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Small Country: A Novel by Gaël Faye, Hogarth/Crown Publishers, US $25.00, Pp 186, June 2018, ISBN 978-1524759872

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai, Viking/Penguin Random House, US 27.00, Pp 432, June 2018, ISBN 978-0735223523

The Possible World: A Novel by Liese O’Halloran Schwarz, Scribner, US $27.00, Pp 356, June 2018, ISBN 978-1501166143

The World of Lore: Wicked Mortals by Aaron Mahnke, Del Rey, US $28.99, Pp 352, May 2018,  ISBN 978-1524797997

Small Country is set in 1992 in Burundi where ten-year-old Gabriel is living a comfortable life in an upscale expatriate neighborhood of Bujumbura with his French father, Rwandan mother and little sister Anna. It couldn’t be better anywhere else. Gabriel’s is living a carefree life that is full of laughter, adventure, and fun. He and his friends do all sorts of pranks children of his age do. Dark clouds of civil war and war with neighboring Rwanda are gathering and both Burundi and Rwanda are in for mass slaughter. The peace of the region is about to be shattered. When the peace is finally shattered Gabriel’s life is also shattered. He wishes to be elsewhere, away from the bloodbath. Now he has to live a boring life at home, at best reading books. His mother goes to Rwanda to save her Tutsi family members while his French father stays back in Burundi to look after the children. Small Country is a story of Burundi and Rwanda in the 1990s when they were embroiled in the civil war. It is equally the story of the author, Gaël Faye. It is beautifully written and told by a ten-year-old child who was born with this story and lived it. It is a story of a child whose happy days were snatched by the bloody civil war. Small Country unmasks the ugly part of human nature but is still full of hope. It is a great historical novel that sees current history through the eyes of a child.

Gaël Faye was born in 1982 in Burundi to a French father and Rwandan mother. In 1995, after the outbreak of the civil war and the Rwandan genocide, the family moved to France. An author, songwriter and hip-hop artist, he released his first solo album, Pili Pili sur un croissant au beurre, in 2013. Small Country is his first novel. A bestseller in France, it has been awarded numerous literary prizes, among them the Prix Goncourt des Lycéens, and is being published in thirty countries worldwide. He lives in Paris.

*****

The Great Believers is set in Chicago in 1985. Yale Tishman, the development director for an art gallery, is planning to bring in a collection of 1920s paintings as a gift to the gallery. The collection is bound to make the gallery one of the leading galleries in the country. While he is planning it, he realizes that the epidemic of AIDS is growing around him and his friends falling prey to the epidemic one by one. When AIDs strikes his closest friend, Nico, Yale is left with only Fiona, Nico’s sister. The second part of the novel is set thirty years later in Paris where Fiona is staying with an old photographer friend who had documented the Chicago AIDS crisis. Fiona is now looking for her estranged daughter who had joined a cult. Fiona is trying to reconcile with the devastating ways AIDS has changed her life and her relationship with her daughter. Rebecca Makkai brilliantly weaves the two stories into one heartbreaking story that connect the 1980s AIDS crisis (especially in Chicago) with the early twenty-first-century chaos in America. In both episodes, the protagonists are looking for goodness in this world. Both try to remain good against all odds. The Great Believers is about tragedies and how to face them. It tells us how to not to lose your humanity in the face of a tragedy.

Rebecca Makkai is the author of The BorrowerThe Hundred-Year House, which won the Novel of the Year Award from the Chicago Writers Association and Music for Wartime. Her work has appeared in The Best American Short StoriesHarper’s, and Tin House, among others. She lives outside Chicago with her husband and two daughters.

*****

It was just another night shift for Dr. Lucy Cole in an emergency room in a hospital in Providence, Rhode Island. As she is dragging her way through the night, police bring in six-year-old Leo they had rescued from a violent crime scene. The traumatized boy is unable to recall anything about the crime and his life although he has lost everything as a result of that violent crime including his mother. Then she learns that the boy’s name is Ben, and not Leo. Leo or Ben may be having dissociative identity disorder. But, was he ever called Leo? As Dr. Lucy Cole struggles to treat and save the life of the child, she is suddenly reminded of her own past personal trauma. She feels a strange but deep connection with the boy as she ponders if he will ever be able to recall his past. The story now shifts to a nearly hundred-year-old woman called Clare who lives with her own secrets across Providence. She never shared her secrets with anybody because she believed her secrets don’t matter for anybody else. But the reason was that she had something to hide. But as she is about to turn hundred years, she believes she should tell her story. When Clare shares her secrets, it will bring Ben, Lucy and Clare together in a most surprising and strange way. The Possible World spans nearly a century – beginning with the Great Depression. Liese O’Halloran Schwarz weaves three captivating stories into one entertaining story, showing how our pasts shape our present, and how some human bonds can help us overcome our emotional and psychological pain. The Possible World is a brilliantly written moving story about human struggle with identity and loneliness.

Liese O’Halloran Schwarz, an emergency medicine doctor, published her first novel Near Canaan while in medical school. Her most recent novel is The Possible World, and she currently lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

*****

Not all monsters are imaginary creatures. Some are human and walk and live among us, unnoticed. They are as real as flesh and blood. We never notice many of them. We may even be admiring some of them. Their evil deeds and secret lives remain hidden from us. The World of Lore is a collection of stories from the Lore podcast — now a streaming television series — including ‘Black Stockings,’ ‘Half-Hanged,’ and ‘The Castle.’ It is a chilling who’s who of the wicked people among us. In The World of Lore, host of the hit podcast Lore Aaron Mahnke tells us tales of infamous characters whose crimes will chill your spine. There is William Brodie, a renowned Scottish cabinetmaker, who uses his professional expertise to prey on the citizens of Edinburgh. His rampant criminality behind a veneer of social respectability inspired Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novella Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. There is H. H. Holmes who is a relentless and elusive con artist. He became best known as the terror of Chicago’s 1893 World’s Fair. He invited unwitting guests into his “hotel” of horrors from where they disappear forever. Then there is Bela Kiss, the Hungarian tinsmith who specializes in the occult and a collection of gasoline drums with women’s bodies inside. It is packed with the stories of the most heinous real-life human demons from history. These spine-chilling stories will haunt you for a long time to come. The World of Lore has everything you love to read in a fantasy novel – a fantastic story, action, heat, spine-chilling suspense and memorable characters.

Aaron Mahnke is the writer, host, and producer of Lore, (Best of iTunes 2015 & 2016), Executive Producer of the Lore television show on Amazon (from the producers of The Walking Dead), and author of The World of Lore book series (Penguin Random House / Del Rey). He is also the author of a number of supernatural thrillers. He has a deep love of the mysterious and frightening that began with Unsolved Mysteries and The X-Files—a love that continues to this day. He’s a nerd for anything inexplicable or supernatural. Mahnke lives with his family in the historic North Shore area of Boston, the very heart of Lovecraft Country and the Salem witch trials.

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