Foreword Reviews

Book of the Day Roundup July 29–August 2, 2019

Book of the Day Images for July 29-August 2, 2019

A Divided Mind

Book Cover
M. Billiter
Tangled Tree Publishing
Softcover $12.99 (322pp)
978-1-925853-26-1
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

A teenager fights for his sanity as his mother fights to support him in A Divided Mind, M. Billiter’s emotional portrait of mental illness.

Seventeen-year-old Branson has a supportive family, a wonderful girlfriend, and a bright future with the navy. But there’s something else that no one knows: Branson has been hearing voices since he was in the eighth grade. The voices have gotten worse and have turned into hallucinations, and his situation comes to a head when he blacks out at school.

Branson’s mother, Tara, can’t believe that her bright, empathetic little boy could have a schizoid affective disorder. As she struggles to understand her son and prioritize his treatment, she learns to accept that their entire lives have changed.

The story alternates between Branson and Tara’s distinct and believable points-of-view and depicts a family on the edge. It probes both of their psyches, resulting in a well-rounded account of how mental illness shatters lives, but also offers a chance for redemption. Neither main character is either a hero or a villain; rather, both are good people trying to deal with an impossible situation.

The book does an excellent job of showing how mental illness changes people’s expectations, hopes for the future, and way of viewing life in its entirety. Tara’s journey toward accepting her son’s new future is just as profound as Branson’s path toward redefining his self-image.

An emotional page-turner, A Divided Mind redefines what a “normal” family looks like. It is an important story for those who want to better understand mental illness, especially as it is experienced by teenagers.

ANGELA MCQUAY (June 27, 2019)

And Then There Were Dragons

Book Cover
Alcy Leyva
Black Spot Books
Softcover $14.99 (187pp)
978-1-73293-578-5
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

Amanda Grey has had a rough time. Possessed by demons, unintentionally unleashing the apocalypse, and losing her sister Petty twice (it’s a long story), Grey fought off the forces of evil and saved the world, but at the cost of her own life. Now she’s been condemned to Hell, where there is no escape from torture, torment…and Olive Garden restaurants. And that’s just the start of her troubles in Alcy Leyva’s And Then There Were Dragons, the rollicking second entry of his Shades of Hell horror-comedy series.

Before Grey can adjust to her new predicament, she’s greeted with worse news: Petty’s soul has been stolen by the Ninth Circle of Hell. It’s up to Grey to rescue her, with a motley team in tow: a psychopathic murderer, a currently unemployed angel of death, a liar who could pass as a member of the Blue Man Group, and a demonic ex-roommate who’s actually kind of hot if one disregards his horns.

Leyva lets his imagination run riot, tossing in phantasmagorical terror and absurdity at every turn. Cities of the damned are packed with H&M stores (Hornets and Mice, that is). Torturers are good at their jobs, except when they take too much PTO. The “waters” of the River Styx are a mass of decomposing bodies. Trolls are troll-ish in behavior as well as appearance (who else would argue that the Star Wars prequels are the best?). Throughout, the focus stays on stubborn, sarcastic Grey as her odyssey leads towards a showdown with Satan himself. In the process, she stumbles upon a few surprises about her own destiny: it’s no coincidence that she has the ability to shoot (or barf) fireballs.

And Then There Were Dragons maintains its predecessor’s entertaining mix of snarky humor and devilish horror. Although Grey’s quest gets a bit repetitive at times, she is a sympathetic hero. Leyva’s cheeky approach holds interest to the cliffhanging conclusion, as the next installment in the saga beckons.

HO LIN (June 27, 2019)

Harbart

Book Cover
Nabarun Bhattacharya
Sunandini Banerjee, translator
New Directions
Softcover $12.95 (112pp)
978-0-8112-2473-4
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

Nabarun Bhattacharya’s Harbart is a wild ride—a short novel that documents the unexpected rise and precipitous fall of Harbart’s fortunes in vibrant, humorous prose.

The novel opens with a scene of debauchery that is followed by Harbart’s death, and then moves back in time to tell his life story. Orphaned as a baby in Calcutta, he depends on his extended family to care for him though, except for one aunt, they have no interest in doing so. When, at twenty, he seems able to speak with the dead, he happily takes financial advantage of his newfound “talent,” posting a sign outside of his bedroom window to welcome customers who wish to speak to their departed loved ones. People come streaming in, but Harbart’s luck does not hold.

