‘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.

‘To the Stars Through Difficulties’ by Romalyn Tilghman

to-the-stars-through-difficulties-tilghmanTo the Stars Through Difficulties by Romalyn Tilghman is an uplifting story about the strength of collectivity, especially the collective power of women.

To the Stars Through Difficulties follows three different women: Traci, Gayle, and Angelina. Each is dealing with a major life event, or series of life events, that has somehow led them to New Hope, Kansas. Traci has been hired as an artist in residency at the only arts center in New Hope, which also happens to be an old Carnegie library, which Angelina is writing her PhD dissertation on, and which Gayle is attending for therapeutic art classes, provided by Traci. The catch is that Traci has no experience teaching art, though she lied and told the arts center that she did; Gayle’s life was blown away in a tornado and she can’t seem to get her life back together; and Angelina has actually been working on her dissertation for ten years, and the dissertation is going to potentially get dropped by her university.

The Carnegie library turned arts center is the central meeting place not only for these women, but for the ideas that move the book forward. Tilghman weaves together a history of the women who came before Traci, Gayle, and Angelina with the journey of her three protagonists, using the library as the two histories’ point of intersection. In the past, we follow the women who helped make the Carnegie library a reality despite their hard times, while in the present the hardships look a bit different.

Focusing not only on the strength of women but also the power of print and the importance of history, both collective and one’s own, Tilghman leads readers through a maze of mysteries and hardships in To the Stars Through Difficulties.

Slated for release by She Writes Press on April 4, 2017, you can reserve your copy of To the Stars Through Difficulties 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.

‘Lola’ by Melissa Scrivner Love

Lola-Scrivner-LoveWhat could a book about gangs, murder, drugs, and rape possible shed new light on in 2017? Besides death, heartbreak, and inequality, it seems like modern day gangster novels don’t tend to give much more. Lola, by Melissa Scrivner Love, though is a whole new kind of gangster novel.

A book in a league all its own, Lola, the main character of the title novel is a character of a similar caliber. An underground gang leader, Lola heads the Crenshaw Six, a small gang in East L.A. that focuses mostly on drug trade and tends to lay pretty low. Until, the Crenshaw Six get a job that could change their entire trajectory and all of its members’ destinies, especially Lola’s.

The neighborhood of Huntington Park thinks that Garcia, Lola’s boyfriend, is the leader of the Crenshaw Six, and Lola struggles constantly to deal with both the perks and the frustration of leading a gang from behind the scenes. Lola is unintimidating, she can easily make her way into important places without being suspect, she can sit down with a man and make him feel like he’s in power simply by virtue of being a woman. It’s part of how Lola has made her way so high into the gang, but it’s also something that infuriates her. She wants to have an equal: someone who not only she sees that way, but that sees her as an equal as well. That seems an impossible feat when every other leader is a man and that somehow makes them more than her.

In fact, Lola itself is a feminist calling to reevaluate the way women are perceived in society: weak, small, and incapable of little else than cleaning floors. Lola does her best to defy these stereotypes while also constantly finding herself bogged down by them. Every time she cooks meal, cleans a floor, feels compassion, she chides the thought that she’s only doing it because she’s a woman, not because she’s a person. For every woman who finds serious issue with the gender norms of our time, Lola is a hero of sorts.

What makes Lola so magical and the reader feel so connected to her, despite her tendencies to cut off fingers and shoot people in the head, is that she leads from a moral compass, even if slightly skewed. She’s a feminist, she cares for the innocent people around her and for those who are loyal. She is disdainful of drug addicts, but adoring of children. Most of Lola’s morals make up the remaining themes and messages of Lola the book. Issues of race, inequality, injustices, parenting, and the meaning of love are just a few of the deeper themes that run through the pages of Lola.

Love’s only slip up comes in the form of her point of view. Mainly the book is told in a close third person point of view with Lola leading the way but the narration coming from an unknown third party. However, there are times where head hopping can throw the reader for a loop. Suddenly we are inside of another character’s head who we’ve potentially never even met, feeling what he feels and understanding his motives in a way we probably shouldn’t. Usually Love sticks with Lola and makes it clear that even evaluations of other characters are Lola’s, and that makes those evaluations even more valuable and interesting. Nevertheless, the slip ups can be a bit distracting for readings watching closely.

Overall, Lola is a fantastic and riveting book that will keep you reading all the way to the end. Just the right mixture of violence and terror, Lola is not overly graphic and though violent, it is never gratuitous.

Lola by Melissa Scrivner Love is slated for release by Crown Publishing on March 21, 2017. You can preorder a copy from your local bookstore today.

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.

 

‘Mexico’ by Josh Barkan

mexico-barkanMexico by Josh Barkan is a series of epic, terrifying accounts of the lives of Mexico’s citizens. Told in a series of short stories, Mexico follows a host of different narrators, from gangsters to victims. The stories all revolve around crime, usually involving drugs, extortion, and often murder. What strangely ties all of the stories together though, beyond their setting, is their endings. Each narrative closes with a message of hope, or at least a glimmer of it, despite the tragedy that ensued for the pages of that story.

Some memorable characters include the drug lord’s abused wife who gives hope to a woman about to lose her breasts to a mastectomy, the famous, philandering painter who is turned honest by an encounter with a gangster who sells drugs to the painter’s daughter, and the young boy whose mother sacrifices her dignity to bring her son to America and out of the family’s gang-ridden neighborhood.

Each of these stories includes hardship and often a main character who is difficult to like at first. However, by the end of each story, the protagonist has learned something from the horror she’s experienced and claims that she will life a better life because of her experience. It is slightly suspicious that the reader never sees any of these characters actually enact these assertions; though, there is at least the idea of change planted at each stories end. Whether the characters follow through with the aspirations they’ve set for themselves is up to the reader to decide.

While Mexico is beautifully written and the characters utterly enthralling, where the novel falls short is in its untimely release. At a time of political turmoil, when those people who represent the United States are claiming that Mexico is nothing but a drug-ridden war zone, the last thing the public needs is a book that claims just that. I admit that there is an air of redemption for each character, but this does not go for the country as a whole. Rather, Barkan almost seems to suggest that the people of his narrative are redeemable, but the country is not.

Mexico is enthralling, captivating, and chilling, looking at a side of humanity that is often ignored.

Released by Crown Publishing January of 2017, Josh Barkan’s Mexico 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 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.