Foreword Reviews

Book of the Day Roundup: December 28, 2020-January 1, 2021

I’m Programmed to Love You

Book Cover
Elias Barks
Gemma Román
Hazy Dell Press
Hardcover $13.95 (20pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

The love between a mother and child gets a metallic makeover in this heartwarming title about the limitless devotion of parenthood. A cozy palette of aquatic blues, golden yellows, and peachy pinks depicts injured knees being welded better and story time with Snowbot and the 7 Droids, among other tech twists on familiar parent-child activities. From the soothing illustrations to the simple, rhyming prose, this picture book is destined to become a new bedtime favorite.

DANIELLE BALLANTYNE (December 23, 2020)

The Mystery of Mrs. Christie

Book Cover
Marie Benedict
Sourcebooks Landmark
Hardcover $26.99 (288pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

With a blend of truth and fiction, Marie Benedict’s novel The Mystery of Mrs. Christie tackles the revered mystery writer’s most unsolvable mystery.

In early December of 1926, a massive search was underway for Agatha Christie. Her car was found abandoned near the ruin of a chalk pit, at the edge of a dark, deep pond that was thought to be haunted. Though the weather was cold, her fur coat was found in the car. Foul play was suspected, though there were no signs of a struggle, no clues as to her whereabouts, and, aside from her troubled marriage, no obvious reason for the acclaimed writer to take her own life.

The narrative alternates between the events and circumstances surrounding Christie’s disappearance and flashbacks to her early life, including the fateful day she met her husband and the poignant story of her unhappy marriage. Adding to the turmoil is Christie’s struggle to reconcile her longing to write with her mother’s teaching, and society’s expectation, that a good wife must indulge her husband “no matter her own situation.”

Suspicions that Archibald Christie is responsible for his wife’s disappearance grow with the revelation of his adultery, request for a divorce, and hidden engagement to his mistress. Reporters, lusting for details about the beautiful missing novelist and her handsome war hero husband, swarm the couple’s home. The suspense grows as repeated police interrogations add to Archibald’s growing desperation to escape the labyrinth of secrets and lies in which he is trapped.

With elements of a classic mystery novel, The Mystery of Mrs. Christie is gripping, making it possible to believe that, with her real-life disappearance, Agatha Christie surpassed herself and pulled off the perfect, unsolvable mystery.

KRISTINE MORRIS (December 23, 2020)

Written in Starlight

Book Cover
Isabel Ibañez
Page Street Kids
Hardcover $18.99 (368pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

Isabel Ibañez’s Written in Starlight is a powerful story of lost privilege and a fight to uncover personal strength.

Catalina is the rightful heiress to the Inkasisa throne, but she has been disgraced, overthrown, and sentenced to death by the Llacsan people. No one doubts Catalina’s certain demise when she is abandoned in the Yanu jungle, not even Catalina. For Yanu is no ordinary jungle. It is filled with shapeshifters, stealthy caiman, skin-singeing plants, deadly waterways, and poisonous insects, all described in a meticulous manner that makes the jungle vibrant.

After a near miss with a ferocious animal, Catalina wakes from the trauma to find that Manuel, an old friend whom she hasn’t seen in years, has come to her rescue. Though Manuel is keen to help her escape Yanu, Catalina has other ideas. Bent on redeeming herself in the eyes of her people and reclaiming her throne, Catalina decides to tread deeper into the Yanu jungle to locate the enigmatic Illari people, whose land was also stolen by the Llacsan. But the reluctant Illari face a battle of their own: their jungle is dying of a mysterious plague, and they will force answers from whomever can provide them.

Within the story, instances of death and graphic violence are tempered by playful banter. Catalina’s concern for her hair as she is escorted into the deadly jungle, and her yearning to touch an unfamiliar plant moments after being burned, make it difficult to imagine her taking charge. But in the course of her mission, she grows stronger and more knowledgeable.

Packed with growing pains, adventure, and self-realization, Written in Starlight is an important, entertaining tale about community and resistance.

TANISHA RULE (December 23, 2020)

All Abroad

A Memoir of Travel and Obsession

Book Cover
Geoffrey Weill
University of Wisconsin Press
Hardcover $28.95 (240pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

Marveling over the act of voyaging, Geoffrey Weill’s All Abroad is a quintessential travel text. Recalling time tables and hotels, iconic poster designs, and the New York office of the Thomas Cook travel group, the book records Weill’s lifelong passion with style.

Born in 1949 in London, Weill was mesmerized by his parents’ and grand aunts’ stories about their trips. He also absorbed his Jewish family’s war memories and felt that his upbringing was “laced with claustrophobic insecurity, regimentation, blame, and torment.” Wanderlust became a source of escape. His nonlinear chapters trace the romance of traveling, positing that it’s the idea of being abroad, not necessarily the destination, that is beguiling. This approach is original: tourism takes a backseat to sumptuous appreciation of travel-related minutiae.

Whether he’s recalling the Metropole at Brighton or guests at his family’s flat, Weill’s memories are observant, idiosyncratic, and vicarious about bygone glamour. The result is a cogent, delightful slice of social history that threads his British family’s ties to each other with midcentury habits and images. Passion for theater, objects, and gastronomy are laced throughout.

A visit to Paris stands out as Weill shares curious thoughts about the city’s differences from his home, while watching My Fair Lady and absorbing National Geographic advertisements are shown to have shaped his ideas about the “artful creation of an image.” His travels make use of idealistic currencies, and accounts of them are mined for accuracy with the idea that travel is not only about fulfilling people’s dreams, but can reflect ugly realities, from encountering antisemitism to witnessing the aftermath of cultural strife.

The travel memoir All Abroad spans decades and continents, recalling longing for new experiences, a career in the industry, and fascinating stops along the way.

KAREN RIGBY (December 23, 2020)

Your Story, My Story

Book Cover
Connie Palmen
Eileen J. Stevens, translator
Anna Asbury, translator
Amazon Crossing
Hardcover $24.95 (206pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

Connie Palmen’s Your Story, My Story reimagines the volatile relationship between Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, two gifted poets whose coming together was like the collision of asteroids, at once luminous and destructive.

Written in Hughes’s voice, the book reveals a relationship initiated amid omens and warnings, and a brief marriage that was marked and governed by Plath’s struggle with clinical depression. A perfectionist who craved recognition, Plath’s severe lows alternated with frightening exuberance that alienated her friends. Hughes—a private, sensitive man—did his best to shield her from disparaging remarks. The lovers became inseparable; for a time, Hughes relished the “breathtaking idea of being so important to her that she couldn’t do without me for a second.” It was a recipe for disaster.

The novel follows along as Hughes’s confession of a life-affirming affair results in Plath ordering him to leave. Hughes suffers over their separation: “I had ended up—slowly and without noticing—under her bell jar, cut off from myself, gasping for air.” After Plath’s suicide, Hughes details being ostracized and reviled for having caused her death; he regrets that, though he thought their separation would be brief, Plath’s inner demons, and his need to be free of them, led to her tragic end.

Within the book, Hughes’s silence about his troubled relationship, compounded by the rise of the women’s movement in the 1960s, contributes to Plath being cast as a martyr. But bold descriptions of a first kiss that drew blood, and of Plath’s destructive rages alternating with long periods of silence, tell another story. Your Story, My Story is an inventive, profound novel that brings balance to the perception of the volatile relationship between Plath and Hughes, whose tragic love was instrumental in bringing their work to the world.

KRISTINE MORRIS (December 23, 2020)

Barbara Hodge

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