Believing she is a bad mother, Beth does not address her postpartum depression. After she and her siblings move their father into a care facility due to his deepening dementia, she volunteers to clean out their family home. Behind the padlocked door to their childhood playroom, Beth discovers her father’s mysterious paintings that seem to correspond to notes left by her mother, unlocking a family secret that may provide a connection with her mother and become her saving grace. Rimmer presents a complex family dynamic to which many could relate, and then explodes it with a secret so horrifying, it remained hidden for decades. Anyone who has discovered their family secret will definitely identify with the feelings of betrayal and questioning their identity. I received a digital copy of this wonderful story from the publisher Graydon House through NetGalley.
I am alone in a
crowded family these days, and that’s the worst feeling I’ve ever
experienced. Until these past few years, I had no idea that
loneliness is worse than sadness. I’ve come to realize that’s
because loneliness, by its very definition, cannot be shared.
there are four other souls in this house, but I am unreachably far
from any of them, even as I’m far too close to guarantee their
safety. Patrick said he’d be home by nine tonight, and I clung on
to that promise all day.
be home at nine, I tell myself. You won’t do anything crazy if
Patrick is here, so just hold on until nine.
should have known better than to rely on that man by now. It’s
11:55 p.m., and I have no idea where he is.
will be wanting a feed soon and I’m just so tired, I’m already
bracing myself—as if the sound of her cry will be the thing that
undoes me, instead of something I should be used to after four
children. I feel the fear of that cry in my very bones—a kind of
whole-body tension I can’t quite make sense of. When was the last
time I had more than a few hours’ sleep? Twenty-four hours a day I
am fixated on the terror that I will snap and hurt someone: Tim,
Ruth, Jeremy, Beth…or myself. I am a threat to my children’s
safety, but at the same time, their only protection from that very
have learned a hard lesson these past few years; the more difficult
life is, the louder your feelings become. On an ordinary day, I trust
facts more than feelings, but when the world feels like it’s
ending, it’s hard to distinguish where my thoughts are even
coming from. Is this fear grounded in reality, or is my mind playing
tricks on me again? There’s no way for me to be sure. Even the line
between imagination and reality has worn down and it’s now too thin
I think I will walk away before something bad happens, as if removing
myself from the equation would keep them all safe. But then Tim will
skin his knee and come running to me, as if a simple hug could take
all the world’s pain away. Or Jeremy will plant one of those sloppy
kisses on my cheek, and I am reminded that for better or worse, I am
his world. Ruth will slip my handbag over her shoulder as she follows
me around the house, trying to walk in my footsteps, because to her,
I seem like someone worth imitating. Or Beth will look up at me with
that gummy grin when I try to feed her, and my heart contracts with a
love that really does know no bounds.
moments remind me that everything changes, and that this cloud has
come and gone twice now, so if I just hang on, it will pass again. I
don’t feel hope yet, but I should know hope, because I’ve walked
this path before and even when the mountains and valleys seemed
insurmountable, I survived them.
constantly trying to talk myself around to calm, and sometimes, for
brief and beautiful moments, I do. But the hard, cold truth is that
every time the night comes, it seems blacker than it did before.
I’m teetering on the edge of something horrific.
the sound of my baby’s cry might just be the thing that breaks me
scared of so many things these days, but most of all now, I fear
After escaping an abusive husband of an arranged marriage, Lakshmi has curated a niche life as a henna artist and herbalist, carefully balancing her needs with the desires of her wealthy, high caste clients. Until…her ex-husband brings to her a sister Lakshmi didn’t know existed, along with the information that both of their parents are dead. A sister who can topple her meticulously constructed life, simply by being her naive, adventurous self. Joshi has created a picture of a precarious position within society that is specific to someone who provides a service that’s both decorative and healing, desired for its aesthetics and cultural significance. Although accepted into higher society, Lakshmi is still considered a servant to the most influential of her clients, and thereby afforded no protection against her sister’s impetuous actions. Not only has the author provided a compelling tale, but she has included a glossary of hindi words and a history of henna artistry. I was fortunate to receive a digital copy of this beautiful novel from the publisher Mira Books through NetGalley.
