A sleeping sickness befalls the little college town of Santa Lora, CA, starting with Mei’s roommate Kara, prompting a quarantine of their dorm. Quickly overwhelmed, the hospital sets up the children who succumb in the public library. The patients wake up in random order with time span and chronology confusion, or they never wake up—dying or coming to consciousness days, weeks, months after succumbing. Mei becomes part of the relief effort by those immune to the illness. Thompson Walker brilliantly moves in and out of the epidemic containment through cordon sanitaire and the sleepers’ astonishingly realistic dreams. Graphic descriptions of virtual long lives lived for decades and anomalies that persist after awakening draw the reader into the deep wells of grief and confusion of those who wake to a lesser reality. The frustrated anger and desperation of family and friends prevented from contacting loved ones is credibly shown by such irrational actions as climbing the quarantine fence and rushing the police. The author references other such unusual occurrences, and how conspiracy theories can easily form from a frightening epidemic never diagnosed by doctors. It brings to mind the sleepy sickness brought on by the Spanish flu epidemic of the early 20th century, whose victims remained catatonic for decades. I was fortunate to receive a copy of this well-written, wonderfully told novel from the publisher Random House through a Goodreads giveaway.
Their mother’s death sends Jazz and Olivia Moon on figurative and literal journeys of grief. Olivia, a synesthete with multiple sensory connections, sets off to see the ghost lights of the bog, an elusive dream of her mother’s for finishing her fantasy novel. Jazz grew up with a different mother, a colder mother, with misplaced expectations of being her sister’s keeper, this heightened sense of responsibility forcing her to “escort” Olivia on her quest. Secrets are exposed that rile and enlighten, urging them to look closer at each other, and determine what family means.
Walsh portrays a hidden trauma of a daughter, who passes on this pain to her own daughters, so well that dear reader readily sympathizes with all of the characters. Many real-life lessons are learned, on family, relationships, communication, expectations, and loss. This is a gorgeous story of living life differently, accepting others as they are, and being true to yourself. I was fortunate to receive this wonderful novel in an author giveaway, and I highly recommend it to fans of Heather Burch, Kristin Hannah, Diane Chamberlain, and Kerry Anne King.
Ana believes the only way to move past her sister’s murder is to find her real killer, the powerful figure behind the cartel’s low-level felons who went to prison for it. Feeling invincible, she joins the police force to clean up the streets, with the secret agenda of tracking down the mysterious murderer. In this endeavor, she misleads her family and oversteps her rookie authority with her new partner. Everyone has their own way of working through grief—Ana’s is exceptionally brutal and insular.
Again, the author partners with a field professional to ensure accuracy, so that the larger-than-life Ana stays within the boundaries of a law enforcement role, called on her maverick behavior by her partner and superior. Tension created by Ana’s personality elicits sympathy for her, even as her actions make the reader cringe. It is a bit of a stretch that she takes out three drug cartel criminals on her first day, but when it comes time to take down the leader, her superhero persona takes the reader beyond the realm of pragmatism. The story flows well, with writing sufficient to evoke imagery, but it could have gone another round with a more diligent proofreader. It’s a good read for fans of kickass heroines, and I was fortunate to receive a copy from the author for an honest review.
Before—she was Mackenzie Cooper, who had a loving husband and a beautiful daughter; After—she is Maggie Reid, a single woman with a secret past who lives with two cats and a dog and sells confidence through makeup artistry at her job in a resort spa. She can only move forward, away from her family, away from her “crime,” away from her former life…until her ex-husband arrives to manage the resort his business group just purchased, HER resort. At the same time, her friend and co-worker learns that her son hacked into his high school, their spa, and a prominent journalist’s computers, and her friend is terrified that her secret past—a powerful and dangerous man—finds her.
The two storylines, Maggie’s ex troubles and the crime of her friend’s son, seem more discrete than parallel, with Maggie spending considerable time repeatedly pushing and pulling the ex before remembering her friend’s distress. This makes scenes stand out every so often, instead of the story flowing. Though the novel reads well, the plan to bring down the influential man in the friend’s life doesn’t come across as quite credible, and it isn’t shown, but referenced after the fact, with the ending chapter summarizing the climax. Despite this, it is a fun read, and a peek into the different ways people process grief and trauma. I was fortunate to receive a copy from the publisher through NetGalley.
