‘Extraordinary Adventures’ by Daniel Wallace

extraordinary-adventures-wallaceExtraordinary Adventures is the forthcoming novel from Daniel Wallace, author of Big Fish. Wallace brings all the wit, humor, and superb writing style from his former works to Extraordinary Adventures.

Wallace’s main character, Edsel Bronfman is a thirty-four-year-old recluse of sorts. Bronfman has a job, sure, and an apartment of his own, but he has virtually no friends besides his ailing mother. When Bronfman wins a trip to Destin, Florida, though, he begins to make a change, or at least to want to. The thing is that in order to cash in on his trip to Florida, he needs to bring a companion, a romantic companion.

Suddenly, extraordinary things begin happening to Bronfman: he speaks to a woman at the reception desk at his work, his house gets robbed and who appears but yet another woman, a police officer no less. Such out of the ordinary things continue to happen, and Bronfman sees them mostly as acts of destiny, not his own freewill.

The book continues in this manner weaving unforgettable characters in and out of the story. There’s Bronfman’s mother who is suffering from dementia, and who is perhaps the most spectacular character of all. She is a strong willed, oddity of a mother to say the least, her biggest concern always being that her son has fun, messes around with women, and lives his life. There’s also Thomas Edison, Bronfman’s criminal, next-door neighbor, and his cohort of vagabonds and drug addicts. Among them is Coco, a young Japanese girl who Bronfman befriends though he’s sure the woman and has stolen his hat. He’s seen her wear it.

Bronfman himself is often a loveable, pitiful character who the reader cheers for throughout. However, there are aspects of “typical” male behavior that detract from Bronfman’s appeal, especially because they seem so out of character for the kind and caring man. Things like instantly falling for any woman who is pretty. Things like his constant attraction to women even while dating someone else. Though these aspects of Bronfman can be frustrating, if you take a step back and realize the man has never had a serious relationship and thinks every new feeling of lust is love, it’s a bit easier to understand his thoughts and actions.

In sum, Extraordinary Adventures is a fun, fast-paced, and extremely well-written novel.

Slated for release by St. Martin’s Press in May of 2017, you can pre-order your copy of Extraordinary Adventures by Daniel Wallace at your local bookstore.

Read more fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

‘The Best of Adam Sharp’ by Graeme Simsion

the-best-of-adam-sharp-simsionAmazing.

There’s a tendency to leave The Best of Adam Sharp simply there: amazing. Graeme Simsion’s forthcoming novel is more than amazing though. It is beautiful, heart wrenching, nostalgic, and absolutely enthralling.

The Best of Adam Sharp is a story of unrequited love that seems to always be moving in the expected direction until it’s suddenly not. Adam and Angelina found each other in their mid-twenties in Australia and lived out a love affair that only lasted the few months that Adam worked a temp job there. Things never really ended for Adam though, who has thought of Angelina ever since, despite his now twenty year relationship with Claire. Twenty-three years after his relationship with Angelina has ended though, an email message pops up out of the blue from his lost love, and Adam isn’t sure how to respond.

With characters so relatable and problems so palpable, it’s hard not to get drawn into The Best of Adam Sharp immediately. Simsion has a way of making the story more about the human condition than anything else. While not everyone has a lover they wish things would have gone differently with, everybody has regrets, and Simsion doesn’t let readers forget it.

To add to the allure of an already brimming novel, Simsion includes a musical component to The Best of Adam Sharp that adds an extra element of nostalgia. Not only is most of the music from the 1960’s through the 1980’s, but if readers are familiar with the songs that pervade the novel, The Best of Adam Sharp’s soundtrack becomes something that moves the book in an even more emotional direction. Each song that comes up not only fits its scene too perfectly, but if you play it in your mind’s background, the musicality, the movement of the music, fits the mood even more perfectly.

Simsion evokes so much in The Best of Adam Sharp that it’s a challenge to leave the book at the end. You’ll just want more.

Slated for release in May of 2017 by St. Martin’s Press, The Best of Adam Sharp by Graeme Simsion is available for preorder at your local bookstore.

Read more fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

‘The Fallen Star’ by Tracey Hecht

the-fallen-star-hechtThe Fallen Star is the latest installment of the middle grade series The Nocturnals by Tracey Hecht. In this adventure, the Night Brigade, comprised of a pangolin named Tobin, a sugar glider named Bismark, and fox named Dawn have to work together to not only solve the mystery of who poisoned the pomelo fruits, but they have to save their forest friends who have eaten the poisoned pomelos.

