Beasts Of The Earth by James Wade

Beasts of the Earth

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Buy on Amazon

Reviewed by: 

Claire Fullerton for The New York Journal of Books

We know from the start LeBlanc is wounded, that his limping spirit is tantamount to the spare, prison-like furnishings of the low-ceilinged duplex he’s rented on the shanty side of town for the past 20 years, that his economic speech has little to do with still waters running deep, that it’s born of a wariness from what he’s hiding.

It is the economic downturn of 1987 in Coral County, Texas, where thirty-something Harlan LeBlanc works alongside the small crew of Carter Hills High School’s Grounds and Maintenance Department, and partakes of a cursory friendship with a troubled, young co-worker named Gene Thomas. A man of habit gripping to a rote, daily schedule, LeBlanc tends the high school’s football field with each step carefully taken, in a manner telling of his mind frame. “LeBlanc reveled in such undertakings—the opportunity to create boundaries, to ensure the proper area for the rules to be applied. There was an element of control, an upholding of justice, that brought peace

to his mind.”  

It is 1965 in the bayou of Assumption Parrish, Louisiana, and 13-year-old Michael Fischer’s hardscrabble world grows harder when his regionally shunned, depraved criminal father is released from prison. “A boy should be happy when his father returns, but Michael was not happy. He had memories of Munday—memories distorted by time and hearsay—and though there existed still a longing for the comfort and protection of a father, dread guided the boy.” Used to being the man of the house for his morbidly obese mother and younger sister, Michael is in fear when his hard-drinking father is home, and only breathes easy when he habitually disappears.

After home circumstances take an unspeakable, dark turn at the hands of his father, Michael flees to the woods, where he’s met with more danger still, until he’s found by a dying recluse of a poet named Remus, who takes the injured Michael to his cabin, and begins the long road to repairing the traumatized, now displaced, youth.

Over time, the strangers warm to an alliance, and Michael “played at having a father, and Remus played at being one. But the past is not a thing to sit still, and there are no new beginnings. The world itself was begun only once. And since that beginning its every rotation has depended on the one before—each circumstance born from the last.”

Cassie Harper has broken Gene Thomas’s heart. A student at Carter Hills High, there is

more to her than meets the eye. When Cassie is found murdered on school grounds, it rocks the entire community. When circumstantial evidence comes to include Gene Thomas, it strikes LeBlanc too close to home, casting aspersions on his character, and giving rise to his secret, haunted past.  

Author James Wade treads a tight wire between Beasts of the Earth’s dual storylines. He deftly keeps the reader guessing about common ground throughout the tumult of the three-part storyThe tone is shadowy and off-kilter, with elements of gothic-tinged realism vested upon an innocent heart, and a mind in peril of becoming unhinged.

There is much to keep the reader invested. Wade’s pitch-perfect, personality-driven dialogue sings in the voice of life, and his ability to meld existential thought, situational metaphor, and cinematic setting is a full-bodied experience: As Harlan LeBlanc sets out to right a wrong from the past, “He walked along the river in the morning light and watched it widen and grow as it approached Port Neches and then on to the Gulf of Mexico, and he wondered if the river might hold itself or some piece of itself out there in all that ocean—might cling at some molecular level to whatever made it a river in the first place, salt or no salt. But he knew the answer and knew the difficulty in fighting back against an ever-growing tide.”

Beasts of the Earth satisfies the discerning reader. Its balanced, oscillating chapters are played out in riveting complete scenes that take you deeper into the gritty backstory of Harlan LeBlanc, a man you care about, and somehow understand from what he’s not saying, while the town around him holds him in suspicion and his moral compass covertly guides him to truth and justice sought at a personal cost.

A soul-deep exploration of a wounded man in crisis, James Wade’s Beasts of the Earth follows his two widely acclaimed novels, All Things Left Wild, and River, Sing Out, and secures his position as an author of extraordinary merit.  

Author James Wade

James Wade lives and writes in the Texas Hill Country with his wife and daughter. He is the author of River, Sing Out and All Things Left Wild, a winner of the prestigious MPIBA Reading the West Award for Debut Fiction, and a recipient of the Spur Award for Best Historical Novel from the Western Writers of America. His third novel, Beasts of the Earth, is now available from Blackstone Publishing.

Book Review: The Old Place by Bobby Finger

As it appears in The New York Journal of Books

The Old Place

Image of The Old Place

Author(s): 

Bobby Finger

Release Date: September 20, 2022

Publisher/Imprint: G.P. Putnam’s Sons

Pages: 336

Buy on Amazon

Reviewed by: 

Claire Fullerton

Debut author Bobby Finger wields crisp, bright language in succinct, ample prose to reveal secrets deliberately hidden from the norms of social order. . . . poignant and memorable.”

Sixty-three-year-old Mary Alice Roth doesn’t know how to fill her days. Feeling wronged and slightly humiliated over her compulsory retirement as a high school teacher, she’s deeply invested in her local standing as a local Billington authority figure, though she’s unaware the community reputation she’s earned is equally divided between her abrasive personality, and sympathy for her tragic losses.

