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Shame and Wonder: Essays
Shame and Wonder: Essays
by David Searcy
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.22
67 used & new from $11.75

5.0 out of 5 stars Searcy's essays are "at once sublime and surreal, knowing and unknowing, earthy and ethereal", February 8, 2016
David Searcy’s 21 essays, collected in SHAME AND WONDER, are at once sublime and surreal, knowing and unknowing, earthy and ethereal. Each piece starts in a seemingly familiar place with recognizable silhouettes and easy images but moves to reflections on somehow nonparallel topics: the possums in “Didelphis Nuncius” connect to the bedrooms in a new house of his children after his divorce. Figuring out which new car to buy slides into nude photos of young girls close to home (“Sexy Girls Near Dallas”). The links are haunting, spot-on perfect and always unexpected.

In “Nameless,” Searcy pays tribute to Doug MacWithey, his artist friend who had a huge three-story studio in Corsicana, Texas, and who died running in the middle of the night in Uncertain, Texas. Searcy returns to see a really beautiful posthumous showing of MacWithey’s work and acknowledges the imperative of diving into and expanding rabbit holes of reality and his imagination. There was a peg-legged Jewish itinerant who came to Corsicana in 1884 and planned a ropewalk across a wide intersection at 20 or 30 feet high with a large iron cook stove on his back. It is not clear why he came to town, perhaps an attraction for an opening of a store. But he fell and was crushed by the stove. He refused to give his name or “any information whatsoever about himself beyond his Jewishness” and expired either in the street or in a nearby hotel room.

Searcy continues and somehow connects the images of the wooden leg, the rope and the stove with the fruitful, functional picture painted by Pieter Brueghel, Landscape with the Fall of Icarus. Imagine that Brueghel painted MacWithey, he suggests, and we see beyond the hump of his t-shirt, red like the plowman’s in the painting, into the glare of ambiguity, out past Icarus, to where the tiniest brush is needed to show anything. Faithful to his friend and to his own understanding of his loss, Searcy shows us something that we have no idea ever “was anywhere except, perhaps, in dreams.”

“On Watching the Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan Documentary about Lewis and Clark on PBS” is minimally longer than the title. Searcy questions whether or not Burns captures the sadness and relevance of history and its moments of crimson sunsets on the prairie or whether we find in ourselves the difficulty to establish a presence, that we evaporate and lose our position. He says Burns is good at baseball, the Civil War and history, but how he does that good is ephemeral.

“Didelephis Nuncius” shows Searcy’s return with his three children to a childhood home after his wife, Jean, leaves. He wonders about the girls’ bedroom windows and what shadows will appear on their walls, and about the story he may or may not have begun after sitting on each child’s bed. He comes back to the offerings of caught possums that his mutt offers once or twice weekly: shadows on the backyard deck, then real, then shadows again. The intangible sense of sadness and loss lingers through the aging of the family dog, and Searcy envisions Mr. Possum appearing once again.

If holding one’s breath for the duration of an essay is praise, then praise be given. Almost unknowingly, certainly at first, then more and more aware of not breathing and forcing myself to take breaths, I read on. If you’re not the type to hold your breath, you’ll construct your own response. Of that I am sure. I am also sure that Searcy will get us where he is going.

Reviewed by Jane Krebs


Saving Jason (A Jason Stafford Novel)
Saving Jason (A Jason Stafford Novel)
by Michael Sears
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.39
65 used & new from $7.37

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "The best installment of this fine series to date", February 8, 2016
Michael Sears is a marvel. His books, which feature a financial investigator who is as welcome in the hallways of his employer company as the flu, balance the cold and calculating digits and zeroes that are the hallmark of financial trading with the very emotional and human. I don’t know how he does it, but he pulls it off, and very well.

The investigator in question is Jason Stafford, a brilliant Wall Street trader who experienced a fall from grace with a stint in prison awaiting him when he came to ground. Stafford puts his knowledge of how to hide illicit trades to work in his day-to-day job, working for Virgil Becker of the Becker Financial Group, which itself was almost brought to ruin by the wrongful machinations of Becker’s father. Stafford reports to Becker, and only to Becker. While forever figuratively and literally looking over the shoulders of the firm’s traders, Stafford is second in importance to the firm only to Becker himself, given that his efforts keep things on a legal footing, and thus in business.

