‘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.


‘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.

‘The Valley’ by John Renehan

the-valley-renehanWar is a terrible and terrifying experience no matter the situation, but take crime, drugs, manipulation and scandal and you have a whole new world of terrible and terrifying. That is the exact picture of the war in Afghanistan that John Renehan paints in his novel The Valley. Renehan, a former field officer in Iraq, writes The Valley from an intimate vantage point, though he is clear in stating that he has never visited the places he mentions in the novel and that he depended more on research than on personal experience when it came to the setting.

Though Renehan jumps a bit between characters, the main protagonist in The Valley is Lieutenant Black, a desk officer who is assigned a 15-6, or an investigation. This particular investigation involves a troop that is stationed in the Valley, a mysterious and notoriously dangerous place between the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Black arrives to investigate a stray bullet that was shot in the village by one of the soldiers stationed there. Immediately upon arrival though, things seem a bit out of sorts, and Black slowly begins to unravel the pieces of a well-weaved story.

In a way, Renehan writes The Valley as a mystery novel, dropping clues for the reader to try to figure out the mystery for herself. The mystery, though, is so convoluted and twisted up in other mysteries that it is at times hard to follow who is manipulating who, who is lying, who is the good guy and the bad. But really, these are the lessons of war, the uncertainty bound up in fighting violently with other cultures, with one another, and with ourselves. Renehan is sure to wrap everything up in the end, and in the final pages, the reader is able to sigh a breath of relief: everything makes sense.

Beautifully written, Renehan weaves not only literal poetry into his work, but his writing style in itself is poetic. The mysterious aura of the Valley and of particular characters in The Valley makes the novel an almost ethereal and majestic read at times.

The Valley is Renehan’s first novel, and was nominated for Indie Next List in 2015. The Valley was published in 2015 by Dutton, a Penguin Group publisher.

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.

“NeuroTribes” by Steve Silberman

neurotribes-silbermanNeuroTribes by Steve Silberman is the pinnacle of understanding of autism as it’s developed from its initial coining, to autism in the current age. Silberman goes not only into historical depth concerning autism and its development over the course of its clinical existence, but he also incorporates anecdotal and first hand experiences of both parents of autistic children and autistic people themselves.

Silberman starts by tracing back the history of autism to its founders, namely child psychologist Leo Kanner and clinician Hans Asberger. From here Silberman discusses the man instantiations that autism took on a clinical level throughout the years, from those believing it was only a childhood “disease” to those who believed autism could be “cured” through punishment based therapies and even more horrifying methods.

Weaving in anecdotal stories of parents struggling to find services for their children, Silberman eventually turns the book almost completely on its head by putting the bulk of the focus on autistic people and their experiences, contributions and methods of dealing with “typical” society.

All along, Silberman advocates for the importance and necessity of having diverse thinkers in our culture: i.e. “neurodiversity.” Pointing to notable figures in the past who were likely to have been autistic (had the term been around at the time), such as Henry Cavendish, Silberman makes the argument that without these thinkers we would be far behind in the realm of science and philosophy.

Overall, NeuroTribes is both an inspirational and terrifying look into how views of autism have developed and evolved over time, and how autistic people have gained greater recognition as humans with a different way of thinking and nothing more.

Published by Avery in 2015, NeuroTribes 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.


‘The Invention of Wings’ by Sue Monk Kidd

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk KiddBestselling author Sue Monk Kidd released her latest novel, The Invention of Wings, in January of last year.  A historical novel rooted in the story of Sarah and Angelina Grimke, the first female abolitionists and two of the first modern feminists, The Invention of Wings looks at issues of gender, race, and morality from a uniquely dual perspective.

The novel vacillates between being narrated by Sarah Grimke, a young southern belle, and Handful, a slave on the Grimke plantation. Both girls are subversive and oppose not only authority, but also convention, even at the young age of eleven when we first meet them. Kidd follows the girls from childhood into middle age, allowing for the reader to see and understand the situations occurring in and around their lives with a more vibrant and deep verve. There are certain stories and situations that are told both from Handful and Sarah’s point of view, while other events that are extremely important to Handful don’t even make it into Sarah’s narrative (and vice versa), because she is either unaware of them or can’t understand the impact of such events.

While both Handful and Sarah have a certain sisterly bond of love that they both acknowledge, there is a fissure between them that continues to grow as they age. Handful begins to see more and more that Sarah can never understand her position as a slave. Kidd juxtaposes the women’s rights movement with the abolition movement in so that each mirrors the other as a mode of imprisonment. However, Sarah’s issues, though vital in their own right, are often shadowed by the horrors of Handful’s life.