The story is not the book’s main source of pleasure. Harbart’s fate is known from the beginning, although the ending does have some surprises in store. Instead, the work’s main appeal comes because Bhattacharya’s writing is so energetic. Descriptions are fresh, and conversations are lively and often bawdy. Fragments result in a fast pace, and the narrative is full of sudden shifts that plunge into new times and places without explanation, gradually offering orienting details. This frenetic pace is slowed only by quotations from Harbart’s favorite books; they open each chapter.

A rich range of tones veers from tragic to humorous, sincere to satirical, these shifts accomplished with ease. The text is gritty with the realism of dirty city streets, drunken revelries, and political violence, but also contains elements of fantasy, as when a fairy appears to keep a benevolent eye on Harbart.

Short but triumphant in its ability to bring comedy, tragedy, and satire together, Harbart is a moving, entertaining tale about a man’s ill-fated life.

REBECCA HUSSEY (June 27, 2019)

The Dishwasher

Book Cover
Stéphane Larue
Pablo Strauss, translator
Biblioasis
Softcover $16.95 (464pp)
978-1-77196-269-8
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

Stéphane Larue’s debut The Dishwasher is a precision piece of youthful omphaloskepsis and urban fatigue. Its crisp narration and nearly journalistic aplomb with detailing the addictive spiral of its protagonist make it compelling.

The novel opens with Stéphane meeting an old friend, Bébert, late at night outside of his apartment building. They agree to get a drink for old time’s sake.

This scene serves as the first part of a frame for the narrative. The story shifts to Stéphane struggling with a gambling addiction. He steals money from jobs, moves out of his apartment in secret, and borrows money from his cousin with the promise to get his life together. This is when he gets his dishwashing job.

Straightforward, effective prose moves the book on its course. Stéphane’s struggle with his addiction is visceral. A dizzying combination of scents from the kitchen is ripely detailed. Despite Stéphane’s questionable choices, it becomes hard not to sympathize with his situation.

A perfectly crafted story of desperation and growth, the narrator’s conquest of his gambling addiction ebbs and flows, marked by success and failure, hope and defeat. The end returns to the present, wherein Stéphane has supposedly conquered his problem—a positive conclusion that is a welcome respite from the bleak situations that precede it.

The book is captivating in large part because of its characters. Stéphane, Bébert, and the other kitchen workers are dynamic and realistic, if at first they are defined by Stéphane according to singular qualities. They grow regardless; much like the always changing atmosphere of the kitchen, they never sit and stagnate.

The Dishwasher is a thoughtful examination of a young man at the end of his options—a humanizing, emotive, and entertaining tale of personal growth.

SHANA CREANEY (June 27, 2019)

Scottish Queens, 1034-1714

Book Cover
Rosalind K. Marshall
Birlinn
Softcover $14.95 (256pp)
978-1-78027-597-0
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

Betrothals, betrayals, and battles both domestic and political are the order of the day in Rosalind K. Marshall’s intriguing history Scottish Queens, 1034-1714.

From the mysterious but only possibly murderous Lady Macbeth to the hot mess that was Margaret Tudor and the tragically childless Anne, Scottish Queens shines a spotlight on Scotland’s women rulers. Each story is as devastating as it is fascinating.

Early chapters provide little information on the queens themselves, instead relating events that happened around them. This is the fault of misogynistic record-keeping, not Marshall; in the early days, not even the names of royal daughters were recorded. Marshall acknowledges where information is missing from the historical record and where the historical record may be unreliable due to biased sources. These gaps are poignant reminders of how much knowledge the world lost to sexism and time.

By the fifth chapter, information on Scotland’s queens becomes more plentiful. A chapter on Margaret of Denmark devotes a good four pages to her wardrobe-related expenditures, but for the most part, the book keeps a brisk pace. With seven hundred years to cover in a short space, there isn’t room to sustain that level of detail.

This bird’s eye approach is perfect for novice history students and readers uninterested in the nitty-gritty of foreign relations and battlefield strategies. The book’s introductory parades of names and titles can be dizzying, especially since so many of Scotland’s royals shared the same handful of names, but its family trees help.

Scottish Queens, 1034-1714 is a broad, impressive historical work and a solid introduction to Scottish history from an oft-ignored perspective: that of the queens who exercised power whenever and wherever they could find it.

EILEEN GONZALEZ (June 27, 2019)

Barbara Hodge

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