Contemporary Fiction

A Lifetime Last Night

A Lifetime Last Night
Every choice has a consequence, a notion Richard Dunham refuses to acknowledge even as his twenty-five-year marriage to college sweetheart Emily falls apart. Forced into a homeless shelter when Emily throws him out, Richard has an unexpected encounter with an eccentric old man who offers him a rare opportunity. A fatal accident leaves Richard between two worlds, but he refuses to leave this one before making things right with Emily. Left with only one option, he embarks on a mission to reclaim the heart of the only woman he’s ever loved, while trapped in the body of a man she’s never met – the man involved in her husband’s death. With time running out, Richard must navigate a minefield of obstacles that stand in the way of reclaiming everything he once held dear. A shocking discovery offers hope, but is it too late? Will Richard let his past determine his future, or will he discover that it is never too late to be what he might have been?

Click Date Repeat

Click Date Repeat
These days, finding love online is as commonplace as ordering that coveted sweater. But back in 2003, the whole concept of internet dating was still quite new, with a stigma attached to it that meant those who were willing to test the waters faced a fair amount of skepticism from friends and family. Such is the case for Chloe Thompson, a restless 20-something tired of the typical dating scene and curious about what she might find inside her parents’ computer. With two serious but failed relationships behind her, Chloe isn’t even entirely sure what she’s looking for. She just knows that whatever it is, she wants to find it. Based loosely on author K. J. Farnham’s real-life online dating experiences, Chloe’s foray into online dating involves a head-first dive into a world of matches, ice breakers and the occasional offer of dick pics, all while Chloe strives to shake herself of the ex who just refuses to disappear. Will she simultaneously find herself and “the one” online, or will the ever-growing pile of humorous and downright disastrous dates only prove her friends and family right? There’s only one way to find out… Click. Date. Repeat.

Reviewed 

Billed as chick lit/contemp romance, one would expect a light, fluffy, and … well, romantic type book. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The book starts off somewhat slowly and analytically as Our Heroine, Chloe, peruses the profiles and stats of possible matches on an Internet dating site.

It picks up the pace when she starts dating a number of these men, and at the same time, we read about her relationships with her two best friends, her family, and … her exes, particularly the most recent one.

Unsurprisingly, this is a book about relationships, or lack of them, and the author does a good job in portraying the very different types that Chloe has.

This story is written in the first person, and primarily present tense, but even so, we learn about Chloe’s past, and that of her friends and family as the story unfolds, yet without any distracting unnecessary information dumps. The skill in this story is showing the feelings and emotions of others through their interaction, emotions, and conversations with Chloe. Dialogue is one of the main techniques used to tell this story, and it is well done, with no overly descriptive tags or unnecessary adverbs. It moves on the story and our understanding at the same time.

Characters develop through the story, and we come to empathise with Chloe’s feelings and thoughts as she questions the way she is approaching online dating and her new relationships. The author takes us inside Chloe’s head so that we share the anticipation of each new date, and the self-doubt that follows. Will there be a repeat date? But not just Chloe, her friends Jess and Shelly, and her family, grow as we read through the book. We truly learn more about all the characters. Even the dates she has stamp their personality on the story.

There is judgement, criticism, argument, and inevitable disappointment. There is however no maudlin sentimentality, the author steers clear of that.

And the plot? Well, my predicted ending didn’t happen, although the actual ending felt a little unreal. Nevertheless, after an up-and-down, exciting, unexpected journey through online dating, the ending provides an optimistic finish, and it has to be said, an interesting one.

It’s a good story of the pervasive influence the internet has on our lives, even down to finding our partners in life.

In chick lit genre, it’s somewhat different from the expected norm, avoiding all the crass stereotypical portrayals of behaviour, while providing good character and plot development. In contemporary romance it holds its own, providing a realistic view of the highs and lows of online dating, and the assumptions people make about it.

 

 

Reviewed by Renee

I went from one serious relationship to the next, so I really enjoyed living out a casual dating experience vicariously though this novel. I really liked Chloe, she was the kind of person I could imagine being friends with. Going from one dating disaster to the next, I was just as excited to find out what would go wrong as what would go right. There were a lot of male characters to keep track of, and most didn’t last long, so I didn’t really get a chance to connect with any of them – but that’s casual dating for you.

