‘Bowlaway’ by Elizabeth McCracken

bowlaway-mccracken

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, Bolwaway is 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

the-wartime-sisters-loigman

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 my investment in where the plot was going. 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 Sisters is an overall satisfying read, with simple and eloquent prose and 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 of The 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

the-golden-child-adams

The Golden Child by Claire Adams is the latest release from SJP, Sarah Jessica Parker’s new sub-imprint within Hogarth. The Golden Child is 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 financial 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 Child might 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.

‘The Island of Always’ by Stephen Evans

the-island-of-always-evans

Stephen Evan’s the The Island of Always is the continuation of his acclaimed novel The Marriage of True Minds originally published in 2008.

The books’ protagonists, Lena and Nick, are partners? Lovers? Enemies? Divorced? Even that’s a question. The two, it seems, are constantly trying to figure out what they are to each other. All they know is that they love each other (most of the time) and they can’t seem to live without each other, except when they are driving each other literally or metaphorically insane. Both are environmental attorneys who once owned a law practice together fighting the injustices of Minneapolis’ less enlightened. Then they got divorced, and either before or after the divorce, Nick might have developed a mental illness.

At the outset of The Marriage of True Minds (which is also included in this edition of The Island of Always), Nick is committed to a mental institution after relocating 144 lobsters to the mayor of Minneapolis’ personal pool. This kicks off a new chapter in Nick and Lena’s romantic comedy as they realize that despite their short comings, they may still love each other.

An echo to Cervantes’ Don Quixote in more than one way, The Island of Always, while comedic and lighthearted in most of its telling, does explore some deeper themes. Evan’s seems to suggest that the definition of insanity may be fluid, indefinable really, human-made definitely. Similarly, love is equally indefinable, always illusive, and never perfect, normal, or what you expected.

Evan’s brings his experience as a playwright into the novel with his descriptive and vivid sentences. The reader can always see the character: exactly what she’s doing and the emotions crossing her face. A fun and utterly enjoyable read, The Island of Always is the perfect feel-good book to boost your spirits and make you think a little differently about your life, even if only for a moment.

Slated for release by Time Being Media, LLC in January of 2019, you can preorder a copy of The Island of Always 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.

‘McGlue’ by Otessa Moshfegh

mcglue-moshfegh.jpgMcGlue by Ottessa Moshfegh is a novel born into the American literary tradition in an explosive way. Echoing beacons like Edgar Allan Poe and Nathanial Hawthorne, McGlue is a dark and nuanced novel.

Moshfegh takes us through the mind and madness of an alcoholic, McGlue, living in the late 1800s. McGlue is being held on a ship, tied to his bed and raving. The captain and other men on board tell him that he’s killed his best friend and lover, Johnson, but McGlue knows this can’t be true. Then again, he can’t exactly remember, especially without a drink to put his mind in order. Going from near dead drunk to a tormented withdrawal, McGlue tries to piece together exactly what happened, and the reader is beside him the whole way.

We sit in the jail cell with McGlue, and Johnson at times, wondering ourselves what’s true and what isn’t. Sometimes we are with McGlue and his mother, or in McGlue’s past as a child with his now dead siblings. Moshfegh weaves together past and present in ways that often make it hard to parse out exactly where we are in time at all, which it seems is also true for McGlue. In this tight first-person narration, we are so close to McGlue we start to feel his madness, his anger, his unbelievably unfair circumstances, and yet we know something is missing.

Moshfegh does a fantastic job of creating a voice for a character that remains constant and unbroken throughout the entire 145 pages. The drunken banter, the desperate pleading, all of it is McGlue the whole time, and it’s fantastic.

Slated for release by Penguin Books on January 8, 2019, you can preorder a copy of McGlue by Ottessa Moshfegh 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.

‘Mourning Dove’ by Claire Fullerton

Mourning-Dove-FullertonMourning Dove by Claire Fullerton tells a story mostly of relationships and of the meaning of the word “home.”

Millie Crossan is our narrator, but the story is much less about her or about any one person in particular. Instead, Fullerton attempts to get at the nature of what it means to be a sister, a daughter, a wife, and human being stumbling through the overgrown brush of life. Finley, Millie’s brother, is her guide, especially in times of despair: times like a big move, a divorce, and death. Finley seems a miracle, untouchable, always holding the answers Millie is looking for, especially in the absence of their father.

