‘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.

‘Extraordinary Adventures’ by Daniel Wallace

extraordinary-adventures-wallaceExtraordinary Adventures is the forthcoming novel from Daniel Wallace, author of Big Fish. Wallace brings all the wit, humor, and superb writing style from his former works to Extraordinary Adventures.

Wallace’s main character, Edsel Bronfman is a thirty-four-year-old recluse of sorts. Bronfman has a job, sure, and an apartment of his own, but he has virtually no friends besides his ailing mother. When Bronfman wins a trip to Destin, Florida, though, he begins to make a change, or at least to want to. The thing is that in order to cash in on his trip to Florida, he needs to bring a companion, a romantic companion.

Suddenly, extraordinary things begin happening to Bronfman: he speaks to a woman at the reception desk at his work, his house gets robbed and who appears but yet another woman, a police officer no less. Such out of the ordinary things continue to happen, and Bronfman sees them mostly as acts of destiny, not his own freewill.

The book continues in this manner weaving unforgettable characters in and out of the story. There’s Bronfman’s mother who is suffering from dementia, and who is perhaps the most spectacular character of all. She is a strong willed, oddity of a mother to say the least, her biggest concern always being that her son has fun, messes around with women, and lives his life. There’s also Thomas Edison, Bronfman’s criminal, next-door neighbor, and his cohort of vagabonds and drug addicts. Among them is Coco, a young Japanese girl who Bronfman befriends though he’s sure the woman and has stolen his hat. He’s seen her wear it.

Bronfman himself is often a loveable, pitiful character who the reader cheers for throughout. However, there are aspects of “typical” male behavior that detract from Bronfman’s appeal, especially because they seem so out of character for the kind and caring man. Things like instantly falling for any woman who is pretty. Things like his constant attraction to women even while dating someone else. Though these aspects of Bronfman can be frustrating, if you take a step back and realize the man has never had a serious relationship and thinks every new feeling of lust is love, it’s a bit easier to understand his thoughts and actions.

In sum, Extraordinary Adventures is a fun, fast-paced, and extremely well-written novel.

Slated for release by St. Martin’s Press in May of 2017, you can pre-order your copy of Extraordinary Adventures by Daniel Wallace 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 Best of Adam Sharp’ by Graeme Simsion

the-best-of-adam-sharp-simsionAmazing.

There’s a tendency to leave The Best of Adam Sharp simply there: amazing. Graeme Simsion’s forthcoming novel is more than amazing though. It is beautiful, heart wrenching, nostalgic, and absolutely enthralling.

The Best of Adam Sharp is a story of unrequited love that seems to always be moving in the expected direction until it’s suddenly not. Adam and Angelina found each other in their mid-twenties in Australia and lived out a love affair that only lasted the few months that Adam worked a temp job there. Things never really ended for Adam though, who has thought of Angelina ever since, despite his now twenty year relationship with Claire. Twenty-three years after his relationship with Angelina has ended though, an email message pops up out of the blue from his lost love, and Adam isn’t sure how to respond.

With characters so relatable and problems so palpable, it’s hard not to get drawn into The Best of Adam Sharp immediately. Simsion has a way of making the story more about the human condition than anything else. While not everyone has a lover they wish things would have gone differently with, everybody has regrets, and Simsion doesn’t let readers forget it.

To add to the allure of an already brimming novel, Simsion includes a musical component to The Best of Adam Sharp that adds an extra element of nostalgia. Not only is most of the music from the 1960’s through the 1980’s, but if readers are familiar with the songs that pervade the novel, The Best of Adam Sharp’s soundtrack becomes something that moves the book in an even more emotional direction. Each song that comes up not only fits its scene too perfectly, but if you play it in your mind’s background, the musicality, the movement of the music, fits the mood even more perfectly.

Simsion evokes so much in The Best of Adam Sharp that it’s a challenge to leave the book at the end. You’ll just want more.

Slated for release in May of 2017 by St. Martin’s Press, The Best of Adam Sharp by Graeme Simsion 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 Fallen Star’ by Tracey Hecht

the-fallen-star-hechtThe Fallen Star is the latest installment of the middle grade series The Nocturnals by Tracey Hecht. In this adventure, the Night Brigade, comprised of a pangolin named Tobin, a sugar glider named Bismark, and fox named Dawn have to work together to not only solve the mystery of who poisoned the pomelo fruits, but they have to save their forest friends who have eaten the poisoned pomelos.

As with her previous two books in the series, The Mysterious Abductions and The Ominous Eye, Hecht does her best to weave science facts, literary conventions, and a rich moral foundation into The Fallen Star. Readers learn not only the names of animals, but curious facts and oddities about them as well. Hecht also includes alliteration and vocabulary in her Nocturnals series as well.

As is always the case in The Nocturnals, messages of kindness and forgiveness are pervasive in The Fallen Star. While, Bismark the sugar glider can at times be a bit of a handful for the reader and often not be the kindest person, Hecht does her best to redeem him by the story’s end.

Slated for release by Fabled Films Press in May of 2017, you can preorder a copy of The Fallen Star by Tracey Hecht 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.

‘Things We Lost in the Fire’ by Mariana Enriquez

things-we-lost-in-the-fire-enriquezThings We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriquez is a book of liminalities. Mixing horror with magical realism and history, Enriquez takes readers on a journey through the lives of women living in Argentina in the form of exhilarating and entirely enchanting short stories.

From ghosts to drugs, haunted houses, to murder, Enriquez melds together the real terrors of life under dictatorship and oppression with the most horrifically imaginable terrors a mind could muster. Each of the story’s main character is a female who is experiencing some sort of liminal space. For many this is space is the entire crux of the story. A woman torn between two places, two ideas, two people, and often torn to, potentially, the point of death.

In the book’s opening story, “The Dirty Kid,” the main character is a middle class woman choosing to live in a slum. The woman finds that the homeless child who lives on her corner might have been murdered, and she might be the only one able to identify him. Caught between issues of class, police corruption, and her moral gut, the main character can’t seem to act.

Similarly, in “Green Red Orange,” the estranged girlfriend of an internet addicted depressive finds herself caught between her boyfriend’s mother, her desire to give up on the man she once loved who now won’t come out of his bedroom, and, once again she is left with an inability to act.

Each of the women in Enriquez’s stories are faced with more than just challenges, they are faced with near impossible decisions. While the reader often doesn’t end up seeing the actions that the characters take, Enriquez leaves every story at a cliffhanger, begging the reader to write her own ending.

Published in February of 2017 by Hogarth Publishing, Things We Lost in the Fire 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.