‘Copy Boy’ by Shelley Blanton-Stroud

Part noir, part historical fiction, Copy Boy by Shelley Blanton-Stroud is a fast-paced, non-stop debut novel.

Jane has lived her life mostly on campsites or other makeshift homes with her abusive father and neglectful mother. Things change though when Jane’s father tries to beat her mother and Jane steps in to stop him. A crowbar and a ditch later, Jane finds herself in San Francisco at the doorstep of her mother’s lover’s daughter. Set on leaving the past behind her, Jane assumes the identity of Benjamin Hopper and determines to become a copy boy for a local newspaper.

Things get messy when a woman is murdered, and Jane’s father gets somehow pulled back onto the scene. Fighting to make a name for herself at a paper that doesn’t respect her as a man or a woman while also struggling to both leave behind and reconcile her past, Jane comes up against enemies both internal and external.

Copy Boy investigates issues of psychology, sexism, justice, and social welfare by means of a mystery and a thriller. While the reader is not always left with answers to the questions asked in the novel, Blanton-Stroud certainly sets the scene for the reader to challenge and examine the issues presented.

A quick and easy read, Copy Boy is slated for release from She Writes Press in June of 2020. You can preorder Copy Boy by Shelley Blanton-Stroud from 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.

‘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.

‘Surreptitiously Yours’ by Kristen Fouquet

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Where are the bounds of privacy, and what does it mean to respect privacy in the face of art making? A young film student asks just this question in Kristen Fouquet’s novella Surreptitiously Yours.  In a book where noir meets literary, meets poetry, Surreptitiously Yours also delves into deeper themes of truth, love and the limits of art.

Claudette’s thesis for her film degree revolves around the idea of surreptitiously filming people in public so that they are in their most authentic state of being. Her argument is that her subjects are a greater representation of truth because they don’t know that they are being filmed and are thereby not moved to act, speak, or behave in any one certain way. Claudette’s thesis, already controversial in itself, spirals to encompass a whirlwind of murder, subjugation, and the absolute perversion of privacy. But is it all in the name of truth?

At what point does the very validity of truth come into question because of the means by which it was obtained? In tandem, at what point does truth become subverted and manipulated by the person filming because of his or her own biases, beliefs, or desires? Claudette is forced to ask herself these questions about her own work once she becomes the victim of a classmate’s perverse film project herself based on a twisted version of her own idea.

Fouquet does an amazing job of keeping her readers on the edge of their seats as she winds through scene after scene of action while also developing her characters into rich, believable people in just under 125 pages. Every time the reader thinks she knows what is coming next, Fouquet flips the story on its head and sends it reeling in another direction.

A book so artfully composed and beautifully constructed, Surreptitiously Yours is as vivid as any film could ever hope to be.

Surreptitiously Yours was published in March of 2016 by Le Salon Press and can be purchased from Fouquet’s website. Watch the trailer for Surreptitiously Yours if you want to catch a glimpse of what is in store for you as a reader.

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.