Thirty-something Josie Kerr is a fish out of water but intends to embrace it. Born and raised in Manhattan, she’s married to Travis, who grew up in an affluent family that owns a five-hundred-acre compound just north of Billington, Texas, a town “passersby didn’t really see until the fifth or sixth time they drove through it, a blip on a blip that existed mostly in retrospect.”  

When news of the death of Travis Kerr’s father arrives, Josie and Travis put their Brooklyn apartment on the market and relocate with their young son to Billington, Texas. Josie’s “New York City friends couldn’t believe how happy she seemed in a town so small it didn’t even have a Wikipedia entry.” The optimistic Josie looks on the bright side. “In Texas she had a house. And she had family nearby. She even got a job at a school where teachers never left unless they were forced out or dead.”   

Mary Alice resents the existence of Josie, whom she considers the usurper of her school position, now that Josie is her replacement. Were it not for her best friend Ellie’s advice, the intimidating Mary Alice might get away with her repeated attempts at making Josie Kerr’s life miserable.

Ellie Hall is a divorcee who works in a nearby hospital. She has been Mary Alice’s friend for years since she and her son, Kenny, moved into the house next door. As single mothers with sons the same age who formed an immediate alliance, Ellie and Mary Alice enjoyed a strong friendship, until the common tragedy of each losing their son in the same timeframe set their close friendship adrift for 12 years, until Mary Alice reaches out to Ellie from the isolation of her retirement, and the two begin to reconnect over the habit of sharing morning coffee.

At “dark-thirty,” a knock comes to Mary Alice’s front door, and she opens it to discover a ghost from her past in the form of her sister, Katherine, who lives in Atlanta. Three years younger, the once close sisters haven’t spoken to each other since Katherine’s wedding decades before. It was a fight that caused their estrangement, and “Their lives had expanded in different directions, but when you followed the stories down to their roots, you’d find them joined in a million different ways.”

The attractive, well-to-do Katherine is there in person because Mary Alice doesn’t answer her texts, emails, or phone calls. Katherine tells Mary Alice she’s there on a mission “to fix your mess,” and demands she return with her to Atlanta.

When Katherine reveals the urgency of a call to action, the stunned Mary Alice knows the time has come to address what she’s taken great pains to hide from the Billington townspeople, with regard to what really happened to her son, Michael, who had a bond with Ellie’s son, Kenny, that was more than anyone knew. Wanting to forestall public knowledge of her duplicity, Mary Alice asks Katherine to wait with her for three days, until she’s on the other side of the annual Billington community picnic, of which she’s in charge.

For three days, the sisters revisit the tragedies of the past, which were centered on their family’s rural, multi-generational property known as The Old Place, which had been in their family since the early 19th century. “It was twenty minutes outside of town. Not east, toward Trevino, or north, toward the Hill Country, or west, toward Mexico, but south, toward nothing.” “Getting there required directions, not a map. . . . You felt the trip there as much as much as you saw it.”

Because it factored significantly as the setting of troubling stories involving both her husband and son, Mary Alice fears ever returning to The Old Place. In recalling a particular night in high school, when Katherine talked her into throwing a party at The Old Place while their parents were out of town, Mary Alice has reason to consider The Old Place unlucky grounds in her personal narrative. She considers that high school party “as the prologue of her life . . . the start of everything else. And all of it, absolutely all of it, was Katherine’s fault.”  

Debut author Bobby Finger wields crisp, bright language in succinct, ample prose to reveal secrets deliberately hidden from the norms of social order. The backstories of intertwined, multiple characters are brought to a common light, thematically including fear of public opinion in a setting that sings the praise of small-town Texas. The characters are fully realized as each reconciles their part in the story. Their mindsets are understandable, and their dynamic creates a delightful arc of plausible cause and effect to immerse the reader in an experience that’s poignant and memorable.       

Claire Fullerton’s most recent novels are Little Tea and multiple award winner, Mourning Dove. Honors include the Independent Book Publishers Book Award Silver Medal for Regional Fiction, the Reader’s Favorite for Southern Fiction Bronze Medal and various other literary awards.

Ash Wednesday: An E-Book Short Story by Paula McClain.

An Amazon Stories E-Book.

A tragic story beautifully rendered by an author known far and wide to consistently pay attention to painstaking detail. In Ash Wednesday, Author Paula McClain depicts a harrowing moment in American history by penning a fictional account of a fire in an improperly designed school building, in as industrial area of Cleveland, Ohio, on the outskirts of downtown.

It is Ash Wednesday, 1908-, and forty-six-year-old Swiss immigrant, Fritz Hirter, is the janitor of Collinwood’s community School. It is winter, and Fritz, the father of five and married to Eva, takes pride in his supportive role, in a community that seems to give short shrift to its immigrant population. Well aware of corners cut during the school’s recent expansion, Fritz is vigilant in his task of keeping the building properly heated, in the face of the school’s structural vulnerability. It is dangerous work, tending to the basement’s boiler system, and Fritz’s heart is in every gesture of maintaining the building where his young children are being educated.

In this tightly woven, present tense short story, McClain gives minute-to-minute details of a spontaneous event spinning out of control and ending in community tragedy. Questions of responsibility, blame, and community shame are at issue in this seemingly personal story, in view of its central character.