I received this book free from Awesome Indies Book in exchange for an honest review. This is the second book I’ve read by the author and I’m looking forward to the next.

Reviewed by Nat Parsons

This review has slight spoilers that I felt necessary – you have been warned!

Chloe Thompson is a teacher, has been out with two very very absolutely lovely guys but is still not settled. Her mum likes to remind her of this. Chloe is therefore sensitive to this fact. She has also dated one complete arse.

She thinks it’s time she met a good guy (I totally agreed.) A guy she can not only feel safe with, but also feel the kind of passion she felt for the complete arse (go Chloe!) So she registers for online dating. BUT, it’s 2003!! Online dating is so new it’s almost embarrassing to admit to it. There’s stigma – her mum disapproves, her friends are full to bursting with advice, solicited or not. How is Chloe – and ONLY Chloe – going to decide on her future with so much background noise?

I enjoyed this book overall. This isn’t usually the type of book I would read because I read them too quickly! I usually opt for something different. But the cover and the 4 star rating persuaded me I should read and see. It was very worth it.

Because of the real relationships between Chloe and her friends the book is much deeper than I initially assumed, so props to KJ Farnham. It very maturely addressed the problems found in making decisions with a vocal and opinionated family-and-friend group. Both friends mentioned – Jess and Shelley – are well rounded and also go through character growth in the dating arena.

The book also addresses the sometimes difficult relationship between mother and daughter. It is hard to feel like an adult making decisions if your mother is always chipping in with advice/guilt trips. This book brings a nice resolution to that particular drama, and that’s sometimes difficult to do well or smoothly in fiction without too much preaching.

The last bit of props goes to the exploration of moving away from emotional bonds to a person previously dated. I’ve already mentioned the arse, but he serves a useful purpose. Through the mistakes Chloe makes we all get a masterclass in how to get rid of a clingy ex; don’t see him/her, definitely take away his key if he/she has one, forgoodnesssake don’t sleep with him/her, tell him/her not to call and perhaps even change your number if necessary BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY tell him/her why you’re doing what you’re doing. Tell him/her it’s finished and at least for the time being you don’t want to see him/her. Communication is key, people. Because it’s not only him/her that will be hearing this, it’ll also be YOU. It’s be good for YOU to hear this.

The sex: Chloe has sex. Oh yes she does. I’m afraid neither are the warm, safe, happy-ever-after encounters that happen in happy-ever-after rom-coms. The first is with Mr Arse, and the fact she shouldn’t be doing it and I knew that the guy was just taking advantage of her made me feel very sorry for our Chloe. I’m afraid it got worse after that – the second time was with an online date that date raped her.

I feel I need to mention this because it could be triggering for some readers.

I don’t know how that scene came across to others, but when a girl has almost passed out and says very clearly to the guy: I AM NOT GOING TO SLEEP WITH YOU and he does it anyway, I call rape. And I was also uncomfortable that this guy was portrayed as a good guy for the rest of the time he was around. It was confusing for me as a reader. I don’t know whether this was on purpose as a comment on how many times the girl blames herself for miscommunication and other things in a borderline abusive relationship, or whether the author didn’t quite communicate with readers that actually it wasn’t rape, for reasons that are unclear to me. I like to assume the former because that’s a more interesting story that the author could have gone into more detail about that perhaps she didn’t want to at this time. I hope she does one day. For this confusion, I have reduced my rating from 4 stars to 3.

The element of mystery given in the form of a reading by the Angel Lady of Vegas could have been introduced much sooner. It definitely would have added that extra layer of interest; which guy was closet to the reading? Was Chloe going to listen to the reading, her mother, her friends, or herself? Etc etc. I think as a reader I would have enjoyed that. Plus, having it introduced 80% of the way through (I read this on my Kindle!) feels like it was shoehorned in for the ending.

The writing style itself was so polished and consummately good. I never had any problems reading it, it was smooth and nothing ever stuck out or bothered me/brought me out of the story. Which always means good writing!! I was a very happy reader 🙂Chloe herself was a brilliant character with flaws, so she was real on the page. I enjoyed reading her point of view.

