The Magic of Bees and the Memory of Sound, A Review of Beyond the Latch and Lever

Like her mother and her mother before her, she is determined to carry on the magic that once thrived on her family’s land.

In the story, Flight of the Bumblebee by Susanna Skarland, a young couple struggles to survive in a world where the natural pollinators have died off. As a gardener myself, I can think of nothing in my garden that would exist without bees. From the tender age of a preschooler, the young woman in this story has always been in touch, connected to her family’s land and her gifts as an artist, deep-rooted lessons passed on from her grandma. Like her mother and her mother before her, she is determined to carry on the magic that once thrived on her family’s land and now lives in vivid colors on a canvas. She knows how sacred the job is of being a keeper of her beloved bees! A beautiful tale about bees existing in the real world no more.  

“Like Mama with her plants, Grandma taught me well, taught me her gift. She hummed as she painted, matching her tone to the width of her brush strokes. Loud and deep for broad blocks of color, soft and high for delicate details marked with a zero round. She infused her paintings with a breath of life.” For me, this line captured the essence of this character: “I dip my brush into my paints and hum the song of forests and foragers, of predators and prey. I hum the song of my family passed down from generation to generation, the song of our lives, both bitter and sweet. I sing for our unborn child. I sing for the bees.” 

In The Third Quirk by Karin Larsen, the narrator must come to terms with their grief: “The tears didn’t come gently. They came like my lungs were being ripped out of my body. They came like Fire would explode from my veins. They floated off my face and hung in the air. They glistened in the emergency light, shimmering like crystal, but I couldn’t find them beautiful.”  The grieving process for the narrator is going to persist, no matter if his feet are planted on solid ground, or he’s flying solo, alone in the darkness of space. The sadness is heavy, very heavy… Even when devoid of gravity, the recall of memory or sound of a voice cannot be lifted so easily. “… Surrendering to grief… sometimes all you can do is cry.”

—Gloria Smith, Painted Rock Press

Beyond the Latch and Lever Review by Author and Creative Writing Professor, Michael G. Hickey!

Edited by Susanna Skarland and Elle Blackwood, the eleven stories in Beyond the Latch and Lever are equally captivating and charming. Each tale, in its own unique way, taught me a lot! They are compelling, page-turning, white-knuckling adventures into what’s possible vs. what’s not, and when I was finished reading, a light switched on in my brain. I finally realized that attempting as I had for years to delineate the lines of demarcation between science fiction and speculative fiction, between fantasy and magic realism, was an exercise in futility. Those literary constructs are for agents, publishers, and literary critics. The real question for readers is, does the story grab you by the collar, pierce your heart, and rearrange what you thought was your imagination? Does it make you reconsider what’s real? And for me, the answer is a resounding yes!

The characters are multi-dimensional, the plots unpredictable yet thoroughly believable, and the poetry unmistakable. Like this line from Elle Blackwood’s protagonist in Esterbell, an elderly woman who revisits the château where she grew up in post-WWII France. It is an enormous, long since abandoned edifice that tests and reimagines the complexity of “place.” Ester had her very own gargoyle to fight off the demons roaming her past. And this dialogue with her driver: “Have you ever lived in the past?” she asks, searching his face. “Could it be that the past trails after us?” Clearly, Ester and her driver have a complicated, sometimes adversarial relationship with the ghosts from their respective pasts. Ester folds her arms as if she’s trying to hold herself together.

Bobbie Peyton’s Between Heaven and Fire is the harrowing, haunting story of migrant farmworkers and with all due respect to Mr. Steinbeck, the plot is far beyond anything in The Grapes of Wrath. My eyelids sag as I stand on the deck. I grip the knife in my pocket. A radio warbles a familiar song, “You Don’t Miss Your Water.” I close my eyes and imagine the sun setting on the blue horizon. I taste the ocean air and see the andadasi and mimosa leaves folding closed.                

By the end of the first page of Carlos Joaquin Gonzalez’s exquisite The Two Lives of Agapito Cortez, the senses have been assaulted, and the reader tossed headfirst into the deep end of the Civil War. This hallucinatory hike through history was perfectly complete and left me trancelike. Amazing writing throughout. Agapito’s ears rang from the thunder of cannon fire. His skin was clammy and hot, the chills wouldn’t stop, and the pain—his left arm was on fire, torn to shreds by Confederate bullets.

And in Erik Amundsen’s Home to Skjolden, the question is not just, can you go home again? The bigger conundrum is, can you make up for lost time? This story is a cocktail of reflection and nostalgia with a dash of hope, and the ending was so… so… well, I’ll let you see for yourself, but it gave me a reason to live! I scramble up the hill to the house, and my lungs hurt like hell. I come up over the ridge and see the car still in the driveway. It gives me a surge of energy, but a few meters from the door, doubt crushes me again.

The writing is brilliant in every story, and every page, but to say these pieces are well-written misses the point. Beyond the Latch and Lever challenges the reader to reconsider the word “real.” Each story is replete with multi-faceted characters worth rooting for (or against), and the narrative arc starts with a quagmire that is almost imperceptible at first but upon closer examination, abundantly real. (Or is it?)

I loved this book!

