Foreword Reviews

Book of the Day Roundup April 15-19, 2019

Book of the Day art for April 15-19, 2019

Dutch Girl

Audrey Hepburn and World War II

Book Cover
Robert Matzen
GoodKnight Books
Hardcover $27.95 (400pp)
978-1-73227-353-5
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

Audrey Hepburn, with her fresh innocence, gamine ways, intense dark eyes, and boyish figure, created magic on the screen. Known as an Academy Award-winning actress and fashion icon, she also made a difference for suffering children as a UNICEF ambassador before her untimely death from abdominal cancer in 1993. What many don’t know, and Robert Matzen’s sensitive and deeply moving book reveals, are Hepburn’s experiences growing up in the Netherlands during the years of Nazi occupation—experiences that formed her character and left her haunted by memories she could not erase.

Conflicted over her parents’ Nazi sympathies, hurt by her father’s abandonment of the family, and devastated by the Nazis’ execution of her beloved uncle, young Audrey took refuge in her greatest love, dance, using her skills as a rising ballet star to raise funds for the Dutch resistance.

At fifteen, she was carrying food and messages to downed Allied fighter pilots and serving as a doctor’s assistant tending the wounded during the bloody Battle of Arnhem. When food supplies were cut off during the 1944 “Hunger Winter,” she, with the rest of her community, suffered severe malnutrition. Visions of truckloads of Jews being carried off to death camps were seared into her memory, as were the screams of the wounded and the relentless sounds of gunfire, bombs, and exploding grenades that assailed her ears as her town became the epicenter of battle.

Matzen’s book reveals Hepburn’s grace and courage under fire through meticulous research that includes Hepburn’s own recollections, interviews with those who had known her during the war years, diaries, Dutch archival records, and never-before-seen photographs. A master storyteller, Matzen has given us a great story—intimate, intense, and unforgettable—that carries us not only into the heart of battle but into the heart of a great human being.

KRISTINE MORRIS (February 27, 2019)

The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart

Book Cover
Holly Ringland
House of Anansi
Softcover $17.95 (400pp)
978-1-4870-0522-1
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

Holly Ringland’s piquant debut, The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart, is alternately airy and precise. It occupies a space somewhere between a fairy tale and a modern tragedy.

Alice is born by the seaside. She drinks salt air and spends her days among flowers with her cool-eyed, delicate mother, who teaches her the language of blossoms. She dreams about fire, too. According to ancient myths, a conflagration may be the answer to her father’s mercurial moods.

Alice wants to make her isolated family’s few happy moments last forever; instead, one horrifying night strips everything she knows away. She ends up in the care of her unfamiliar grandmother, a floriographer who lives among a different kind of Flowers—the lost women who gather at Thornfield, the family’s farm.

These pages are awash in perfumed images—of petals and the stories they tell; of red desert craters flush and ablaze with flowers and myths. Individually, any paragraph might proffer a synaesthetic wonder; collectively, the novel is a dense, intoxicating scrapbook of affecting notions.

But beyond the beauty of flowers and their meanings (love forsaken; love concealed; fascination, witchcraft) are raw family stories: of abuse, murder, betrayal, and loss. Even as people with uncanny monikers—there’s a Moss, a Rivers, and a Stone, not to mention the Harts—drift in and out of her life, Alice looks for something true to hold on to.

Part of the book’s magic comes in its refusal to define any event more than necessary. Accounts of heartbreak are decisive, and bruises rise to the text’s aching surface, but otherwise, the book could stand anywhere, in any time, and among any people who are hurting, as true.

The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart is a sentimental in the best possible way. This story about family, love, and reinvention is defiant in its sweetness and is stirring to its end.

MICHELLE ANNE SCHINGLER (February 27, 2019)

Sweeney on the Rocks

Book Cover
Allen Morris Jones
Ig Publishing
Softcover $16.95 (264pp)
978-1-63246-083-7
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

Allen Morris Jones’s Sweeney on the Rocks is a quick-witted, dark-humored crime novel whose clever plot twists and morbid sarcasm never let up. Its characters, relationships, and mob-versus-the-law moralities are excavated to an extent more deserving of measured scrutiny than a brisk skim.