I was surprised by this book, because it had depths. I’m not sure what genre I would out it in other than women’s fiction. It’s NOT a rom-com, because it’s not romantic and it’s definitely not a comedy. It has comedic elements from time to time but not comedy. It’s about a women with serious flaws (all of us!) getting over herself (something we all need to do) to find her relationships again.

3/5 stars. Solid book, with a few flaws.

I (gratefully!) received this book free from Awesome Indies Books in return for an honest review.

Walking with Elephants

Walking with Elephants
Bridget Jones meet Erma Bombeck — Walking with Elephants, a lighthearted slice-of- life story, brings to the table the serious work/family issues facing women today.   Suze Hall is at a crossroads. Her nemesis at work, Wanda, has been promoted and now will be her boss. Her husband, Bob, is leaving her and the three kids for a six-month sabbatical down under. To top it off, her best friend, Marcia, is missing in action–playing footsie with some new boyfriend!   Adding to this disaster stew, David, the gorgeous hunk who broke her young-girl’s heart has coincidentally popped back into her life and has something she desperately needs to keep her job. Walking with Elephants, a lighthearted slice-of- life story, brings to the table the serious work/family issues facing women today. It explores the modern dichotomy of a workplace that is filled with homemakers who still must cook, clean, carpool on nights and weekends, shop for prom dresses, and “create” the holidays–such as Suze. But it also is filled with women who have the same drive as men, have no family responsibilities, and will do what ever it takes to get ahead. So step into the shoes of Suze Hall and commiserate over workplace politics, titillate your sexual fantasies, ride the wave of a working mother, and fall-down laughing.

Reviewed by 

5 Stars

This is a highly enjoyable, expertly written and thought-provoking work of contemporary fiction that looks at the reality of the post women’s liberation world.  Women wanted the freedom to have a career, but the bottom line is that men can’t have the babies, so what women actually got was the burden of juggling two jobs–one to earn money and the other to bring up the children—often without the satisfaction of doing either job well. Karen Bell raises these kinds of issues in a delightfully entertaining read about a very real and easy to relate to woman.

Suze Hall is in danger of loosing her job, thanks to a reshuffle at work. A work mate who hates Suze as much as Suze hates her has been promoted and is now Suze’s boss. The company has been taken over and the stakes and workload raised. Wanda, the boss, gives Suze a task that is so out of her area of expertise that she is clearly meant to fail in order to give a good reason for Wanda to fire her.

At the same time, Suze’s husband, Bob, is leaving her and the three kids for a six-month sabbatical down under, and her best friend, Marcia, is involved with a new boyfriend, so Suze is alone with the kids.  As well as this, David, the gorgeous artist who broke her heart at college has coincidentally popped back into her life and has what she desperately needs to keep her job. Suze is forced to confront old demons—her feelings for David—and new ones—negotiating office politics to avoid being sidelined by her career woman boss who is keen to make Suze feel inadequate and unnecessary.

The issues are serious but the writing is light-hearted. The characters are delightful and very real. Suze goes through a kind of midlife crisis where she questions everything about herself and her relationships. The story raises all her insecurities, ones shared by woman of all ages throughout the western world, and her imagination throws up some romance novel options in her renewed relationship with David. They could lead her on a dangerous path but she’s smart enough to keep her cool.

One of my favourite bits is where Suze bemoans the fact that a woman no longer has the luxury of growing old, fat and respected—a kind of reward for her years of childrearing and the maturity and wisdom that comes from it. This would be a mature mother’s status in a matriarchal society and that’s how the story relates to elephants—not size, matriarchal society.

I recommend Walking with Elephants to every woman and I give it 5 stars and a place on the Awesome Indies listing.

 

Sunspots

Sunspots
A love story of loss and redemption and the ghosts that haunt our lives and our houses. Aurora Goldberg Stein is lost in grief. Her beloved husband, Jake Stein, has just died in a tragic car accident and her sorrow is overwhelming. But is this really the end? Perhaps, perhaps not. She hears his voice. She sees his ghostly presence. She travels back in time to another life with Jake. What is going on? What is the message? Jake Stein, a dashing Texan, sweeps Aurora off her feet and changes her life. A Brooklyn born actress, she moved  to NYC and does temporary work to pay her bills. On this particular assignment, she accidentally meets Jake Stein, who is her dance with destiny. Leaving everything she knows, she marries him and moves to Austin, Texas. No longer struggling to make ends meet, Aurora wiles away her time bored and lonely, and trying to recapture the excitement she once had with this man. And then suddenly, it’s all over, her life, her future is gone. Vanished are all her hopes and dreams. But destiny comes in many forms, and when Aurora moves to a new house, she discovers that the previous owner has never left. The ghostly presence of Viola Parker looms large and becomes Aurora’s guide through time revealing to her the mistakes she’s made with Jake Stein through the centuries. This time, maybe this time, Aurora can get it right.

