‘The Wartime Sisters’ by Lynda Cohen Loigman

the-wartime-sisters-loigman

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.

 

‘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.

‘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.

‘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.

‘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 Cauliflower’ by Nicola Barker

the-cauliflower-barkerThe Cauliflower by Nicola Barker is a semi-biographical, spiritually investigative, and entirely comedic novel about the Hindu Swami Sri Ramakrishna, about religion in general, and about perspective.

The Cauliflower is told from a variety of perspectives and from a multitude of vantage points. Spanning a wide cast of characters, all who have some form of contact with Sri Ramakrishna, the book does not follow a conventional biographical telling, instead, the various narrators skip through years out of sequential order but in an order that reveals more about the characters themselves.

While The Cauliflower is a biographically fictional story of Sri Ramakrishna and his rise to “fame,” Barker also investigates interlaying themes that extend beyond the simple telling of this one particular story. The nature of reality of the ability to clearly define anything is a theme that recurs throughout The Cauliflower in a variety of ways. In fact, the reader is made to question what exactly this book is: is it a book, a biography, a newspaper report. At one point, Barker raises the question herself, “Is this book a farce, a comedy, a tragedy, or a melodrama?” Though she does not answer her own question, it appears by the end, that The Cauliflower, and by extension life, must be all three.

Another related theme is the meaning of veracity and certainty, particularly as it relates to religion and perspective. As mentioned above, The Cauliflower is told from different perspectives, but the reader can’t be certain who is telling the truth or what “truth” even means in the novel. Many of the characters disagree on certain events or even on descriptions of other characters; but further, the characters also disagree with themselves. Barker seems to beg the question, what is truth when we all are standing in, and coming from, different places – even if we are all seeing the same thing? This metaphor is extended to religion, and not only the Hindu religion that Sri Ramakrishna inhabits, but all religions.

Though The Cauliflower is a bit slow in the beginning because the reader needs to meet and become accustomed to not only the numerous characters and perspectives, but also the general layout of the book as rather disoriented, once it does pick up speed, it is hard to put down. Overall, this journalistic, meta-reality novel is a beautiful and comedic look into the intricacies and complication involved in living life, following religion, and finding peace with perspective.

The Cauliflower by Nicola Barker was released in 2016 by Henry Holt & Company and 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.

‘The Orphan’s Tale’ by Pam Jenoff

the-orphans-tale-jenoffAn enthralling and entrancing read, Pam Jenoff’s The Orphan’s Tale is a beautiful and heart wrenching book. Told from the perspective of the book’s two main characters, The Orphan’s Tale is a story of interconnected love, heartbreak, and sacrifice.

Noa is an outcast who works in a railway station in Germany in the mid-1940s. She has been excommunicated by her parents for sleeping with a German soldier and becoming pregnant. After being forced to give up her child, Noa finds refuge working in the station until she comes across a train car headed east towards the notorious “camps.” She usually ignores the goings on in the station, but something draws her to the car. Inside she finds piles of living, dead, and near dead infants on their way to what end she can’t imagine. In a flurry of desperation, empathy and remorse for her own lost child, Noa takes a baby: a Jew. But now she must run.

Astrid is also an outcast. A Jew who had married an officer of the Reich but was kicked out of their home after he received an order to divorce Astrid. She is now back to the life she always knew: the life of the circus. Things are going as well as they can be going for a Jew hiding during World War Two, until Noa shows up at the circus.

Now the two women are both seeking refuge under the guise of the circus’ act. At first enemies, the two women learn to care for one another in the ways that no one else can. A story of love, betrayal, hope and loss, The Orphan’s Tale is nearly impossible to put down. Jenoff’s fast-paced narrative style propels the reader into the worlds of both Astrid and Noa with a verve and emotive quality that is all encompassing.

Based on historical research, The Orphan’s Tale is a book of fiction, but Jenoff considers the book a tribute to those whom she based the tale off of.

Slated for release by HarperCollins Publishers on February 21, 2017, The Orphan’s Tale 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.