Foreword Reviews

Book of the Day Roundup June 15-18, 2020

Book of the Day Roundup image for June 15-18, 2020

This Little Family

Book Cover
Inès Bayard
Adriana Hunter, translator
Other Press
Softcover $15.99 (272pp)
978-1-892746-87-0
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

Inès Bayard’s novel This Little Family, translated from French, is about the devastating aftermath of a rape.

Raised in a loving household outside of Paris, Marie moves into the city as an adult. She works, dines out, and promenades with her husband and friends. Money is no worry; her husband is a lawyer. Just as she decides to bring a child into her perfect world, a CEO rapes her and threatens her against speaking out. Harboring this secret, her ensuing pregnancy and motherhood send her into a downward spiral.

Marie’s transformation is dramatic. Her pent-up anger and shame come out through humiliating fainting and falling spells, physical attacks, and daydreams about hurting her loved ones. The activities that she used to enjoy, like cooking and dressing up, turn into opportunities for revenge. Her raw feelings are relayed in stark, unsentimental terms.

Marie becomes aware “that she is part of a large organization, and that she personally contributes to the workings of a system that’s now starting to betray her.” The dominant paradigm works for her mother, sister, women coworkers, and the women at her son’s nursery, all of whom seem content and happy. They want Marie to uphold the status quo, too. As her behavior begins to shift, they ask only after her son—not her. Marie’s demise begins when she resists the system in her own way.

With protests and court cases in its background, Marie’s story becomes political. Her declarations about the plight of all women punctuate the text, and her experiences are a dangerous potentiality for all survivors.

Unwavering along its path toward tragedy, This Little Family is a provocative novel that plunges into the recesses of women’s psyches.

MARI CARLSON (April 27, 2020)

Vera Kelly Is Not a Mystery

Book Cover
Rosalie Knecht
Tin House Books
Softcover $15.95 (256pp)
978-1-947793-79-8
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

In Rosalie Knecht’s Vera Kelly is Not a Mystery, a former CIA agent balances her work duties with romance in her new role as a private investigator.

Vera hoped for a more normal life after being abandoned by the CIA, but when she loses her girlfriend and her job on the same day, she decides to play up her skill set and bury her emotional pain in detective work. Going undercover, she assumes the role of a social worker in Westchester, that of a movie studio executive in the Dominican Republic, and that of a double agent in her personal life, all to locate a missing child.

Vera’s investigation is bettered by her ability to remain calm under pressure and adapt to new information. The text switches to the missing boy’s point of view on occasion, highlighting the importance of Vera’s risky actions; his predicament involves politics and family issues.

Though Vera faces peril because of her false identities, her situation is also more dangerous because of her gender and sexual orientation. Vera’s conversations with other queer characters expose 1960s New York, wherein police raid bars and arrest LGBTQ+ people, and employers and landlords add character clauses to contracts to legally discriminate against them. Vera is underestimated and subject to behavioral expectations; she’s forced to hide elements of her being in service of her work and everyday existence.

Vera proves skilled at shutting people out, though she yearns for connection. While the kidnapping provides the novel’s tense moments and daring escape scenes, it’s Vera’s restrained yet sensitive narration that holds attention, betraying her insecurities, even as she pursues her case—and a new love interest.

Vera Kelly is Not a Mystery is an intricate mystery featuring love, corruption, and a charming and capable heroine.

DELIA STANLEY (June 12, 2020)

Such a Library!

A Yiddish Folktale Re-Imagined

Book Cover
Jill Ross Nadler
Esther van den Berg, illustrator
Intergalactic Afikoman
Hardcover $18.95 (40pp)
978-1-951365-02-8
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

A Yiddish folktale about a noisy house is reimagined for a new generation in this story, set in a library, about a young patron who’s reminded by the enthusiastic librarian, Miss Understood, to appreciate what he has, because circumstances could always be worse. Children will laugh out loud at the story’s escalating antics, while those familiar with the original will appreciate the faithful interpretation and retention of Jewish customs, not to mention the charm of the illustrations.

PALLAS GATES MCCORQUODALE (June 12, 2020)

A Hundred Million Years and a Day

Book Cover
Jean-Baptiste Andrea
Sam Taylor, translator
Gallic Books
Softcover $16.95 (176pp)
978-1-910477-83-0
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

Whatever wilds you conquer or quests you undertake, the most complicated excavations are those that are internal; so a team of adventurers learns in Jean-Baptiste Andrea’s breathless and heartbreaking novel, A Hundred Million Years and a Day.

Stan—“an angel half the time, a bastard the rest of the time, and the best paleontologist” you’ll ever encounter—was done for the moment he dug a trilobite out of a rock at age six. The ancient past became his preferred escape from his volatile present. He left home as soon as he was able, folding into academic circles where he was first a wonder and later a curiosity. And in the waning days of his career, he heard a tantalizing rumor: of dragon bones concealed beneath a glacier.

Unable to resist the possibility of a great discovery, Stan initiated an expedition. He invited along a loyal colleague, Umberto, who supplied a third paleontologist and a mountain guide familiar with the region’s temperaments. Together, the foursome climbs into regions hostile to life, holding fast to hope but watching as summer days fade away. Stan, half lost in the pains and injustices of his past, insists that they persist.

Sympathetic as its characters strain for a taste of immortality—some of them more hungry to be memorialized than others—the story is thrilling and wrenching by turns. Stan’s forays into his past are softened by his lyrical turns of phrase and his musings on immortality, though the brutality he survived can’t be tempered entirely. It’s a gift that his final discovery is ambiguous: maybe it’s real, or maybe a dream, but at least it brings peace. Tracing a treasure that waits just out of reach, A Hundred Million Years and a Day speaks to the adventurers within us all.

MICHELLE ANNE SCHINGLER (April 27, 2020)

Wonder Woman

Tempest Tossed

Book Cover
Laurie Halse Anderson
Leila del Duca, illustrator
DC Entertainment
Softcover $16.99 (208pp)
978-1-4012-8645-3
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

Sixteen-year-old future superhero Diana discovers a wider world full of beauty and danger in Wonder Woman: Tempest Tossed.

On the island of Themyscira, Diana is ready to celebrate her “Born Day” with her mother and the other Amazons. But when outsiders pass through a hole in the barrier that hides Themyscira from the rest of the world, Diana rescues a boatload of refugees, and in the process loses her way back home, landing instead in Greece. There, she lives as a refugee until she meets two men who work for the United Nations—Steve Chang and his husband, Trevor, in a clever nod to Wonder Woman’s comic book history. She moves to the United States and stays with a Polish woman and her granddaughter, learning that her new home has many problems that she can help to solve.

The book is stuffed with modern-day hazards, including issues of child hunger, child trafficking, and developers looking to replace a park with condominiums. There’s emphasis on Diana’s brains rather than her brawn, and her ability to speak any language proves as useful as her burgeoning physical abilities.

Diana’s introduction to our world isn’t all bad news, however. The story includes sweet, memorable moments as she experiences parkour, polkas, and discusses problems like “face pox” and “moonbleeding” with another teenager. A wonderful scene finds Diana inspired by the Statue of Liberty and Emma Lazarus’s “The New Colossus.”

The art is a highlight. Diana looks the part of a teenager coming into her own: awkward at times, but passionate and with glimpses of the adult she’s destined to become. Wonder Woman: Tempest Tossed reads much like its central character: intelligent, intense, and inspiring.

PETER DABBENE (June 12, 2020)

Barbara Hodge

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