‘Bowlaway’ by Elizabeth McCracken

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Bowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken is the acclaimed author’s latest release. This multigenerational novel explores themes of love, connection, and imperfection all within the setting of a bowling alley.

McCracken starts the novel off with the finding of a body in a cemetery. The body though is alive, and its keeper, Bertha Truitt comes to wholly change the town of Salford, Massachusetts. Against all odds and all societal norms, Bertha, a white woman, marries an African American doctor when segregation is still very much alive and opens a candlepin bowling alley where women of the town come to bowl and show their worth as more than just housewives.

Over the span of the novel, characters die, leave, and keep coming back. Through a series of mysteries and missed connections, the bowling alley sees a number of new owners with new agendas as Bertha’s family, both blood and not, try to unravel their inherited mysteries and find their own place in the world.

While the story is intriguing, I often found myself unable to be fully pulled into Bowlaway. Much of the novel is told as summary as we are whisked through time to new places and new periods where the characters are often unfamiliar and unknowable because of the constant shifting. Further, while the plot of the novel has unbounding potential for interest, the stakes for the characters in many of the scenes feel distant or not wholly there.

A quick read with an element of humor and remorse, Bolwawayis slated to be released by HarperCollins on February 5, 2019. You can preorder a copy of Bowlawayby Elizabeth McCracken 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 Wartime Sisters’ by Lynda Cohen Loigman

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War tears people apart, but so do lies, jealousy, and misunderstanding. In Lynda Cohen Loigman’s new novel The Wartime Sisters, Ruth and Millie find this out firsthand.

Millie has always been the golden child: beautiful, charming, and adored by everyone, including Ruth and Millie’s parents and all the boys in town. As long as Ruth can remember, Millie has been shattering her sister’s perfect and ordered life. So, when she gets the chance, Ruth runs as far away as she can with her family, hoping to leave everything about Millie and their past behind.

Millie, though, doesn’t embrace her beauty and seemingly mystical charm over men. She wants to find true love, sure, and she appreciates her parents’ affection, but she doesn’t want to only be seen for her looks. She feels wronged by Ruth. She sees Ruth’s constant taunting and accusing tone as one that is meant to make her feel inadequate. Millie is torn between wanting to repair the relationship she’s never really had with Ruth and forget it ever existed.

When World War II starts, things become even more trying for the sisters as they grapple with the effects of the war on their family and loved ones. When Millie’s husband disappears in battle, Ruth takes the first step in breaking down the wall between the two sisters and invites Millie to live with her and her family. Millie, though, starts embodying all of the labels and fixed ideas that Ruth has set out for her, and soon the sisters are back at war where they started.

Loigman takes us on a journey of what it means to repair a life after a deep-set trauma. She does this not only through Ruth and Millie’s eyes, but through the eyes of other female narrators who have similar stories to tell. Through it all, the message is clear: be strong, fight for what is right, and forgive.

Being pulled out of the novel by a constantly shifting narrator could at times detract from the pace of and investment in the novel. It felt hard to get close enough to any one character to feel their plight acutely enough to be wholly invested in them as a character. I found myself wanting to return to Ruth’s point of view most often, because that was the one that felt most fleshed out and palpable. Nonetheless, The Wartime Sisterswas an overall satisfying read, with simple and eloquent prose. The Wartime Sistersis a quick read that is perfect for fans of The Orphan’s Tale or Girl in The Blue Coat.

Slated for related from St. Martin’s Press on January 22, 2019, you can preorder a copy ofThe Wartime Sistersby Lynda Cohen Loigman at your local bookstore.

Read more historical 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 Golden Child’ by Claire Adams

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The Golden Childby Claire Adams is the latest release from SJP for Hogarth, Sarah Jessica Parker’s new sub-imprint within Hogarth. The Golden Childis the story of a family living in modern day Trinidad and grappling with issues of love, family, and disability.

