‘Bowlaway’ by Elizabeth McCracken

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Bowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken is the acclaimed author’s latest release. This multigenerational novel explores themes of love, connection, and imperfection all within the setting of a bowling alley.

McCracken starts the novel off with the finding of a body in a cemetery. The body though is alive, and its keeper, Bertha Truitt comes to wholly change the town of Salford, Massachusetts. Against all odds and all societal norms, Bertha, a white woman, marries an African American doctor when segregation is still very much alive and opens a candlepin bowling alley where women of the town come to bowl and show their worth as more than just housewives.

Over the span of the novel, characters die, leave, and keep coming back. Through a series of mysteries and missed connections, the bowling alley sees a number of new owners with new agendas as Bertha’s family, both blood and not, try to unravel their inherited mysteries and find their own place in the world.

While the story is intriguing, I often found myself unable to be fully pulled into Bowlaway. Much of the novel is told as summary as we are whisked through time to new places and new periods where the characters are often unfamiliar and unknowable because of the constant shifting. Further, while the plot of the novel has unbounding potential for interest, the stakes for the characters in many of the scenes feel distant or not wholly there.

A quick read with an element of humor and remorse, Bolwawayis slated to be released by HarperCollins on February 5, 2019. You can preorder a copy of Bowlawayby Elizabeth McCracken 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 Last Girl’ by Nadia Murad

the-last-girl-nadia-muradIt could’ve been me. It could’ve been you, your mother, your wife, your daughter. It could’ve been any woman living in the “wrong” time, the “wrong” place, believing the “wrong” thing. Nadia Murad’s story is the story of every woman who could have been her and wasn’t. Her story is the story of every woman in her tribe who had been her to someone else: a slave, an object, a sabayya.

Nadia grew up in a village outside of Mosul, Iraq called Kocho. Her family lived a simple life of farming, community, and prayer. But they weren’t Muslim. They were Yazidi, an almost dirty word to the leaders and followers of ISIS who were quickly taking over Iraq. And so, when ISIS decided they wanted the Yazidi gone and they needed a collection of dispensable of women to keep them occupied, they began destroying the Yazidi, killing their men, kidnapping their boys, and forcing their women into a slave of sex trade.

But it was still hard for Nadia to believe anything would happen to her village, to her. Nadia was born in 1993, there hadn’t been an attack on the Yazidi in her life time. Even when ISIS came to Kocho, surrounding the borders and denying anyone entrance to and exit from the city, Nadia still had faith that everything would be okay.

And then it wasn’t. And then all of the men were dead. And Nadia was separated from her family. And she was sold. And she was raped. And she was beaten. And every ounce of dignity she had was taken from her. And she didn’t give up.

This isn’t a story about how it all ends. Nadia is the author. We know it has a “happy” ending. She lives. This is a story about what happened. This is a story about what nobody else knows is happening, what nobody is listening to, what happens when one group of people decides another isn’t worthy to be alive. This is a story about genocide and rape as a weapon of war. For Nadia, this is more than just a story, her story, this is the story she hopes will be the last. This is the story, she hopes, that will be about the last girl who was ever sold into slavery, who will ever have everything worth anything taken from her, who will have to survive to ever live again.

The Last Girl is an account of something so terrible and so recent it’s hard not to sit and think about what you were doing three years ago or less when the events of the book were taking place. It’s hard not to be enraged, deflated, encouraged, and hopeless all at the same time. The Last Girl is terrible, beautiful, and absolutely worth every moment of every person’s time. It’s a story that everyone should read, that everyone should be aware of is truth. It’s a story so powerful because it’s history and it’s the news all in one. It’s a story that should be read, that should be listened to, so that Nadia can have her dream, and so that every girl who’s experienced anything even close to Nadia’s story can one day find peace that somebody somewhere was the last girl ever stolen, the last girl ever abused, the last girl ever whose body was not their own, even for a moment.

Published by Tim Duggan Books in November of 2017, The Last Girl by Nadia Murad is available for purchase at your local bookstore.

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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.

‘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.