I decided that I sincerely want my debut novel published by St. Martin’s Press, since most of my favorite authors are with them. This is how I came to read Abby Fabiaschi’s debut novel I Liked My Life and I loved it (see my review), so reached out to her to let her know. She is so friendly that I asked her for an interview for my little blogblogblog and she agreed!
Turns out she’s also an activist for survivors of human trafficking, which is amazing and will be addressed at the end of this interview. She is a survivor herself of a dog attack at a young age, which altered her life and perspective, as you can read below in the Author Extra.
Tell me your artistic / writing process, including schedule, environment, and inspirations.
Motherhood really changed the answer to this question. I use to be able to be much more picky! I put in a minimum of five hours a day—usually 3-4 while the kids are at school and 1-2 after they are asleep (or at least I think they are). I work in a home office at a desk…boring, I know. I’m inspired by whatever it is I’m exploring. I don’t start my stories with an end in mind, so characters’ experiences keep me vested and learning with them.
Walk me through your publishing process, from final draft to final product, including your publishing team.
Right now I’m with St. Martin’s. When a first draft is complete, I send it to my agent and editor. They pile on constructive feedback and I make a plan for a round of revisions. That step repeats itself until we all say, “Yep. This works!” St. Martin’s decides on a release date at least a year out and designs a cover. From there, the assigned publicity team works on getting Advanced Reader Copies in the right hands while I get back to work on the next project. About six months before the launch, I get to review the final pass, which is when I add in acknowledgements.
Talk about your support system, including beta readers and all of your cheerleaders!
I am in awe of amazing people like you, who bring reading and writing communities together. Since my debut came out, I’ve also been grateful to establish friendships with many talented writers, including all the wonderful authors in The Tall Poppies. (If you are a reader on Facebook, follow Bloom with Tall Poppy Writers—great content and giveaways!)
I don’t have a writing group, nor do I leverage a ton of beta readers. Rather, I approach a couple people who I think would offer a valuable lens on the story to be first readers. There is one exception—my sister is always on the list!
How does life influence your art and vice versa?
Each story I write sets out to explore a component, a strand, of either something I’ve witnessed or experienced. I get a moment in my head and my mind runs with it—what if this and what if that?—until a set of characters have lived through a moment worthy of readers’ time.
What do you love most about your creativity?
I love how I learn from my characters. With I Liked My Life, I came to believe that even life’s most antagonizing moments offer slivers of beauty once you rise above the fog and the haze of grief. There’s insight and clarity there for the taking. Now, it’s at the expense of whatever you lost and it will never be worth it, so you have to learn to digest the injustice of that. It’s a conclusion I never would have gotten to without diving into the Starling’s story.
Please share about your advocacy activism—I’m all for telling everyone the good you do in the world!
I’d love to! Twenty percent of all of my after tax proceeds go to an organization I co-founded called Empower Her Network. We collaborate with ready survivors of human trafficking who find themselves in the same vulnerable circumstance that led to their initial exploitation by removing housing barriers, financing education, and uncovering employment opportunities. To learn more or buy a Lulu Frost Empowerment bracelet, go to www.empowerhernetwork.org.
Author Extra: The Inspiration for Abby Fabiaschi’s I Liked My Life
I was attacked by a Rottweiler when I was nine. The last stitch on either side of the wound was inside each eyelid. The dog, aptly named Gator, missed both my eyes by an amount so small as to be immeasurable. The ER doctor heralded this a miracle and I decided, right then, that no matter what I looked like the next day, I would focus on that piece of good fortune—I could still see.
What I didn’t understand in my then-scarred state was that what I would see was about to change. I became a person worthy of double-takes and gasps. I was forced to acknowledge a truth far younger than most; it doesn’t matter what you look like, at least to some. I got fifty-seven stitches that first night and eight reconstructive surgeries over the twelve years that followed, but his is not a sob story. Yes, bone from my rib is now on my nose, and skin from behind my ears and on my ass is now on my face, but I wouldn’t take back that night if I could.
Because here’s the thing—I don’t know who I would be without that experience. Those scars brought me perspective at a young age. They made me tough. They gave me loads of time to read where I could sop up the crazy mistakes people make without experiencing the consequences. They protected me from vanity and made me a keen observer, ultimately leading me to writing.
A friend recently commented that life has thrown enough complications my way to merit a memoir, but an exceptional memoir requires you to hand over the whole of your truth, along with your version of other peoples’ truth, and I’m too territorial for that. Still, I borrow here and there.