Peter and Paul are twins. Peter is the smart one. Paul is the different one. After a complication at birth, Paul’s family writes him off as being disabled, and they never leave an opportunity for him to forget it. He goes through life always measured against his brother’s successes as his family tries their best to ignore any strength of Paul’s that might be different from what their culture, their world, and they have told themselves is worthy.

Not long after the family’s house gets robbed, Paul goes missing. His father shoos away the thought that anything bad has happened, chalking up Paul’s absence to late night partying and being a teenager. When Paul’s kidnappers call the next day with a ransom price though, the boys’ father is faced with a choice of saving the life of his less than perfect son or saving the future of his perfect son.

An absolutely heart wrenching and infuriating novel, The Golden Child, reveals what a lot of us don’t want to remember exists in our world: hatred, greed, and a lack of compassion. If you’re looking for a fast and easy read without that quintessential happy ending, The Golden Childmight be just what you need.

Slated for release in January of 2019, you can preorder a copy of The Golden Child by Claire Adams 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 Island of Always’ by Stephen Evans

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Stephen Evan’s the The Island of Always is the continuation of his acclaimed novel The Marriage of True Minds originally published in 2008.

The books’ protagonists, Lena and Nick, are partners? Lovers? Enemies? Divorced? Even that’s a question. The two it seems are constantly trying to figure out what they are to each other. All they know is that they love each other, most of the time, and they can’t seem to live without each other, except when they are driving each other literally or metaphorically insane. Both are environmental attorneys who once owned a law practice together fighting the injustices of Minneapolis’ less enlightened. Then they got divorced, and either before or after the divorce, Nick might have developed a mental illness.

At the outset of The Marriage of True Minds (which is also included in this edition of The Island of Always), Nick is committed to a mental institution after relocating 144 lobsters to the mayor of Minneapolis’ personal pool. This kicks off a new chapter in Nick and Lena’s romantic comedy as they realize that despite their short comings, they may still love each other.

An echo to Cervantes’ Don Quixote in more than one way, The Island of Always, while comedic and lighthearted in most of its telling, does explore some deeper themes. Evan’s seems to suggest that the definition of insanity may be fluid, indefinable really, man-made definitely. Similarly, love is equally indefinable, always illusive, and never perfect, normal, or what you expected.

Evan’s brings his experience as a playwright into the novel with his descriptive and vivid sentences. The reader can always see the character: exactly what she’s doing and the emotions crossing her face. A fun and utterly enjoyable read, The Island of Always is the perfect feel-good book to boost your spirits and make you think a little differently about your life, even if only for a moment.

Slated for release by Time Being Media, LLC in January of 2019, you can preorder a copy of The Island of Always 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.

‘McGlue’ by Otessa Moshfegh

mcglue-moshfegh.jpgMcGlue by Ottessa Moshfegh is a novel born into the American literary tradition in an explosive way. Echoing beacons like Edgar Allan Poe and Nathanial Hawthorne, McGlue is a dark and nuanced novel.

Moshfegh takes us through the mind and madness of an alcoholic, McGlue, living in the late 1800s. McGlue is being held on a ship, tied to his bed and raving. The captain and other men on board tell him that he’s killed his best friend and lover, Johnson, but McGlue knows this can’t be true. Then again, he can’t exactly remember, especially without a drink to put his mind in order. Going from near dead drunk to a tormented withdrawal, McGlue tries to piece together exactly what happened, and the reader is beside him the whole way.

We sit in the jail cell with McGlue, and Johnson at times, wondering ourselves what’s true and what isn’t. Sometimes we are with McGlue and his mother, or in McGlue’s past as a child with his now dead siblings. Moshfegh weaves together past and present in ways that often make it hard to parse out exactly where we are in time at all, which it seems is also true for McGlue. In this tight first-person narration, we are so close to McGlue we start to feel his madness, his anger, his unbelievably unfair circumstances, and yet we know something is missing.

Moshfegh does a fantastic job of creating a voice for a character that remains constant and unbroken throughout the entire 145 pages. The drunken banter, the desperate pleading, all of it is McGlue the whole time, and it’s fantastic.

