Foreword Reviews

Book of the Day Roundup: July 25-29, 2022

Fish Swimming in Dappled Sunlight

Book Cover
Riku Onda
Alison Watts, translator
Bitter Lemon Press
Softcover $15.95 (286pp)
978-1-913394-59-2
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

Breaking up is never easy, but when you suspect your partner of murder, it becomes a safety issue. In Riku Onda’s atmospheric novel Fish Swimming in Dappled Sunlight, a couple spends one last night together, each determined to get the other to confess.

Hiro and Aki met in tennis club and felt an instant connection. Their conversations flowed and feelings developed, but an unfortunate discovery ruined their courtship. Resolved to pursue the relationship nonetheless, even as it teetered on a razor-sharp edge, they moved in together, took vacations together, and dated other people.

When a hiking trip ends in tragedy, Hiro and Aki’s unasked and unanswered questions begin to poison them against one another. Their separation is slow. With one night left: perhaps the truth will prevail.

The mystery of the murder in the mountains proves to be immaterial in the wake of cascading revelations about who Aki and Hiro are to each other. In alternating chapters, the two dance around each other, their relationship, and their memories. Each startling twist is calculated based on which person is responsible for the disclosure.

That both narrations are direct is a disorienting, interesting device that illustrates the differences in Aki and Hiro’s perceptions of the same events. Their shared memories, in particular of the fateful mountain trip, play out in reminiscences. Each remembers aspects of their relationship not just as it happened, but also as colored by their current knowledge and suspicions. In this way, the book becomes a deep character study of Hiro and Aki, their motivations, their foibles, and their triggers. Unraveling the complex connections between memory and conjecture takes the better part of the night, and with morning light comes a sense of clarity and finality.

Fish Swimming in Dappled Sunlight is an enigmatic novel about memory, perception, and time.

DONTANá MCPHERSON-JOSEPH (June 27, 2022)

The Puppeteer’s Daughters

Book Cover
Heather Newton
Keylight Books
Hardcover $25.99 (304pp)
978-1-68442-858-8
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

An aging, celebrated puppeteer throws his daughters’ lives into chaos in Heather Newton’s gripping new novel.

Walter—a talented puppeteer and a reluctant children’s entertainer who achieved global prominence in the latter role—has three daughters whom the world knows about. His eldest, Jane, was a teenager before he achieved fame, and she resents the baubles she missed out on as a result. His middle daughter, Rosie, was the product of an affair; she still feels awkward in Walter’s storied spaces. And his youngest daughter, Cora, now runs his entertainment empire.

While the sisters each have their own issues with their roles, they find themselves facing the additional, mutual complication of Walter’s unearthed will, which makes new demands of them: that Jane embrace puppets. That Cora live a little. And that Rosie lose weight. Any sister who fails loses her inheritance.

While these stipulations set the stage for a story about a controlling father who manipulates his daughters just like he does his marionettes, the truth is more nuanced than this. Walter is less cruel than clumsy—a father who loves his girls, without knowing how to do so perfectly; a man who never shook off his impostor’s syndrome, no matter how far he rose. To free themselves, the sisters have to upend the will’s presumptions, asserting truths that it forgets: that they’ve always been enough, in and of themselves.

As each sister works her way toward a delayed coming-of-age, the novel proves to be enthralling. Jane learns to let go of her resentments. Cora lets herself be imperfect, opening up to love. And Rosie accepts that her appearance was never the problem—it’s unhealed wounds that keep her moored.

The Puppeteer’s Daughters is a heartwarming story about self-acceptance, forgiveness, and the strings sometimes attached to family love.

MICHELLE ANNE SCHINGLER (June 27, 2022)

Watersong

Book Cover
Clarissa Goenawan
Scribe Publications
Softcover $17.00 (304pp)
978-1-950354-97-9
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

A fortune teller issues a warning against three women with water-related names in Clarissa Goenawan’s dark, atmospheric novel Watersong.

Arai has been plagued by nightmares of drowning since childhood. A fortune teller’s dire warning casts a dark veil over his future. Then Arai’s mysterious, secretive girlfriend, Youko, gets him an interview for a job as a “listener.” He is hired to attend to clients, maintain strict confidentiality, and refrain from advising or getting personally involved with people. Drawn by compassion into an emotional relationship with a client who’s the wife of a prominent politician, Arai learns that her husband is abusing her, and that she is unable to act on her own behalf.

