‘Rust & Stardust’ by T. Greenwood

rustandstardust-greenwoodMost serious readers have heard of Lolita, the iconic novel that barreled through controversy and outrage to become a lasting legacy in the literary world. Few people, though, have heard of Sally Horner, a young girl who potentially inspired Nabokov’s horrifying contribution to modern literature. Rust & Stardust by T. Greenwood finally tells Sally’s story, giving back the narrative that was taken from her.

Greenwood’s novel starts off as most crime inspired novels do, with something unsettling. Sally only wants to be liked by the girls at school and is willing to do anything to join their club. So, when they ask her to steal something from the local store for her initiation, Sally, though hesitant, agrees. When she’s unsuccessful in her petty crime, however, the consequences seem far more steep than she had ever imagined. A man claiming to be an FBI agent stops Sally, and tells her she is under arrest for her delinquency. However, he’s willing to help her out and take her to Atlantic City to speak on her behalf in front of the judge who will preside over her case there.

Sally, while maybe a bit gullible, is also an 11-year-old girl, living in the late 1940’s who is being told by an adult a seemingly plausible truth she can’t seem to argue. Besides, she is the criminal here. What can she do? This experience starts Sally’s nearly two year long journey with her kidnapper and abuser.

Rust & Stardust, though at times terrifying and nauseating is a hard book to put down. Greenwood follows to a T Sally’s real route with her kidnapper adding in, through fiction, the characters and stories that only Sally could’ve known. If you go in thinking Rust & Stardust is merely a fictional novel, you might find its premise hard to believe, the sequence of events so impossible it becomes frustrating. But, when you realize that these events were the only things Greenwood didn’t fictionalize, the novel becomes even more heart wrenching.

The one area where Greenwood falls short is in the connections she makes between the reader and the characters. While it is impossible not to feel for Sally and her hardships, it does seem challenging to truly understand or get close to any of the characters. Part of what might make this so difficult is the shift in perspective between so many different characters.

Nonetheless, Rust & Stardust is a novel whose pages seem to never stop turning.

Slated for release by St. Martin’s Press in August of 2018, you can preorder a copy of Rust & Stardust from your local bookstore.

Read more 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.

‘Welcome to Lagos’ by Chibundu Onuzo

welcome-to-lagos-onuzoWalking in the footsteps of Chinua Achebe, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and others in the Nigerian literary canon, Chibundu Onuzo’s Welcome to Lagos is the next contemporary Nigerian novel. Onuzo leads readers through a thematically riveting novel as she paints a picture of Nigeria’s beauty, horror, and the perceptions of both the its people and those looking in on its people.

We first meet Chike, an upright soldier who finds himself in the throes of indecision as he is told to murder an entire village. Abandoning his post and finding a host of unlikely characters along the way, Chike becomes the father figure to this vagabond group of Nigerians. A runaway wife who is finished being abused, a young girl overcoming a battle with a newly experienced trauma, and eventually a corrupt(ish) politician are only a few of the characters in Chike’s cohort.

Throughout Welcome to Lagos, themes of morality, forgiveness, and corruption are explored as we learn to love the characters we thought we were meant to hate. Characters are reborn in the eyes of the reader, and we watch them grow from outlaws or weak characters to commendable and ferocious leaders. Onuzo has a unique ability to draw in readers through these themes in ways that make you forget the who of the story and instead feel rooted in its many messages.

Though the characters often felt distant and it is hard to truly get to know any of them because of Onuzo’s panoramic perspective, Welcome to Lagos is a novel that is driven to share itself with the world.

Published by Catapult in May of 2018, Welcome to Lagos by Chibundu Onuzo 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.

‘On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity, & Getting Old’ by Parker J. Palmer

on-the-brink-palmerOn the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity, & Getting Old by Parker J. Palmer, is a collection of essays, poems, and stories that tell the story of Palmer’s coming in to old age. Palmer’s main themes surround issues such as: living a full life, finding your vocation, being grateful, understanding life’s lessons, and making the choice to be happy despite your circumstances.

Palmer breaks his book up into seven distinct parts, each with a different message related to aging. Throughout On the Brink of Everything, Palmer shares personal experiences, mostly revolving around his career, his vocation as a writer, and his spiritual leanings as a devout Quaker.

Many of Palmer’s musing may resonate with people young and old, but readers who are unfamiliar with his work should be warned that On the Brink of Everything is heavily leaden with spiritual and didactic lessons that may also feel burdensome.

Released by Berrett-Koehler Publishers on June 26, 2018, you can purchase a copy of On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity, & Getting Old by Parker J. Palmer at your local bookstore.

Read more nonfiction 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.

‘A Place for Us’ by Fatima Farheen Mirza

a-place-for-us-mirzaA Place For Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza is work of art. A melody, almost, that sings to the reader and never stops, not even when the pages are closed.

A Place For Us tells a story of the “All American” life in a very different way than anglo white Americans will be used to. The family that Mirza follows is an American family, Hadia, Huda, and Amar are all born in America. The family identifies as much with being American as they do being Muslim, and that for some in the family is a challenge, especially those who don’t always want to identify with being Muslim. The children, fighting to fit in both at their mosque and in school struggle often to come to terms with what it means to be an American and a Muslim. Besides, for most of the story, they are only children, also struggling to find meaning and purpose, to feel loved, and to accomplish what they feel is expected of them.

