A haunting and poignant reflection on grief, spirituality, and the loving bonds that provide guidance and sustenance.

THE END OF APHRODITE

Folk offers a complex novel that gradually reveals the individual and intertwined stories of several women.

Fifteen-year-old Samantha, in first-person narration, begins this mystical, often ethereal, tale about relationships in 1986, the final year of the novel’s chronology. As the book opens, she and her mother, Mira, are visiting her mom’s younger sister, Etta—the eponymous Aphrodite. Etta gives Sam a blank journal to help her sort out her feelings of teenage angst; however, much of her writing will be about her intriguing aunt. Mira is the more traditional of the two sisters, while Etta is the almost-free spirit who defies convention. She’s now living with Patrick, an artist who considers her his “muse.” After years of distress over Etta’s free lifestyle, Mira has finally come to accept her sister for who she is. But there is more sorrow to come: Mira, who’s still mourning the death of her mother, is about to experience another devastating loss. The narrative undertakes a back-and-forth jog through the previous two decades. Third-person narration, which alternates with Samantha’s voice, fills in the early years of Etta’s back story, beginning in 1968 and running through the 1970s. Leaping forward again to 1986, readers meet Mira and Sam’s neighbor, Joan, whose teenage daughter, Elise, disappeared 10 years ago; Joan tells Sam that Elise usually visits in the spring, and readers learn through Joan’s and Elise’s back stories that these visits are spiritual apparitions. Folk, the author of Totem Beasts (2017), peppers her artfully composed story with religious and mythological references. The coastal Massachusetts setting effectively frames one of her themes: the mystery, majesty, and inspirational magic of the sea and its creatures. The frequent switching of time frames and back stories is structurally interesting, even if it also adversely affects the pacing of the narrative. In the end, however, what at first appear to be separate tales coalesce, and it’s revealed that it is young Samantha who, through her words and art, will carry forward the legacy of Etta—“the goddess we’ve left behind.”

A haunting and poignant reflection on grief, spirituality, and the loving bonds that provide guidance and sustenance.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59954-150-1

Page Count: 214

Publisher: Bordighera Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

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For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

THE FOUR WINDS

The miseries of the Depression and Dust Bowl years shape the destiny of a Texas family.

“Hope is a coin I carry: an American penny, given to me by a man I came to love. There were times in my journey when I felt as if that penny and the hope it represented were the only things that kept me going.” We meet Elsa Wolcott in Dalhart, Texas, in 1921, on the eve of her 25th birthday, and wind up with her in California in 1936 in a saga of almost unrelieved woe. Despised by her shallow parents and sisters for being sickly and unattractive—“too tall, too thin, too pale, too unsure of herself”—Elsa escapes their cruelty when a single night of abandon leads to pregnancy and forced marriage to the son of Italian immigrant farmers. Though she finds some joy working the land, tending the animals, and learning her way around Mama Rose's kitchen, her marriage is never happy, the pleasures of early motherhood are brief, and soon the disastrous droughts of the 1930s drive all the farmers of the area to despair and starvation. Elsa's search for a better life for her children takes them out west to California, where things turn out to be even worse. While she never overcomes her low self-esteem about her looks, Elsa displays an iron core of character and courage as she faces dust storms, floods, hunger riots, homelessness, poverty, the misery of migrant labor, bigotry, union busting, violent goons, and more. The pedantic aims of the novel are hard to ignore as Hannah embodies her history lesson in what feels like a series of sepia-toned postcards depicting melodramatic scenes and clichéd emotions.

For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-2501-7860-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY

An unhappy woman who tries to commit suicide finds herself in a mysterious library that allows her to explore new lives.

How far would you go to address every regret you ever had? That’s the question at the heart of Haig’s latest novel, which imagines the plane between life and death as a vast library filled with books detailing every existence a person could have. Thrust into this mysterious way station is Nora Seed, a depressed and desperate woman estranged from her family and friends. Nora has just lost her job, and her cat is dead. Believing she has no reason to go on, she writes a farewell note and takes an overdose of antidepressants. But instead of waking up in heaven, hell, or eternal nothingness, she finds herself in a library filled with books that offer her a chance to experience an infinite number of new lives. Guided by Mrs. Elm, her former school librarian, she can pull a book from the shelf and enter a new existence—as a country pub owner with her ex-boyfriend, as a researcher on an Arctic island, as a rock star singing in stadiums full of screaming fans. But how will she know which life will make her happy? This book isn't heavy on hows; you won’t need an advanced degree in quantum physics or string theory to follow its simple yet fantastical logic. Predicting the path Nora will ultimately choose isn’t difficult, either. Haig treats the subject of suicide with a light touch, and the book’s playful tone will be welcome to readers who like their fantasies sweet if a little too forgettable.

A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-52-555947-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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