‘Fill the Sky’ by Katherine A. Sherbrooke

fill-the-sky-sherbrookeA story about the battle of fate versus volition, about western versus eastern medicine, and most importantly about the expected versus desired roles of a woman, Fill the Sky by Katherine A. Sherbrooke is an exploratory novel that is both moving and riveting.

Sherbrooke tells the story of three middle aged friends: Tess, Joline and Ellie, who have embarked on a mission to Ecuador, a mission to save Ellie from cancer. A firm believer in eastern and traditional medicine, Joline convinces her two best friends to join her on a tour of the most renowned shamans of Ecuador. The women hope that one of these shamans might be able to save Ellie in this last stand against a cancer that can’t be fought back by western medicine.

Meanwhile, Joline is also working with a multi-million-dollar tycoon to open a retreat center in Ecuador for which she left her job and any way out of the business deal. Tess has just been proposed to by a man who she thinks she loves, but who she is angry with for even proposing in the first place. Tess doesn’t believe in marriage, shouldn’t Parker, her lover, understand that? Ellie, despite fighting a cancer that has recently come out of remission, is also harboring a secret that could alter the course of not only her friendships, especially with Joline, but the foundation of her family, if she lives.

The women meet a number of different local shamans, some who put guinea pigs on them, some who give them psychotropic drugs, and all the way they waver between doubt and surety concerning these approaches. How could these “untraditional” methods really help? Is Ellie make a last, desperate, maybe stupid, stand against something she can’t control? Or, are the alternative methods of medicine, as compared to the traditional western methods Ellie is used to, actually working? The shamans seem to know things they shouldn’t, people have shared visions, miracles are witnessed…or are they all coincidences? Luck? These questions are left up to the reader to ponder as the women too are left without answers.

Sherbrooke does an amazing job of capturing the conflicting roles of women in society: roles of being a professional, mother, wife and lover to name a few. Throughout Fill the Sky, each of the women is confronted with something that conflicts with one of her major roles, and she has to decide which role is most important to her in that moment. Sherbrooke seems to suggest that the multiplicity of these roles will never diminish for women. However, despite the fact that a number of these roles come from outside sources of pressure and expectation, it is ultimately up to the woman to decide which path she wants to follow, which role she wants to assume. There is always sacrifice, but perhaps that’s not a bad thing.

Fill the Sky will be released by SixOneSeven Books on October 20, 2016, but 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 Book of Esther’ by Emily Barton

the-book-of-esther-bartonIn an alternate vein of reality, at the dawn of World War 2, lives Esther bat Josephus, the daughter of the Khazar kagnate’s kender (the leading policy advisor). Esther has seen firsthand, the terror that the Germanii enemy has the potential to rain to on her people, and while her father and country seem to sit idle, Esther feels that she alone must take action in Emily Barton’s latest novel The Book of Esther.

Esther, 16, borrows her father’s mechanical horse, Seleme, some money, some candle sticks for prayers on the road, and her adopted brother and father’s slave Itakh, 9. Esther and Itakh embark on a long and arduous journey to the mystic Kabbalists in the hopes that they can turn Esther into a boy. She knows that only as a man can she lead her people into warfare and save her country.

At the very outset, author Emily Barton sets the tone for a novel of not only magical capabilities, but also of deep introspection. Esther wants to be a boy only so that she can save her country, not because she dislikes being a girl. In fact, she is set to be married in a few months, and is begrudgingly excited about it. Esther is a conflicted woman and a conflicted Jew. There are certain elements of her sex and religion that she feels hold her back from doing her greater duty to her country, and so she seeks ways around those barriers. Esther finds that though these obstructions may exist in her mind and those of her people, perhaps they are not wholly true. Perhaps Esther does not need to be a man to lead an army. Perhaps a Torah Jew need not dismiss another for not being Jewish in the same way.

Throughout the novel the theme of exclusion features prominently. Esther is excluded because she is a girl. The Khazar kagnate is being discriminated against and excluded because of the religion that they follow. Even the Khazar excludes others who are not Jewish. At first, Esther subscribes to some of these exclusionary notions to the extent that they are all she knows, but as The Book of Esther progresses, Barton probes deeper into the disadvantages of exclusion, and she fights to show that inclusion can lead to far greater success.

A book of faith, acceptance, and rebellion, Emily Barton does a superb job of blending history with fantasy and fiction in The Book of Esther. Creating a perfectly conflicted main character, Barton ensures that her readers will stand behind Esther from page one.