Ash Wednesday is Paula McClain at her reliable best and is an installment in her A Point in Time, a transporting collection of short stories about pivotal moments, past and present, that change lives. It’s a riveting, compelling story with a troubling aftershock made important by the fact that McClain has expertly brought it to light. Paula McLain

Note: Ash Wednesday is available on Amazon as an E-Book!

About Paula

Paula McClain received her MFA in poetry from the University of Michigan in 1996.

McLain’s essays have appeared in Town & CountryGood HousekeepingReal SimpleO the Oprah MagazineHuffington PostThe Guardian, the New York Times and elsewhere. She is also the author of the memoir, Like Family: Growing up in Other People’s Houses, two collections of poetry, the debut novel, A Ticket to Ride, Circling the Sun, The Paris Wife, and When the Stars Go Dark. She lives with her family in Cleveland, Ohio.

To Dance with the White Dog by Terry Kay

My book review of this highly recommended novel:

A resonate, heart wrenching story in the best of ways, written with nostalgic subtlety detailing eighty-year-old Sam Peek’s remaining years as he adjusts to being a widower.
It is 1960’s rural Georgia, and life as Sam Peek has known it is changed when his beloved wife of 57 years dies, and his five, well-meaning children begin to hover. Alone in his house, Sam is now a focus of concern as his children strategize at keeping their father company, all within Sam’s hearing range.
A kind and patient man, Sam handles his grief with a brave face, and tries to placate his children while holding fast to the last curve of independence in a manner that won’t offend.
With pitch-perfect, Southern nuance and vernacular, author Terry Kay spins a tale from the multiple points of view of well-rounded characters that reads like a round-robin treatise detailing the push and pull of aging. It is an uncertain road navigated by the small details of day-to-day living, where Sam’s memory is a sustaining thing in a small-town environment where little has changed though his life is forever altered.
In the midst of remarkable scene setting, delightful dialogue, and wonderful pacing, a white dog enters the story and the reader questions whether it is real or due to the lonely heart of Sam Peek’s imagination. That the angelic white dog avoids the detection of all but Sam lends the story a mystical, magical air, as the “ghost dog” appears and disappears, while Sam’s children fear he might be losing his grip on reality, and the reader hopes Sam has found a faithful companion.
To Dance with the White Dog is deceptively deep in its use of clear language and resoundingly poignant. It’s a story to last the test of time, beautifully told and indelibly memorable, the kind of fully realized story that hits an existential bullseye and deserves the status of American classic.

Terry Winter Kay (February 10, 1938 – December 12, 2020) was an American author, whose novels examined life in the American South. His most well-known book, To Dance with the White Dog, was made into a Hallmark Hall of Fame television movie starring Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy. Three of Kay’s books became movies. TERRY KAY, was a 2006 inductee into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame . Kay was a sportswriter and film/theater reviewer (Atlanta Journal-Constitution), a public relations executive, and a corporate officer. He was the author of nine other published novels, including The Valley of LightTaking Lottie HomeThe Kidnapping of Aaron GreeneShadow SongThe RunawayDark ThirtyAfter Eli, and The Year the Lights Came On, as well as a book of essays (Special K) and a childrens book (To Whom the Angel Spoke).”

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/130644.Terry_Kay

Book Release: Hannah and Ariela by Johnnie Bernhard

As it appears in The New York Journal of Books

Hannah and Ariela

Image of Hannah and Ariela

Johnnie Bernhard

Publisher/Imprint: Texas Christian University Press

Pages: 176

Buy on Amazon

Reviewed by: 

Claire Fullerton

“In this tensely wired, swiftly paced, starkly realistic story of human trafficking set beautifully among nuanced clashing cultures, author Johnnie Bernhard defines each character’s motivation to portray the collision of opposing sides while casting a wide lens on a human atrocity.”

The human heart is fearless in author Johnnie Bernhard’s Hannah and Ariela. It’s a vividly drawn, timely story shedding light on an unspeakable crime against humanity.  

Hannah Durand takes the coat her husband left by the door, wraps his scarf around her, and pushes against the winter’s howling blue norther to open the front door. Casting her teary eyes upon the 640-acre Texas working ranch that she and her husband ran for 48 years, the newly widowed, 73-year-old Hannah speaks aloud: “August Durand. I know you’re here. I can feel you in the wind and in the breaking of cedar branches covered in ice. Hold me just one more time and tell me what you think I should do with the rest of my life, my life without you.”

An unconventional, self-sufficient woman born to Anglo prosperity and the great Texas outdoors, Hannah’s life is centered on the Durand Ranch, in the town of Rocksprings, between central and West Texas, “where the land was just as hard and mean as the predators lurking in the shadows waiting for the next easy kill.” It is modern day, and facing an uncertain future, Hannah fears she might not have the stamina to stay on the land alone. Hannah thinks, “I’ve loved this land . . . I feel like I’d lose a part of myself if I sold it.”

