‘I Take You’ by Eliza Kennedy

i-take-you-kennedyWhat does it mean to be an adult? What does it take to be a parent, a husband, a wife? Where is the line between being flawed and being a bad person? Above all of the questions, though, hovers the central tension in author Eliza Kennedy’s debut novel I Take You: what is the value of marriage and monogamy?

I Take You is a novel about a woman in her twenties, Lily Wilder, who is about to marry Will, a man she has known for six months and who proposed to Lily after only weeks of knowing her. Not only that, but Lily is a pathological liar, cheater, drug abuser, and borderline alcoholic – none of which her fiancé Will knows about.

Throughout I Take You, Lily is at constant war with herself as to whether she should marry Will or not. Should she quit her gallivanting and devote herself to a single man? Is that what she wants? Is she even capable of being faithful?

Surrounded by a hoard of divorced mothers and a libertine father, Lily has a hard time discerning what is right and wrong in the world of love and marriage. How much can you ever know a person before marrying them anyway? How can you ever truly know it’s the “right” person or that the relationship will last forever? What if that person is the right person for that moment in time, but you change and evolve in different ways that make you incompatible later?

While these are valid questions to raise, they become slightly less valuable in the face of Will and Lily’s rather overzealous engagement: there’s no way they can know each other by the point of their marriage. Nonetheless, they are important questions to be asked, because in the end, what does it mean to be in love? How does love then become qualified for marriage? Is a strong feeling the same as love; is it just passion, or something else entirely?

In Lily’s particular case, she is chronically unfaithful to her fiancé, and the reader wonders what this has to say about Lily. She is fully aware of her actions, of the pain she’s sure her actions will cause, and yet she doesn’t change. Is she incapable of change? Does she simply choose not to change, and does this selfishness make her a bad person?

The book spirals into wild developments that change the entire nature of the arguments presented and delve into deeper, harder, and more terrifying questions about love, marriage, and monogamy. Kennedy does a great job of tying up her ends without a total “happily ever after” or doomsday ending.

I Take You, is a book about so many different things, but when it comes down to it, it’s really about being human, about experiencing the human condition of loving and being loved, and about both living in the present moment and being aware that a future exists where your present actions will have an impact.

Published by Broadway Books in 016, I Take You 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 Little Paris Bookshop’ by Nina George

the-little-paris-bookshop-georgeThe Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George is an enchanting tale of love, loss and living through them both. Much more than just a sappy love story though, The Little Paris Bookshop looks into the very soul beneath human action and into the internal passions that drive us all.

Set in Paris and in the south of France, The Little Paris Bookshop follows the story of Monsieur Perdu, a just past middle aged bookshop owner who is still pining for his unrequited love twenty one years after the dissolution of their relationship. M. Perdu spends his days prescribing books to people from his Literary Apothecary which is housed aboard a boat named Lulu, and his nights alone and mourning the absence of his lover.

Perdu’s self-contained world, though, is shattered when a new tenant moves into 27 Rue Montagnard and finds the unopened letter that Perdu’s lover wrote to him twenty one years ago when she left. Finally, moved to open the letter Perdu embarks on a journey to unravel the mysteries concerning both his lover and himself.

Along the way, Perdu encounters many characters who do for him what he has done for countless others with his Literary Apothecary: they prescribe to him just the right action for leaving sorrow, embracing grief, finding joy and releasing himself. From tango dancing to eating succulent foods, Perdu slowly begins to loosen the hold he has on himself, his past, and his willingness to love again.

A magically charged tale of enchanting depth and beautiful coincidence (or fate), The Little Paris Bookshop delves into themes that touch every human being. George explores what it means to live fully, to love fully, and to be fully human all while telling a story that will make readers tear up at the turn of every other page. A brilliant, funny, terrifying, and inspiring novel, The Little Paris Bookshop is an absolute must read.