Released by Tim Duggan Books on June 14, 2016, you can purchase The Book of Esther 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 Pleasure You Suffer: A Saudade Anthology’

the-pleasure-you-sufferWhy is it that the greatest suffering always involves someone or something that we love? Perhaps because the loss of, the imperfection of, the mere existence of pleasure invites pain. In The Pleasure You Suffer, authors inquire into this phenomenon of pleasure’s linkage to pain through short stories and poetry.

From bad relationships to unrequited love, from parental issues to dissatisfaction with employment, the authors of The Pleasure You Suffer explore the pain in pleasure through a variety of lenses. There are some pieces, like The Good Tombstone by Joseph G. Peterson, that are so heartbreaking and visceral that it’s hard to remember they’re fiction. A story about a widower who plays the lottery in hopes of buying his dead wife a more appropriate tombstone, Peterson hits at the essence of pain in love and loss.

Then there are poems like Rachel Slotnick’s The Perfume that is so profoundly introspective despite it’s sad content, that Slotnick is able to remove the reader from despondency and put her in a place of love and warmth. Slotnick essentially argues that we are nothing without the one’s we love, even if it is painful to lose them.

Overall, The Pleasure You Suffer is an absolutely beautiful and courageous set of works that is well worth its pages. Every piece is unique and says something slightly different about the same running theme.

Published by Tortoise Books, in June of 2016 The Pleasure You Suffer 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.

‘A Shadow Bright and Burning’ by Jessica Cluess

a-shadow-bright-and-burning-cluessAn evocative and exhilarating read, Jessica Cluess’ first novel in her Kingdom on Fire series, A Shadow Bright and Burning is nearly impossible to put down. A young adult fantasy novel that addresses coming of age themes, feminist mentality, and issues inherent in discrimination and exclusion, A Shadow Bright and Burning is a book full of riveting content both on the surface of its plot and in the deeper realms of its layered meanings.

Henrietta Howel is a young orphan who finds that she might be the first female sorcerer in over 100 years, but can she live up to the expectations set for her? Living in Victorian England, Henrietta and her band of soon to be commended sorcerers are doing their best to fend off the seven Ancients, a group of demons released from Hell by a magician some years ago. Magicians after all are all bad: deceitful, evil, uncontrollable. Or are they?

Some people in the book say the same things about women, especially those women with magical powers. Henrietta is thrown into the world of sorcery with no training, and now she has to prove herself not only as a sorcerer, but as the lone female in a male dominated world. Coming up against issues many teenage, non-sorcerer women come up against, like love, lust, and sexuality, Cluess does a fantastic job of painting Henrietta as a strong-willed but conflicted female character.

The quintessential young adult fantasy novel, A Shadow Bright and Burning has all the right elements: an orphaned girl, multiple love interests, and a world in dire need of saving. But Cluess also brings so much more to the Kingdom on Fire series: she brings lessons of acceptance, empowerment, and loyalty.

Slated for released on September 20, 2016 by Random House Books for Young Readers, A Shadow Bright and Burning is available for preorder at your local bookstore.

Read more young adult 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.

‘One Half from the East’ by Nadia Hashimi

one-half-from-the-east-hashimiA book so compelling you could read it in a single sitting, One Half from the East tells a story much larger than the characters involved. Nadia Hashimi’s second novel follows Obayda, a ten-year-old bacha posh, or a girl dressed as a boy, living in Afghanistan. Obayda’s family turns her into Obayd to bring the family honor and with the magical hope that in doing so, their next child will be a boy.

Obayd must navigate school, people, and the world around her without her dresses, her long hair or sisters, and most of all without the confidence she had in being who she was. Along the way though, Obayd learns how to survive as a boy, how to live as a boy, doing the things she was never allowed to do as a girl. She meets another bacha posh who shows her how to fit into her new skin, and soon enough, Obayd does not want to be Obayda again. But that is the tradition of bacha posh – a young girl is turned into a boy only to bring luck and fortune to the family, not to be a boy forever.

Obayd and her friend know that the time is coming for each of them to return to their old ways of life, but now they are stuck in the middle. They are not quite girls and not quite boys, and they fear the return to a life with less freedoms, one that they don’t identify with any more: the life of a girl.

In One Half from the East, Nadia Hashimi not only exposes readers to what life in Afghanistan is like for women especially, but she also brings to light larger, worldwide questions of gender and identity. At one point in the novel, Obayda wonders what makes a girl, a girl. Her and her sisters muse whether it has to do with the length of a person’s hair, the clothes the person wears, or with how the person acts.