That is not to say that the Stafford series is boardrooms and boredom. Far from it. SAVING JASON, the fourth installment, begins with a very exciting assassination attempt on a government witness, one that goes from bad to worse in ways that are entirely unexpected. It takes a bit of time for that opening vignette to tie into the main story, but while it does, Stafford has plenty with which to occupy himself. Not one to stay in the office and pour over results, his initial appearance here finds him on Long Island of all places. A series of suspicious penny stock transactions all seem to share a focal point at a defunct horse farm that houses a few unexpected items, some of which raise the suspicion quota into the red zone.

When Stafford shares his suspicions with his boss, Becker directs him to another project that he considers to be more significant. It appears that someone is quietly but methodically engineering a hostile takeover of Becker Financial Group, and Becker wants Stafford to investigate who is behind it. Stafford is up to the task, but that penny stock operation won’t leave him alone. He suddenly finds himself on the wrong end of a grand jury investigation and under threat from both sides of the law. When that investigation spills over into the Becker Financial Group, Stafford’s boss suddenly is at risk of losing the company he fought so hard to preserve.

Worse, Stafford’s own life is in terrible danger. After an attempt is made on his life, Stafford and his son, Jason --- a young boy with autism who responds to the nickname “The Kid” --- find themselves transported half a continent and a world away from New York. Even there, they are anything but safe. When the worst occurs, Stafford will have to rely on his wits and his few remaining friends to save his life, as well as that of The Kid...and, if he can, his employer’s job as well.

SAVING JASON is the best installment of this fine series to date. Sears finds a credible reason to move father and son out of Manhattan and into the real world, if you will, while balancing high finance, action and cyberspace derring-do in a rich mix that will keep you reading well into the night. And if your idea of finance is limited to making change, never fear. Sears keeps the topics elementary and the explanations simple. The excitement, however, is superlative.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub


The Killing Forest
The Killing Forest
by Sara Blaedel
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.77
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4.0 out of 5 stars "A smashing success", February 8, 2016
This review is from: The Killing Forest (Hardcover)
Sara Blaedel is almost a thriller subgenre, all by herself, in her native Denmark. After being active in journalism and television editing for almost 10 years, Blaedel turned to writing crime fiction in 2004, and in the intervening decade has earned the title of most popular author in Denmark on four separate occasions, thanks to her series featuring Detective Louise Rick, a member of the Special Search Agency within the National Police Department. The series is new to the United States, with THE FORGOTTEN GIRLS, the seventh book, being published in 2015 and marking Louise’s first appearance here. The newly released THE KILLING FOREST picks up where its predecessor left off, and it’s a smashing success.

The book opens with a chilling and haunting vignette that reveals all to the reader. What follows is a police procedural wherein Louise and her team must play catch-up in order to determine what has happened, disturbing a series of secrets that have lain quiet for generations. Following an extended absence, Louise returns to work and is assigned to investigate the disappearance of Sune, a 15-year-old boy who vanished a week earlier from the Hvalsoe area. The location is significant for Louise, given that she is from there originally.

It was in Hvalsoe where she and Klaus, the first great love of her life, had been ready to begin living together, a plan that abruptly ended when Klaus died, apparently the result of a suicide. The incident has understandably haunted her ever since, but she welcomes the missing child investigation as an opportunity to perhaps make one more pass over Klaus’ unexpected death. There are connections, given that Sune’s father and his friends were all associates of Klaus’ as well, relationships that he was trying to end at the time of his death.

Journalist Camilla Lind, Louise’s longtime friend, is also in the area and is able to provide an important link to the reason behind Sune’s disappearance, which appears to be voluntary rather than by misadventure. Camilla and Louise uncover much more than they bargain for when an old graveyard yields new secrets and begins to unravel the history of some of the area’s more respected citizens. Legends that have quietly survived the centuries suddenly pose an extremely deadly threat for both women, even as Louise uncovers the truth behind Klaus’ death and the reason why Sune feels he can never go home again.