Reviewed

Sunspots is a moving, beautifully-written mystery about the devastating consequences of obsessive love.

5 Stars

 

Bell’s elegant prose not only describes the events and scenery of this self destructive love story in riveting detail, but also skilfully evokes the atmosphere both internal and external. The structure of the story is very clever. At the beginning of the book, our empathy is aroused for grieving widow Aurora Goldberg. It appears that she had the perfect marriage to charming Jake, but as the story progresses, we and Aurora discover Jake’s secrets, so shocking to her that she is forced to re-evaluate their love. Through eyes opened by the truth—and helped along by the visions provided by a ghost—she sees that all was not as rosy as she had believed. Not only that, but the legacy he left her could be life-threatening.

Popular fiction tends to romanticise love where one looses themselves in the other, or feels completed by the other, or feels they cannot live or be happy without the other; Sunspots takes this kind of notion to its extreme to show how disempowering an obsession with the object of our love actually is. Obsession not only blinds you, it makes you weak, needy and boring. Your partner is likely to turn elsewhere to get away from your clinging, especially if you end up harping on at him that he never gives you any attention anymore. It’s dangerous to let your whole life revolve around one person, for when they leave you—by death as it is in this case—you are devastated. As the book progresses we come to see how much Aurora has brought her crippling grief upon herself. She literally looses herself in this obsession.

Bell brings a metaphysical element to the story with the addition of Viola Parker, the ghost of the sister of Aurora’s last incarnation. With her help, Aurora sees that this pattern of obsessive love and betrayal by Jake—in his previous incantations—has been repeated in past lifetimes that ended with Aurora’s suicide. Viola urges her to take a different path in this life and cut the cycle of self-destruction.

Bell deals with interesting themes here, that we tend to repeat patterns until we make a conscious effort to change them,  that the past can be changed by actions in the present, and that when someone ‘saves’ us with love, in a healthy, balanced relationship we also to some extent ‘save’ them.

Highly recommended to anyone who likes psychological depth in their romance. I give it 5 stars and a place on the Awesome Indies list.

 

Awesome Allshorts: Last Days, Lost Ways

Awesome Allshorts: Last Days, Lost Ways
This superbly written short story anthology showcases talented Awesome Indie authors from around the globe. Though from a variety of genres, the stories are all entertaining, contemporary and thought-provoking.   Indulge your taste for good fiction with this short story anthology by authors with bold new voices. Though from diverse genres, the stories share a contemporary and contemplative feel that will linger long after the reader has read the last one. Awesome Allshorts showcases talented authors from around the globe, many whose novels have received multiple honors, including Awesome Indies approved status. Stories selected by Tahlia Newland, Dixiane Hallaj and Richard Bunning.

Reviewed by Bill Kirton

First, a disclaimer. This volume contains a flash fiction story of mine but the review relates to the other 26 contributions. It’s entirely objective. If it weren’t, I’d be undermining my credibility as a reviewer.

The enigmatic subtitle of the collection, Last Days, Lost Ways, hints at disjunction, reflection, scenes in which a variety of voices recount departures, frustrations, lost or decaying loves. In fact, as you read from story to story, the variation in styles and subjects, the movement from striking characters to bleak or funny situations, the range of emotions provoked – all combine to make this a rich experience.

The authors all know how to grab the reader and draw him/her very quickly into the specifics of their settings and the mysteries of the characters and their obsessions. The mood swings from anxious to loving, sinister to funny, despairing to whimsical, futuristic to domestic, romantic to dystopian. Some stories are firmly set in an apparently mundane everyday world, but one unpicked by a character’s reactions to its pressures and interpretations of its moments. Others move straight into the paranormal or historical. But all touch on aspects of life, fears, relationships which will have echoes in readers’ own experience.