The book reveals that Arai—scarred by physical and emotional abuse at the hands of the man who lives with his mother; hiding his role in a tragic childhood event—is well aware of the corrosive effects of secrets and lies. Fearing for his client’s safety, he is unable to remain a passive listener; this puts his and Youko’s lives at risk. Separately, the couple flees to Tokyo, where Arai engages in a desperate search for Youko, despite ominous warnings to let her go—and his increasing awareness that his every move is being watched.

Luminous prose, emotional insights, and subtle, meticulous attention to small details contribute to this rich, exciting, and sympathetic story. As the fortune teller’s frightening prediction unfolds, not even the beauty and traditions of Japanese culture can mask life’s harsh realities. Arai and Youko are ensnared in fateful events beyond their control, and water is revealed to be both a giver of life and a means of death.

Watersong is a haunting, complex novel about the power of hidden secrets to shape the future.

KRISTINE MORRIS (June 27, 2022)

How to Work Remotely

Work Effectively, No Matter Where You Are

Book Cover
Gemma Dale
Kogan Page
Softcover $17.99 (176pp)
978-1-398-60611-1
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

Gemma Dale outlines strategies for thriving in a remote or hybrid workplace in How to Work Remotely.

Following a global crisis that revealed that many jobs could be performed remotely, some workers relished the opportunity to return to the physical office, while others still work from home or have established hybrid schedules. With this context, Dale details the pros, cons, and potential pitfalls of work-from-home situations for both workers and managers. She also offers tips for making the most of working from home or hybrid work.

Issues of work-life balance and personal well-being are discussed, as are ways of making connections with one’s coworkers. The latter, Dale notes, would occur naturally in an office; it doesn’t always happen easily when workers are remote.

The book includes thoughtful self-reflection questions via which workers can determine whether remote or hybrid working would be most beneficial to them. Managers can use other questions to evaluate their potential hires, probing their experiences with, and facility at, remote work.

Throughout, Dale encourages people to re-envision work life: in the future, work might not take place in the same location, or at the same time that their coworkers are working, either. Still, it can be effective for companies and rewarding for employees. Work, she says, shouldn’t be labeled by where it is performed: instead of “remote work” or “hybrid work,” it will all just be work. Her vision stands to empower workers to complete tasks when and where it is best for them; it encourages managers to coach their employees to meet their goals however they see fit.

How to Work Remotely is a forward-looking career book that promotes autonomy, flexibility, and creativity with work. It emphasizes developing a working situation that is best for the worker—one not tied to traditional 9-to-5 offices.

SARAH WHITE (June 27, 2022)

Kalyna the Soothsayer

Book Cover
Elijah Kinch Spector
Erewhon
Hardcover $27.95 (464pp)
978-1-64566-038-5
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

In Elijah Kinch Spector’s brooding novel Kalyna the Soothsayer, the end of the world is coming.

Kalyna knows that her country is about to collapse into war and destruction, but she cannot flee. She is trapped in the service of the crown. The royals think that Kalyna has prophetic powers that could help to avert the coming catastrophe, but they’re wrong: as a prophet, Kalyna is a fraud.

The daughter of a soothsayer, Kalyna did not inherit his gifts, though she pretended to possess them, too. Grifts, bribes, and marks kept gold in her pocket. She listened to her father’s murmurings in dreams each night to discern his prophecies. From them, she learned that the world could end in three months’ time.

Kalyna, though she wants to help the crown, also needs to find a way to save herself.

The story is told in an episodic fashion, and it stretches into a saga. Kalyna’s strange new reality includes magical chefs, philosophical armies, and the immense Sunset Palace. She’s guided through these features by Lenz, who is both her jailer and her main source of information. She and Lenz argue about possible methods of saving the kingdom, but Kalyna still yearns to escape.

The intricate worldbuilding includes intriguing court politics and nefarious plotting galore. Kaylna’s situation is complicated and immersive, through to the book’s dramatic conclusion, when it is revealed that human beings who seek power operate the cogs that underlie the complex situation. To prevail, they have to contend with Kaylna, though, who is both a witty and a determined heroine.

Kaylna the Soothsayer is a fabulous puzzle box of a fantasy novel in which knowing the future could obscure present realities.

JEREMIAH ROOD (June 27, 2022)

Barbara Hodge

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