Blaedel offers up two cataclysmic endings, one of which will push you to the edge of your seat and the other of which will knock you right off. While decidedly contemporary in nature, the novel is built upon the legends of beings that may be gone but are hardly forgotten, and, as demonstrated in the narrative, their supplicants are even deadlier now than they were in the past. Read together, THE KILLING FOREST and THE FORGOTTEN GIRLS constitute an excellent place for American mystery and thriller fans to jump onto this wonderful series (thanks in large part to a fine translation by Mark Kline), so that hopefully we will see more of Blaedel’s impressive work, both past and future, sooner rather than later.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub


Sweetgirl
Sweetgirl
by Travis Mulhauser
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.10
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5.0 out of 5 stars "This is a stellar debut novel", February 8, 2016
This review is from: Sweetgirl (Hardcover)
Here’s a tip for you before you crack open Travis Mulhauser’s SWEETGIRL: make sure you’re snuggled into a comfortable chair with lots of pillows and blankets, preferably with a nice steaming mug of tea or hot cocoa at your side. Why, you ask? Well, two reasons, really: First, Mulhauser’s harrowing descriptions of a blizzard in the north woods are bound to make you chilly; second, you’re going to want to be comfortable because this book is so hard to put down.

Ever since her older sister Starr escaped from Cutler County in northern Michigan, moving west to Portland with her husband and their brand-new baby, Percy James has tried really hard to hold things together at home. She was able to keep her mom, Carletta, sober for a while, but now Carletta has taken up with the county’s most notorious meth dealer once again. Percy has dropped out of school to support the family, all while trying to keep her mom alive and prevent Starr from knowing what’s gone wrong back home.

Carletta’s latest bender coincides with one of the worst blizzards anyone in Cutler County can remember, which is saying something in a land of massive lake-effect snowfalls. When Percy ventures to Shelton Potter’s farmhouse in search of her vanished mother, there’s no sign of Carletta besides her abandoned car. Instead, she finds Shelton and another woman passed out cold --- and a beautiful baby named Jenna abandoned in a bassinet in front of an open window. Jenna is wearing a filthy diaper, and is starving and shivering from the cold. Percy doesn’t hesitate. Even as the wind howls and the snow blows, she takes Jenna, some diapers and formula, and hits the road. She wants to give the baby a chance --- even a small one --- at a life better than the one she was born into.

But when Shelton comes down off his high, he starts to look for Jenna, too, enlisting some of his goons with the promise of a hefty cash reward. Soon the dangers posed by the natural world are compounded by man-made threats, as Percy and her mom’s old friend Portis put their lives at risk to save Jenna’s.

Mulhauser, who grew up in northern Michigan and also set a previous short fiction collection in Cutler County, effectively depicts the social and physical complexities of this remote area. Percy marvels at how the landscape can be so beautiful even when the realities of life and death that play out against it are often bleak and ugly. She contrasts the comfortable lifestyles of the tourists from Chicago and Milwaukee who come up to the picturesque small town for fudge and Christmas decorations with the hopeless existences of the drunks and addicts who live there year-round.

SWEETGIRL is suspenseful. Its ambience and journey narrative, not to mention its themes about family ties, might remind some of the novel (and eventual movie) WINTER’S BONE. But it’s also funny, its dry and unexpected humor often sneaking up on readers unawares. Combining brutal social realism, a family drama and lyrical descriptions of the natural world, this is a stellar debut novel, one that will introduce many to an unfamiliar setting and a new writer to watch.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl


Let the People Rule: Theodore Roosevelt and the Birth of the Presidential Primary
Let the People Rule: Theodore Roosevelt and the Birth of the Presidential Primary
by Geoffrey Cowan
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.99
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4.0 out of 5 stars "A well-researched and remarkable saga", February 8, 2016
Everything old is new again.

Just in time for the contentious campaign battles of 2016, we get some historical perspective from Geoffrey Cowan via his latest book, LET THE PEOPLE RULE: Theodore Roosevelt and the Birth of the Presidential Primary, a well-researched and remarkable saga of our current system.

“TR” had served almost two full terms as president, the first as a result of the assassination of William McKinley in 1901. The custom of the day was that no one should run for a third term because, basically, two had been good enough for George Washington.

At first, Roosevelt was content in his forced retirement, travelling the world and accepting a position with The Outlook, a political magazine. But as his successor, William Howard Taft, stumbled along (in Roosevelt’s opinion) and at the urging of his supporters, TR began thinking the unthinkable. He might refuse to actively seek the nomination, but if the people wanted him, well, how could he say no?

