‘Out of Darkness, Shining Light’ by Petina Gappah

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Racism, misogyny and the ironies that arise from situations in which we “do right” are just a few of the topics taken on in Petina Gappah’s new novel Out of Darkness, Shining Light.

A historical novel that fictionalizes the actual removal of a missionary and doctor’s body out of Africa in the late 1800s, Out of Darkness, Shining Lightis told from two unexpected perspectives. One is Halima, Doctor David Livingston’s cook, and the other is Jacob Wainwright, a freed slave and a Christian. Through these two narrators, we are afforded a glimpse into the harrowing journey of the group of people that literally carried Livingstone to the edge of the Earth.

While the frame of the novel centers around Livingstone’s removal from Africa, the core of the book gets at much deeper themes. Halima is a slave who is maybe not a slave, who is treated like the woman she is: not as worthy, intelligent, or capable as her male counterparts. She is chastised for having feelings for a man when her partner is abusive, and their union is forced. She is made fun of for loving a child that isn’t hers. She’s told she can never own a house even if she is free one day, simply because she’s a woman. And yet, it’s Halima who provides for the group. Halima who in the end is shown to be the strongest of all.

Jacob Wainwright on the other hand, the pious Christian that he is, denounces the savagery of his countrymen and aims to convert all of Africa to the one true religion: Christianity. He parallels his savage counterparts in his treatment and view of women as inherently evil, in his blasé reflections on punishment and death, and in his othering of all who are not what he sees as the ideal. And yet, he in many ways is a victim of his circumstances: stolen as a child, shipped across the sea, and taught the white man’s view of white vs. wrong.

A cutting, funny, and most often horrifying novel, Petina Gappah’s Out of Darkness, Shining Lightis a beautiful and soulful book that tells a story that desperately needs to be told.

Slated for release by Scribner Books on September 10, 2019, you can preorder a copy of Out of Darkness, Shining Lightby Petina Gappah at your local independent 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.

‘This Tender Land’ by William Kent Krueger

this-tender-land-kruegerWilliam Kent Krueger’s latest novel, This Tender Land, takes on the task of emulating the American Classic in a number of ways. A group of outcast youngsters, down on their luck, living in an abusive, historical setting escape their captors to adventure down the Mississippi. Harkening back to landmark works like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finand Great Expectations, Krueger’s novel awakens a sort of nostalgia for the American Classic in the reader.

While the cast of characters is interesting and the adventures manifold, the novel falls short in its ambling structure and stride. The action is spread thin across the pages, making it challenging for the reader to keep pace. Krueger has moments where the action is clear and the prose beautiful, but overall, the novel takes heft of patience and perseverance to sift through.

Slated for release by Atria Books on September 3, 2019, you can preorder a copy of This Tender Landby William Kent Krueger at your local independent 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 Porpoise’ by Mark Haddon

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The Porpoiseby Mark Haddon is a masterfully rendered retelling of Shakespeare’s Pericles, Prince of Tyre.Haddon takes all of the elements of Shakespeare’s work, and layers on it a multitude of intricacies that elevate the story to an entirely different emotional plane.

Haddon sets his reader up in contemporary France where a plane has just crashed: a wife is dead, a daughter survives. Angelica, the daughter, is raised by her father Phillipe who develops a muddled and monstrous relationship with his daughter as she grows. Just as Shakespeare’s Pericles’ own adventure starts with the unveiling of a scandal between father and daughter, so does Haddon’s Pericles. This Pericles though is at first a con artist named Darius who comes to visit Phillipe and uncovers the untold lies surrounding Phillipe and Angelica. After being chased away by one of Phillipe’s henchmen, Darius, now Pericles, finds himself upon a ship, The Porpoise, with a new name, a new history, and a new destiny to fulfill.

Haddon follows not only Pericles, but also a host of other characters which have only minor or momentary parts in Shakespeare’s original. Haddon, instead of simply following Pericles’ narrative as it stands, weaves together characters and elements in unique and magical ways. In doing so, the reader is intimately tied to all of the characters whether she despises them or holds her breath for them. Through elements perhaps of magical realism, of mental instability, or musings on the veil between life and death, characters, times, and places start to blend together as themes and narrative threads are woven into a brilliant and moving tapestry that is Mark Haddon’s The Porpoise.

While there are points in the novel where Haddon’s musings seem to run away and leave the reader wondering at the thread of his thoughts, overall the piece is a beautifully set puzzle with some odd curves, but a marvelous finish.

A masterful and poetic work, The Porpoiseby Mark Haddon is slated for release by Doubleday on June 18, 2019. You can preorder a copy of the book at your local independent 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.

‘Lights All Night Long’ by Lydia Fitzpatrick

lights-all-night-long-fitzpatrickBrilliant and beautiful beyond comprehension, Lydia Fitzpatrick’s Lights All Night Longis a novel that pulls the reader in starting on page one.

