‘The Lauras’ by Sara Taylor

the-lauras-sara-taylorA profusion of poetic genius, The Lauras by Sara Taylor is a book that could make anyone an emotional wreck.

Taylor’s second novel follows Alex and her journey with Ma across the country. We meet Alex at the age of thirteen as Ma rips her out of bed running away from Alex’s rather kind father. Alex is sure that the stint will last only a day or two, but months and states later, she realizes Ma might have something more in mind. Piecing together patches from her past, Ma begins to reveal to Alex the hardships, friends (mostly people named Laura), and experiences that have made Ma the unique, spunky, rule breaking mother she is now. As Ma’s story unfolds, Alex begins to build more of her own story.

Alex is a preteen struggling with the idea of gender, the conundrum of feeling like she doesn’t have a gender, an experience of sexual violation, and the challenges of moving from place to place with only her mother for company. Taylor does a beautiful job of addressing these very sensitive topics in a way that doesn’t feel staged or clinical or planned. Alex is who she is and we, as the reader, never know her gender, and Taylor reminds us in the most subtle ways that we really shouldn’t care. In terms of Alex’s trauma related to the forced sexual experience she has had is portrayed eloquently and nearly perfectly. The PTSD, the feelings of worthlessness, the overly sexual desires, the suicidal thoughts all capture Alex’s dilemma without targeting her as a victim but rather showing her humanity.

The experiences that Alex and Ma have go from interesting to wild fairly quickly, and the reader is dragged along almost unexpectedly on a story of adventure, heartbreak, and transformation. Taylor’s prose, content, and form are all perfectly aligned to bring readers a story that is nearly impossible to put down.

Published by Hogarth Publishing in August of 2017, The Lauras 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.

‘Clara at the Edge’ by Maryl Jo Fox

clara-at-the-edgeClara at the Edge by Maryl Jo Fox is the story of an older woman’s journey through the hardships she’s never been able to get over.

Clara has moved to Jackpot, Nevada to be closer to her estranged son who she’s pushed away for years in an effort to harden herself against both a troubled past and the potential of future hardship. Despite her effort to tuck away the past in a remote part of her memory, Clara cannot so easily give up the relics she holds on to. So, when she moves to Jackpot, she takes her whole house with her all the way from Oregon.

Clara at the Edge weaves through various characters’ heads unravelling Clara’s past in, sometimes, the strangest ways. We gain access not only to Clara and Frank’s minds, but to a pair of criminals, Frank’s love interest, and a host of others who Clara meets in Jackpot. Weaving in and out of these characters’ minds, elements of each of their pasts is slowly revealed.

Rooted in magical realism, Fox’s book includes elements of fantasy that make it hard to know what’s real or who’s crazy. From talking purple wasps to fairy-like companions, Fox ravels together a story that goes beyond the everyday.

Slated for publication by She Writes Press on November 1, 2017, you can preorder a copy of Clara at the Edge 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 Glorious Heresies’ by Lisa McInerney

glorious-heresies-mcinerneyLisa McInerney’s first novel The Glorious Heresies is by far one of the best novels of the year. An epic story that spans the life of few tormented individuals, The Glorious Heresies is a cinematic experience of firsthand addictive relationships to love, drugs, and crime.

At first, McInerney’s novel seems to be a collection of oddly, unrelated storylines. You have Maureen, an older woman who has apparently committed murder. Then you have Ryan, a fifteen-year-old boy that at first just seems to have an infatuation with a girl, but that we quickly learn also has an active history of drug dealing. There’s Tony who cleans up the murder Maureen committed, and Jimmy, the thug of all thugs. Finally, there’s Georgie, a runaway teen turned prostitute who is in an addictive relationship with her pimp.

Following these characters for the first thirty pages it seems like there’s no connection between their narratives, until the weavings of McInerney’s words begin to hold together in a way you at first hardly realize. Suddenly, murderers become mothers, and cleaners become fathers, drug deals become sons, and the murdered go from the unknown to an intimate, sometime acquaintance in the memory of a single character’s mind.

McInerney’s prose is more than poetic, it brings an otherworldly sense of beauty, charisma, and depth to a text already imbued with powerful content. A book that starts off a bit slow, somehow picks up enough speed to careen the reader through years of the characters’ lives, until the end of the novel, when you’re relieved to learn, the sequel The Blood Miracles was released in April of 2017.

First published in 2016, The Glorious Heresies was acquired by Tim Duggan Books in 2017 and published with an added Reader’s Guide to accompany the novel. You can purchase a copy of The Glorious Heresies 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.

‘Skating on the Vertical’ by Jan English Leary

skating-on-the-vertical-learySkating on the Vertical by Jan English Leary gets at the most human part of life: the suffering, the challenges, the joys of living life always on the edge between joy and despair. Each of the sixteen short stories gets at something a little bit harder than the last, a little bit deeper, a little bit something more for the characters to push through. The thing that makes each story so beautiful is the humanity with which Leary brings the characters to us. There aren’t always happy endings; in fact, they’re often nowhere near happily-ever-after, but Leary always make sure to close her stories in just the right way, leaving the reader feeling completely fulfilled, if never satisfied.

Some of the most visceral stories are those that dive into issues like addiction, abortion, and self-injury – stories that reach into the readers heart and dig a bit further for the most intense reaction.