So began the lugubrious process of trying to win the Republican nomination. In one corner, you had Roosevelt, a man of the people, who thought the majority was smart enough to decide whom they wanted to see as commander-in-chief, without the interference of politicians and hacks. In the other, representing hand-picked, smoke-filled-room, patronage-seeking supporters, you had the sitting president and Roosevelt protégé, Taft.

Lest anyone think hyperbole is a modern invention, Cowan reminds us otherwise. Roosevelt was characterized by a former colleague as “the most dangerous figure in public life in America.” And just as Bernie Sanders has accused fellow candidates of being in the pockets of the rich and influential, so, too, did Roosevelt, as he battled against the system in which prosperous white men called all the shots. (Yet TR’s motives were not altogether altruistic. Would he have proposed the primary system if he didn’t think it would be beneficial?)

Readers will come away thinking no time has passed: rivals still accuse each other of chicanery, deceit and fraud. The only difference is that more money is involved these days.

“To have any chance of winning,” Cowan writes, “TR’s campaign concluded that they would have to resort to tactics that seemed a bit more acceptable in the slightly ‘wild west’ than in the drawing rooms….” There were also disputes over actual number of delegates earned, as well as the outright “stealing” of delegates. In another passage, the author notes that Roosevelt’s campaign “had become more than political combat --- it was now political theater, a carnival that built public excitement wherever he went.” Sound familiar? (There were even accusations of wire-tapping Roosevelt’s home telephones!)

Despite the best efforts of Roosevelt and his supporters, which actually resulted in a superior number of delegates, Taft still came away with the nomination at the 1912 convention (although he would be defeated in November by Woodrow Wilson). Cowan quotes a Saturday Evening Post article that foretold the outcome: “Taft will win because the men who control the convention, control the machinery, are for him.”

“Many of the concerns, problems, and opportunities that surfaced before and during TR’s campaign remain a part of the political landscape,” Cowan writes in the book’s epilogue.

Politics is a complicated “game,” perhaps made so deliberately to exclude a number of people who lack the discipline or interest to stick it out. Those who do will most hopefully be satisfied. That idea holds true for LET THE PEOPLE RULE. There is a tremendous amount of detail to sift through, but those who do ultimately will be rewarded by the process, if not the actual story of Roosevelt’s failure.

Reviewed by Ron Kaplan


The Black Calhouns: From Civil War to Civil Rights with One African American Family
The Black Calhouns: From Civil War to Civil Rights with One African American Family
by Gail Lumet Buckley
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.82
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "An engaging and immersive look into American history", February 8, 2016
Gail Lumet Buckley crafts a rich and crucial historical memoir with THE BLACK CALHOUNS: From Civil War to Civil Rights with One African American Family. Born to actress and activist Lena Horne, Buckley was positioned somewhat uniquely at the crux of race and class, privilege and oppression: the extremities of wealth and the undeniable multifaceted savageries of post-Reconstruction America. THE BLACK CALHOUNS is written with the details of a journalist, the scope and context of a historian, and the intimacy of a family member. The narrative is enhanced by the presence of all three perspectives within its author.

Buckley traces her family history through the Reconstruction, the Civil Rights Movement, the Harlem Renaissance, Lena’s Hollywood days, through to Buckley’s own childhood and beyond. The narrative’s linear progression cleanly weaves the Calhoun family tree through the issues of race and anti-blackness in America, never once losing the personal connection to the characters while chronicling historical fact and emergent social justice.

Lena experienced many privileges because of her hard work, her connected family, the wealth they enjoyed, and the beauty that passed for certain white standards --- and enchanted some of those it didn’t. Like many within the culture of her forebears, Lena was raised to lean Republican and stay away from activism. This was how the black elite survived and thrived while lynchings still threaten their bodies and livelihood --- by playing into the entrepreneurial myth of the self-made man, upon which white America establishes itself. White America capitalized on Lena’s marketability by having her perform “jungle fever” roles or singing racist tunes. Until the brutality of the era became irrefutable even for the black elite, until the war overseas highlighted the oppressions at home, Lena paid a price for her fame.

