one of those books that appeared on so many “Best of” lists that it was inevitable I would eventually have a go at it. While it was pretty good, I don’t know that I agree it was one of the best books of 2016––though, it certainly wound up capturing some of the themes that seemed to plague 2016.

Evie Boyd was born into wealth and privilege as the granddaughter of an icon of Hollywood’s golden age but by the time she’s an adult, she’s more famous for her long-ago association with a small and notorious cult. Though she didn’t participate the night of their most heinous crimes, she’s spent a lot of time reflecting on how she got as far in as she did and exactly why she wasn’t there on the infamous night. Ultimately so much of it boils down to the girls and more specifically, Suzanne. Continue reading

Book Review – The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

raven boys - book coverSince finishing The Lunar Chronicles last year, I’ve been searching for a replacement YA series to become invested in and I think I may have found it in Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle series—or at least, the first book, The Raven Boys has left me still intrigued enough to check out the next book sometime soon. Bringing together mystical and mythological elements I’ve read about in both other novels and studied the histories of over the years, The Raven Boys definitely sets up a larger story than just the one that gets told in its pages.

Blue Sargent has grown up in a house full of psychics—her mother and her mother’s friends—but she shows no ability herself; she only serves as an amplifier or battery of sorts, helping to strengthen those around her. But one thing all the psychics in her life seem to agree on is that she will somehow spell death for her true love—whoever he might be—and must avoid kissing him to protect him… even though she’s just a teenager and has no idea who he might be. But on St. Mark’s Day when she accompanies one of those friends of her mother’s to the Corpse Road and actually sees and hears one of the spirits—a teenage boy named Gansey who attends the local private boys’ school, Aglionby—she might have learned the first bit about him. Blue has her doubts, however, when she actually meets Gansey and his friends, Adam, Ronan, and Noah, and begins assisting them in their search for the historically mythical Glendower and things in their small town of Henrietta begin getting even weirder than any of them could have dreamt.

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Flash Fiction – Bells

When it was quiet, it was possible to hear the bells ringing in the church clear across town. Erika heard them often in the crisp evenings when everyone else was asleep. They kept her company, marked the approaching dawn, giving her increasingly insistent warnings that soon it would all begin again.

It occurred to her that there might be someone on the other side with the bells—a Quasimodo. She refused to believe that they were hooked up to a system of levers and pulleys that were programmed by a faceless computer. No, it was someone with strong arms and legs; a solid weight pulling down on a thick rope that burned their palms as they let it slide through before seizing it tightly to pull down again.

“I want to go to the church,” she told Kerry one evening.

Kerry frowned, brow furrowed. “Any church in particular?”

“The one with the bells.”

“I think they hold mass at nine o’clock,” Kerry nodded and shrugged. “But we can go.”

“No, not on Sunday. I want to go now,” Erika insisted rising.

“Uh, honey…”

But Erika had already left the room and left the house walking in the general direction from which she knew the music of the bells carried.

Kerry ran after her with a blanket to wrap around her shoulders despite the fact it wasn’t actually cold.

“Let me do this,” Erika told Kerry. “I’ll be fine.”

Kerry pressed her lips together but stepped aside. “If you head for Main Street—”

“I’ll find it,” Erika dismissed the offered directions.

“Just… be careful.”

Erika walked. She stopped at the ends of sidewalks and waited for cars to pass and the light to turn. She didn’t flinch when dogs barked at her from behind their fences and ignored a group of teens gathered outside a fast food place jeering at her and smacking one another on their arms and backs as though they’d accomplished something.

She checked her watch and waited closing her eyes.

There it was; ten, perfectly-spaced, deep tones that resonated with her bones. She turned and adjusted her path.

Her steps were small but determined. It wasn’t as silent as she’d always thought. The noise from televisions slipped through open windows, the light peeking through the cracks in shades and blinds. There were insects out and about as well as the bats, electric zappers, and other nocturnal beings that caught and devoured them. Cars idled at intersections and then sped off when the spectrum shifted.

Knowing all this made the bells that much more impressive. They cut through all the nonsense and made themselves heard, made their presence felt. And yet for so many they faded into the background too.

Erika stopped and waited again ignoring the woman who spotted her through her front window and came out to ask if she was lost. Erika held up a hand, confusing the woman until she started; eleven.

“No, I’m not lost,” Erika whispered as she started walking again; she was close.

Most everything was dark when she finally found the church. Only the streetlamps and the headlights from a solitary car competed with the moon and stars to light Erika’s way.