“Eskimo Pie,” for example, tells the story of grade school teacher with a history of eating disorders who is frustrated with her less than cool student and finds herself spiraling back into addiction in the middle of a class field trip. “Eskimo Pie” tugs at that part of us that feels for every nerdy kid, the part that cries for someone to make the right choice even when the moment to make that choice has already passed. “Eskimo Pie” is one of Leary’s stories that does have an ending that brings at least the smallest hint of smile to the reader.

Another, story “Rocky Road,” brings into play a mother and daughter with a once perfect, now strained, relationship. Now that Leigh has cancer, things are different. More different though because of Vena, Leigh’s live in nurse that her daughter Candace can’t stand. As Candace begins to feel further and further from her fading mother, she becomes more and more resentful towards Vena, until Leigh reminds Candace of a life they once had, and a life she wants Candace to always remember. Leary does a fantastic job in “Rock Road,” of tying the story into the most imperfect, beautifully searing bow.

As a whole, Skating on the Vertical, is lyrical work of art that grabs your heart at every turn.

Slated for publication by Fomite press on November 1, 2017, you can preorder a copy of Skating on the Vertical by Jan Leary 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.

‘Wild Mountain’ by Nancy Hayes Kilgore

wild-mountain-kilgoreWild Mountain by Nancy Kilgore Hayes tells the story of a small town in Vermont that, in three months time, undergoes enough change, tragedy, and novelty to spark its citizens towards entirely new realms of their lives. From floods to historic bridges being demolished and fission over marriage rights, the townspeople come to know what hardship means not only for themselves, but as a collective people.

Among the citizens of Wild Mountain is Mona, a middle-aged store owner with an abusive ex-husband on the prowl to get her back. Then there’s Frank, Mona’s love interest, also middle aged, though more adventurous and also very in love with Mona. And finally, there is Gus, a recluse who lives on top of a mountain who is convinced that a mother goddess makes the mountain her home as well.

These, amidst others, find adventure, love, and hardship over the three months that Kilgore allows the reader to peer into their lives. Battling demons of both the past and present, all of the citizens of Wild Mountain struggle both together and in opposition to one another. While centering around the demolition of the town’s historic bridge, more elements come to bind and divide Wild Mountain.

Overall, Kilgore tells her story with interest and a clear passion for the spirituality of nature and humankind that she writes about.

Slated for released by Green Writers Press on September 1, 2017, you can preorder a copy of Wild Mountain by Nancy Hayes Kilgore 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 Language of Trees’ by Steve Wiegenstein

the langauge of trees-wiegensteinIn the Ozarks of Missouri, a community of early 19th century settlers face the challenges of an ever-changing America in Steve Wiegenstein’s latest novel, The Language of Trees.

Daybreak is a utopian society that has thrived for 30 years until it is suddenly shaken by the outside world. Now, it’s up to the founders’ children to not only maintain their community, but to thrive within it when the world seems set against them. It is a post-Civil War America, and Daybreak has met with little trouble since the war until a group of loggers move in nearby and offer to buy a large chunk of the community’s land. With the loggers come love interests, the ideals of capitalism, and the threat of what selfishness can do to a community.

Each of the characters takes a turn to show the reader Daybreak from her eyes, even characters that at first seem to be villains. Wiegenstein, though, does a fantastic job of staying in a single character’s head at any one time. Through all of these different perspectives, Wiegenstein is able to truly build the idea of community within the reader’s mind.  The reader becomes acquainted with each character so fully that even those who are less honorable are still able to be sympathized with.

Melding history with fiction, allure, and mystery, Wiegenstein paints a beautiful and romantic picture of 19th century America: a world where even in hardship, a community can stick together.

The Language of Trees is the third in Wiegenstein’s Daybreak saga. With the next generation of characters leading the way, though, The Language of Trees is just as strong on its own is it is within the series.

Slated for release by Blank Slate Press on September 26, 2017, you can preorder a copy of The Language of Trees by Steve Wiegenstein 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 Lay to Rest Our Ghosts’ by Caitlin Hamilton Summie

to-lay-to-rest-our-ghostsTo Lay to Rest Our Ghosts by Caitlin Hamilton Summie is by far one of the most emotionally riveting books of 2017.

A series of short stories, To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts is told from various viewpoints that interconnected in ways the reader might not even at first realize. This connection gives the stories more weight, more value to the reader, because they’re validated by being told from different perspectives. Everything becomes more vivid and alive as it begins to feel familiar yet different.

The stories cover a range of topics from miscarriage to belonging, from self-reliance to the meaning of family. And yet, they all seem to relay a similar message in some underlying way. Beneath the surface of each story’s words, there is the theme of forgiveness, of moving on. This theme though is not quite represented or expressed in the traditional sense of “forgiveness.” Instead, Summie takes the idea of forgiveness (or movement toward forgiveness) to a very realistic and heartfelt place. Forgiveness doesn’t have to mean forgetting what has happened, instead, for Summie’s characters, it means an acceptance of the circumstances, a willingness to face the circumstances, and the courage to at least attempt to change them, even if only in that character’s perspective.

Each story is enthralling in its own way, and it’s a challenge to put the book down. Even though many of the stories are only vaguely connected, the end of one piece is a propulsion into the next. The writing is smooth in a way that flows off the page it and makes the stories seem more like experiences than something that’s merely being read. In this way too, Summie draws her readers into the depth of who the characters actually are, and it’s hard to let them go.

Overall, To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts is a beautifully crafted work of art that tells the simple and intricate story of what it means to be human, to suffer, and to keep moving on.

To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts by Caitlin Hamilton Summie is slated for release by Fomite Press on August 8, 2017. You can preorder a copy of the book 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.