Published by Broadway Books in 2016 and translated from the original German into English, you can purchase The Little Paris Bookshop 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.

‘2 A.M. at the Cat’s Pajamas’ by Marie-Helene Bertino

2am-at-the-cats-pajamas-bertino2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino is the tragi-comedy of 2015. With pages full of characters that not only pull on the core of your heart, but annoy and baffle you to no end, Bertino does an excellent job of capturing what it is to be human: imperfect, beautiful, ugly and loved.

The cast of characters that make their appearance in 2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas ranges from nine-year-old Madeline, a motherless vagabond with an abusive father, to her teacher the love-lust Sarina, to the gruff owner of the night club The Cat’s Pajamas, Lorca, who is about to lose his club because of violated city ordinances. These are only a few of the featured characters into whose heads we are allowed access, among others are Pedro the dog, Madeline’s father, Madeline’s pseudo caretaker, and Madeline’s principle.

At first, Bertino’s head hopping is a bit jarring, and makes 2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas hard to fully delve into. It takes a bit of time to become acclimated to not only Bertino’s style of jumping from character to character, but also to the characters themselves; since, in all the jumping, readers aren’t able to get to know the characters as well so quickly. However, once you settle into Bertino’s style, the novel careens off at high-speed, and each section is a drum roll for a new character that you can’t wait to hear about. You begin to fall in love with Sarina and Madeline, with Lorca and his son, while chastising them for their impatience or ignorance or lack of action, while at the same time realizing these are many of the actions that we all tend toward for a majority of our lives, especially when it concerns anything important.

Bertino captures the human essence in this way. She shows it in the way that everyone is a little bit self-doubting no matter how talented or hard working they are, in the way that we can’t help but love the people we love even if they treat us poorly and especially if we are children, in the way that love is unexpected and shows up just when you need it most but when you are expecting it least, in the way that we often treat the ones we love with harshness out of love, out of protection. Bertino reminds us that no one is perfect but that we can all be loved and love ourselves if we just let go a little bit. Even the most terrible characters in the novel you can’t help but love by the end and find empathy for them in their plights.

A sort of backwards fairytale that doesn’t necessarily have a happy ending, but ends more happily than it begins, 2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas is beautiful and hilarious examination of the human condition placed in a ridiculously believable setting that makes it all the more real and magical at the same time.

Published by Broadway Books and released in 2015, 2 A.M. At the Cat’s Pajama’s 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 Underground Girls of Kabul’ by Jenny Nordberg

The Underground Girls of Kabul“What woman hasn’t wondered how life would have been different if she were born a boy?”

One Afghan woman asked author Jenny Nordberg this very question while Nordberg was writing The Underground Girls of Kabul, an anthropological, historical and heart-wrenching book that catches a glimpse of what it is like to be a woman in Afghanistan.

In The Underground Girls of Kabul, Nordberg seeks to shed light on the practice of bacha posh – a seemingly unconventional, though widespread tradition of dressing young girls as boys. Various families in Afghanistan partake in bacha posh for any variety of reasons, one of the most common being the mystical view that dressing a daughter as a son will ensure that the family’s next child will in fact be a real boy. In Afghanistan, having a son is a mother’s most important job, while having girls can diminish a woman’s worth in regards to her husband, her family, and her culture. Therefore, some other families practice bacha posh in order to gain social and societal acceptance from their neighbors, co-workers, and family if they do not have a son. It is more acceptable to have a fake son then to have no son at all, even if it is common knowledge that the son is in fact a girl. However, more progressive parents urge, encourage, and provide the opportunity for their daughters to live as boys so that their daughters can see the other side of life in Afghanistan.

