‘The Orphan’s Tale’ by Pam Jenoff

the-orphans-tale-jenoffAn enthralling and entrancing read, Pam Jenoff’s The Orphan’s Tale is a beautiful and heart wrenching book. Told from the perspective of the book’s two main characters, The Orphan’s Tale is a story of interconnected love, heartbreak, and sacrifice.

Noa is an outcast who works in a railway station in Germany in the mid-1940s. She has been excommunicated by her parents for sleeping with a German soldier and becoming pregnant. After being forced to give up her child, Noa finds refuge working in the station until she comes across a train car headed east towards the notorious “camps.” She usually ignores the goings on in the station, but something draws her to the car. Inside she finds piles of living, dead, and near dead infants on their way to what end she can’t imagine. In a flurry of desperation, empathy and remorse for her own lost child, Noa takes a baby: a Jew. But now she must run.

Astrid is also an outcast. A Jew who had married an officer of the Reich but was kicked out of their home after he received an order to divorce Astrid. She is now back to the life she always knew: the life of the circus. Things are going as well as they can be going for a Jew hiding during World War Two, until Noa shows up at the circus.

Now the two women are both seeking refuge under the guise of the circus’ act. At first enemies, the two women learn to care for one another in the ways that no one else can. A story of love, betrayal, hope and loss, The Orphan’s Tale is nearly impossible to put down. Jenoff’s fast-paced narrative style propels the reader into the worlds of both Astrid and Noa with a verve and emotive quality that is all encompassing.

Based on historical research, The Orphan’s Tale is a book of fiction, but Jenoff considers the book a tribute to those whom she based the tale off of.

Slated for release by HarperCollins Publishers on February 21, 2017, The Orphan’s Tale 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.

‘Somewhere in the Shallow Sea’ by Dennis Macaraeg

somewhere-in-the-shallow-sea-macaraegSomewhere in the Shallow Sea by Dennis Macaraeg promises suspense, thrill, and romance in its 220 pages. Macaraeg does deliver a plot that is steeped in these elements: a kidnapped friend, an unrequited love interest, and scientific experiment that could end up in the wrong hands.

Danny and his best friend Blake have developed a compound that is meant to attract certain types of fish to certain areas of the ocean in an attempt to save endangered species. Now, though, Blake has been kidnapped by Philippian pirates, and the pirates want the compound. Danny decides to take matters into his own hands and go to the Philippines to deliver the compound himself. While there, he runs into Blake’s cousin, Helen, and Danny’s ex-lover and former fiancé. Throw a few more twists and turns in, and Danny is suddenly caught between the worlds of his past and present in an attempt to save his best friend, his love life, and potentially the most endangered species of fish.

The prose of Somewhere in the Shallow Sea is an easy read, with scenes strung together as vignettes that move the characters from one point to another. The third person narrator toggles between the main character, Danny, and the enemy, Dr. Klein, though he often slips into other characters’ heads as well. While Macaraeg does a fine job of laying out the scene of the Philippian islands, he often tells the reader what to see rather than showing through his characters’ actions the lay of the land.

Macaraeg also offers some history of the Philippines which is interesting, but can sometimes detract from the thrill of the novel since the more pressing issue is Danny’s kidnapped friend.

Somewhere in the Shallow Sea is a self-published book that was released in 2015 by Dennis Macaraeg. The book 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.

‘Kubrick’s Game’ by Derek Taylor Kent

kubricks-game-kentKubrick’s Game by Derek Taylor Kent is exactly what it sounds like: a book about a game about Stanley Kubrick. From conspiracy theories to movie trivia, Kent brings it all together in this fun and thrilling novel.

The main characters of the book are Shawn, Sami, and Wilson. All of them are film students at UCLA, but each of them has a unique perspective on the world and together makes them the ultimate team to solve a game developed by and based on Stanley Kubrick. Shawn, an autistic twenty-year-old is the ringleader of the gang, acting as the quintessential anti-hero: flawed but ingenious. Sami is Shawn’s disinterested love interest with an eye for movie making unlike anyone else at school. And finally Wilson, is a burned out child star trying to reclaim his fame through directing.

The three friends discover Kubrick’s game through an initial clue directly from the deceased Kubrick involving the film Lolita. After they discover the game is not a hoax, and Kubrick actually left behind clues in his movies for a future generation, the trio is suddenly thrown into an adventure that ends up being much more harrowing than any of them ever expected. The clues become harder as the stakes become greater, and soon, the trio find themselves up against some very scary people: most of them dressed in black suits.

Kent covers all the major bases in this coming of age novel, from friendship and romance to betrayal and self-discovery. Each character undergoes a major transition, and all of the young character have morals and values that make them good role models for young readers.

