Foreword Reviews

Book of the Day Roundup: August 2-6, 2021

I Am the Subway

Book Cover
Kim Hyo-eun
Deborah Smith, translator
Hardcover $18.99 (60pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

A bestselling Korean picture book is translated to bring this entrancing tale of “the unique lives of strangers you might never meet again” to a new audience. Told from the perspective of the Seoul subway, the story peels back layers on the people who board, reminding us that everyone we encounter has a story we don’t know. Bewitching watercolor illustrations invite lingering as they present stampedes to the ticket stiles, abalone diving, and the golden light of late afternoon stretched over sleepy faces.


Seasons of a Magical Life

A Path to Pagan Living

Book Cover
H. Byron Ballard
Weiser Books
Softcover $18.95 (224pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

Seasons of a Magical Life is a thoughtful pagan text that suggests ways of incorporating earth-focused spiritual practice into everyday life.

H. Byron Ballard bases her work in personal experience: she lives and works on a small farm in the Appalachian Mountains. Each season there is described in evocative, loving detail, from the sights and sounds of the winter landscape to the work she puts into growing her garden, maintaining her house, and participating in myriad magical crafts, such as seed saving, sewing, and broom making. As the seasons change, so too do the activities and spiritual practices that Ballard participates in.

Beginning with essays that explore connections between the past and present and between the sacred and the mundane, Ballard shows how she connects her spiritual practices to the environment in which she makes her home. This connection is the central focus of the book. In the following sections, Ballard goes through the agricultural Wheel of the Year and the eight primary sabbats, discussing the meanings of each, suggesting corresponding activities, and showing how to immerse oneself and one’s home in the changing seasons.

Ballard’s ideas for reconnecting and revitalizing pagan spirituality are abundant. They include activities like fiber arts, candle making, and soap making. She writes that simple satisfaction can be had from chores like sharpening a garden implement, sewing tea towels, or washing dishes. But all of the listed activities are merely suggestions: the idea is to find what is meaningful for the individual in their environment and in their home.

With its philosophical and practical explorations of contemporary pagan life, Seasons of a Magical Life is a spiritual self-help book that invites its audience to reconnect to the natural cycles of the earth and expand their spiritual practices.


Lake Crescent

A Creature X Mystery

Book Cover
J. J. Dupuis
Dundurn Press
Softcover $15.99 (328pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

In J. J. Dupuis’s mystery novel Lake Crescent, a cryptozoologist travels to Newfoundland in hopes of confirming or debunking the presence of a sea serpent that’s rumored to live in a lake.

Laura’s team arrives in Robert’s Arm, where the rumored serpent, Cressie, is a major part of the local lore and tourist economy. Scientists find the creature fascinating as well, and propose theories to explain Cressie’s existence; for example, a European eel could have veered off course while spawning, ending up in Lake Crescent, and become its imposing apex predator.

But in the course of the crew’s explorations, the remains of a human skeleton are found in the lake. The skeleton is female and wears an antique coin on a chain. Though Laura continues to pursue Cressie, she finds herself intrigued by this new mystery, too. She is intrepid and pragmatic: though young and attractive, she tends to shrug off illusions of being a celebrity and insists that the search for Cressie be “a science show, not a monster show.” Laura also has vulnerable moments, though. She longs to find her estranged father, and feels occasional weariness about the constant travel that’s required by her investigative career.

But the novel’s true breadth is found in its detailed setting. A “beautiful wild place” edged by cliffs and water, Robert’s Arm is also insular and close knit, populated by quirky locals who speak in Newfoundland slang, telling tales of pirate treasure. Beyond its quaint charm, however, are deeper power manipulations that threaten to corrupt the small town. And there are secrets, like the tarp-wrapped body dredged up from its “underwater grave.”

Going both behind the camera and on location, Lake Crescent is an intelligent mystery novel that balances facts and intrigue with finesse.

MEG NOLA (June 27, 2021)

Autumn Leaves, 1922

Book Cover
Tessa Lunney
Pegasus Crime
Hardcover $25.95 (352pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

Autumn Leaves, 1922 is a sumptuous spy romp with an irresistible heroine.

Glamorous gossip columnist Kiki is bereaved and beauty-starved when she returns to Paris from her mother’s deathbed in Australia. The jazz age is in full swing, and Kiki throws herself into the madcap bliss of the high life, from Chanel couture and champagne to heady arguments with Hemingway.

Although Paris is a balm for Kiki, her former life catches up with her, and her “days [are] shaped by secret meetings with shady men,” including Theo, a Russian prince who’s reduced to driving a cab post-Revolution; Tom, a reporter who is wanted in Australia for military desertion and in Britain for treason; and Dr. Fox, a manipulative, silver-tongued spymaster who directs Kiki’s espionage efforts. Embedded in glamorous Paris, Kiki hunts down a blackmailer, a communist plot, and the men who are driven to bring the next war to a head. Meanwhile, she searches for clues about her mother’s murky past.

This sequel’s backstory is dispatched in an uncluttered, quick manner so that the book can maintain a brisker pace than Kiki’s satin shoes do. It sticks to its heroine: a modern, driven woman with an uncanny knack for sizing up anyone she meets. Kiki describes Paris, from its flower sellers to amuse-bouche, with luscious, piercing images that only a gossip columnist or a spy might notice. Her moxie and sense of style permeate the story, in which each character retains a trace of shabby glamour from their former lives. While individuals’ motives are not especially complex, Kiki’s investigations are suspenseful and sustain a frisson of tension.

Swoon through Autumn Leaves, 1922, whose mysteries are enriched with toothsome details of a bygone Paris in the glittering years before Hitler came to power.

CLAIRE FOSTER (June 27, 2021)

The Prisoner

Book Cover
Hwang Sok-yong
Sora Kim-Russell, translator
Anton Hur, translator
Verso Books
Hardcover $34.95 (688pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

For many, the Korean peninsula is shrouded in mystery. In his memoir The Prisoner, esteemed writer and democracy activist Hwang Sok-yong illuminates the turbulence of twentieth-century Korean politics to reveal a society seeking freedom, but still caught in the ravages of the Cold War.

The story opens in 1989, as Hwang returns home after four years in exile, having broken the taboo against visiting North Korea. He is arrested at the airport and is dragged, blindfolded, to an underground room. After twenty days of interrogation by the Korean Central Intelligence Agency, he is sentenced to five years in prison.

The arrest was not his first.

Born in Manchuria, Hwang’s early childhood was spent in Pyongyang, until his family fled south during the Korean War. With bold imagery and epic in its scope, his raw, disturbing narrative flashes between personal and political accounts. The writer and activist is seen at the forefront of South Korea’s democracy movement—being incarcerated, protesting military dictatorships, serving as a soldier, and traveling abroad. He also covers the political realities of his divided country, and the machinations of the world powers that are intent on keeping the Koreas divided and subservient. The effects of the Korean peninsula’s politics on its people are at the fore as Hwang documents their perilous fight for freedom and reveals his role in unmasking the realities of life in a divided Korea.

The Prisoner is a passionate, detailed memoir about the activist’s “canary in the coal mine” role. It warns that “a society where artists have lost their faculty of criticism and submit unconditionally to power is well on its way to losing its democracy.”

KRISTINE MORRIS (June 27, 2021)

Barbara Hodge

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