‘Out of Darkness, Shining Light’ by Petina Gappah

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Racism, misogyny and the ironies that arise from situations in which we “do right” are just a few of the topics taken on in Petina Gappah’s new novel Out of Darkness, Shining Light.

A historical novel that fictionalizes the actual removal of a missionary and doctor’s body out of Africa in the late 1800s, Out of Darkness, Shining Lightis told from two unexpected perspectives. One is Halima, Doctor David Livingston’s cook, and the other is Jacob Wainwright, a freed slave and a Christian. Through these two narrators, we are afforded a glimpse into the harrowing journey of the group of people that literally carried Livingstone to the edge of the Earth.

While the frame of the novel centers around Livingstone’s removal from Africa, the core of the book gets at much deeper themes. Halima is a slave who is maybe not a slave, who is treated like the woman she is: not as worthy, intelligent, or capable as her male counterparts. She is chastised for having feelings for a man when her partner is abusive, and their union is forced. She is made fun of for loving a child that isn’t hers. She’s told she can never own a house even if she is free one day, simply because she’s a woman. And yet, it’s Halima who provides for the group. Halima who in the end is shown to be the strongest of all.

Jacob Wainwright on the other hand, the pious Christian that he is, denounces the savagery of his countrymen and aims to convert all of Africa to the one true religion: Christianity. He parallels his savage counterparts in his treatment and view of women as inherently evil, in his blasé reflections on punishment and death, and in his othering of all who are not what he sees as the ideal. And yet, he in many ways is a victim of his circumstances: stolen as a child, shipped across the sea, and taught the white man’s view of white vs. wrong.

A cutting, funny, and most often horrifying novel, Petina Gappah’s Out of Darkness, Shining Lightis a beautiful and soulful book that tells a story that desperately needs to be told.

Slated for release by Scribner Books on September 10, 2019, you can preorder a copy of Out of Darkness, Shining Lightby Petina Gappah at your local independent 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.

‘This Tender Land’ by William Kent Krueger

this-tender-land-kruegerWilliam Kent Krueger’s latest novel, This Tender Land, takes on the task of emulating the American Classic in a number of ways. A group of outcast youngsters, down on their luck, living in an abusive, historical setting escape their captors to adventure down the Mississippi. Harkening back to landmark works like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finand Great Expectations, Krueger’s novel awakens a sort of nostalgia for the American Classic in the reader.

While the cast of characters is interesting and the adventures manifold, the novel falls short in its ambling structure and stride. The action is spread thin across the pages, making it challenging for the reader to keep pace. Krueger has moments where the action is clear and the prose beautiful, but overall, the novel takes heft of patience and perseverance to sift through.

Slated for release by Atria Books on September 3, 2019, you can preorder a copy of This Tender Landby William Kent Krueger at your local independent 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.

 

‘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.