As the siblings age and grow apart though, Millie begins to see that perhaps Finley’s answers aren’t always the “right” answers, and that maybe there aren’t any right answers at all. Life goes on in unexpected ways, and at the end of it all, what Millie wants most is relationship and connections with people.

Mourning Dove pulls readers through a family’s lifespan sometimes with grace and sometimes with a little bit too much information. Fullerton tells a compelling story, but often with so much detail and backstory that it can become overwhelming. Despite the occasional drag in momentum, Mourning Dove is a beautiful and heartfelt novel.

Released by Firefly in June of 2018, you can purchase a copy of Mourning Dove by Claire Fullerton 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.

‘Welcome to Lagos’ by Chibundu Onuzo

welcome-to-lagos-onuzoWalking in the footsteps of Chinua Achebe, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and others in the Nigerian literary canon, Chibundu Onuzo’s Welcome to Lagos is the next contemporary Nigerian novel. Onuzo leads readers through a thematically riveting novel as she paints a picture of Nigeria’s beauty, horror, and the perceptions of both its people and those looking in on its people.

We first meet Chike, an upright soldier who finds himself in the throes of indecision as he is told to murder an entire village. Abandoning his post and discovering a host of unlikely characters along the way, Chike becomes the father figure to this vagabond group of Nigerians. A runaway wife who is finished being abused, a young girl overcoming a battle with a newly experienced trauma, and eventually a corrupt(ish) politician are only a few of the characters in Chike’s cohort.

Throughout Welcome to Lagos, themes of morality, forgiveness, and corruption are explored as we learn to love the characters we thought we were meant to hate. Characters are reborn in the eyes of the reader, and we watch them grow from outlaws or weak characters to commendable and ferocious leaders. Onuzo has a unique ability to draw in readers through these themes in ways that make you forget the who of the story and instead feel rooted in its many messages.

Though the characters often feel distant and it is hard to truly get to know any of them because of Onuzo’s panoramic perspective, Welcome to Lagos is a novel that is driven to share itself with the world.

Published by Catapult in May of 2018, Welcome to Lagos by Chibundu Onuzo 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.

‘Woman No. 17’ by Edan Lepucki

woman-no-17-lepuckiWoman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki is a novel about nothing more complicated than identity. Told from dual perspectives, Lepucki tears readers back and forth between two opposing yet coexisting worlds. The first, the world of Lady, is the perspective of a middle-aged house wife turned writer who is in the middle of a self-maintained separation from her husband and who is constantly thinking about her ex-boyfriend of 18 years ago who was verbally abusive. She is grappling to raise both her toddler Devin and her teenaged son Seth who suffers from some type of disability that keeps him from speaking. So, in her struggles, Lady puts a call out for a nanny. And who arrives but our second main character and voice, S. S is an artist who has just broken up with her boyfriend and who has decided to relive her mother’s past in an attempt to better understand her alcoholic, juvenile mother’s point of view.

Both Lady and S are constantly trying to redefine themselves through new names (Lady was once Pearl and then becomes @muffinbuffin41 on Twitter; S’s really name is Esther who is actually wearing the persona of her mother Katherine Mary), new titles (Lady is a housewife turned aspiring writer; S is an artist turned nanny), and even through the actions they partake in to become the personas they are trying to embody (Lady seeks companionship in the much younger S as well as romantic relations with the man who abandoned her for a $2,000 check; S has become an alcoholic and her mother for her character).

Woman No. 17 is twisted with heartbreak, humor, and a constant reminder of the pressures we put on ourselves to be everything that we aren’t. Lady and S are plagued by their inadequacies, by their pasts, and by the generational failure of their mothers to be good mothers. In their constant search for their own identities, Lady and S are also grappling with the identities of their deluded mothers who couldn’t take care of their children.

My one critique of the book is about Seth’s disability. Seth does show some of the hallmark signs of selective mutism (SM) in memories that Lady has from his childhood, especially because of the unstable home life that he had and the potential anxiety he was experiencing. However, in his adulthood, his lack of speech is clearly not a form of anxiety. He is not even shy, let alone suffering from social anxiety. Selective mutism is in and of itself an anxiety disorder and often does not persist past childhood, though symptoms of anxiety will follow children through their whole lives. While, Lady admits that she doesn’t know the cause of Seth’s disability, and perhaps it is just from her point of view that he has SM, I struggled with this label for him. Lady is clearly not thorough in any of her research, thought processes, or other areas in her life, so if we could chalk it up to Lady’s perspective and not Lepucki’s I’d feel more comfortable with the label. Nonetheless I feel like labeling Seth with SM in the novel portrays a false perception of the disability to readers, and SM needs a lot more coverage than it gets to begin with.