Though the women Nordberg interviews and spotlights in The Underground Girls of Kabul often comment on the improvement of life since the fall of the Taliban, rights for women are still a large issue in Afghanistan. Through misappropriation of religious texts, mainly for the purpose of reverting to radical Islamic views after foreign occupation, women have been further and further subverted in the ordering of the social, economic, and humanistic ladders of Afghanistan. In many families, women are still thought of as being owned by their fathers and are essentially sold to their husbands once they hit puberty. Though women are allowed to be educated and run for parliamentary roles, many are not given the resources to do so, and in the corrupt politics of the society, their education and career is often diverted by lack of encouragement and outright violence.

The practice of bacha posh helps young girls to reach beyond these limitations and share in the experiences that men in Afghanistan are encouraged to have. Though the tradition subverts the patriarchal order in some senses, there is the overwhelming and overt reality that bacha posh also supports the Afghan patriarchy. As Nordberg points out in The Underground Girls of Kabul, ideas of female subversion need to shift before any greater cultural, political, or social change will take place. However, this is difficult given both the seclusion of women and the negative and restricting beliefs that are perpetuated about, and even among, them.

Though bacha posh may not be a perfect answer to the greater issues at hand, Nordberg recognizes that it might be the only answer for the greater majority of women right now. Things are in fact changing, and there is the hope that in the near future such gender discrimination will diminish enough to blot out the practice of bacha posh entirely. As it stands right now though, bacha posh helps to answer for many girls in Afghanistan the question of what it is like to be a boy and what it is like to experience freedom.

However, Nordberg so aptly point out, issues of gender equality extend outside of Afghanistan to women everywhere, because really, “what woman hasn’t wondered how life would have been different if she were born a boy?”

The Underground Girls of Kabul was released by Broadway Books and is available 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 Walk in the Woods’ by Bill Bryson

A Walk in the Woods by Bill BrysonHow does it feel to cross more than 2,000 miles of trail by foot over fourteen states? What would it take to live in the wilderness and carry all of your necessities on your back? Why undergo such an expedition? What would you find about yourself?

These are the questions that Bill Bryson asks himself at the outset of A Walk in the Woods, an autobiographical account of Bryson’s trek across the Appalachian Trail. In the beginning of the book, Bryson is a naïve and, by many standards, amateur hiker who decides that he is going to hike the 2,000+ mile Appalachian Trail by himself. With guidance, he sets out to procure the gear and expertise that he needs to make it to Mt. Katahdin in Maine. Bryson quickly becomes overwhelmed by the prospect of hiking, sleeping, camping, cooking, and travelling entirely alone and is relieved when an old acquaintance, Stephen Katz, calls up to ask if he can join the excursion. Though as Bryson’s wife reminds him, he and the alcoholic Katz do not get along very well, Bryson is nonetheless willing and eager to have anybody join him on his long and trying adventure.

The two men, not in the best shape, and with minimal backpacking experience, head out into the wild of Georgia with an aim to make their way to Maine. Encountering all types of characters that you would think could only exist in fiction; Bryson and Katz spend their days trekking along the famed trail. The reader grasps snippets of their often vulgar (especially on Katz’s end) conversations, as well as Bryson’s musings about life, nature, commercialism, and the hardships of the trail. Intermixed among the action of their travels is history of the areas through which they are passing, as well as facts of ecology, zoology and other interesting topics.

More than just a book about hiking, A Walk in the Woods shows the often ambiguous and contradictory nature of people and life in general. Often vacillating between joy and despair, Katz and Bryson experience a range of emotions and desires as they encounter trials and tribulations far beyond any they could have imagined. At times Bryson talks of the eerie and demonic nature of the forest, while at other points he laments the overpowering hold of commercialism in the modern day.

At its utmost core, A Walk in the Woods is about living life, taking chances, and knowing your limits; it is about finding successes even in the face of seemingly certain failure and about accepting an unexpected outcome as something more than defeat. Not at all what the reader anticipates in the beginning, A Walk in the Woods ends with a twist that reflects the uncertainty and ambiguity of human nature itself.

Now a major motion picture starring Robert Redford and Nick Nolte, released on September 2, 2015, A Walk in the Woods  was also re-released by Broadway Books in 2015.