Slated for release by Penguin Books on January 8, 2019, you can preorder a copy of McGlue by Ottessa Moshfegh 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.

‘If Cats Disappeared from the World’ by Genki Kawamura

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If Cats Disappeared from the World by Genki Kawamura is a fun and unusual novel. Originally published in Japan, the international bestseller, translated by Eric Selland, is being released in the United States in 2019.

The narrator of Kawamura’s story is a postman who opens the novel by telling the reader that he has just been diagnosed with brain cancer. Suddenly, in the throes of contemplation about what to do with the little time he has left on Earth, the postman is visited by the devil. The devil offers him a deal: one day in exchange for one thing gone from the world. The narrator weighs his options: give up the material things of the world or give up his life. Day One, he decides, he can give up phones: the devil’s first price.

In a day without phones, the postman discovers that maybe he would’ve been better off without phones all along. He meets up with the woman he once loved and reminisces about the time they spent together as college students: mostly on the phone. After the day, which isn’t all bad, he decides to try round two with the devil. This goes on as the narrator grapples with what it means to lose the objects of his life and his life itself. He travels back in his memory to times that were happy, times he wished had never happened, and he begins to pull apart what it means to regret, to have joy, and to be alive.

Meant to be a feel-good exploration of life and our purpose in living, Kawamura’s If Cats Disappeared from the World accomplishes just that. While at times the novel can feel overly moralizing, it is nonetheless a silly and deeply introspective book that leaves the reader asking questions about the value of a life.

Slated for release from Flatiron Books in March 2019, If Cats Disappeared from the World by Genki Kawamura 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 Night Tiger’ by Yangsze Choo

the-night-tiger-choo-picThe Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo captures mystery, magic, and mysticism in a literary litany to 1930s colonial Malaysia. Weretigers, mummified fingers, haunted dreams, and forbidden love are only a few of the elements that comprise Choo’s story.

Ji Lin is the first of Choo’s point of view characters that the reader meets. She is a young, spunky girl living in Malaysia at a time when women are meant to be men’s wives and nothing more. Unmarried and unwilling to relent to the patriarchal pressures to do so, Ji Lin finds herself living a double life as a seamstress’ apprentice and a dance hall girl. Life is far from thrilling for Ji Lin until she meets a man at the dance hall who drops a vial in which sits a blackened and decrepit finger. Suddenly, Ji Lin is propelled into a nightmarish adventure.

Next, we meet Ren. Ren is eleven years old, but he’s already experienced more of life and of death than most children his age. His twin brother died three years ago, leaving Ren to survive on his own, eventually becoming the house boy of a Western doctor. But now Ren’s master is dead, and his last order to Ren is to return the master’s missing finger. Ren must do so before the 29 days after his master’s death have expired. If he doesn’t fulfill this last duty, Ren is certain that his master will turn into a tiger and be cursed to walk the streets of Malaysia feeding on women and never being laid to rest.

Finally, we meet William. William is a doctor at the Batu Gaja hospital, a friend of Ren’s former master, and a rather unlucky man.

Choo weaves these three characters’ narratives together revealing the story in pieces to the reader as the characters grapple to figure out the mysteries surrounding them. Packed with murder, ghosts, and high stakes sexual tension, The Night Tiger takes on a lot in its 300-plus pages.

While The Night Tiger’s storyline is fascinating and consumes its reader even when its pages are closed, the telling of the story often becomes cliché and too told for lack of a better word. The characters, who in themselves are captivating and compelling, tend to have things happen to them without having much agency in the matter. Similarly, the events that happen to these characters often feel contrived or too easily given. A conversation is overheard just as one character bumps into another. People are connected in too obvious of ways. While this can become overbearing at times, Choo’s plot is powerful enough to carry the narrative to its end without losing the reader.

Slated for release by Flatiron Books in February of 2019, you can preorder a copy of The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo from your local bookstore.

Read more historical 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.