The book’s theme revolves around the concept of doors: where they lead us from, where they lead us to, and the limitless possibilities in-between. As I hungrily consumed one story after another, I couldn’t help but think about the William Blake quote, the one for which Jim Morrison famously named his band in the 60s. “If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is. Infinite. For man has closed himself up till he sees all things through narrow chinks of his cavern.” And that’s exactly what this book did for me—allowed me to open the door of my mind and see the infinite possibilities outside the confines of my sequestered little cavern.

A few years ago, I saw the Canadian speculative fiction writer Nalo Hopkinson do a reading and Q&A. Afterwards, a colleague introduced us, and I blushed when I admitted I don’t accept fantasy fiction from my creative writing students because they’re cheap knockoffs about zombies and vampires. But Nalo’s book had nothing to do with those cliches, and neither does Beyond the Latch and Lever. This book is alive. This book makes the impossible—possible!

—Michael G. Hickey, Professor of Creative Writing at South Seattle College and the author of How to Talk to Girls, Counterclockwise, and A Dress Walked by with a Woman Inside.

5 Star Review! Beyond the Latch and Lever: Speculative Short Stories

Each story is fresh and vital. Each story contains the strange, the unusual, and the mysterious. Each story is told clearly and concisely, with the momentum derived from immediate engagement.

For immediate release:

Author’s new book receives a warm literary welcome.

Readers’ Favorite announces the review of the Fiction – Anthology book “Beyond the Latch and Lever” by Edited by Susanna Skarland and Elle Blackwood, currently available at http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08QYXF94S.

Readers’ Favorite is one of the largest book review and award contest sites on the Internet. They have earned the respect of renowned publishers like Random House, Simon & Schuster, and Harper Collins, and have received the “Best Websites for Authors” and “Honoring Excellence” awards from the Association of Independent Authors. They are also fully accredited by the BBB (A+ rating), which is a rarity among Book Review and Book Award Contest companies.

“Reviewed By Joel R. Dennstedt for Readers’ Favorite

When the editors are proficient, the transformative handling is transparent, and we are left with writing we can trust, stories that pop with interest, and a collection consistent with our expectations and desires.

Sometimes, unsung heroes of the written word are the most instrumental in creating a final product worthy of its intended audience. Susanna Skarland and Elle Blackwood demonstrate this to perfection in their clean, crisp collection of speculative short stories, Beyond the Latch and Lever. Editing involves more than just choosing submissions to a theme; it requires specific, experienced-based skills for retaining an author’s creative intention and individual style while adhering to the most important aspect of publication: an appealing and accessible read. When the editors are proficient, the transformative handling is transparent, and we are left with writing we can trust, stories that pop with interest, and a collection consistent with our expectations and desires. That is meant not to underestimate the writers, but to highlight the augmenting role of the editors.

The result is a highly polished and professional work, truly worthy of its intended audience.

In their work, Beyond the Latch and Lever, Susanna Skarland and Elle Blackwood also present their own contributions to a really good batch of stories – speculative in nature, thematic in selection. As one might imagine, each story deals with the symbolic (and literal) concept of the door as a passageway to a strange, unusual, and mysterious world, even if only to another room just beyond. Each story is fresh and vital. Each story contains the strange, the unusual, and the mysterious. Each story is told clearly and concisely, with the momentum derived from immediate engagement. Again, one suspects the writers and the editors of a deeply engaged collaboration. The result is a highly polished and professional work, truly worthy of its intended audience.”

You can learn more about Edited by Susanna Skarland and Elle Blackwood and “Beyond the Latch and Lever” at https://readersfavorite.com/book-review/beyond-the-latch-and-lever where you can read reviews and the author’s biography, as well as connect with the author directly or through their website and social media pages.

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A Peek Inside the Stories of Beyond the Latch and Lever!

Esterbell (© 2020) Elle Blackwood: An old woman returns to the crumbling French château where she spent her childhood to say goodbye to the keeper of her past.

The Two Lives of Agapito Cortez (© 2020) Carlos Joaquin Gonzalez: A wounded, Mexican-born Union soldier awakens to find the world isn’t the same as he remembers.

The Third Quirk (© 2020) Karin Larsen: An alien retrieves their dead brother’s spaceship and comes to terms with their grief.

Home to Skjolden (© 2020) Erik Amundsen: When a man returns to Northern Norway to sell his family’s farm, a curious encounter unearths the past and makes him question his legacy.

Flight of the Bumblebee (© 2020) Susanna Skarland: A young couple in the near future struggle to survive in a world where the natural pollinators have died off and corporate robotics serve as their replacement.

Liminality (© 2020) R. L. Castle: An elderly doormaker seeks comfort in the doors of his past.

Between Hell and Fire (© 2020) Bobbie Peyton: A young Filipina farmworker must navigate the haunting nature of racism on an asparagus farm in 1960s California.

The Pantry Ghost (© 2020) H. K. Porter: Trapped inside an unfamiliar pantry, a young woman struggles to piece together the string of events that led to her isolation.

Rabbit’s Key (© 2020) Steve Garriott: When a physics major agrees to an adventure with an eccentric young man, they stumble upon a scientific discovery that alters their reality and their futures.

The Last Door in the Hilbert Hotel (© 2020) Evvan Land: A man must complete a test to find the exit from his own personal hell.

The Wending Way (© 2020) J. S. Artz: A celestial being sent to Earth must decide whether to stay and help, or leave humankind to their own destruction.