Fitzpatrick tells the story of a Russian exchange student, Ilya, and his mission to save his brother, Vladimir, from punishment for a series of murders Ilya knows, or at least thinks he knows, Vladimir did not commit. Ilya is in Louisiana though and doesn’t quite know how to help his brother except by sending him lengthy emails detailing his life in America and his insistence that Vladimir is innocent. While in America, with the help of both fate and some new friends, Ilya begins to unravel bits of the truth about his brother’s life and his confession of the murders.

Told through a blend of past a present, the reader slowly starts to piece together Ilya’s history and the life he’s lived in Russia. We start to understand Ilya and Vladmir’s relationship as well as Ilya’s relationship with is hometown, his dead father, and what’s left of his family. A story of drugs and murder, of family and companionship, of honesty and dishonesty, of honor and love, Lights All Night Longis impossible to simply sum up in a few paragraphs. It’s a novel that has to be read and by being read almost lived.

Fitzpatrick is a dazzling and poetic writer who creates characters that are difficult to forget. Since the book is told from the close third perspective of a teenage boy, we hear a lot about his sexual fantasies and desires, and while this at times can detract from the flow of the book, the reader just has to remember the age of the main character, and it’s easy to move through some of these more staccato descriptions.

Overall, Lights All Night Longis a captivating book that will pull readers into an entirely new world.

Slated for released on April 2, 2019 by Penguin Press, you can preorder a copy of Lights All Night Long by Lydia Fitzpatrick at your local independent 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.

‘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 Wartime Sisters’ by Lynda Cohen Loigman

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War tears people apart, but so do lies, jealousy, and misunderstanding. In Lynda Cohen Loigman’s new novel The Wartime Sisters, Ruth and Millie find this out firsthand.

Millie has always been the golden child: beautiful, charming, and adored by everyone, including Ruth and Millie’s parents and all the boys in town. As long as Ruth can remember, Millie has been shattering her sister’s perfect and ordered life. So, when she gets the chance, Ruth runs as far away as she can with her family, hoping to leave everything about Millie and their past behind.

Millie, though, doesn’t embrace her beauty and seemingly mystical charm over men. She wants to find true love, sure, and she appreciates her parents’ affection, but she doesn’t want to only be seen for her looks. She feels wronged by Ruth. She sees Ruth’s constant taunting and accusing tone as one that is meant to make her feel inadequate. Millie is torn between wanting to repair the relationship she’s never really had with Ruth and forget it ever existed.

When World War II starts, things become even more trying for the sisters as they grapple with the effects of the war on their family and loved ones. When Millie’s husband disappears in battle, Ruth takes the first step in breaking down the wall between the two sisters and invites Millie to live with her and her family. Millie, though, starts embodying all of the labels and fixed ideas that Ruth has set out for her, and soon the sisters are back at war where they started.

Loigman takes us on a journey of what it means to repair a life after a deep-set trauma. She does this not only through Ruth and Millie’s eyes, but through the eyes of other female narrators who have similar stories to tell. Through it all, the message is clear: be strong, fight for what is right, and forgive.

Being pulled out of the novel by a constantly shifting narrator could at times detract from the pace of and investment in the novel. It felt hard to get close enough to any one character to feel their plight acutely enough to be wholly invested in them as a character. I found myself wanting to return to Ruth’s point of view most often, because that was the one that felt most fleshed out and palpable. Nonetheless, The Wartime Sisterswas an overall satisfying read, with simple and eloquent prose. The Wartime Sistersis a quick read that is perfect for fans of The Orphan’s Tale or Girl in The Blue Coat.

Slated for related from St. Martin’s Press on January 22, 2019, you can preorder a copy ofThe Wartime Sistersby Lynda Cohen Loigman at your local bookstore.

Read more historical 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 Golden Child’ by Claire Adams

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The Golden Childby Claire Adams is the latest release from SJP for Hogarth, Sarah Jessica Parker’s new sub-imprint within Hogarth. The Golden Childis the story of a family living in modern day Trinidad and grappling with issues of love, family, and disability.

Peter and Paul are twins. Peter is the smart one. Paul is the different one. After a complication at birth, Paul’s family writes him off as being disabled, and they never leave an opportunity for him to forget it. He goes through life always measured against his brother’s successes as his family tries their best to ignore any strength of Paul’s that might be different from what their culture, their world, and they have told themselves is worthy.

Not long after the family’s house gets robbed, Paul goes missing. His father shoos away the thought that anything bad has happened, chalking up Paul’s absence to late night partying and being a teenager. When Paul’s kidnappers call the next day with a ransom price though, the boys’ father is faced with a choice of saving the life of his less than perfect son or saving the future of his perfect son.

An absolutely heart wrenching and infuriating novel, The Golden Child, reveals what a lot of us don’t want to remember exists in our world: hatred, greed, and a lack of compassion. If you’re looking for a fast and easy read without that quintessential happy ending, The Golden Childmight be just what you need.

Slated for release in January of 2019, you can preorder a copy of The Golden Child by Claire Adams 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.