Despite this critique, a beautifully written and often tragically hilarious novel, Woman No, 17 has all of the elements of a success. While it often reads a bit slowly, I would argue that’s part of the structure and purpose of the book. Life is moving inexorably slowly for the character’s living in Lepucki’s world, and so it is for the reader too.

Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki was released by Hogarth in early 2018 and 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.

‘Dunbar’ by Edward St. Aubyn

dunbar-edward-st-aubynDunbar by Edward St. Aubyn is the latest in Hogarth’s Shakespeare project. A modern retelling of one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies, King Lear, Dunbar takes on the themes of greed, family, and madness with verve and anguish.

In St. Aubyn’s version of Lear, Dunbar is a media mogul who has recently decided that he needs an extended, if not permanent holiday from working, but with all the same perks of being the head of his corporation. He tries to convince his lawyer, Wilson, to put his two daughters in charge while still leaving him with all the proper bonuses. Wilson, in an attempt to save Dunbar from what he sees to be a terrible mistake, tries to persuade Dunbar against making the decision he’s so set upon. Dunbar, in a fury fires Wilson, and after a chain of rather uncertain events in his memory, ends up in a mental institution in England.

We meet Dunbar in the institution where he has made friends with a famous alcoholic actor who promises to help him escape. Close on his heels though, are the two daughters he realizes have upended his plans in an attempt to take over the entire company and divest their father of all power. They aren’t the only one’s perusing Dunbar though. Dunbar has another daughter, Florence (Cordelia reincarnated) who had been stripped of her shares in the company after divulging her disinterest in ever being a part of management in the business. Dunbar, in his enlightened state, realizes the mistakes he’s made regarding his daughters, and makes every attempt to right his wrongs.

A thrilling and often terrifying account of one’s man’s effort to repair the mistakes he’s made in the name of greed, Dunbar is a beautiful parallel to Shakespeare’s King Lear. The hatred the readers build for nearly all of the characters is matched only by the overwhelming love we are made to feel for Florence. St. Aubyn’s best character by far though, is Peter, the alcoholic actor who, as nearly all other characters do, gives way to the greater temptations of greed.

St. Aubyn does a beautiful job of recreating one of Shakespeare’s arguably greatest works, and he does so by not simply retelling the story, but entirely reinventing it.

Released by Hogarth press in October of 2017, Dunbar by Edward St. Aubyn 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.

‘How to Behave in a Crowd’ by Camille Bordas

how-to-behave-in-a-crowd-bordasA novel where everything and nothing is said all at once without the slightest regard for conformity, How to Behave in a Crowd is both a hilarious and gloomy collection of pages.

Author Camille Bordas follows the life of a family in France over the course of a very short time during which a very lot happens. From realized dreams to actualized death, the Mazal family is lost in a tangle of happiness and despair, often without being able to distinguish between the two. Told from the perspective of the youngest of six siblings, Isidore, How to Behave in a Crowd is a novel about so much more than the words let on.

Told in a stark and rather dry tone, Isidore takes on the persona of someone who, despite what the title suggests, often does not know how to behave in a crowd. His thoughts are based in pure reason without much emotion, yet his actions, more often than not, take into account the people around him. He, unlike his brothers and sisters, is not a child prodigy working towards a first or second PhD after skipping years of schooling. Instead, Isidore is the odd one out. The one who infuses compassion into his encounters with others (unlike his siblings), the one who takes everything literally, including the advice given to him by homeless people who are clearly taking advantage of him.

Over the course of the novel, Isidore, sees people he loves achieve their dreams, lose their passion, and sometimes even die. Throughout his experiences, he is always looking at others, always trying to determine their thoughts, always trying to impress them without ever realizing that he has something to offer.

In the end, we can only infer what Isidore has learned from his experiences — as always he won’t really tell us what’s going on in his mind, or maybe he doesn’t know what’s going on beneath the literal thoughts that fill his head, but we know he’s learned something important. Bordas does a beautiful job of portraying the very real experiences of the human condition through the literal, though never static, view of Isidore.

Published by Tim Duggan Books in 2017, How to Behave in a Crowd 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.