Though Kent’s head hopping can at times become distracting, overall, the writing of the book matches the fast-paced and engaging plot. Everything moves quickly and at an action-packed pace, yet the characters are still dynamic and the setting is always captivating.

Kubrick’s Game is a fun, mind-boggling book that forces readers to think and problem solve right along with Shawn, Sami, and Wilson. The parts of the book that discuss movies the reader has actually seen might be more enjoyable and engaging for the reader, but the book can also inspire the reader to watch all the films they haven’t seen.

Exciting, inspiring, and an overall feel good read, Kubrick’s Game is the perfect book for any Kubrick fan or film buff, but it is enjoyable for the common reader as well.

Published by Evolved Publishing LLC in 2016, Kubrick’s Game 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 Wolf Road’ by Beth Lewis

the-wolf-raod-lewisTerrifying, gripping, and raggedly beautiful, The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis is this year’s most thrilling post-apocalyptic novel. With a heroine as gruff and chilling as the book’s villain and a plot twisted and muddled with murder, lies, and disparagement, Lewis draws you in from page one.

Elka has been raised by her pseudo father Trapper in a hut in the woods since she was seven years old. That’s when the Thunderhead took her away from her home and the only family she knew. The rules with Trapper are: don’t ask, don’t speak about Trapper to anyone, and survival is the most important thing. Learning to hunt and survive in the wild with Trapper’s help, Elka soon forgets her old life in the village with her Nana and her letters – she hated them both anyway. In the wild, she is more herself, more at home. And with the man she calls Daddy, she is safe.

That is, until ten years later when she goes into a nearby town one day and finds pictures of Trapper’s face plastered all over the walls of the town; pictures with a price on his head. What could he have done? The magistrate claims murder, but Elka can’t believe it. How could she not know that Trapper was a murderer? All those years – ten years with him – she’d have to know.

Suddenly, Elka is propelled into a world fiercer than the one she has known these past ten years. On a hunt to uncover the truth and bring justice and light to the lies hiding in her past, Elka embarks on journey riddled with trial after trial. Testing the limits of her strength, her humanity, and her individuality, Elka struggles against the powers of nature, the law, and herself.

Told in a wild and uniquely brusque voice, Lewis captures language in a post-apocalyptic world nearly perfectly. Lewis uses slang and names for things such “the Great Stupid” for war which give The Wolf Road an edge beyond the present. There are times though that Lewis slips in language that points to knowledge that Elka can’t seem to have based on her upbringing and isolation. Words like “Charger.” These moments are far and few between, and on the whole The Wolf Road is a beautiful and blunt novel.

Published by Crown Publishing and released in July of 2016, The Wolf Road 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.

‘Human Acts’ by Han Kang

human-acts-kangHuman Acts by Han Kang is an eloquent and masterful investigation. It is an investigation into humanity, into the existence and nature of the soul, into the effects and implications of our memories. Originally written in Korean and published in 2014, translator Deborah Smith does a superb job of expressing these sentiments in her stunning yet detached translation of Human Acts.

The book is split into several narratives, each told by a different character, but all interrelated. Human Acts begins, though, with a student uprising in South Korea in the 1980’s. This is where the reader meets, or essentially is, Dong-ho, the character that stitches together all the rest of the stories. Told in second person perspective, Dong-ho’s narrative becomes the reader’s story: a story that then follows the reader through the rest of the book, a story told through a multitude of eyes, eyes that have seen Dong-ho, eyes that haven’t. Every perspective, every retelling, is an attempt to crack open the mystery of death, the mystery of evil.

Dong-ho haunts the characters of Human Acts through their memories or knowledge of him. The characters cannot escape the injustices that were done to Dong-ho nor the innocence he embodied. In fact, no character can turn away from the horror surrounding her despite any effort to do so. Even if given the chance to run from the pain or the terror, no one can. They need to absorb it, to be with the horror happening around them. Whether to justify the existence of those who perished or to stand staunchly against ignorance and in unison, Kang never fully reveals.

The desperate search for “why” pervades Human Acts in a way that makes the question also burn into the reader’s mind. Why such terror? Why such hatred? Why such pain?

Han Kang does a superb job of wrapping together her themes without providing an answer to any of the questions she raises. She seems to point to the fact that we are all human: these terrible acts have been committed by humans. Humans who have jobs. Humans who have families. Humans who feel. Humans who love. Humans who hate.

Beautiful, terrifying, and an absolute must read, Human Acts by Han Kang will be released in the United States on January 17, 2017. You can preorder a copy at 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.

