‘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.

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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.

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

 

‘These Heroic, Happy Dead’ by Luke Mogelson

these-heroic-happy-dead-mogelsonThese Heroic, Happy Dead by Luke Mogelson is a collection of stories that unearth the unending terror of war.

Each story follows a protagonist that has had some experience with war, whether a veteran, the mother of war hero turned criminal, or simply someone who knows someone who was once in the war. Though Mogelson does not stick with a single character or plot point, the stories are connected through the emotional verve in which they are steeped. Each character, though unique, shares with every other the universal burden of war, of having seen death or been close enough to feel its effects on someone they love.

Some of the most poignant stories are those that don’t fit into the reader’s inklings of what will happen. In To the Lake, it seems almost too obvious where the story is going, but somehow in the last page, the last paragraph, even the last sentence of the story, Mogelson turns the entire narrative on its head, and what the reader was sure was going to happen is transformed into a completely different representation.

Perhaps the one largest critique of These Heroic, Happy Dead is the profusion of gendered stereotypes throughout the collection. Women only appear as widows, mothers of the main character, or ex-lovers who have fallen out of love with the wounded who have come home. No woman is a main character with her own story unattached to a male. Now woman is a soldier herself or has a validated set of experiences that makes the reader want to know her better.

Nonetheless, These Heroic, Happy Dead is a collection of stories wrought with emotion and dripping with a pervasive sense that something needs to change, that war is not glamorous, and that the damage is brings cannot outweigh our urge as humans to both fight and protect.

Published by Tim Duggan books in June of 2016, These Heroic, Happy Dead by Luke Mogelson 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.

‘Dear Mr. M’ by Herman Koch

dear mr. m - kochIf you’ve ever read any books by Herman Koch, Dear Mr. M is simply another chapter in what has already been a breath taking, hilarious, and deeply disturbing compendium of work. Koch’s latest novel follows in the footsteps of all his novels that came before but somehow seems to go deeper and get more at who the characters are, while still maintaining the very traditional distanced and oddly removed perspective of his previous work.

Dear Mr. M meets at the intersection of crime and literary novels drawing elements from each genre to create a truly chilling and poetic work. When the novel first begins, it’s hard to tell what the story will even be about besides a creepy stalker writing a letter to a writer. Quickly, though, the relationships between characters build, and the reader starts to see that the characters’ connections go deeper than even they know. As the story develops, the reader, along with the characters, is dragged through the intricate and shocking plot that creates Dear Mr. M.

A murder that happened 40 years ago, a nearly washed up author, an affair between a young girl and her high school teacher, friendships, backstabbing, first love, and old love, are only a few of the plot points that are travelled throughout Dear Mr. M.  The shift in perspective that Koch uses further encourages distrust and unreliability among the characters and the plot as the reader tries to unravel the truth of what has happened and what is happening.

A truly thrilling read, Dear Mr. M by Herman Koch was published in paperback by Hogarth Press in June of 2017. You can purchase a copy of Dear Mr. M 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.

‘Kindred Spirits’ by Rainbow Rowell

kindred-spirits-rowellRainbow Rowell’s short story, Kindred Spirits, is one of the most laugh-out-loud, hilarious books of the year. Rowell tells the story of a teenage Star Wars fanatic who stands in line four days early for a seat at the new Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens. Kindred Spirits, though, is much more about the relationships that form during those four days than it is about Star Wars.

Elena is 18 and obsessed with Star Wars, mostly because of her dad’s obsession with Star Wars. And now, it’s 2014 and The Force Awakens is about to be released. Elena has heard of the lines that formed for Star Wars movies in the 1980s and even the 2000’s when the prequels were released, and she is ecstatic to be able to join in the comradery of this tradition. So, she has her mom drop her off at the theater four days early. And, there are two people in line…for the entire four days.

Throughout their four days together, Elena, Gabe, and Troy form something like a friendship. Elena, though, discovers more about herself and the unpredictability of life. Things might not always turn out like she imagines they will, but they often turn out in a way that still brings joy and unexpected life changes.

Released by St. Martin’s Press in 2016, a special release hardcover edition of Kindred Spirits was released for this year’s Independent Bookstore Day.