State of Uttar Pradesh, India
feet step lightly on the hard earth, calloused soles insensible to
the tiny pebbles and caked mud along the riverbank. On her head she
balances a mutki,
the same earthenware jug she uses to carry water from the well every
day. Today, instead of water, the girl is carrying everything she
owns: a second petticoat and blouse, her mother’s wedding sari, The
Tales of Krishna
her father used to read to her—the pages fabric-soft from years of
handling—and the letter that arrived from Jaipur earlier this
she hears the voices of the village women in the distance, the girl
hesitates. The gossip-eaters are chatting, telling stories, laughing,
as they wash saris, vests, petticoats and dhotis.
But when they spot her, she knows they will stop to stare or spit at
the ground, imploring God to protect them from the Bad Luck Girl. She
reminds herself of the letter, safe inside the mutki,
and thinks: Let
them. It will be the last time.
the women were haranguing the Headman: why
is the Bad Luck Girl still living in the schoolteacher’s hut when
we need it for the new schoolmaster?
Afraid to make a sound for fear they would come inside and pull her
out by her hair, the girl had remained perfectly still within the
four mud walls. There was no one to protect her now. Last week, her
mother’s body had been burned along with the bones of other dead
animals, the funeral pyre of the poor. Her father, the former
schoolteacher, had abandoned them six months ago, and, shortly after,
he drowned in a shallow pool of water along the riverbank, so drunk
he likely hadn’t felt the sting of death.
day for the past week, the girl had lay in wait on the outskirts of
the village for the postman, who cycled in sporadically from the
neighboring village. This morning, as soon as she spotted him, she
darted out from her hiding place, startling him, and asked if there
were any letters for her family. He had frowned and bit his cheek,
his rheumy eyes considering her through his thick glasses. She could
tell he felt sorry for her, but he was also peeved—she was asking
for something only the Headman should receive. But she held his gaze
without blinking. When he finally handed over the thick onionskin
envelope addressed to her parents, he did so hastily, avoiding her
eyes and pedaling away as quickly as he could.
standing tall, her shoulders back, she strolls past the women at the
riverbank. They glare at her. She can feel her heart flutter wildly
in her breast, but she passes, straight as sugar cane, mutki
on her head, as if she is going to the farmers well, two miles
farther from the village, the only well she is allowed to use.
gossip-eaters no longer whisper but shout to one another:
goes the Bad Luck Girl! The year she was born, locusts ate the wheat!
Her older sister deserted her husband, never to be seen again!
Shameless! That same year her mother went blind! And her father
turned to drink! Disgraceful! Even the girl’s coloring is suspect.
have blue eyes. Does she even belong to us? To this village?
girl has often wondered about this older sister they talk about. The
one whose face she sees only as a shadow in her dreams, whose
existence her parents have never acknowledged. The gossip-eaters say
she left the village thirteen years ago. Why? Where did she go? How
did she escape a place where the gossip-eaters watch your every move?
Did she leave in the dead of night when the cows and goats were
asleep? They say she stole money, but no one in the village has any
money. How did she feed herself? Some say she dressed as a man so she
wouldn’t be stopped on the road. Others say she ran off with a
circus boy and was living as a nautch
girl, dancing in the Pleasure District miles away in Agra.
days ago, old man Munchi with the game leg—her only friend in the
village—warned her that if she didn’t vacate her hut, the Headman
would insist she marry a widowed farmer or demand she leave the
is nothing here for you now,” Munchiji had said. But how could she
leave—a thirteen-year-old orphan girl with no family or money?