The anthology exemplifies the flexibility and continuing relevance of a form which is nowadays enjoying an overdue revival.

Reviewed by Amy Spahn

Full disclosure: One of my short stories appears in this anthology. This review is about the others.

I did not expect these stories to move me as deeply as they did. Short works often struggle to pack a significant punch in their diminished wordcount, but the pieces contained in this collection rise to the occasion. Some had me on the edge of my seat in suspense. Some brought tears to my eyes with their emotional depth. And some utilized unique writing styles so artfully that they should be studied in literature classes.

Like with any anthology, not everything in this book will appeal to every reader. But the breadth and depth of the writing styles, storylines, and people explored make it deserving of a spot on any avid reader’s shelf.

Reviewed by

Ignite

 

This is a collection of stories subtitled Last Days and Lost Ways. I received an Advanced Review Copy. It is not the final version. I don’t know if the stories will appear in this order but I found I didn’t really get on with most of those in the first half. The second half of the book picked up for me, but if I hadn’t been reading to review, I might easily have lost interest and abandoned it.

The writing was good. It was the definition of ‘story’ which didn’t click with me in some cases. To me, and I suspect, to many readers, a short story is a complete tale. Some of these read as, or maybe even were, excerpts from some longer work and I didn’t like that. I wanted closure.

The stories I liked best were Pearls, Home late, The Creator, Recipe for a Dinner Party, Standin’ at the Crossroads, Waitin; for the Devil to Show and A Matter of Trust. I enjoyed these stories and the feeling of having savoured a complete experience with them.

Reviewed by

Justin Spahn

As the husband of one of the authors in this anthology, I was given the opportunity to read an advance copy in exchange for an honest review. So, here it is!

I’ve read a few short story anthologies, and this one is definitely the most interesting. The collection is richly diverse in terms of subject matter, national origin and setting, narrative tone, length, and literary style. As I read, I found myself jumping from fantasy to vignette to full plots inspired by true events, and the transition somehow is fluid and seamless rather than jarring or distracting. Awesome Indies has managed to build an enjoyable whole out of various and disparate components!

Among my favorites in the lineup were ‘Clearing the Shed’, ‘Quarantine’, ‘I, Zombie’, ‘Chasing Dreams in the Time Left Over’, ‘Traffic’, ‘Standin’ at the Crossroads, Waitin’ for the Devil to Show’, ‘Home Late’, ‘A Matter of Trust’, ‘Pearls’, and what is likely the stylistic jewel of this collection, ‘Recipe for a Dinner Party’.

This anthology asked me interesting questions, presented me with some of my greatest fears in life, introduced me to new ideas not common in conventionally published shorts, and fed an interest in diverse snippets of literature that I didn’t even know I had.

To sum it up best, I’ll paraphrase one of the author’s descriptions regarding the virtues of the short stories collected in this anthology: The short form gives authors the opportunity to write in ways that couldn’t be sustained for an entire novel.

I recommend reading these shorts–open yourself up to unique experiences from authors all around the world who love writing so much that they publish themselves.

Reviewed by

Sandra Padgett

This collection of wonderful stories covers a variety of themes. From satire to thriller to contemporary life and much more. Each story gets your attention and keeps it from start to finish. They are thought provoking, with characters, dialogue and themes that are believable, but sometimes out in the twilight zone, which is what I like. I will be looking for more works by the various authors and follow them in the future. I received this free from Simon Townley for an honest review. Outstanding! Recommend to any and all.

Reviewed by

Annie Evett

Both emerging and established writers from Europe, the USA, Australia and New Zealand present a peek into the spectacular moments everyday life holds, but with a twist.

The collection opens with a bang with a story by Tahlia Newland. Intriguing to the last paragraph, I was surprised to find it was an excerpt from her newest project. It sits perfectly as a short story and a wonderful teaser into what looks to be an exciting premise.

Each story has an incredible depth and texture to them, that, although is specific to its own style, melds beautifully as a collection. The human condition is explored where the reader is challenged to reassess their perspectives on stereotypes and events. Post apocalyptic tales sit comfortably with personalised stories like fragmented memories; separate, but with a golden thread holding them together. Heart-wrenching, whimsical, tear-jerking and lighthearted there is a story to suit all moods and readers tastes.