Ariela Morales is born to Zaragoza, Mexico, where “life is hard because it was too close to the Texas border.” In a town with little opportunities, the dutiful Ariela helps her family, babysits her siblings for her mother, and squeezes in time to spend with her friend Katia. In telling of that friendship, Ariela says, “Some people in Zaragoza had a harder life than me and my family. My best friend, Katia was one of them.” Together, the teenage friends go to mass “to get our mamas off our backs,” paint their nails, read magazines, and mostly dream “about getting out of Zaragoza.” When Katia flirts with danger by consorting with two cartel members, it leads to perilous, unforeseen consequences drastically changing the trajectory of both girls’ lives.

A dog barking on a lonesome stretch of highway connects the fates of Hannah and Ariela, and wheels are set in motion affecting a cast of characters on both sides of the US/Mexico border. Bernhard portrays the landscape with laser-precision and layers the harrowing story in multiple, first-person points of view covering all angles of what spins into the urgency of safeguarding the traumatized Ariela from further ramifications having to do with the cartel’s sinister, illegal plans.

When Rocksprings’ sheriff discovers Hannah is harboring Ariela, he jumps to conclusions and wants to get border patrol involved, without knowing Ariela has just survived a terrible backstory. Taking Hannah aside, he says, “Now Hannah, I’m going to remind you of this very specific law. When someone enters the US without following immigration laws, it’s a crime.”

Joseph Gonzales is the bilingual, longtime trusted employee of the Durand Ranch, whose involvement Hannah solicits to serve as Ariela’s interpreter. When Hannah weighs the law of the land against doing the decent thing, Joseph joins Hannah in an attempt to get around punitive issues of immigration, while the cartel and law enforcement from either side of the border try to intuit their covert maneuvers, in a do-or-die dynamic begging the issue of right versus wrong.

In this tensely wired, swiftly paced, starkly realistic story of human trafficking set beautifully among nuanced clashing cultures, author Johnnie Bernhard defines each character’s motivation to portray the collision of opposing sides while casting a wide lens on a human atrocity. Hannah and Ariela is the story of one woman’s bravery in rescuing another, only to rise phoenix-like into a newly defined, far-reaching life purpose.

About Johnnie Bernhard

A former teacher and journalist, Johnnie Bernhard’s passion is reading and writing. Her work(s) have appeared in anthologies and in national and international publications, including Southern Literary Review, Houston Style Magazine, The Mississippi Press, the international Word Among Us, and the Cowbird-NPR production on small town America.

Johnnie Bernhard is a multiple, award-winning author and sought-after speaker.

Hannah and Ariela is Johnnie Bernhard’s 4th novel.

For more about Johnnie Bernhard, please visit the author’s web site at http://www.johnniebernhardauthor.com/

The Teacher of Warsaw

The Teacher of Warsaw by Mario Escobar

Image of The Teacher of Warsaw

Author(s): 

Mario Escobar

Release Date: June 7, 2022

Publisher/Imprint: Harper Muse

Pages: 368

Buy on Amazon

Reviewed by: 

Claire Fullerton

An important, sensitive look at the triumph of the human spirit over evil, The Teacher of Warsaw is based on a true story and epitomizes the very best of poignant historical fiction.”

A nostalgic tone sets the stage of Mario Escobar’s The Teacher of Warsaw. In the prologue, an editor is in receipt of a hidden diary now typed as a manuscript from a woman named Agnieszka Ignaciuk, who survived the WWII, German occupation of Warsaw, Poland. The editor says, “That small, lovely woman with the wise eagle eyes placed into my hands Janusz Korczak’s typed manuscript. She acted like she was passing along a forbidden fruit that would eternally expel me from the semblance of paradise my life had recently become.” Taking the manuscript, the editor reflects upon its author, “I remembered the Teacher. Everyone I know called him the Old Doctor . . . I heard his voice. . . . It was just he and I in the middle of a ruined world.”

It is September 1939, and 60-year-old Janusz Korczak is the director of Dom Sierot, a Warsaw home for 200 orphaned children. He’s a man of deep integrity, a beloved and devoted teacher who views his job as a calling and structures the home with no differentiation based on age or rank, where tutors and students equally cohabitate as a family. When one of the orphans asks why he’d never had his own children, the unmarried Dr. Korczak reveals what he has told few others. “The truth is, my father went insane, and I’ve always been afraid that the same thing will happen to me. I thought that if I had children, they might inherit that disease.” It is this reason that makes Korczak all the more committed to the children.

Dom Sierot’s building, which houses Jewish orphans, has been in a Christian neighborhood for 27 years. Korczak shares, “We were there on purpose so that Jewish and Christian children could live together. Long ago I had learned that the only way to knock down the walls of prejudice and hatred toward difference was coexisting and building friendship that allowed the children to fight and the be reconciled again.”

It is November of 1940, and a shock to Korcsak’s system comes when the Germans relocate Dom Sierot from the working-class neighborhood outside the city to a squalid area in Warsaw’s walled Jewish ghetto, consisting of “400,000 within an area no larger than 1.3 miles.” In preparing for the change, the sensitive Korczak softens the blow to the children, “We’ll probably long to be back here in our wonderful house. But the walls that you see around us are not our real home. The real refuge of each one of us is inside our hearts. As long as we’re together, we will keep being happy and belonging to our big family.” When one little boy cries at the sight of the new living quarters, Korczak hands him the treasure map he’d prepared the night before, and says, “Treasure hunts always occur in exotic, remote places. No one’s ever done anything amazing without leaving home first.”