Buckley identifies her as “token,” “symbol” and “forerunner” all at once, burdening her with not only personal achievements in an oppressive system but the task of participating in the changing of that system. “They never choose us,” Lena’s Count Basie said, when Lena almost opted to leave Hollywood forever. “But they’ve chosen you. You have to go back so that other people can have your opportunities.” Buckley never shies away from the realities of her family’s history. The horrific lynchings that extended past the ’40s, the dangerous extent of the one-drop rule, the sexism and the specific, degrading oppression at the intersection of racism and sexism, misogynoir --- Buckley demonstrates how her family navigated these horrors and was still able to flourish. Lena’s triumphs ended up being groundbreaking.

Altogether, this is an essential perspective of the timeframe. Too often, black American history is represented only as slavery and civil rights movements --- and those narratives are all too often whitewashed or decontextualized to the detriment of those who still suffer the effects of America’s white surpremacist foundation. While it is abundantly crucial to educate on the truths of slavery and suffrage, we cannot neglect those within the transition --- those first families who emerged out of enslavement to shape America despite and within systemic oppression. We cannot reduce black American history to white guilt, especially when we do not use those lessons to open our eyes about the injustices committed today. Congratulating ourselves for recognizing the horrors of American slavery does not absolve us of examining racial injustice and inequality today, and it is dangerous to present these stories otherwise.

We must also recognize black excellence. We must elevate the stories of those who lived the realities of American oppression, so that we can see the variety as well as the patterns --- the many manifestations of the tragedies of white supremacy in this country, as there are multitudes more than the few white guilt/white apologism narratives that continue to emerge.

Gail Lumet Buckley’s story beautifully participates in this vital conversation. This is one of many necessary voices to emerge from this generation more recently. Perhaps seek resonance in Margo Jefferson’s historical memoir, NEGROLAND, set in Chicago but spanning the same era, and others from this intersection. THE BLACK CALHOUNS is an engaging and immersive look into American history through one of our most notable black elite families, but it is also an intimate and affecting family portrait. An essential piece.

Reviewed by Maya Gittelman


All the Birds in the Sky
All the Birds in the Sky
by Charlie Jane Anders
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $15.46
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Romantic, audacious and thoroughly entertaining", February 8, 2016
In a battle to save the world from destruction, magic and science reach a dangerous and fantastical stalemate. But that tension and violence are not the focus of Charlie Jane Anders' novel, ALL THE BIRDS IN THE SKY. Instead, it is the friendship and affection between two characters each typifying one of those powerful forces. Patricia Delfine represents the uncontrolled, organic and unpredictable powers of nature, while Laurence Armstead signifies the ordered yet hazardous promises of science. The book follows their relationship over the years as they struggle to understand their gifts as well as their responsibilities.

Patricia and Laurence are born oddballs and outcasts. Patricia’s parents see her as lazy and unambitious, preferring her secretly sadistic older sister. Patricia turns toward nature instead of people, and, after an encounter with a grand and sentient tree and a parliament of birds, she comes to know herself as a witch capable of strange magic that connects her to living things in amazing ways. When she meets Laurence in middle school, he is a tech geek who has already created a working time machine, albeit one that only goes two seconds into the future. Laurence imagines life at a school for math and science where he can be himself. They are both targets of bullies and misunderstood by their own families, but at least they have each other.

They have each other, that is, until the arrival at their school of Theodolphus Rose, a trained assassin posing as the guidance counselor. Rose had seen visions of a future full of “[d]eath and chaos, engines of destruction, whole cities crumbling, and a plague of madness. And, at the last, a war between magic and science that would leave the world in ashes.” To stop this devastation, he believes, means separating, perhaps even destroying, those who would usher in this apocalypse: Patricia and Laurence. The two are forced apart, and each follows a destiny that ultimately brings them together again as young adults. But by then, the wheels are in motion for the catastrophe Rose envisioned, and it may prove too difficult for Patricia (with her Tricker and Healer magic) and Laurence (with his Pathway to Infinity) to stop.

What will triumph in the battle between magic and science? What is more powerful in the struggle between love and doubt? ALL THE BIRDS IN THE SKY tackles these questions as its protagonists find romance in a world unraveling. With a little help from a magic-science Artificial Intelligence love-child, the world may be able to create itself anew. Before that, however, readers are treated to a smart and wacky novel with great gadgets, secret societies, enchanted schools, philosophic musings, ecological conundrums and dramatic possibilities.