said, “Have courage, bheti.” He told her where to find her
brother-in-law, the husband her older sister had abandoned all those
years ago, in a nearby village. Perhaps he could help her find her
can’t I stay with you?”she
would not be proper,”the
gently. He made his living painting images on the skeletons of peepal
console her, he’d given her a painting. Angry, she’d almost
thrown it back at him until she saw that the image was of Lord
Krishna, feeding a mango to his consort Radha, her namesake. It was
the most beautiful gift she had ever received.
slows as she approaches the village threshing ground. Four yoked
bulls walk in circles around a large flat stone, grinding wheat.
who cares for the bulls, is sitting with his back against the hut,
asleep. Quietly, she hurries past him to the narrow path that leads
to Ganesh-ji’s temple. The shrine has a slender opening and,
inside, a statue of Lord Ganesh. Gifts are arranged around the
Elephant God’s feet: a young coconut, marigolds, a small pot of
ghee, slices of mango. A cone of sandalwood incense releases a
languid curl of smoke.
girl lays Munchiji’s
painting of Krishna in front of Ganesh-ji,
the Remover of All Obstacles, and begs him to remove the curse of The
Bad Luck Girl.
the time she reaches her brother-in-law’s village ten miles to the
West, it is late afternoon and the sun has moved closer to the
horizon. She is sweating through her cotton blouse. Her feet and
ankles are dusty; her mouth dry.
is cautious, entering the village. She crouches in shrubs and hides
behind trees. She knows an alone girl will not be treated kindly. She
searches for a man who looks like the one Munchiji described.
sees him. There. Squatting under the banyan tree, facing her. Her
has thick, oily, coal-black hair. A long, bumpy scar snakes from his
bottom lip to his chin. He is not young but neither is he old. His
is spotted with curry and his dhoti
stained with dust.
she notices the woman squatting in the dirt in front of the man. She
is supporting her elbow with one hand, her forearm dangling at an
unnatural angle. Her head is completely covered with her pallu,
and she is talking to the man in a quiet whisper. Radha watches,
wondering if her brother-in-law has taken another wife.
picks up a small stone and throws it at him. She misses. The second
time, she hits him in the thigh, but he merely flicks his hand, as if
swatting away an insect. He is listening intently to the woman. Radha
throws more pebbles, managing to hit him several times. At last, he
lifts his head and looks around him.
steps into the clearing so he can see her.
eyes widen, as if he is looking at a ghost. He says, “Lakshmi?”
Alka Joshi is a graduate of Stanford University and received her M.F.A. from the California College of the Arts. She has worked as an advertising copywriter, a marketing consultant, and an illustrator. Alka was born in India, in the state of Rajasthan. Her family came to the United States when she was nine, and she now lives on California’s Monterey Peninsula with her husband and two misbehaving pups. The Henna Artist is her first novel. Visit her website and blog at thehennaartist.com
Annie has had it with people, declaring that she is accepting no new people into her life after her fiance moved to Paris to find himself, her career stalled due to a sexual harassment incident, and her closest friends have become “concerned.” Told in epistolary style through Annie’s journal and email correspondence, Dear Reader is privy to Annie’s private thoughts—her frustrations and confusions—as she stumbles into new friendships despite her declaration. Pagán infuses humor into the story as Annie faces challenging decisions. Fans of Ann Garvin and Sonali Dev will appreciate Pagán’s delightfully flawed characters and realistic storyline which offers no clear-cut answers to life’s hard questions. I was fortunate to receive a digital copy of this wonderful novel by one of my favorite authors from the publisher Lake Union Publishing through NetGalley for an honest review.
Pedro’s life on his family farm turns into a nightmare when guerrillas execute his father and banish his mother from their home. Vowing revenge, he joins the Autodefensas, a paramilitary group fighting the guerrillas, discreetly alongside the state military, and inculcates himself into hierarchical politics toward his hidden agenda of vengeance. Young represents a no-win situation for a teenage boy in a village that’s essentially a war-zone based on greed disguised as ideology. The author writes from a well-researched position of direct observation and interviews with real-life child soldiers, though the perspective must remain that of a white westerner. Young co-founded a foundation to rehabilitate and resocialize former child soldiers, using his residence in Bogota as headquarters and tithing royalties from this novel to the foundation. Read about his history and connections here: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/24214.Rusty_Young. As a novel, this is a compelling story of terror, self-redemption, romance, and familial obligations, evoking awareness of these child soldiers. I received a digital copy of this well-written story from the publisher Bantam through NetGalley.