As winter wears upon the ghetto, living conditions become more desperate in the orphanage’s unheated, dilapidated home, where water is scarce in the midst of a food shortage, leaving Korczak to solicit and rely upon the help of charitable donors. When the Gestapo confiscates a cart of food and supplies belonging to the orphanage, Korczak bravely holds his ground and says to the German officer, “This food is for the children and under no circumstances can I allow you to take it from them.” When told to take his complaint to the Gestapo headquarters, the optimistic Korczak goes to plead his case at the German administration offices, only to be thrown in jail for not being in compliance with wearing the requisite Star of David on his arm, intended to signify those who are Jewish.

Upon being unceremoniously grabbed by a German soldier and transported to jail, Korczak says, “For them, life was a useless sketch through which to imprint their senseless brutality and show the world that they were the bosses. For me, life was a perfect beautifully framed painting full of meaning and hope. For them, life was prosaic and frivolous, ever so light, whereas for me it was so heavy I could hardly take a step without feeling the mud stuck to my feet.”

A year on since the Nazis came to Poland, nothing improves in the ghetto. Korczak writes, “Typhus had run its course around the city in recent months, given the deplorable hygienic conditions and insufficient nutrition of the population. It seemed the Germans preferred to kill us off slowly. Their program was designed to weaken our spirits and erode our morale.” Korczak, in the habit of calling assembly whenever a new problem arises, and always serving as inspirational motivator, poses the question to the orphans, “What does it mean to be happy?” “Life in and of itself is an act of happiness . . . Happiness is not about things. We look for it outside of ourselves, but it’s something that’s in our own minds. The work of our hearts is to give pure love.”

As time wears on and conditions worsen, Korczak delivers a speech intended to inspire the orphanages’ dispirited teachers and caretakers. “We sleep and dream of better days but wake to find ourselves here. Yet here, where we serve, we are doing all we can to make better days for the children. We’re in this world to serve one another, to give our very last breaths for our neighbors.”

With a supporting cast of characters in various official positions who are incrementally ready to help Dr. Korczak escape the ill-fated ghetto, the doctor refuses each offer. “Leave me be,” he says to a sympathetic German captain who knows things are nearing an end. “I will go with my children and will not leave them alone.”    

In hindsight, after the worst has happened, trusted companion and co-worker of Korczak’s, Agnieszka Ignaciuk—the deliverer of  Korczak’s left behind diary chronicling the personal tragedies of war—remembers the good doctor and says, “Janusz Korczak had lit up a country swathed in darkness. All of Poland had to know his story and admire his example. I vowed to make that happen.”

In The Teacher of Warsaw, Escobar’s intimate, first-person delivery is flawlessly researched. Its historic timeline unfurls with heightening drama from the vantage point of one selfless man dedicated to the wellbeing of Polish children in harrowing wartime conditions against all odds and costs. It’s a sobering, memorable story taking the reader through tragic events in occupied Warsaw, from September 1939 to May of 1943. An important, sensitive look at the triumph of the human spirit over evil, The Teacher of Warsaw is based on a true story and epitomizes the very best of poignant historical fiction.    

Claire Fullerton’s most recent novels are Little Tea and multiple award winner, Mourning Dove. Honors include the Independent Book Publishers Book Award Silver Medal for Regional Fiction, the Reader’s Favorite for Southern Fiction Bronze Medal and various other literary awards.

Book Review: Holding Her Breath by Eimear Ryan

Holding Her Breath: A Novel

Image of Holding Her Breath: A Novel

Author: Eimear Ryan

Release Date: May 17, 2022

Reviewed by: Claire Fullerton As it Appears in the New York Journal of Books

Holding Her Breath is a generational story written in descriptive language with steady pacing. . . . an engaging, sensitive story set in Ireland, sure to resonate with readers far and wide.”

A compelling look at coming-of-age concerns beneath the taboo of generational mental illness, Eimear Ryan’s debut novel, Holding Her Breath, is the story of a young Irish woman coming into her own by pursuing the buried truth of family secrets.

It is modern day Dublin, and overwhelmed university freshman, Beth Crowe, has mishandled her sports scholarship. Once lauded a natural athlete in swimming, Beth remembers, “At one point in her adolescence, she realized that the adults in the club were describing her in nearly supernatural terms: unreal, savage, unbelievable.” Possessed of the discipline of devoting her youth to “getting up at dawn for training, slipping into the water again after school; her world became narrow but deep. It was only when she stopped, abruptly, that she realized how tired she was.”

After her self-imposed sabbatical, she returns with her own practice out of love for the sport.  Ryan pinpoints Beth’s affinity with water: “It feels illicit somehow, being alone in the water. No coach towering over her at the pool’s edge, saying surely she can do better than that. Now she does as she likes. After a hundred laps she feels calm and rejuvenated, her body pinging with the tremors of exercise.”