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

‘Girl in the Blue Coat’ by Monica Hesse

girl-in-the-blue-coat-hesse.jpgGirl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse is a novel steeped in history, passion, and emotion. A coming of age book that tells the story of the main character, seventeen-year-old Hanneke’s experiences in Amsterdam during World War II. Hanneke is an angry citizen of Amsterdam during the German occupation in 1943, angered not only by the Germans’ presence, but mostly because her boyfriend died during the war and she feels responsible. Now, Hanneke works in dealings on the black market, delivering goods like coffee, chocolate, and cigarettes to her fellow citizens.

At the beginning of the novel, Hanneke is completing a routine drop off at Mrs. Janssen’s house, a woman Hanneke knows well and whose son and husband have also died at the hands of the Germans. When Mrs. Janssen invites Hanneke to stay for real coffee and pastries though, Hanneke is suspicious of what more Mrs. Janssen might want from her. After reluctantly agreeing to join the old woman, Hanneke begins to relax and wonders if perhaps Mrs. Janssen is merely lonely. And she is, though not exactly for the reasons Hanneke was thinking.

Mrs. Janssen reveals to Hanneke that she was hiding a young Jewish girl in her house, a girl she not only feels responsible for because the girl’s whole family is dead, but a girl she has also come to love as a daughter. Though Hanneke has never worked in dealing with contraband people, she decides to help Mrs. Janssen almost as a way to please Bas, her dead boyfriend. She knows he would help Mrs. Janssen if he were alive, so in an attempt to regain the trust she thinks Bas has lost in her, she decides that hunting for this girl is the right choice.

Along the twisting roads of mystery leading up and down Girl in the Blue Coat, Hanneke finds much more than and not at all what she was ever looking for. She finds unsuspecting friendships, passion for a cause, and more than one reason to keep living her life.

Though marketed as a young adult novel, Girl in the Blue Coat is an exhilarating and powerful read for any aged booklover.

The paperback version of Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse was published by Little Brown and Company in April of 2017. You can purchase a copy of the novel 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 Original Ginny Moon’ by Benjamin Ludwig

the-original-ginny-moonWhat would it be like to be different? Truly different? What would it be like to be loved despite your differences? These questions are the very questions that set the foundation for The Original Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig.

Ginny Moon, the main character is a teenager girl with autism, an adopted teenage girl with autism who is looking for her baby doll. Ginny was taken by social services from her mother when she was nine-years-old after the police stormed her mother Gloria’s apartment and found signs of drug use, abuse, and cat-slaughter. Now, Ginny is living with her Forever Mom and her Forever Dad in her Forever Home. The only problem is, she left her baby doll at Gloria’s.

For five years Ginny has been trying to get back to Gloria. Not really because she loves Gloria, she’s not even sure she knows how to fee love, and she knows that Gloria abused her and that she used to go hungry and get beat up. All the same, though, she has to get back to Gloria’s, because that’s where she left her baby doll when the police came to take her away. She hid her baby doll in a suitcase so it would be safe, but she doesn’t know if anyone ever found it, and she knows Gloria’s not taking care of it, because that was Ginny’s job, and now she’s not doing her job, so she has to go back.

The trouble is, her Forever Family is intent on not letting her get in touch with Gloria. So, years go by, and Ginny does her best to find Gloria, but it’s not until a friend in Room Five, where all the kids who are special go to class, gets on the internet for her and helps her track Gloria down. Now, Ginny is on a mission to get kidnapped by Gloria so she can find her baby doll and make sure it’s getting enough milk and that it’s diapers are getting changed.

A beautiful and soul moving book that shows the truth behind and beyond what it means to have an intellectual disability, The Original Ginny Moon is one of the most important books of our time. Told from Ginny’s perspective, the reader gets so close to Ginny that despite the complete absurdity of her thought process or the danger of her actions, the reader understands, the reader sees it her way, the reader wants her to succeed even though that’s not what the reader wants at all. Ludwig has an amazing ability to draw you in and show you what the world is like from Ginny’s eyes, and it’s so hard to get out, and you don’t want to get out because it’s so sad, and beautiful, and earth shaking.

Ludwig is a master of both language and form in The Original Ginny Moon, juxtaposing perfectly the terse, literalistic prose with an intense and interwoven story of love, betrayal, and redemption. The Original Ginny Moon is an absolute must read. It offers an opening into the world of disabilities that will be hard to ever match.

Slated for release by Park Row Books on May 2, 2017, The Original Ginny Moon 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.