A product of her decisions within a harsh justice system, Jazz does her best to protect her little brother Joaquin from his adopted (her foster) mother’s irresponsible religious response to his diabetes. Approached by a vigilante via phone, she resists at first, but gives in to the exchange of murders, though her first two attempts are thwarted, and she is then targeted. That the killings are obvious murders belie the idea that there’s an elaborate secret killing machination in place, especially since it does not seem to include an effective contingency plan. I received a digital copy from the publisher Mira Books through NetGalley, my request based on my appreciation for her previous book HuntingAnnabelle, which I found brilliant.
There are secrets galore amongst the employees of Serenity Acres. Ruth’s anticipated promotion disappears when the owner sells the company due to, unbeknownst to Ruth, incredible debt. When she discovers a secret society planning deaths of seniors in her care, she hires her former detective neighbor Zach to investigate undercover as security. Even Ruth must give up her secrets eventually. Riggs brilliantly builds tension within several aspects of the multi-thread storyline, intriguing Dear Reader, serving up the satisfying secrets in a timely manner. I received this excellent story from the publisher Thomas & Mercer through NetGalley.
A serial killer leaves a little chestnut man at the site of each murder. Also left are fingerprints of a government minister’s child, kidnapped a year previous. Sveistrup portrays well a family on the edge of grief clinging to a tiny ray of hope. The police investigation gets a bit detailed, leaving Dear Reader hanging desperately to any investment in the story. The climax and denouement are sufficiently twisty and well-written. It’s worth the effort to slog through the slow parts to get to the revelation. I received a digital copy from the publisher Harper through NetGalley.
John Zada travels to the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia to investigate the extensive sightings of Sasquatch. As he meets with the people of the First Nations, Dear Reader learns much about their culture, history, and spiritual connection with such legendary creatures. This book is more than a collection of personal experiences; it’s a compendium of human nature and the desire to believe in something larger than oneself and how the inexplicable mysteries of life feed that desire. I was fortunate to received this well-researched and well-written book from the publisher Atlantic Monthly Press through NetGalley.
Zadie crushes on her best friend, the hero of the village, who has saved more than one person from the labyrinth that borders her village, a labyrinth full of booby traps and deadly creatures, including a boogeyman named Dex. When her friend disappears into the labyrinth and becomes history to the village, Zadie is the only one willing to risk the labyrinth to rescue him. Tate spins Dear Reader’s head with unlikely allies, exploding expectations, and astonishing revelations. YA fantasy fans will add this author to their list of favorites. I received this wonderful story from Flux through NetGalley.
In a small town of apparently apathetic citizenry, 30-something Walter Mitchell, whose wife divorced him and moved to another state with their daughter, somehow ends up taking in the teenage daughter of his neighbor, a horridly neglectful mother. Maher carefully lays out Walter’s slippery slope of determining what he feels is best for this child on the cusp of womanhood. As young Amanda expresses her burgeoning awakening of sexuality, Walter supresses the natural physical response in himself, carefully talking himself and Amanda through the gauntlet to which he has inadvertently led them. In the end, he insists on the punishment he believes he deserves. Though not an ideal execution, the torment of the main character, his self-enforced isolation from support, and the self-control he exhibits, brilliantly portrays the dichotomy of nature versus civilization, the social mores that separate us from animals and their natural instinct. The only comparison to Lolita would have to consider this a retelling, but that would still belie the fact that the main characters are on opposite ends of the morality spectrum. I received this intriguing, controversial story from the publisher RedDoor publishing through NetGalley.