Now with a focus on psychology, the taciturn Beth is paired in college housing with the gregarious Sadie, who takes her to a campus book event and introduces her to poet and university professor, Justin Kelleher, a class lecturer on the widely acclaimed poet, Benjamin Crowe, who happens to be Beth’s deceased grandfather.

When a relationship grows between Beth and Justin, Beth is optimistic. She “never thought she could be one of those people to whom things actually happen. Every moment of drama or triumph in her life has taken place in the pool and been rendered less impactful for the hours of repetitive practice that preceded it. She is not used to things happening out of the blue.”

An hour away from campus, Beth’s mother Alice lives with her elderly mother Lydia, the widow of Benjamin Crowe. The fame of Benjamin Crowe is the stuff of legend kept under wraps by Lydia, who won’t part with her husband’s coveted archives, nor reveal what she knows of events leading to his death, a mystery that casts a wide shadow upon Beth and Alice, as well as passionate Crowe scholars.

Because Beth is hesitant to pursue the subject with the formidable Lydia, she asks Justin what he knows of rumor surrounding her grandfather’s death. When Justin mentions a never-published Crowe biography by author Julie Conlon-Hayes, he says, “It’s a story among us Crowe scholars. Now, how much is true, I don’t know. She was friends with your grandparents, so she had great access . . . But then Ben died, and Lydia squashed the project.” Continuing, Justin says, “Because of the nature of his death, we are all the time searching his work for clues and explanations. But perhaps we should consider the poems simply on their own merit.”

When Beth asks her mother what she knows of her famous father’s death, Alice skirts the issue of mental illness. “I was told Dad had an illness that made him confused, which in turn made him fall into the sea. I didn’t connect the dots.” On the tight-lipped comportment of Lydia, Alice says, “Her intent was to preserve, as she called it, the honor of the family. She didn’t want anyone poking around in Dad’s memory, and she never spoke publicly about his death.”

Sensing that the mystery at the center of her family lineage would help Beth better understand herself, Beth visits Sadie at her family’s rural home in Portlaoise, and the girls set out on an adventure to visit the elderly Julie Conlon-Hayes at her home in West Cork, in hopes of learning her side of the story concerning the events that led to Benjamin Crowe’s death, which took place in the area.

Stopping cliffside along the road to Julie Conlon-Hayes’ home, Beth “closes her eyes and tries to put herself in her grandfather’s place over thirty years ago. She pictures him barefoot, his toes gripping the earthy edge of the cliff. Crouching, tucking his chin to his chest, pointing his palms to the water. Except it couldn’t have happened like that.”

Holding Her Breath is a generational story written in descriptive language with steady pacing. Author Eimear Ryan captures youth’s perseverance in the search for one’s place in the world, and weaves in mental illness’s nuances while unravelling long guarded family secrets. It’s an engaging, sensitive story set in Ireland, sure to resonate with readers far and wide.   

Buy on Amazon

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Eimear Ryan’s debut novel Holding Her Breath is published by Penguin Sandycove (Ireland/UK) and Mariner Books (US).

Her short fiction has appeared in Granta, The Dublin Review, The Stinging FlyThe Long Gaze Back (New Island) and Town & Country (Faber). She is a co-founder and editor of the literary journal Banshee and its publishing imprint, Banshee Press.

She is a sports columnist with the Irish Examiner and has written about women in sport for The42.ie, ImageStranger’s GuideWinter Papers and elsewhere. She is currently working on a book about camogie. She lives, writes and plays in Cork city.

All Things Left Wild by James Wade

Reviews > All Things Left Wild

All Things Left Wild by James   Wade

All Things Left Wild
by 

James Wade (Goodreads Author)

I was late to the reading of this novel, having read author James Wade’s extraordinary book, River, Sing Out, first, which made me immediately turn to this compelling debut novel.

All Things Left Wild is the ultimate “Road Trip” story, made all the better for being on horseback through the wilds of 1910 East Texas. It grips the reader from the start, with a sense of building urgency spawned from two horse thieving brothers on the run– one with a conscience; the other a loose cannon verging on sociopathic– who become entangled with disreputable characters hiding questionable agendas, while the erudite, gentleman the boys wronged is completely out of his comfort zone but has something pressing to prove by giving the brothers chase, on what becomes his life-altering, personal odyssey.

A gripping story written from two points of view, in intriguing, thought-provoking language that soars like poetry, and realistic dialogue that keeps you steeped in the moment. The story is set in the raw American West and has it all: cowboys, Indians, thieving, murder, and characters with such heart and soul as to make the whole page-turning story utterly plausible.

An action-packed, character driven, viscerally atmospheric, and stirringly beautiful story, All Things Left Wild seals the deal for me: I’ll be reading all of James Wade’s future books!

Author James Wade

An Added Bonus is to tell you that Author James Wade does a weekly video he calls Sunday Sessions, where he reads inspiring sentences from books he admires and breaks the sentences down to discuss precisely why he likes them. Interesting and informative, the videos remain up after they debut, and I recommend you follow James Wade on Instagram and Facebook to see them!

https://www.instagram.com/jameswadewriter/

https://www.facebook.com/jameswadewriter

The Good Left Undone by Adriana Trigiani

My review, as it appears in the New York Journal of Books

Adriana Trigiani’s three-part The Good Left Undone reads like a multigenerational saga extolling the power of family. Part one begins with the sobering epigraph, “Let whoever longs to attain eternal life in heaven heed these warnings: When considering the past, contemplate these things: The evil done; The good left undone; The time wasted.” From the poignant beginning, the template is cast and incrementally filled in two timeframes fully played out by the Cabrelli family, in a pitch so passionate the reader remains personally involved throughout the story.   