It is difficult to chose a favourite story, with a wrestling loving gran meeting her idol, to emotional trials of marriages breaking apart or forming, futuristic zombies and maids from a gentler time.

Authors are recognised in their own right with multiple honours and prizes and although the anthology is an eclectic mixture of genre, reading one after the other only highlights the complexity and intrigue each story brings.

A great book to stash into someones Christmas stocking for some fireside holiday reading, Awesome Allshorts is set to be a winner in your readers life.

 

 

The Scottish Movie

Scottish Movie, The
Why is 'Macbeth' known as 'the unlucky play'? Young Harry's unpublished novel has the answer. And when some Hollywood producers steal it, they find themselves making a very unlucky movie.   Harry Greenville, a young actor and part-time writer struggling to make a living in modern Los Angeles, writes a novel about Shakespeare. ‘It’s 1606 and the Bard needs a new play for King James, who is notoriously hard to please. As history tells us, he comes up with ‘Macbeth’. But the rehearsals are dogged by illnesses and accidents, the royal premiere gets the royal thumbs down, and the actors consider the play to be more than unlucky – they believe it’s cursed. The question is: Why?’ Harry’s novel offers an intriguing answer, and he posts the first draft on a website in the hope that a Hollywood agent will discover it. And someone in the movie business does discover it – but not the kind of person Harry had in mind. The result is a truly Shakespearean tale of theft, revenge, and just desserts.

Reviews by Awesome Indies' Assessor

August 4, 2014

A Joy to Read

The Scottish Movie by Paul Collis is a well-crafted revenge tale that even Shakespeare naysayers can enjoy.  The novel begins with William Shakespeare’s creation of his play, MacBeth.  We learn that the bard overheard the plot being described by another playwright at a pub and, wanting to really impress King James with his next piece, promptly goes home to write it.  When the original creator finds out the Globe Theatre is performing his play, without his consent, he sets out to sabotage the performance.  As it turns out, this story is just that, a story that a modern day author has penned.  In a very similar turn of events, Harry Greenville discusses his novel with his friends at a diner, only to have an eavesdropping Hollywood executive steal the idea for his own.  Once Harry discovers that someone has ripped off his idea and the movie is to begin production, he takes a page from his own novel and proceeds to sabotage the film.

This novel was a joy to read.  The author used the lore surrounding the Scottish Play and turned it into an intriguing story with snappy dialogue, and hilarious actions scenes.  Though the author completely has his own voice, the style of the story reminded me of a Christopher Moore novel.  Through complete dumb luck and sheer brazenness, Harry Greenville is hired onto the film’s production staff and given an all-access pass to conduct his revenge on the story thief.  Harry is the everyman stepped on by the corporate big shot, and you just can’t help but root for him.

The strongest part of the book was the author’s ability to seamlessly change between character points of view, sometimes multiple times in one scene.  This allowed the reader to see the story angled from both main and supporting characters.  Sometimes the switch was only for a few paragraphs; however, it added color to the story, almost like seeing a facial expression in a film that only the audience is supposed to see.

My only concern is that, as the characters use many modern references to Hollywood stars, movie titles, or general hat tips to modern culture, this novel may not age well.  If the reader cannot place what actress a character is referring to when only using her first name, some of the dialogue charm could be lost.  Even still, a good revenge story is always an indulgence, and this one does not disappoint.

The Sexual Adventures of Time and Space

Sexual Adventures of Time and Space, The
The Sexual Adventures of Time and Space is an epistolary novel told in the form of excerpts from a young man’s journal. After a group of friends becomes addicted to the concept of lucid dreaming, they find a way to medically induce themselves into comas with the goal of extending their lucid experiences. When things get out of hand and someone dies, the friends must find a way to cover it up.

Reviewed by Awesome Indies' Assessor

August 6, 2013

For me, this book falls into the unusual books category, in both style and content. It’s a serious of diary entries written by Michael Thorn about his experiences in drug assisted lucid dreaming. He details the changes that take place in his and his friends’s lives as the dreaming takes hold of him like a drug.