When I was fifteen, I lost one of my closest friends in a tragic car accident. I felt tremendous guilt because I hadn’t invited Elizabeth over that day. So stupid—we liked the same boy, so I excluded her. Introducing guilt and grief to my already raging teenage hormones and fierce desire for independence was a hugely defining moment in my life. I Liked My Life started with a desire to explore mourning at that tender age. I wrote it for me, and then went back to my demanding career in high-tech.
Four years later, at fifty-three years-of-age, my dad died of a heart attack. He was my father, but he was also my boss, mentor, and best friend. I didn’t write for years after his death, not even in a journal. The loss consumed all of me.
Then one day, I happened across I Liked My Life on my computer. The title popped from the screen; it felt enormously important to revisit it. Having then mourned as a teenager and a parent, I was better able to distinguish the nuances of grief experienced by each character. Tapping into those challenging life events is where the nonfiction ended and the storytelling began. I was inspired by a sentiment from Adrienne Rich’s poetry; If we could learn to learn from pain even as it grasps us. Isn’t that a powerful thought?
As I discovered after the dog bite, slivers of beauty exist in life’s most antagonizing moments, if only you know where to look. I set out with three characters—Madeline, Eve, and Brady—as they learn exactly that, each on their own timeline and in their own way. I wrote the book for me, unburdening my loss on unsuspecting characters. That their journey will find its way to living and breathing readers is wild.
Eve’s mom, Brady’s wife, killed herself, imbuing them both with an onslaught of guilt, but also forcing them to examine and restructure their relationship. Fabiaschi drizzles clues to a twist that leaves the reader sitting back watching these beloved characters come to terms with the information. She lays out the complexities of familial dynamics and how suicide exposes cracks in the foundation of relationships. The chaos and isolation of innocence lost is portrayed well for teenage Eve. The best part of this book is the point of view told by Madeline, or Maddy to her friends and family, the mom who died before the opening chapter narrated by her. I love how real the emotions of the characters feel and how the perspectives of each play off the others. All three members of this family keep returning from their various emotions and misunderstandings to the love they have for each other, and it all reads true.
After the death of his son, Judge Coleman uses his influence and connections to foster and adopt 9-year-old African-American Anton, convincing his mother Anton is happier with the Colemans. She’d been kidnapped and drugged by her dealer, leaving Anton locked in their apartment during a heat wave with little food, until he escaped a week later, unaware of his mother’s whereabouts. Judge Coleman’s position and wealth boost Anton up through the ranks of politics, with Anton choosing to have no contact with a mother he believes rejected him. The secrets seep out eventually, damaging the Coleman’s marriage and Anton’s relationships with all of his parents, as Anton desperately tries to determine his identity.
The crux of the story is that a black mother’s son is stolen from her by a white man, whiffs of slavery nipping at her heels. As Umrigar presents white privilege and systemic racism within the judicial system, she attempts to garner sympathy for a man in a powerful position based on the loss of his son and his emotional distress debating his desire to have a child and the ethical choice to keep a family together. He chooses poorly and everyone struggles with his decision.
Alice wakes from a daydream of the beach to a painful head in an unfamiliar gym, with a colleague peering down at her. She fell off her bike in spin class and misplaced the last decade in her brain. Current events are not so current, and Alice learns some astonishing facts about the world and popular culture. Over the following week, she discovers some harsh truths about that decade from family, friends, and neighbors. As she slowly gains insight into her own life and troubled relations with her loved ones, the soul searching begins. When the memories hit all at once, Alice is stunned and reasserts herself as she merges her 29-year-old self with her 39-year old self.
Now this is how you open a novel! Moriarty begins the story with Alice floating in a pool, listening to a man playing Marco Polo with kids, knowing that the someone next to her with toenails painted different colors like her own is a person she loves. As the dreamlike sequence morphs into a painfully realistic nightmare of Alice’s confusion at finding herself in a gym, where she would never expect to be, the reader is pulled into the confusion and learns the truths as Alice learns them. Brilliant! Along with the facts presented to the memory-challenged Alice, secrets are unveiled, strengthening relationships and urging everyone forward toward positive opportunities.
Readers who wish to be invested deeply in the main character’s life will love this book. If you are fond of secrets, humorous references to current (and not so current) events, and gut-wrenching situations, this book is for you. Moriarty will have you laughing and crying out loud!