The Cabrellis are working class people, proud, salt-of-the-earth Italians whose everyday lives are devoutly guided by their Catholic faith. They live among the Birtolinis, Savattinis, Spiranzas, and Mattiuzzis. They drink espresso from moka pots and dine on bombolini during coastal Viareggio’s annual Carnevale. They are jewelers, and sailors, parents, and nurses, with ties to Italy, France, and Scotland. At the center of the story is the Cabrellis’ ancestral history. The family exists in modern times because some survived the second world war.

It is 81-year-old Matelda Cabrelli Roffo’s birthday as she sits in her third generation, seaside home in the village of Viareggio, Italy. Closing her eyes, she reminisces on those now gone, and understands, “a family was only as good as their stories.”

At 25, and engaged to be married, Anina Tizzi is a dazzler. Arriving at Matelda’s house to keep their scheduled appointment, she reminds her grandmother of their family tradition and says, “Your grandmother gave you a piece of jewelry to wear on your wedding day, your mother gave jewelry to my mother, and now it’s your turn to give it to me.”

When Anina asks Matelda to disclose a bit about her own mother, Matelda looks out to the Ligurian Sea and, knowing her days are numbered as the family lore archivist, concedes, “Anina would soon find out where the sea had taken Domenica Cabrelli before it swept her away, along with her true love and their secret.”

Freeing significant family heirlooms from their hiding place to present to Anina, each a building block contributing to the overall family story, Matelda is visited by the shadow of history. It is 1920, and her mother, Domenica Cabrelli, is 11 years old, on a treasure hunt with her best friend, Silvio, along the dunes of Viareggio’s white sand beach. When bad luck finds the inseparable friends, Silvio needs stitches, and Domenica, accompanying Silvio to Dottore Pretucci’s office, decides then and there to train as a nurse. It’s a fateful decision that spawns a trajectory of events ultimately effecting Domenica’s life and carrying forth to future generations.

Upon learning something about her great grandmother’s surprising story, Anina wants to hear more, and remarks of Domenica, “There might be something else in her story that would inform my life now. One person in the family impacts the whole group.”  

The sea is a pervasive image in The Good Left Undone, as is the satisfaction an artisan receives from doing valuable work with committed hands. In the multi-layered, wider sphere, Trigiani’s focus is character driven and personal, with underlying themes of perseverance in the face of fate and chance, and an eye to preserving family lineage.

The heart and soul story of Domenica Cabrelli is thoroughly realized. It concerns the life and loves of a woman devoted to her family and heritage as set against the painstakingly researched backdrop of the Second World War, peppered with fascinating, little-known facts about the war’s impact on the Italian people.

In her compelling story, Trigiani’s detail is beautifully nuanced. Her sense of place is illuminating and vibrantly alive with the small details that make an Italian life meaningful. Matters of day-to-day survival are equally balanced with affairs of the heart in such a way that serves as a grandmother’s cautionary tale to her granddaughter. When Anina’s doubts about marriage arise, Trigiani’s dialogue is deadpan, quick-witted, and pithy as Matelda imparts her brass tack advice, “Listen to me. Love yourself. That’s the greatest adventure. When you love yourself, you want to find your purpose, something only you can do in the way only you can do it. Make things. Create. And if a man comes along—and believe me he will—the relationship is already off to a good start because both of you love the same person. You.”

The Good Left Undone is a poignant expose on the value of the unsung heroes in a multigenerational, working-class family, and through the power of story, author Adriana Trigiani reminds us that our own family stories are important. As Matelda reveals family secrets, the dawning of awareness comes to Anina. She becomes more and more enraptured and wants to hear everything about her family from her grandmother. “Mostly, Anina wanted to reach into the years ahead and bring her children into the present so her grandmother would know them. She wanted them to hear the family stories from the source. After all, her grandmother didn’t just tell the family stories; she was the story.”

Adriana Trigiani’s The Good Left Undone will delight book clubs, and those who enjoy historical fiction and women’s fiction. It’s a deeply felt, epic tale that transports the reader straight to the heart of Italy.

Claire Fullerton’s most recent novels are Little Tea and multiple award winner, Mourning Dove. Honors include the Independent Book Publishers Book Award Silver Medal for Regional Fiction, the Reader’s Favorite for Southern Fiction Bronze Medal and various other literary awards.