Mirza does a beautiful job of weaving past and present as if it were a seamless tapestry, shifting between time periods almost unnoticed. We hear from nearly every family member’s perspective as Mirza slowly unravels the tragic, beautiful, and engrossing narrative of the family’s life. Throughout the novel, as the perspective shifts, we begin to know each character more intimately, finding more and more respect, forgiveness, or anger at that character depending on the reveal.

Perhaps what makes the novel so moving, so fully charged with an energy that not only propels readers forward but makes it nearly impossible to stop is that the main themes of the book are inescapable for us all. Issues of family, duty, faith, and regret are those that shadow all our lives whether for good or for bad in ways that make the novel somehow relatable even if the reader does not share the faith of the family, their home country, or their problems. Through bursts of anger, disappointment, and doubt though the family holds some thread of being together as a family, of their culture, of their lives as Muslim Americans.

Mirza has a beautiful and poetic voice that rings out with an aura of wisdom. You wouldn’t know this was her first book if the back cover didn’t say so: she has the power and grace of a generations old writer.

Slated for release by Hogarth Press in June of 2018, you can preorder a copy of A Place For Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza 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

 

 

‘All These Wonders: True Stories About Facing the Unknown’ edited by Catherine Burns

the-moth-imageThe Moth is an ongoing, live performance where people, often famous or well established people, get on stage and tell a true story that is relevant to a given theme. Launched in 1997, the Moth is also now a podcast, and they just released their second book All These Wonders: True Stories About Facing The Unknown which is a collection of stories from varying live performances.

All These Wonders takes Moth episodes from different shows and organizes them based on categories that cut across those themes. Some of these categories include: Things I’ve Seen, Grace Rushed In, and To Face The Fear. The one common thread in all the stories though is the message of hope, resiliency, and inspiration. While nearly every story is about a challenging event in the author’s life, none of them end without some movement toward courage and change.

Some of the most outstanding stories in the book were almost unbelievable. One such story was Fog of Disbelief told by Carl Pillitteri, a field engineer at Fukushima when the tsunami hit Japan. Pillitteri’s description of the day is not only terrifyingly real, but his thoughts, his fears, and his observations as the tsunami hit are what bring a sense of humanness and powerlessness to the story. But as with each Moth presentation, Pillitteri finds a way to turn a grossly petrifying event into a story about the power of humanity, of giving, and of everyday experiences.

Another story, Forgiveness by Hector Black, tells the story of one father’s forgiveness of the man who murdered his daughter. A bleak and agonizing tale, Black shows the true capacity of human nature: both the bad and the good. While Black does not necessarily say “go forgive everyone for everything” nor does the story make the reader feel this way, it does encourage readers, especially those who’ve faced trauma at the hands of another person to at least consider the possibility of forgiveness. If someone can forgive their daughter’s murderer to the point of visiting him in prison, writing him letters, and bringing him gifts, why can’t the rest of us get there someday, somehow.

Other stories were not as heavy and included anecdotes about working for Saturday Night Live and the recent NASA mission to Pluto. The sense of self-discovery in the face of terror and confusion is what drives each story forward though: the hope that there’s more than just the moment of now.

A mosaic of beauty, pain, and joy, The Moth’s All These Wonders: True Stories About Facing the Unknown  was published by Crown Archetype in March of 2017. You can purchase a copy of All These Wonders: True Stories About Facing the Unknown edited by Catherine Burns at your local bookstore.

Read more nonfiction 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.

‘Rigor Mortis: How Sloppy Science Creates Worthless Cures, Crushes Hope, and Wastes Billions’

rigor-mortis-harrisRigor Mortis: How Sloppy Science Creates Worthless Cures, Crushes Hope, and Wastes Billions is NPR correspondent Richard Harris’ attempt to bring awareness to the very poor science that he sees as dominating the biomedical field today.

While the title suggests a macabre narrative thread, Rigor Mortis is actually a pun on the lack of rigor that is going into the science experiments Harris discusses. Harris provides historical, social, and environmental contexts and stressors for the issues that he brings up, while also providing an overlay of solutions. Harris recognizes the difficulties in implementing his solutions given the various factors mentioned above. However, he nonetheless feels that scientific rigor must improve for science to keep moving forward.

In Rigor Mortis, Harris targets what he sees to be the major roadblocks in doing good science. Among these are the lack of incentive to do science well, the sheer challenge in reproducing studies that have already been conducted, the fact that most studies are done on animals and not humans and studies don’t always account for that, the lack of authentication of cell lines before use, a lack of guidelines for conducting certain types of experiments, and pressures surrounding publishing and funding. And these aren’t even all of the issues that Harris brings to the table.

The reproducibility problem is something that surfaces again and again in Rigor Mortis. As Harris points out from the outset, “there’s little funding and no glory involved in checking someone else’s work.” Not to mention the fact that people who try to do so often have a hard time actually reproducing the experiments. This difficulty can arise because of a lack of information from the original experimenters or social stigma that reproducing someone else’s work is in fact questioning that work instead of checking it.

From creating incentives for reproducing studies to simply sharing data and working collaboratively, Harris provides a host of suggestions for scientists, universities, labs, and journals to encourage the rigor of science and help the field to actually move forward, instead of spin in circles as he feels it so often does.

Rigor Mortis: How Sloppy Science Creates Worthless Cures, Crushes Hope, and Wastes Billions by Richard Harris was published by Basic Books in April of 2017. You can purchase a copy at your local bookstore today.

Read more nonfiction 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.