It was different this time. They started early—five minutes before the hour; they had a whole song to get through before the day officially ended.

Erika stared up at the bell tower and smiled. She wondered if they played the same song every time or if the unseen Quasimodo changed it from night to night.

Tears of triumph trickled down her face with the tolling of each of the twelve bells welcoming the new day.

Book Preview – The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

bear and the nightingaleI am incredibly happy to be starting a new year of reviews with this book because it was a fantastic book to be reading as this last year came to an end. After finishing it I went back and reread the initial description that inspired me to put it on my preview request list—having forgotten everything about that description in the months between submitting my request and reading the book. I had to laugh because usually, those descriptions feel strategically written with an eye towards marketing—which, of course, they are—but in this case I found completely accurate. Katherine Arden’s upcoming The Bear and the Nightingale reminded me of Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane and is also “recommended” for fans of Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus (which I just got a personal copy of for Christmas so I can read and enjoy it all over again).

It is some years after Pyotr Vladimirovich’s beloved wife Marina died following the birth of their youngest daughter, Vasilisa (called Vasya), but he finally admits that the time has come for him to remarry—mostly so there is another woman around to help with Vasya who appears to take her nurse’s fairy tales a little too literally. Journeying with his two oldest sons to Moscow, Pyotr returns with a devout new wife and a gift for Vasya from an odd stranger. Vasya can do nothing right in the eyes of her new stepmother but it isn’t until a new priest arrives in the village (determined to bring the fear of God to the northern people and save their souls) that more devastating effects threaten the village as the people begin neglecting the protective household spirits of old.

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Book Review – The Return of Sir Percival: Guinevere’s Prayer by S. Alexander O’Keefe

Sir PercivalI was exteremely intrigued when I first read the description for S. Alexander O’Keef’s The Return of Sir Percival: Guinevere’s Prayer and it promised to be the first novel in a new series. I go through phases of fascination with all things Arthurian so I’ll try just about any take on Camelot at least once. O’Keefe’s premise is an interesting one but while I can get behind the plot, the characters and style of story telling have me less likely to pursue this series beyond this first book.

It has been ten years since Arthur and Camelot fell in battle. Morgana and her mercenaries have the people of Britain under her thumb while she continues to hunt for her archenemy, Merlin the wise. Guinevere and a few of her ladies are protected in hiding by the church and via a promise Morgana made to one of her most capable knights. The Knights of the Round Table have been wiped out, or so everyone thought until Sir Percival returns from the holy lands with a friend. Having been sent to seek the Holy Grail alone, Sir Percival has failed in that quest but might have returned just in time to bring Morgana down and restore Guinevere to her rightful place as queen of the late Arthur’s broken kingdom. Continue reading

Book Preview – The Memory Stones by Caroline Brothers

memory stones - book coverThe premise of Caroline Brothers’ The Memory Stones caught my attention a while ago but it has taken me a while to get through the novel—due out tomorrow, October 25, 2016. A combination of lack of time (on my part) and a lack of compelling pacing (on the novel’s part) made this book a slog when it really shouldn’t have been. The story being told should be incredibly compelling and at times it is, but its presentation and organization left something to be desired.

Osvaldo and his family living in Buenos Aires in the late 1970’s find themselves at the mercy of an increasingly ominous and powerful junta regime. When Osvaldo takes a chance and criticizes the military commanders in power, he must flee the country for his own safety, leaving behind his wife. He soon gets word that their youngest daughter and her fiancé have disappeared but whether they’ve gone into hiding or have actually been abducted by the regime is unclear at first. A rumor that his daughter was pregnant when she was taken sets Osvaldo and his wife, Yolanda, on the path to locating not just their daughter but their grandchild as well. The fall of the junta doesn’t necessarily mean they will find the answers they seek but perseverance and time might bring this family back together in the end.

Set in a place and period of history that I am not familiar with but want to learn more about, some of the tension in the early chapters of the book is fantastic. Through Osvaldo’s perspective as a member of the older generation, it becomes clear how unexpected the regime’s takeover was, how it crept up on them so that it was well under way before anyone thought to take significant action against them—so that, by the time anyone tried, it was already too late. The scenes between Osvaldo and his oldest daughter who was living with her husband in America as the situation in Argentina shifted, is some of the most emotional, compelling, and significant of the novel. Similarly, Yolanda’s persistence in searching for her daughter and grandchild while separated physically from her husband drives a lot of the story’s beginning.