Sarah can at times be an overbearing and frustrating character, especially when she is placed next to Handful, whose greatest trouble can’t even come close to comparing to Sarah’s. In a certain way, The Invention of Wings, shows that everyone’s own biggest issue is as important to them as the next person’s own biggest issue no matter the gap between those issues. Sarah’s dreams and desires cannot be discounted by any means, but in comparison to Handful’s simple wishes for freedom, it’s difficult to have sympathy for the often whining, young southern princess.

Nonetheless, The Invention of Wings is full of strong female characters, Sarah included, who both take a stand against their oppressors and who offer inspiration by virtue of their will, courage, and perseverance.

Published by Penguin Books in January 2014, The Invention of Wings is available 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.

‘Ana of California’ by Andi Teran

Ana of California by Andi TeranAna of California by Andi Teran tells the tale of Ana Cortez, a young Latina living in Los Angeles, who when we meet her, is without family, friends or any prospects for her future beyond what she sees as impending doom. Ana has been tossed from foster home to group home, each time leaving behind her indelible mark of persistence and sass. We meet Ana as she is given a final chance to free herself from the emotionally and often physically abusive system that she keeps getting cycled back into. Ana is offered an internship to be a farmhand at Garber Farms where she will earn school credit while building her credentials to apply for emancipation.

Ana is the quintessential young female heroine: strong willed, intelligent, quirky and compassionate. Rye, Ana’s best friend, is an exemplar model of another feminine strength and human imperfection: she is into high-fashion, questions her sexuality, and often makes poor choices that are all too easily made by a teenager. Then you’ve got the Garber siblings, Ana’s foster parents who have their own twisted pasts and dark secrets. Each character holds a torch for something in their pasts which informs their present selves and which they feel like defines them in some unforgiveable and unmalleable way.

One of the most beautiful messages of the book is that your past will always be with you no matter how much you wish it away, and that’s not such a bad thing. Though insecurities are harbored and negative experiences are settled deep in the psyche of nearly every character, in the end each seems to shed a part of that past in accepting the past and revealing it to their loved ones.

Not at all a fairy tale model of happily ever after Ana of California holds a certain sense of hope for readers coming from all different backgrounds and experiences, and offers a glimpse into the possibility of living life uninhibited by one’s past.

Set for publication by Penguin Books on June 30, 2015, you can preorder a copy of Ana of California 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.

“Queen Sugar” by Natalie Baszile

Queen Sugar by Natalie BaszileQueen Sugar by Natalie Baszile may tell a story of familiar themes, but the upfront way that Baszile addresses issues of family, race, social class, faith and more makes for a vital and moving novel that works on levels so much deeper than plot.

Speaking of plot: when we meet Charley Bordelon, the primary narrator of Queen Sugar, we learn that she has recently inherited an 800 acre sugarcane farm that she had no idea even existed until her father’s will named her its owner. Now Charley and her daughter Micah are travelling from the home they’ve always known in Los Angeles to the farmlands of Louisiana to harvest sugarcane. Charley and eleven-year-old Micah getting to Louisiana without strangling each other by way of typical mother-daughter effrontery is only the beginning of a long struggle that both women will endure throughout the course of the novel.

Not only is Charley a city girl trying to take up a farmer’s role, but she is also a woman in a man’s world and perhaps most at the forefront of Charley’s mind and the novel, she is an African American in a still racist state. This is a place where black and white, male and female, poor and rich are major distinctions for the Californian mother and daughter. Hence, recurring themes of incessant and seemingly inherent masochism, racism and social class issues play deep seeded roles in the novel as Charley navigates her way through the very new territory of Louisiana’s Deep South.

Throw into the mix Ralph Angel, Charley’s drug abusing half-brother who seems to be good at only one thing: messing up every opportunity given to him, and you’ve got the perfect fixings for a catastrophe. Ralph Angel though is one of the most intriguing and tragic characters of the novel. His story, that of a struggling African American who never makes it out of the drudgery he’s born into, is one of the most important Baszile intends to tell.

Queen Sugar is a stark and often affronting novel that cuts no corners and leaves no silences when it comes to taking a stand. That’s not to say that ambiguities aren’t recognized in the systems and norms that Bazsile confronts; rather, the issues themselves are brought to light in ways that complicate and force those who stand on either side to think differently about the matters at hand. Baszile challenges issues of race, gender and class that still plague us today with characters so alive and endearing it’s easy to think about what they would do or say in situations outside the pages of the text.

A richly complex novel burgeoning with social import and so beautifully composed you’ll feel you are walking in the Louisiana cane field with Charley, Queen Sugar is both tragic and uplifting in just the same way life itself can often be.

Published by Penguin Books in January 2015, you can find Queen Sugar at your local bookstore.

Read more fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: I received this book from NetGalley for a fair and honest review of the text.