‘The Lesser Bohemians’ by Eimear McBride

the-lesser-bohemians-mcbrideA book as tragic as it is beautiful, The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride is one of the most well-crafted novels of the year. The Lesser Bohemians is a story of love and loss, of hatred, and of the human condition, of the extents of terror that accompany humanity, and of the lengths to which a person can be drawn before losing that humanity. McBride does all of this while captivating the reader with her mastery of language and its form.

Told from the perspective of an 18-year-old first year college student in London, we learn almost no one’s name until more than halfway through the book. Enrolled in drama school in the 1990’s, the nameless narrator meets an older, fairly well established actor who she falls into a tumultuous and raving relationship with. Each steeped in their own set of issues, at first the reader is given no signal to sympathize with these seemingly manic characters. They are immoral, utterly confounding, entirely irrational, and apparently terrible people. In fact, the first 40 or so pages can be a challenge to get through because the reader doesn’t know the characters: we can’t care. The narrator is obsessive and her lover is abusive: that’s all we get. Until McBride gives us everything.

Once the characters start to tell each other and thereby the narrator about themselves that’s when not only the narrative picks up speed, but the characters themselves begin to change and show their dynamic nature. Though still fully flawed and acting in ways that frustrate the reader to no end, the characters reveal more and more of themselves until the reader even has their names. And then the roller coaster begins again. Railing from tragedy to helplessness to hope and back again to tragedy, we are dragged on a heart wrenching ride that is dripping with passion and is impossible to predict.

All the while, McBride uses fragmented and poetical prose to mirror the fragmented and broken characters. Prose that is at first nearly impossible to submerge oneself in, but that as it continues develops a cohesion and beauty of its own that could only come with time, patience, and the characters’ development.

Richly wrought with the most devastating and beautiful images, The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride is not for the faint of heart. Full of disturbing images and terrifying characters, The Lesser Bohemians is a book that is often difficult to even read, but is well worth the challenge.

Published by Hogarth Publishing in September of 2016, The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride 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.

‘In Lieu of Flowers’ by Rachel Slotnick

in-lieu-of-flowers-slotnickRachel Slotnick’s In Lieu of Flowers is a series of epistle like poems that address ideas of memory, time, and the nuances that pervade both concepts. Woven between the poems and poetic prose are poignant illustrations, collages, and graffiti that capture perfectly the essence, the sadness, and the pragmatism with which Slotnick takes on the world in her collection.

Each section of the book is addressed to a different person: Fisherman, Mathematician, and Musician. Further, each address is a calling not only to the named person, but to a specific idea attached to that person. In Dear Fisherman, Slotnick particularly addresses the subject of her father: a man in love with the sea, a man handicapped by a shark, a man with a wooden stump for an arm. After his experiences in youth, her father “became a shark hunter, and he hated all trees for daring to resemble him.” As shown in this example, Slotnick has a knack for capturing language at its most vulnerable and apt entry points and twisting it to fit the exact mood and mode of her poetry.

She uses this section to explore ideas of life, and passing through life, as it slowly slips through your fingers like water. “At the edges of the fishbowl,” Slotnick describes the last moments she spends with her father, moments in a hospital, moments in which she can see his life slipping away as well as the life the two have yet to live together. Each slipping further, he towards death, and she towards a life without her father. “I realized we both knew we were headed somewhere strange,” Slotnick remarks as she watches her father leaving her.

As in the early section, Dear Mathematician also addresses the concept of death and the passage of time. This address, though, is made to Slotnick’s grandfather, a man so in love, that without his wife, his life, became a living landmark of her memory. “Memory is a strange father,” says Slotnick. “It’s funny how you tend to remember sweetly,” trying your best to ignore the harshness of life, the pain in memory. At its end, Dear Mathematician also confronts death with the passing of Slotnick’s grandfather, and though sad in its content and in its form, Slotnick somehow portrays the reality of death with a sincerity rather than an edge toward the depressive.

The book ends with Dear Musician, which could almost be a calling to the author herself as an artist in love and in hate with her art.

Throughout all three sections, Slotnick draws through the theme of flowers. Flowers that grow in nature, funereal flowers, and flowers for the beginnings of something like love. Each series of poems in itself could be seen as in lieu of flowers – something given to the people addressed besides flowers – something potentially more, or something equally as, meaningful and significant as flowers.

A beautifully and artfully composed collection of both poetry and unique images, In Lieu of Flowers is Slotnick’s first book of poetry and is a masterpiece of a first book.

Published by Tortoise Books, you can purchase In Lieu of Flowers on Amazon.

Read more poetry 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.

‘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.