It is in the middle that the story loses its way a bit. Following the chronological timeline so strictly proved to be a hindrance. It meant a lot of time jumps were necessary to introduce new characters and give exposition on what was happening in Argentina as the junta eventually fell and those who had been dispossessed and adversely affected by the junta regime fought to have their rights restored, the crimes against them acknowledged, and reparations in some form secured. Osvaldo’s emotional arc feels static through this long stretch as he does little more than continue searching for his daughter and grandchild. It takes a while to feel a significant connection to new characters like Ana though the focus on her in the final chapters does bring some of the story back into focus. It all ends, however, just before the part of the story I think would prove most compelling. I understand why that narrative choice was made, I just felt strung along and cheated out of it by the novel’s conclusion.

I think playing with the presentation of events and the timeline in the later half of the novel would have improved its flow. Jumping forward in time here and there and giving the events of the intervening years as flash backs would have kept it moving at a more consistent pace.

 

*This preview is a bit overdue (adjusting to a new work schedule during a time of year that’s already ridiculously busy for personal reasons has put me even further behind than I was anticipating). I may not be posting with as much frequency as I used to do but I won’t let my blog fall silent the way it did when I was in graduate school (I refuse to be that busy again).

Drabble – The Box

Prompt: From generation to generation, a box has been passed down with strict instructions not to open it until a certain date. That date is today. What’s inside the box?


OPEN DEC. 31, 1999 was scratched clumsily into the tin box’s lid that had rusted shut decades before.

“How long did Gramps have it?” Pam asked.

“Don’t know. He got it from his mother and she—”

“It’s been a while,” Mother said brandishing a screwdriver.

Prying the lid loose, they collectively held their breath. Pam removed it.

Inside were petrified cookies.

“Why would anyone want this saved?” Pam asked, banging a cookie against the table.

Her mother scrutinized the date on the lid. “I think… this… was supposed to be an eight,” she pointed at the first malformed nine.

Book Review – Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

practical magic - book coverI had seen the movie Practical Magic a number of times before I ever realized it was a book. Since one of my favorite things to do is compare book adaptations like that, it was only a matter of time before I got around to reading Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic after learning that fact. There are some obvious changes from one medium to the other, mostly to flesh out thematic elements that take more of a back seat in the novel, but the story remains both recognizable and compelling between the two forms—not an easy feat.

Sally and Gillian Owens grow up with two distantly related aunts after their parents’ tragic deaths. They know that their aunts aren’t like other people in the town and everyone else knows it too so that the two girls also fall under the general umbrella of being Other. Gillian leaves as soon as she can, running away in the night with a young man and not looking back. Sally stays and finds a bit of normalcy when she marries and starts a family of her own. But tragedy strikes again and it’s Sally’s turn to leave the aunts, taking her own daughters to start again on her own. Years later Gillian turns up in Sally’s driveway needing her sister’s help and long ignored issues—especially personal and familial—must be addressed and remedied.

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Book Preview – The Blind Astronomer’s Daughter by John Pipkin

The Blind Astronomer's Daughter - book coverI was fascinated and thoroughly enjoyed The Stargazer’s Sister last year, a novel about Caroline Herschel, the sister of eighteenth century astronomer William Herschel who became a prolific astronomer in her own right. The description for The Blind Astronomer’s Daughter promised to explore similar themes in a similar setting. While there are elements of what I was expecting—hoping—to find in the novel, Pipkin goes beyond focusing on his titular heroine and not always with tremendous success.

Fictitious astronomer Arthur Ainsworth is determined to find a new planet in the heavens so he can name it for his late wife and honor her legacy. It is a mission he enlists his daughter, Caroline, to help him with as he transforms his Irish estate into an observatory and commissions work on a telescope to rival that of William Herschel in England. But there is more going on in Ireland and there are more secrets in Caroline’s past than she is aware of until her father, blinded by looking too often at the sun through his telescope, dies. She learns the truth of who she is and it upends everything she once thought about herself, her father, and his work. It will take many years for Caroline to pick up the pieces of her shattered self and reassemble them into someone new, just as Ireland threatens to rip itself apart in 1798.

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Drabble – Plane Tickets

Only 100 words instead of 500, I’ve started dabbling in drabbles and might be posting some here to get back into posting some of my creative fiction. Most of these are inspired by specific prompts which I’ll also post for reference (and feel free to comment with additional suggestions/prompts, etc.).


Prompt: A pair of plane tickets but only one is round trip.


“You can have the window seat,” Mom insisted. “I’ve got it all to myself on the way home.”

