‘The Last Girl’ by Nadia Murad

the-last-girl-nadia-muradIt could’ve been me. It could’ve been you, your mother, your wife, your daughter. It could’ve been any woman living in the “wrong” time, the “wrong” place, believing the “wrong” thing. Nadia Murad’s story is the story of every woman who could have been her and wasn’t. Her story is the story of every woman in her tribe who had been her to someone else: a slave, an object, a sabayya.

Nadia grew up in a village outside of Mosul, Iraq called Kocho. Her family lived a simple life of farming, community, and prayer. But they weren’t Muslim. They were Yazidi, an almost dirty word to the leaders and followers of ISIS who were quickly taking over Iraq. And so, when ISIS decided they wanted the Yazidi gone and they needed a collection of dispensable of women to keep them occupied, they began destroying the Yazidi, killing their men, kidnapping their boys, and forcing their women into a slave of sex trade.

But it was still hard for Nadia to believe anything would happen to her village, to her. Nadia was born in 1993, there hadn’t been an attack on the Yazidi in her life time. Even when ISIS came to Kocho, surrounding the borders and denying anyone entrance to and exit from the city, Nadia still had faith that everything would be okay.

And then it wasn’t. And then all of the men were dead. And Nadia was separated from her family. And she was sold. And she was raped. And she was beaten. And every ounce of dignity she had was taken from her. And she didn’t give up.

This isn’t a story about how it all ends. Nadia is the author. We know it has a “happy” ending. She lives. This is a story about what happened. This is a story about what nobody else knows is happening, what nobody is listening to, what happens when one group of people decides another isn’t worthy to be alive. This is a story about genocide and rape as a weapon of war. For Nadia, this is more than just a story, her story, this is the story she hopes will be the last. This is the story, she hopes, that will be about the last girl who was ever sold into slavery, who will ever have everything worth anything taken from her, who will have to survive to ever live again.

The Last Girl is an account of something so terrible and so recent it’s hard not to sit and think about what you were doing three years ago or less when the events of the book were taking place. It’s hard not to be enraged, deflated, encouraged, and hopeless all at the same time. The Last Girl is terrible, beautiful, and absolutely worth every moment of every person’s time. It’s a story that everyone should read, that everyone should be aware of is truth. It’s a story so powerful because it’s history and it’s the news all in one. It’s a story that should be read, that should be listened to, so that Nadia can have her dream, and so that every girl who’s experienced anything even close to Nadia’s story can one day find peace that somebody somewhere was the last girl ever stolen, the last girl ever abused, the last girl ever whose body was not their own, even for a moment.

Published by Tim Duggan Books in November of 2017, The Last Girl by Nadia Murad is available for purchase at your local bookstore.

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

‘Dunbar’ by Edward St. Aubyn

dunbar-edward-st-aubynDunbar by Edward St. Aubyn is the latest in Hogarth’s Shakespeare project. A modern retelling of one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies, King Lear, Dunbar takes on the themes of greed, family, and madness with verve and anguish.

In St. Aubyn’s version of Lear, Dunbar is a media mogul who has recently decided that he needs an extended, if not permanent holiday from working, but with all the same perks of being the head of his corporation. He tries to convince his lawyer, Wilson, to put his two daughters in charge while still leaving him with all the proper bonuses. Wilson, in attempt to save Dunbar from what he sees to be a terrible mistake, tries to persuade Dunbar against making the decision he’s so set upon. Dunbar, in a fury fires Wilson, and after a chain of rather uncertain events in his memory, ends up in a mental institution in England.

We meet Dunbar in the institution where he has made friends with a famous alcoholic actor who promises to help him escape. Close on his heels though, are the two daughters he realizes have upended his plans in an attempt to take over the entire company and divest their father of all power. They aren’t the only one’s perusing Dunbar though. Dunbar has another daughter, Florence (Cordelia reincarnated) who had been stripped of her shares in the company after divulging her disinterest in ever being a part of management in the business. Dunbar, in his enlightened state, realizes the mistakes he’s made regarding his daughters, and makes every attempt to right his wrongs.

A thrilling and often terrifying account of one’s man’s effort to repair the mistakes he’s made in the name of greed, Dunbar is a beautiful parallel to Shakespeare’s King Lear. The hatred the readers build for nearly all of the characters is matched only by the overwhelming love we are made to feel for Florence. St. Aubyn’s best character by far though, is Peter, the alcoholic actor who, as nearly all other characters do, gives way to the greater temptations of greed.

St. Aubyn does a beautiful job of recreating one of Shakespeare’s arguably greatest works, and he does so by not simply retelling the story, but entirely reinventing it.

Released by Hogarth press in October of 2017, Dunbar by Edward St. Aubyn 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.

‘How to Behave in a Crowd’ by Camille Bordas

how-to-behave-in-a-crowd-bordasA novel where everything and nothing is said all at once without the slightest regard for conformity, How to Behave in a Crowd is both a hilarious and gloomy collection of pages.

Author Camille Bordas follows the life of a family in France over the course of a very short time during which a very lot happens. From realized dreams to actualized death, the Mazal family finds its way lost in a tangle of happiness and despair without often being able to distinguish between the two. Told from the perspective of the youngest of six siblings, Isidore, How to Behave in a Crowd is a novel about so much more than the words let on.

Told in a stark and rather dry tone, Isidore takes on the persona of someone who, despite what the title suggests, often does not know how to behave in a crowd. His thoughts are based in pure reason without much emotion, yet his actions, more often than not take into account the people around him. He, unlike his brothers and sisters, is not a child prodigy working towards a first or second PhD after skipping years of schooling. Instead, Isidore is the odd one out. The one who does infuse compassion into his encounters with others (unlike his siblings), the one who takes everything literally, including the advice given to him by homeless people who are clearly taking advantage of him.

Over the course of the novel, Isidore, sees people he loves achieve their dreams, lose their passion, and sometimes even die. Throughout his experiences, he is always looking at others, always trying to determine their thoughts, always trying to impress them without ever realizing that he has something to offer.

In the end, we can only infer what Isidore has learned from his experiences, as always he won’t really tell us what’s going on in his mind, or maybe he doesn’t know what’s going on beneath the literal thoughts that fill his head, but we know he’s learned something important. Bordas does a beautiful job of portraying the very real experiences of the human condition through the literal though never static view of Isidore.

Published by Tim Duggan Books in 2017, How to Behave in a Crowd is available for purchase at your local bookstore.

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

‘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.