ABOUT ADRIANA

“One of the reigning queens of women’s fiction.” –USA Today

“A comedy writer with a heart of gold.” – The New York Times

“Trigiani is a master of palpable and visual detail.” – The Washington Post

Beloved by millions of readers around the world for her “dazzling” novels, (USA Today) Adriana Trigiani is the New York Times bestselling author of twenty books in fiction and nonfiction. She has been published in 38 countries around the world. The New York Times calls her “a comedy writer with a heart of gold,” her books “tiramisu for the soul.” She wrote the blockbuster The Shoemaker’s Wife, the Big Stone Gap series, the Valentine trilogy and Lucia, Lucia.  Trigiani’s themes of love and work, emphasis upon craftsmanship and family life have brought her legions of fans who call themselves Adri-addicts (a term coined by book maven Robin Kall). Their devotion has made Adriana one of “the reigning queens of women’s fiction” (USA Today).

Adriana was among the first creators on Bulletin, Facebook’s platform launched in 2021. Her newsletter “Adriana Spills the Ink,” covers all aspects of living with ideas gleaned from the world’s best authors and their books. Adriana provides the tips to help you find the tools to unleash the creativity in your own life. You can read the newsletter here.

Adriana is an award-winning playwright, television writer and producer, and filmmaker. She wrote and directed the film adaptation of her debut novel Big Stone Gap, shot entirely on location in her Virginia hometown with an all-star cast including: Ashley Judd, Patrick Wilson, Whoopi Goldberg, John Benjamin Hickey, Anthony LaPaglia, Jenna Elfman, Jane Krakowski, Judith Ivey, Mary Pat Gleason, Dagmara Dominczyk, Mary Testa, Paul Wilson, Chris Sarandon, Jasmine Guy, and introducing Erika Coleman and Bridget Gabbe, with music by John Leventhal, and songs performed by his lovely wife Rosanne Cash, the legendary Ralph Stanley, Papa Joe Smiddy and the Reedy Creek Boys, If Birds Could Fly and Michael Trigiani. Glorious local talent performed on the soundtrack and acted in the movie, sharing their gifts beyond the peaks of the Appalachian mountains.

Oliver: A Novella by Mandy Haynes

Description:

Even though eleven-year old Olivia is raised in a southern Baptist church she likes to cover all her bases when asking for a favor. Unlike her brother Oliver, she struggles with keeping her temper and staying out of trouble. But Oliver is special in more ways than one, and in the summer of ’72 he shows Olivia that there’s magic all around us. It’s up to us to see it.

On author, Mandy Haynes:

Author Mandy Haynes has a wide reputation for being one of the most authentic voices of modern-day America’s Deep South. Set in the complex rural South, her stories are alive with spot-on vernacular, her character’s are self-assured and quirky, and the predicaments they find themselves in are quintessentially Southern experiences. Reading Mandy Haynes work is an education in all that goes into the cultural hotbed of the romantic South. Her work takes you down long country roads where anything can and does happen.

My Endorsement of the delightful novella, Oliver !

“A small-town story of childhood innocence, sibling admiration, blind optimism, and plenty of shenanigans, author Mandy Haynes has penned an incomparable narrator in Sissy, who tells a multifaceted story highlighting the altruistic plans of her remarkable brother, Oliver. The Southern jargon in this charming novella is character defining, the precocious mood insightful. Oliver is about bringing out the goodness in people, even if it takes a bit of magic.”

Claire Fullerton, Author.

Other Praise for Oliver:

“Mandy Haynes takes me on a memory journey to the last great childhood of the South, a time when bicycles were a magic carpet that could take a child wherever she wanted to go. The joy of this novella is how easily I slip between the pages and live the adventures with Oliver and Olivia. Sibling love. Kindness. Good intentions gone awry and good deeds fraught with danger. This story echos with my past, and the past of many now homeless Southerners. Once you start reading, you won’t be able to put it down.”

Carolyn Haines, USA Today bestseller, is the author of over 80 books in multiple genres

“Mandy Haynes effortlessly and brilliantly writes children, a feat at which many writers struggle and fail. In Oliver, her uniquely, lyrical voice sings the reader smack dab into this heartwarming story inhabited by Oliver and Olivia, a brother and sister whose special bond is symbiotically balanced upon the other’s abilities and perspectives. I dare you to not fall immediately in love with these characters, and fret over them as I did as they make their journey through this poignant summer from long ago.”

Robert Gwaltney, author of The Cicada Tree

Author Mandy Haynes

Mandy Haynes is also the Editor of Reading Nation Magazine: (https://mandyhaynes.com/reading-nation-magazine/,) which highlights established and up-and-coming authors and their work.

Mandy Haynes writes of her career:

I decided to self-publish mainly because I am too impatient to do all the things you need to do to sell yourself to an agent, and three different indie publishers I’d corresponded with weren’t the right fit. Then it hit me – I could publish them myself. I’d already spent the money on editors. I’d had the book critiqued by one of my heroes, Suzanne Hudson, and I had a group of readers asking, “When can I get your book?” So, I started a publishing company, titled, Three Dogs Write Press and got busy. It’s been a great learning experience.

I have two collections of short stories published now, one novel in the first draft stages, and a second novel in its rough draft stage.  

I do write about some heavy subjects. But to me, those stories are important. I hope that I give the reader a satisfying ending and if they’ve struggled with some of the issues my characters face, I hope I give them closure. At least a feeling of hope and the knowledge that they aren’t alone.

Mandy Haynes Website: https://mandyhaynes.com/my-books/

Oliver is available online and at http://www.threedogswritepress.