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 Martian” by Andy Weir

The Martian, written by Andy Weir.

The Martian by Andy Weir.

The title, the cover, the very concept of The Martian gives the illusion that its pages will be peopled with green aliens, intergalactic war, and other typical science-fiction paraphernalia. Andy Weir, though, writes The Martian not as some wild and fancifully romantic sci-fi novel, but as an engineer would write a book: entirely precise, absolutely plausible, and with zero fluff tolerated. And so it is that Weir sets the stage for his main character Mark Watney’s abandonment on Mars.

The novel begins in the aftermath of a freak accident that both nearly kills astronaut Watney, and proves to save his life. Watney comes to consciousness, and reflecting on his situation opens the book with the infamous first words: “I’m pretty much fucked.” Now it’s up to Watney to survive what would appear to be a death sentence with only his engineering and botany skills to help. As the novel progresses though, we see that it is also his positivity and perseverance that pull him along. These attributes, coupled with his very base human urges and desires, are what make Watney a character you find yourself rooting for more and more.

Watney is not the only character whose mind we are granted access to though. NASA Mission Director Venkat Kapoor, satellite engineer Mindy Park, and even members of Watney’s crew make their way into the novel to break up the journal entries that lead us into Watney’s character.

Watney’s account, most especially, tends to be pretty dense with technical content allowing for people like me (non-engineering minded readers) to occasionally gloss the text, glass over, or lose a visual of what’s going on. As a technical writer and editor, I’m familiar with reading just this kind of content, and I am equally familiar with employing all of the above techniques to get through it. However, for the average person who hasn’t taken a chemistry class in 10 plus years, Watney’s technicality and specificity can be a bit burdensome. For those like my scientifically minded engineering colleagues, the book is not only a breeze, but an accomplishment among a genre often riddled with improbabilities and unrealistic scenarios.

One of the most engaging aspects about The Martian, is Weir’s deep knowledge and wild imagination that he in turn imparts upon Watney and the book’s other characters. Whether you understand every concept or action, the book refuses to tip to the side of boring or burdensome as it might threaten to for some readers.

It might help that the characters are so endearing and engaging despite their, at times, despicable demeanors. Though raw and unkempt, Weir’s characters are all too human and thereby more relatable than the sometimes contrived characters of genre fiction novels. Weir isn’t trying to do anything with these characters except to make them who they are, and he does a superb job of compelling readers to find sympathy for and relate to even the most obnoxious of characters.

Most importantly, Weir’s cast speaks directly to the themes and intentions underlying his book. As he notes in the afterword, Weir’s goal is to show that humanity is not doomed to complacency or selfishness. When Watney gets trapped on Mars, every person at NASA, in China, and on earth is not only rooting for him, but pooling their collective resources to get him home. Weir invokes a sense of comradery among the human race, which (whether it is true of the humanity outside of his novel or not) invokes the ideal that humans have “a fundamental desire to help one another.” Though Weir may arguably be romanticizing this theme to a certain degree, it is definitely a quality that we busy, bustling, self-absorbed humans could use a reminder about once in a while.

The perfect marriage of technical and narrative writing, The Martian makes a perfect read for say a book club where you have engineers and book nerds in one place.

Though recently acquired by Broadway Books and Crown Publishing, divisions of Random House LLC, Weir is the poster child for self-publishing success. Originally released as an e-book in 2011 and sold for 99 cents, Weir’s novel was not only picked up by a major publisher, but a movie is already in the works. Staring Matt Damon, Jeff Daniels, and Chiwetel Ejiofor, the film is slated for release in September 2015. Even though Weir assisted in writing the screenplay, read The Martian before you see the film so that you can experience Weir’s unique writing style, enrapturing characters, and insanely plausible scenarios just as they are meant to be experienced.

If this book review peaked your interest, pick up a copy of The Martian at your local book store.

Read more science fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.