ALL THE BIRDS IN THE SKY is romantic, audacious and, perhaps most importantly, a thoroughly entertaining book that challenges the parameters and conventions of science fiction and fantasy in wonderful ways.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman


The Plague of Thieves Affair: A Carpenter and Quincannon Mystery
The Plague of Thieves Affair: A Carpenter and Quincannon Mystery
by Marcia Muller
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.64
45 used & new from $11.86

5.0 out of 5 stars "Steeped in rich, atmospheric and authentic descriptions", February 8, 2016
It is 1896 in San Francisco. Sabina Carpenter and John Quincannon, two former Pinkerton agents, joined forces five years ago to establish Carpenter and Quincannon, Professional Detective Services. Their reputation for crime-solving has since grown.

As THE PLAGUE OF THIEVES AFFAIR opens, John is off to investigate the suspicious suicide of a brew master who was found floating in a vat of his secret new recipe. Sabina is in their office, having just taken on a surveillance case to guard a valuable collection at a local art gallery, when a dapper couple from Chicago arrives seeking to hire a man to track down the gentleman’s first cousin, Charles Percival Fairchild III, who stands to inherit a multi-million-dollar estate from his late father. Sabina is unruffled to be mistaken for the secretary as they reluctantly show her the picture of the heir who bears a startling resemblance to the man she knows only as Sherlock Holmes.

John has dismissed this would-be Holmes as “crack brain” and “bughouse” who pops up inconveniently in the middle of their investigations, but since he is out of the office, Sabina decides to pursue the case on her own. When the couple describes Charles as a “poor daft chap who fancies himself to be the late British detective Sherlock Holmes,” Sabina assures them that she not only is a detective, but recognizes him and can track him down if he’s still in San Francisco. They disclose that their real purpose in finding him is to return with him to Chicago to claim his estate, where he will be subjected to a sanity hearing to be found incompetent and put away. When Sabina also determines that the couple is next in line for the inheritance, she realizes that they are up to no good.

Sabina and John have been suspicious of the man they know only as Sherlock Holmes, who is supposedly dead. Whoever he is, he has an uncanny ability to solve crimes. Sabina would like to determine the imposter’s identity once and for all, but she genuinely likes him, whoever he is, and would not want to see him come to harm.

The two frequently work together in their investigations, but in this, the fourth mystery set in the bawdy, rough-hewn background of 19th-century San Francisco, they set off in opposite directions. These slim novels are steeped in rich, atmospheric and authentic descriptions of the times and people who inhabit and do business in the largest city at the far reaches of the great American frontier. The rough and ready John tracks down their quarry in the gambling halls, smoky opium dens, dance halls and houses of prostitution. Sabina is well-connected in San Francisco society, so she more easily operates in the great mansions and galleries, yet never balks at following the suspect wherever he (or frequently she) leads. Murder and thievery is the same no matter where it happens.

I look forward to seeing what the husband and wife writing team of Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini cook up for readers in future installments of this fine historical series.

Reviewed by Roz Shea


Where My Heart Used to Beat: A Novel
Where My Heart Used to Beat: A Novel
by Sebastian Faulks
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.39
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5.0 out of 5 stars "Brings together a psychological mystery with a war memoir and a love story", February 8, 2016
Sebastian Faulks writes like a modern-day Hemingway. He has the cadence down, the seemingly simplistic language that has such great depth, the endless fascination with World War II, the consequences of war and love, and all those things that have driven the world for thousands of years.

In WHERE MY HEART USED TO BEAT, Faulks considers the long-lasting consequences of pain and suffering pushed so deeply down that they explode in a lifetime of sadness and isolation that Faulks’ protagonist has accepted as his norm. But, as common as some of these themes might seem, Faulks manages the amazing --- he takes this story and infuses a level of humor, romance and drama into it that transcends other such tales. Most readers will wonder if the book could be one of the best of all the lost-romance-of-the-war stories of all time, taking its place amidst Casablanca and THE SUN ALSO RISES.