While its numerators range from mobsters and exes to FBI agents and devoted comrades, the book’s common denominators are two: Ted Sweeney, a small-town handyman who’ll do anything for money; and the anonymous narrator, who has a dead knack for storytelling.

This omniscient, macho, wisecracking narrator’s expertise in mob families, criminal and law-enforcement mentalities, and small-town life empowers him to open one locked door after another. Regardless of whether those doors lead to the inner workings of an individual or an institution, the key consists of specialized jargon and syntax that could only be employed by those most intimately familiar with whatever resides within.

Here, new characters routinely debut in the midst of bigger-than-life (or death) scenarios. Questions outpace answers; resolutions merely spawn more mysteries. Missing pieces are parceled out as if they are precious gems—which, sometimes, they are.

Some scenes illustrate how cultures as divergent as those of New York City crime families and small-town Montana witness protection programs function. Others flesh out relationships by hopping aboard one of two trains: the first, fueled by decades-old memories, heads for the present; the other, fueled by dread, retreats from imminent disaster, searching for salvation before it’s too late. Gaining speed in proportion to the diminishing distance between them, it’s not always so easy to tell which train is which.

The narrator assesses each scene like a diamond cutter who’s obsessed with the most promising rough stones. Refusing to waste words on any observation that’s incapable of shining light deep into the story, he cuts and polishes; the result is a book as flawless as an authentic diamond could possibly be.

LINDA THORLAKSON (February 27, 2019)

The Unicorn Anthology

Book Cover
Peter S. Beagle, editor
Jacob Weisman, editor
Tachyon Publications
Softcover $15.95 (288pp)
978-1-61696-315-6
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

Unicorns in literature are fascinating, evocative, mysterious, and elusive, and with The Unicorn Anthology, editors Peter S. Beagle—himself of unicorn fame—and Jacob Weisman invite continued appreciation of the legendary beast, drawing it beyond its familiar medieval framework.

The usual high fantasy elements—wizards, pure maidens, and magical forests—abound, but they are augmented by unexpected and refreshing settings and situations. A Vietnam veteran has to live with the bizarre consequences of getting a unicorn tattoo in Dave Smeds’s “Survivor,” a poignant meditation on living for others. A con artist wrestles with the effects of his lifestyle and discovers beauty in the seemingly ordinary in Jack C. Haldeman II’s “Ghost Town.” David D. Levine and Sara A. Mueller turn unicorns into show horses, with heightened pageantry and human drama, in “Falling Off the Unicorn.” In 1930s New York, an occult bookstore owner confronts otherworldly mysteries in Caitlín R. Kiernan’s “The Maltese Unicorn.”

A particular standout is Beagle’s own contribution, “My Son Heydari and the Karkadann,” which removes the figure of the unicorn from its typical Western context. Bruce Coville’s “Homeward Bound” enters beautiful metaphysical territory in its final scene. And Jane Yolen’s “The Transfigured Hart,” a hermetically inspired call to see with more than the eye, is a lovely end to the short stories. Nancy Springer’s series of unicorn poetry completes the collection as an effective set of word paintings that tie together, with shimmering thread, all that comes before.

The varied and creative stories of The Unicorn Anthology inspire new ways of engagement with an old legend. Across cultures and times, the mystical essence of this beast continues to haunt the forest of the collective human psyche.

MEAGAN LOGSDON (February 27, 2019)

Luca’s Bridge

El puente de Luca

Book Cover
Mariana Llanos
Anna López Real, illustrator
Penny Candy Books
Hardcover $16.95 (40pp)
978-0-9987999-5-7
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

Told in alternating English and Spanish, El puente de Luca is the timely tale of a family’s resiliency, strength, and devotion as they are voluntarily deported from the United States to Mexico. Emotions run high as Luca struggles to understand why he must leave his home and everything he’s ever known. Surreal images in shades of gray with golden accents surround Luca as he finds solace in his dreams and the music of his trumpet.

PALLAS GATES MCCORQUODALE (April 12, 2019)

Barbara Hodge

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