She said it as a joke but neither of us laughed. She would fly home alone while I stayed behind on campus, thousands of miles from everyone and everything I knew.

The airline called our section and we rose to board.

“It’s not that long till Thanksgiving,” I said, trying to sound optimistic as I handed over my one-way boarding pass. Mom held out her round-trip boarding pass for scanning.

“I’ll start looking at the airline rates on the plane,” Mom promised.

Book Review – Stars Above by Marissa Meyer

9781250091840_p0_v2_s192x300Where many young adult series are told in one character’s first person perspective, Marissa Meyer’s The Lunar Chronicles wasn’t. With each novel additional characters were added to the mix and the perspective shifted regularly between them. This meant that where many young adult authors release complementary/supplementary short stories that offer a different character’s take on scenes the audience is already familiar with, her collection of stories, Stars Above, provided a different kind of depth—backstory. Most of the stories in Stars Above are greater explorations of the circumstances surrounding key moments in the series’ central characters’ lives that took place before the readers met them but that were hinted at or referenced briefly within the main books.

Most of the stories function as prequels to the books of the main series: how Scarlet’s grandmother became involved in hiding and healing Cinder as well as how Scarlet came to live with her grandmother in the first place; Cinder’s first days with her adoptive family in New Beijing; how Cress came to find herself in the satellite orbiting Earth; some of Thorne’s earliest schemes; Wolf’s early days as a soldier in Levana’s army; Winter’s perspective of growing up in her step-mother’s palace; Kai’s first impressions of Cinder. There are two stories that break from that pattern, however. The Little Android, while featuring an appearance by Cinder prior to the events of the first novel of the series, stands on its own as a reimagining of The Little Mermaid (the Hans Christian Anderson original more than the Disney version). Finally, the last story in the collection is a happy epilogue/sequel which finds the series’ four couples gathering on Earth for a long-awaited reunion and wedding. Continue reading

Book Review – The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North

sudden appearance of hope - book coverI haven’t exactly been quiet about how much I adored The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August (I even got two relatives and a close friend of mine to read it just so I’d have more people to talk to about it). So when I realized I’d missed the release of Claire North’s next book, The Sudden Appearance of Hope, I quickly bought a copy to rectify my mistake. A lot of what I loved about Harry August is still there along with a compelling new protagonist and set of circumstances, however it has a more pessimistic feel to it that I wasn’t expecting—but it does make sense given the contemporary setting and the themes to which the novel speaks.

While most teens feel at some point or another that the people in their lives are disregarding and forgetting them, for Hope Arden that was actually true. The people in her life could not remember her or her interactions with them once she walked away until her parents forgot her existence entirely and she was effectively on her own. Given the difficulties of holding a job when employers and coworkers couldn’t remember her from one day to the next, Hope became a practiced and effective thief, tangling and escaping the authorities using her unique condition to her advantage. But when she steals jewels from the neck of a Saudi princess at a high profile function, more than just Interpol is after her and technology remembers her. She nearly falls into a trap while trying to sell the jewels but a fellow darknet user, Byron14, reaches out to warn her and later enlists her for a job against an international self-improvement company—a job that has far reaching consequences for Hope and the world that forgets her. Continue reading

Book Preview – The Upright Heart by Julia Ain-Krupa

upright heart - book coverIn the case of Julia Ain-Krupa’s upcoming The Upright Heart, I find myself once again in the situation where what I was expecting based on the description provided and what I actually got were two very different things. Yet, when I went back to the description it actually is very close to the story being told in the novel—it just didn’t prepare me at all for the way that story was going to be presented. Luckily, in this case the surprising difference between expectation and reality worked in the novel’s favor, and I can’t honestly think of a much better way that the book’s description could prepare the reader for the way the narrative unfolds.

In the years following World War II, the people of Poland—both living and dead—struggle to make peace with all that transpired. Wolf married and moved to America before the war while the rest of his family were killed in the war; he returns to his hometown to see what is left and to say the prayers for the dead in the hope he and they may rest easier. On another plane, his first love Olga—a Catholic who helped hide his family as long as she could—clings to him when he reappears; she is unable to move on but isn’t sure why. A young woman, Anna, sees and feels the spirits of the dead around her, uncertain whether the people she sees are among the living or the dead; she is also haunted by memories of her former coworker, a woman who concealed her Jewish identity when they both worked as maids in the household of the governor general’s subordinate. Wiktor and his family survived the war but an on-the-job accident shortly after its end leaves Wiktor’s family mourning his loss while his spirit seeks to assist the spirits of others who have been having trouble moving on. Continue reading

Book Review – The Unseen World by Liz Moore

unseen world - book coverThe Unseen World by Liz Moore—available in stores today—is another case of a fantastic description that, when I started actually reading the book, wasn’t really what I was expecting. It wasn’t entirely a bad thing, as the novel had strong thematic resonance, but it did take me a while to get invested in it—more so because of its pacing and organization. Weaving the early days of artificial intelligence development and computer programming with a deeply emotional personal tale, The Unseen World is a layered glimpse into the past while also looking forward to the possibilities of the future.