The story begins in London, 1980, a tumultuous time in and of itself (I lived there at that time and was constantly being evacuated from some place for bomb threats at every turn from the IRA). Psychiatrist Robert Hendricks is living with his past pains, suffering from a depression so deep he can barely rise out of bed each morning. He has fans, though, especially one who contacts him suddenly, a Dr. Alexander Perreira, neurologist and World War I vet who asks Robert to come and see him.

Robert makes his way to a secluded island off the coast of France where Perreira has made a home --- and it is here that Robert’s repressed memories and aggressive dislocations with the human race begin to pour out of him. He confronts his fatherless British childhood, the horrors of war and of his own injuries in battle, and the greatest loss of his life: a woman, an Italian woman who he considers to have been the love of his life. It is Perreira’s kindness and expertise along with his ridiculously big heart that help Robert find his way back to himself, to a world where maybe the pain can subside a little and reparations can be made.

WHERE MY HEART USED TO BEAT examines the unexamined life versus the fully confronted one --- and Robert benefits greatly from the efforts he puts forth. The lesson --- from Faulks, of course --- is that dealing with something and moving through it is the greatest way to find a more enjoyable and fulfilling life. For Robert, he creates an atmosphere where these memories and all that pain can be examined without ridicule or judgment. The graciousness of the doctor to the patient leads the patient to rediscover people and feelings he had considered all too long gone --- and that the future is a bright place where he can finally find the love and peace he has been after for decades.

Readers will enjoy the love story, optimists will appreciate the positive message, and psychiatrists will love the fact that, for once, they are shown to be gentle, loving and caring instead of money-grubbing. WHERE MY HEART USED TO BEAT brings together a psychological mystery with a war memoir and a love story, and makes it all feel like a totally new genre. I wouldn’t dare try to name it, but Faulks has earned considerable literary credit for this construction.

Reviewed by Jana Siciliano


The Forgetting Time: A Novel
The Forgetting Time: A Novel
by Sharon Guskin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $15.59
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4.0 out of 5 stars "A passionate entreaty to readers to embrace the present moment", February 8, 2016
Janie was pushing 40 when she found herself unexpectedly pregnant following a one-night stand with a married man. Four years later, however, she wouldn’t trade her life with Noah for anything. Her smart, affectionate son is the light of her life, even if it’s sometimes hard to juggle work, family and social life as a single mom.

But even though Janie adores Noah, something about his behavior, especially recently, troubles her. He often wakes up screaming from nightmares of drowning and is terrified of taking a bath or even washing his hands. Most upsetting to Janie is that, especially when Noah is frightened, he wails that he wants to go home and be with his mama, even when he’s in Janie’s arms in the Brooklyn apartment where he’s lived his whole life.

When an incident at Noah’s preschool leads to the school director suspending him until Janie can get his behavior under control, Janie takes Noah to a number of child psychologists and psychiatrists, none of whom can give her satisfactory answers. One even suggests that Noah might be schizophrenic and prescribes anti-psychotic medication for him. Janie, on the verge of losing clients from her architecture and interior design business due to her struggles with Noah, is just about desperate enough to try anything, even admitting that he is very sick.

But then she comes across the work of Dr. Jerome Anderson, a psychiatrist whose unorthodox (to put it mildly) beliefs and approach have defined his life’s work even as they’ve derailed his one-time ambitions for more conventional professional recognition. Anderson is intrigued by Noah’s story, so much so that he offers to help Janie get to the bottom of Noah’s symptoms.

Anderson has some secrets of his own --- namely that he’s suffering from aphasia, a progressive form of dementia that is quickly cutting him off from his ability to remember words and language. As someone who has always valued clarity in thinking and writing, this is painful for Anderson. But he recognizes in Noah his last chance to write about an American case of the phenomenon he studies, a case study that will finally round out the other examples in his book manuscript and enable him to spread his research to a wider audience.

The ideas that Anderson (and, by extension, author Sharon Guskin, who includes lengthy case studies from a real-world expert on the topic) espouses are controversial, to say the least, and certainly will be fodder for more than one book group discussion, debate or outright argument. But whether or not you believe in the phenomena that Guskin explores here, there’s much to consider in this provocative debut novel --- from cultural differences in attitudes toward life and death to the question of whether or not parents can ever truly know their own children.

More than anything, THE FORGETTING TIME is a passionate entreaty to readers to embrace the present moment, to find joy, comfort and connection in the here and now.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl


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