Obayda simply wants to be a boy, but Hashimi also questions this desire. Does Obayda want to be a boy to bring honor to her family, is it to have the freedoms she would otherwise not have? In the end, Hashimi starkly points out that learned behavior can easily become associated with “boy” and “girl,” and yet the society surrounding that culture takes those behaviors as inherent. Boys play soccer. Girls sew dresses. But a girl can just as easily learn to play soccer, and a boy can just as easily learn to sew. So what is the “boy” thing to do, and what is the “girl” thing to do?

Hashimi wrote One Half from the East as a middle grade novel for grades three to seven, but the novel is by no means strictly a children’s novel. The book is a culturally eye opening work of art that is just as moving and heartbreaking for any aged reader.

One Half from the East will be released by HarperCollins on September 6, 2016. Preorder a copy 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.

‘Peter Powers and His Not-So-Super Powers’ by Brandon T. Snider

peter-powers-and-his-not-so-super-powers-sniderPeter Powers and His Not-So-Super Powers is your classic middle grade superhero chapter book. It’s funny, it’s quirky, it has good moral lessons, and it’s just plain fun.

Peter is the middle child in a family of four, and not just an ordinary family of four, but a family of superheroes. Mocked by his siblings for his seemingly inane power – the ability to make ice cubes from his fingertips – Peter is pretty down in the dumps when we first meet him. He is looking for a way to prove himself, and his live-in grandfather, an ex-superhero himself, provides the perfect answer: Peter must defeat a supervillain.

So what does Peter do? He goes out in search of a supervillain. Captain Tornado is the targeted supervillain, and Peter, though not confident, is bold enough to confront Captain Tornado face to face. But what will happen? How will Peter stop Captain Tornado with just ice cubes? Oh, and what about getting the whole act by his superhero parents, who are bound to show up on the scene?

Peter Powers and His Not-So-Super Powers is a fun and fast paced read for people of all ages. While author Brandon T. Snider targets children ages 8-12, the book is also a great read for parents, teachers, or people who just love middle grade fiction. The themes and morals taught about self-acceptance, patience, and dealing with the annoying and frustrating aspects of life are pertinent for any child in middle school and any person who works with children period.

Peter Powers and His Not-So-Super Powers is slated for release by Hachette Book Group in October of 2016. You can preorder a copy at your local bookstore.

Read more young adult 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 House of Secrets’ by Brad Meltzer and Todd Goldberg

the-house-of-secrets-meltzerEvery mystery needs to be solved. That’s what Jack Nash told his daughter Hazel when she was a child, and that’s what sticks in Hazel’s head after she wakes up in a hospital with nearly no memory of her former life. Through Hazel, Jack and other characters, Brad Meltzer and Todd Goldberg take readers on a wild ride through a myriad of conspiracies and mysteries in their latest novel The House of Secrets.

Jack Nash was a reality TV superhero: the host of a conspiracy television show called House of Secrets. Now, Jack Nash is dead after the car accident that Hazel and her brother Skip were involved in too. But, not only is Jack dead, two other mysterious men, potentially involved with Hazel, Jack, and Skip are also dead, or so Agent Rabkin says. Strangest of all, the other two men were found with bibles in their chests…odd that Jack told Hazel a similar story in her youth: a story of a deceased man found with Benedict Arnold’s bible buried in his chest.

Hazel is compelled to live by her father’s rules and solve the many mysteries surrounding not only the death of her father, but of who she is, and if she had anything to do with the murders that have been committed. Who can Hazel trust? Who does she really know? Who was she? As Hazel delves further into her father’s past and her own, she begins to uncover things about her father and herself that she wishes she had never found, yet she can’t stop herself. She needs to solve the mysteries.

Meltzer and Goldberg create a fantastic and terrifying mystery that is driven not only by plot, but by the intimate characters woven within that plot as well. From The Bear, a terrifying (we think) bad guy, to Butchie, Hazel’s only friend and a sometimes criminal, the reader can’t help but become enthralled in each storyline, waiting for the moment when they all converge.

Meltzer and Goldberg also bring in deeper themes and questions revolving around ideas of being able to change oneself, the importance of family, and forgiveness.

An exhilarating and chilling read, Meltzer and Goldberg’s The House of Secrets is worth the 352 pages of reading, or 10 hours of listening.

The House of Secrets audio book was released by Hachette Book Group on June 7, 2016. You can find the hardcopy or audio version at your local bookstore.

Read more fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This audiobook was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.