Ada Sibelius has lived an unusual life for a fourteen-year-old girl in 1980s Boston. Raised by her single father, she has spent much of her life with him at the computer sciences lab he directs, learning what he taught her and contributing to the lab group on their developing projects despite her youth. But when her father’s health begins to cause problems and confusion, Ada is forced into a more traditional school (a private Catholic school as opposed to public school, but a school where she must interact with her peers in age) where she must face the fact that she isn’t familiar with the social morays of being a teenager. As her father’s health and mental state continue to deteriorate, Ada learns that he had more secrets than anybody knew—secrets that cause Ada to question her own reality and identity as she struggles to unearth the truth. Continue reading

Book Review – The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

golem and jinni - book coverA friend recommended The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker to me a few weeks ago and after reading the description, I was more than a little intrigued. Though it took some time for me to get into it, once I was in there was no turning back. It’s a novel comprised of pairings that don’t seem like they would make much sense initially but which are brought together in surprisingly beautiful, complementary ways. Compelling in the simple surface action of the story, The Golem and the Jinni proves even more engaging at deeper, philosophical levels.

The story begins with introducing—or in the case of the Golem, creating—the two central and titular beings of the narrative. The Golem’s creation and waking are quickly followed by the death of her master, leaving her untethered during the critical early days of her existence. She arrives in America with no one waiting for her who can help her navigate a city teeming with the hopes and wishes of thousands of people. A young tinsmith inadvertently releases the Jinni from a copper flask but the Jinni can’t remember the specifics of how he came to be trapped in a human form or who it was that put him in the flask. He too is wildly unprepared for life in New York City during the height of immigration. The Golem and the Jinni soon come to grips with how to survive in their new lives but both yearn for something more—to be able to be their true selves without fear though first they have to figure out what those true selves are. Continue reading

Book Review – The Yard by Alex Grecian

book cover - the yardThere are times when, as a reader, circumstances converge in the most interesting ways. Since seeing the television adaptation of And Then There Were None last month (my favorite Agatha Christie novel and probably my favorite murder mystery of all time as well), I’ve been on a mystery kick. I’ve also recently been busy getting interested in the television show Penny Dreadful, so when I happened upon a murder mystery set in Victorian London in the wake of the Jack the Ripper murders, I was primed to enjoy the book. But I think my enjoyment of Alex Grecian’s The Yard, goes beyond the fact that I came upon it at a time when my interests happened to converge in just the right way; beyond the mystery itself, The Yard explores an intriguing set of characters at a point in history when so much was changing in terms of the criminal justice system—from the technologies used to catch the criminals to the way metropolitan police systems were organized.

The London police are still reeling from their failure to catch Jack the Ripper and it appears they may be more directly under attack when the body of one of their men—Inspector Christian Little—turns up stuffed into a trunk at a train station. The case falls into the hands of Inspector Walter Day who has just moved to London with his wife and is beginning to question the decision. With the assistance of his fellow inspector Michael Blacker and the unorthodox Dr. Bernard Kingsley who quickly becomes Scotland Yard’s first forensic pathologist, Day works to catch the killer before any more policemen can be killed. In a city like London, though, beat cops like Nevil Hammersmith already know all too well just how many murders and disappearances fall by the wayside and how difficult it can be to pick up a trail when hampered by bureaucracy and apathy.

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April Fools

For the record, this is based on something that happened to me my freshman year of college, right down to the fact it happened on April Fools’ Day.


 

“Hello?”

“Dad? It’s Em.”

“Em? Why’re you calling? You should be on the road still.”

“Well, technically I’m on the road—or the side of it anyway.” She sighed and waited for a large semi to pass by so she could be sure of being heard. “First off—I swear this isn’t a prank.” Why of all the days for something like this to happen did it have to be April Fools’ Day?

Not a prank?”

“Right. I’ve blown a tire on my car and I’m going to need you to come meet me.”