As with her previous two books in the series, The Mysterious Abductions and The Ominous Eye, Hecht does her best to weave science facts, literary conventions, and a rich moral foundation into The Fallen Star. Readers learn not only the names of animals, but curious facts and oddities about them as well. Hecht also includes alliteration and vocabulary in her Nocturnals series as well.

As is always the case in The Nocturnals, messages of kindness and forgiveness are pervasive in The Fallen Star. While, Bismark the sugar glider can at times be a bit of a handful for the reader and often not be the kindest person, Hecht does her best to redeem him by the story’s end.

Slated for release by Fabled Films Press in May of 2017, you can preorder a copy of The Fallen Star by Tracey Hecht at your local bookstore.

Read more fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

‘Things We Lost in the Fire’ by Mariana Enriquez

things-we-lost-in-the-fire-enriquezThings We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriquez is a book of liminalities. Mixing horror with magical realism and history, Enriquez takes readers on a journey through the lives of women living in Argentina in the form of exhilarating and entirely enchanting short stories.

From ghosts to drugs, haunted houses, to murder, Enriquez melds together the real terrors of life under dictatorship and oppression with the most horrifically imaginable terrors a mind could muster. Each of the story’s main character is a female who is experiencing some sort of liminal space. For many this is space is the entire crux of the story. A woman torn between two places, two ideas, two people, and often torn to, potentially, the point of death.

In the book’s opening story, “The Dirty Kid,” the main character is a middle class woman choosing to live in a slum. The woman finds that the homeless child who lives on her corner might have been murdered, and she might be the only one able to identify him. Caught between issues of class, police corruption, and her moral gut, the main character can’t seem to act.

Similarly, in “Green Red Orange,” the estranged girlfriend of an internet addicted depressive finds herself caught between her boyfriend’s mother, her desire to give up on the man she once loved who now won’t come out of his bedroom, and, once again she is left with an inability to act.

Each of the women in Enriquez’s stories are faced with more than just challenges, they are faced with near impossible decisions. While the reader often doesn’t end up seeing the actions that the characters take, Enriquez leaves every story at a cliffhanger, begging the reader to write her own ending.

Published in February of 2017 by Hogarth Publishing, Things We Lost in the Fire is available for purchase at your local bookstore.

Read more fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

‘To the Stars Through Difficulties’ by Romalyn Tilghman

to-the-stars-through-difficulties-tilghmanTo the Stars Through Difficulties by Romalyn Tilghman is an uplifting story about the strength of collectivity, especially the collective power of women.

To the Stars Through Difficulties follows three different women: Traci, Gayle, and Angelina. Each is dealing with a major life event, or series of life events, that has somehow led them to New Hope, Kansas. Traci has been hired as an artist in residency at the only arts center in New Hope, which also happens to be an old Carnegie library, which Angelina is writing her PhD dissertation on, and which Gayle is attending for therapeutic art classes, provided by Traci. The catch is that Traci has no experience teaching art, though she lied and told the arts center that she did; Gayle’s life was blown away in a tornado and she can’t seem to get her life back together; and Angelina has actually been working on her dissertation for ten years, and the dissertation is going to potentially get dropped by her university.

The Carnegie library turned arts center is the central meeting place not only for these women, but for the ideas that move the book forward. Tilghman weaves together a history of the women who came before Traci, Gayle, and Angelina with the journey of her three protagonists, using the library as the two histories’ point of intersection. In the past, we follow the women who helped make the Carnegie library a reality despite their hard times, while in the present the hardships look a bit different.

Focusing not only on the strength of women but also the power of print and the importance of history, both collective and one’s own, Tilghman leads readers through a maze of mysteries and hardships in To the Stars Through Difficulties.

Slated for release by She Writes Press on April 4, 2017, you can reserve your copy of To the Stars Through Difficulties from your local bookstore.

Read more fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

‘Lola’ by Melissa Scrivner Love

Lola-Scrivner-LoveWhat could a book about gangs, murder, drugs, and rape possible shed new light on in 2017? Besides death, heartbreak, and inequality, it seems like modern day gangster novels don’t tend to give much more. Lola, by Melissa Scrivner Love, though is a whole new kind of gangster novel.

A book in a league all its own, Lola, the main character of the title novel is a character of a similar caliber. An underground gang leader, Lola heads the Crenshaw Six, a small gang in East L.A. that focuses mostly on drug trade and tends to lay pretty low. Until, the Crenshaw Six get a job that could change their entire trajectory and all of its members’ destinies, especially Lola’s.

The neighborhood of Huntington Park thinks that Garcia, Lola’s boyfriend, is the leader of the Crenshaw Six, and Lola struggles constantly to deal with both the perks and the frustration of leading a gang from behind the scenes. Lola is unintimidating, she can easily make her way into important places without being suspect, she can sit down with a man and make him feel like he’s in power simply by virtue of being a woman. It’s part of how Lola has made her way so high into the gang, but it’s also something that infuriates her. She wants to have an equal: someone who not only she sees that way, but that sees her as an equal as well. That seems an impossible feat when every other leader is a man and that somehow makes them more than her.

In fact, Lola itself is a feminist calling to reevaluate the way women are perceived in society: weak, small, and incapable of little else than cleaning floors. Lola does her best to defy these stereotypes while also constantly finding herself bogged down by them. Every time she cooks meal, cleans a floor, feels compassion, she chides the thought that she’s only doing it because she’s a woman, not because she’s a person. For every woman who finds serious issue with the gender norms of our time, Lola is a hero of sorts.

What makes Lola so magical and the reader feel so connected to her, despite her tendencies to cut off fingers and shoot people in the head, is that she leads from a moral compass, even if slightly skewed. She’s a feminist, she cares for the innocent people around her and for those who are loyal. She is disdainful of drug addicts, but adoring of children. Most of Lola’s morals make up the remaining themes and messages of Lola the book. Issues of race, inequality, injustices, parenting, and the meaning of love are just a few of the deeper themes that run through the pages of Lola.

Love’s only slip up comes in the form of her point of view. Mainly the book is told in a close third person point of view with Lola leading the way but the narration coming from an unknown third party. However, there are times where head hopping can throw the reader for a loop. Suddenly we are inside of another character’s head who we’ve potentially never even met, feeling what he feels and understanding his motives in a way we probably shouldn’t. Usually Love sticks with Lola and makes it clear that even evaluations of other characters are Lola’s, and that makes those evaluations even more valuable and interesting. Nevertheless, the slip ups can be a bit distracting for readings watching closely.

Overall, Lola is a fantastic and riveting book that will keep you reading all the way to the end. Just the right mixture of violence and terror, Lola is not overly graphic and though violent, it is never gratuitous.

Lola by Melissa Scrivner Love is slated for release by Crown Publishing on March 21, 2017. You can preorder a copy from your local bookstore today.

Read more fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

 

‘Mexico’ by Josh Barkan

mexico-barkanMexico by Josh Barkan is a series of epic, terrifying accounts of the lives of Mexico’s citizens. Told in a series of short stories, Mexico follows a host of different narrators, from gangsters to victims. The stories all revolve around crime, usually involving drugs, extortion, and often murder. What strangely ties all of the stories together though, beyond their setting, is their endings. Each narrative closes with a message of hope, or at least a glimmer of it, despite the tragedy that ensued for the pages of that story.

Some memorable characters include the drug lord’s abused wife who gives hope to a woman about to lose her breasts to a mastectomy, the famous, philandering painter who is turned honest by an encounter with a gangster who sells drugs to the painter’s daughter, and the young boy whose mother sacrifices her dignity to bring her son to America and out of the family’s gang-ridden neighborhood.

Each of these stories includes hardship and often a main character who is difficult to like at first. However, by the end of each story, the protagonist has learned something from the horror she’s experienced and claims that she will life a better life because of her experience. It is slightly suspicious that the reader never sees any of these characters actually enact these assertions; though, there is at least the idea of change planted at each stories end. Whether the characters follow through with the aspirations they’ve set for themselves is up to the reader to decide.

While Mexico is beautifully written and the characters utterly enthralling, where the novel falls short is in its untimely release. At a time of political turmoil, when those people who represent the United States are claiming that Mexico is nothing but a drug-ridden war zone, the last thing the public needs is a book that claims just that. I admit that there is an air of redemption for each character, but this does not go for the country as a whole. Rather, Barkan almost seems to suggest that the people of his narrative are redeemable, but the country is not.

Mexico is enthralling, captivating, and chilling, looking at a side of humanity that is often ignored.

Released by Crown Publishing January of 2017, Josh Barkan’s Mexico is available for purchase at your local bookstore.

Read more fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.