“A tire? On the highway? Are you all right?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. It’s late enough that it’s not to crowded on the roads so I was able to get over without a problem. I wasn’t going too fast either so I didn’t swerve a lot when it blew.”

“Have you called AAA?”

“Yeah and I’m pretty sure I have a donut but I’m not even halfway back to campus.”

“How long till they get there?”

“Shouldn’t be more than a half hour. One of the state troopers already stopped to check on me once. He said he’d come check on me again when he got a chance—that he’d make sure the roadside assistance guy showed up before too long. He offered to help me get the donut on myself but I don’t have the right tools to do it.”

“I thought we got you that kit for Christmas?”

“It’s got the lug nut wrench but no jack.”

“So the AAA guy’s on his way?”

“Yeah. Once the donut’s on, I’ll head up to the next exit and head for a gas station or something. If you can meet me there and then follow me back home—I just don’t want to wind up stranded again. If the donut goes, I can get AAA to tow it, but I’ll still need a ride back.”

“And you’ll need a ride to campus in the morning, I guess. What time’s your first class?”

“Not until ten. And I’ll buy you one of those pastries you like at the café. Coffee too.”

“Oh, I’ll be needing two of those pastries, at least—one for a late breakfast and the other for the ride home again,” her father teased. “What exit is it?”

“I think it’s Exit 15—but it might be 14.”

“You don’t know where you are?”

“It’s dark and I’m not near any of the signs. I know I passed Exit 10 but I don’t get off until 27. I think I remember the sign for the outlets a little ways back and those are at Exit 13. It’s not like I was expecting this to happen.”

“Fine. I’ll head out now and when AAA gets there and you get the donut on, figure out where you are and call me when you’re at the gas station.”

“Thanks, Dad,” Emily said, ready to hang up.

“You promise this isn’t a prank?”

“I swear, it’s not a prank.”

Flash Fiction – Toddler Carols

Karen double-checked the restraint on her daughter’s car seat as they prepared to head home from the day care center.

“What’d you guys learn in school today?” she asked, conversationally as she climbed into the front seat and fastened herself in.

“We gonna have a concert!” Maya shouted joyfully.

“What kind of concert?”

“A Christmas concert. They gave me a paper in my pack-pack.”

“You’re going to sing some Christmas carols?”

“Ah-huh. Can I wear my red dress?”

“We’ll have to wait and see—Gram-gram bought it for you to wear when we go to their house for Christmas dinner. What about your blue dress? That one’s pretty.”

“Blue isn’t for Christmas, Mama,” Maya said, laughing at her mother’s absurd suggestion.

“We’ll go through your closet when we get home then. What about the songs? What ones are you singing?”

“I don’t remember.”

“Well, here,” Karen said, reaching to turn on the radio. Some the main stations had been playing Christmas music since Halloween but it made Karen’s hair stand on end to have anything to do with Christmas until Thanksgiving was over—she had a three-year-old, she was incapable of planning that far ahead for anything.

“That one, Mama!” Maya started screeching. “I want that one!”

The Twelve Days of Christmas—the Ninety-Nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall of holiday songs.

“What’s a partridge?” Maya asked.

“It’s a kind of bird, Sweetie.”

“What kind of tree’s it in?”

“A pear tree.”

“Oh. Five golden rings, four killing birds, three French horns, two tuttle-doves, and a partridge in a pear tree,” Maya sang along, counting down with her fingers.

Karen smiled in the front seat glancing into the rearview mirror periodically to watch Maya’s enthusiastic expression.

Each time through it became harder for Karen not to laugh. They had almost made it to their driveway when the song ended and she began to breathe easier.

We Wish You a Merry Christmas came on—repetitive but that just made it easier for Maya to pick up… at least as far as the tune was concerned.

Karen waited until they were having dinner that night to bring up the concert again.

“It’s two weeks away,” she told him. “Do you think you can get the morning off?”

“I’ll put in for it,” he promised Maya who was beaming. “Do you know what songs you’re going to sing yet?”

“The teacher put in a list,” Karen said with a broad grin. “We actually heard a few of them in the car on the way home today. Honey, why don’t you sing ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’ for Daddy.”

Maya swayed in her chair as she started singing.

“We wish you a Merry Christmas,

We wish you a Merry Christmas,

We wish you a Merry Christmas

And a cup of good beer.

“Oh bring us some freaking pudding,

Oh bring us some freaking pudding,

Oh bring us some freaking pudding,

Oh bring it right here.”

He nearly choked on his dinner.