There isn’t a strong plot, and for some this lack will be too great for their taste. It’s a character driven novel and what holds the entries together and keeps you reading is the question of what is going to happen to these people. The writing hints early on at dire consequences from the lucid dreaming ‘vacations’ and the suggestion increases once Dorothy is introduced. The recollections amble along, and my attention is held primarily by the strength of the prose, the voice of the central character, and the fact that the author teases out the answers we are waiting for.

The character of Henry, the drug dealer who gets the drug they need for the assisted sleeping, provides a little tension as well. We feel Micheal’s distrust of him and when that distrust proves warranted, there is the question of what is to be done about him. Again, the author drops hints that suggest that something dire happens, and once again we read on to find out what it is, even while still waiting for the answer of the previous question ie what happens to Dorothy, and the one before that, ie what happens to all of them. The author is a master hint-dropper. He creates mystery, where there is none, and it is just enough to give the book a sense of direction.

Michael’s  character is very strong and his observations on life are interesting, but the other characters are not particularly well-fleshed out. The lack of detail in characterisation is, however, reflective of Micheal’s increasing dissociation with the real world. The focus in this journal-style novel is solely on Micheal and his perceptions.

Though Dorothy’s story had an expected outcome, the ending of the book was a surprise, and it gave the  story the impact it needed to overcome its weaker points.

I had expected more description of  the dreams, especially considering the book’s title – which is not at all indicative of the actual story – but in fact we see very little of what Michael experiences while in his extended sleep. The one dream sequence written in the present tense was the best bit of writing in the book and I would have liked to have had read more such sequences.

Overall, this is an interesting, well-written book and, though not gripping, is worth a read.  I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of Michael’s perception of the world in the light of his growing immersion in the dreamspace.

An Animal Life: The Beginning

An Animal Life: The Beginning
A nirreverent, romantic comedy with an animal medical mystery set in veterinary school. The best TV analogue for the tone and story is a cross between “M*A*S*H” and “ER.”    Millions dream of veterinary school, few make it in. The chosen discover an irreverent, romantically- charged, academic gauntlet that brings out the best and worst that humans can be. An Animal Life: The Beginning was inspired by the real-life adventures of four veterinary school classmates. This first book in the series opens as Dr. Violet Marie Green (a beautiful zoo vet extraordinaire) is darting a giraffe from the open cockpit of a helicopter. As the first veterinarian at the world’s largest zoo, Violet should be ecstatic but her self-medicated gastric ulcer warns that all is not right in The Peaceable Kingdom. Almost immediately a mysterious and invariably fatal neurological disease emerges. Horses, zebra, flamingoes, crows and even people are dropping dead all around the zoo. With her goofy-sweet and brilliant friend, Stan the Path Man, she and her vet students solve the case and reveal that the bully of a lead animal keeper (with obvious designs to bed Violet) has been in cahoots with a sport-hunting ranch in Texas (you won’t believe what he did…).

Worth The Time Of Any Reader Who Cares About Animals

 

An Animal Life: The Beginning by Howard Nelson Krum with Roy Pe Yanong and Scott Moore follows a group of students through their first semester at University of Philadelphia School of Veterinary Medicine in the 1980s. For readers interested in what vet school is like, this book offers a full experience of demanding class work, raucous parties, and sometimes painful personal growth.

The omniscient point of view is skillfully done. It gives the authors leeway to explain aspects of veterinary medicine in technical detail so readers can understand what the students are learning in class. But the analytical perspective on the action is less suited to expressing the characters’ emotional lives and motivation. Too often we are told rather than shown who characters are and what they want.

In an intensive and useful glossary, the authors define An Animal Life as  “A book series . . . [that] may be an upcoming blockbuster movie or TV series.” They offer a “Suggested Soundtrack” of popular songs to accompany each chapter. Their music selections are knowledgeable and clever, and the objective omniscient point of view has a cinematic flavor, but the story isn’t presented in a way likely to attract Hollywood.

The book makes demands on the reader. It takes some knowledge of biology to understand the chapters about vet school classes. (Those pre-med biology courses back in college came in handy here.) The illustrations by Patty Hogan help, but they’re difficult to see in the Kindle book. The story, while interesting, isn’t exactly a page-turner. The narrative plods through that first semester of vet school, developing the various subplots sporadically. Despite the potential for suspense, there isn’t much.

On the other hand, a screenwriter might transform this promising raw material into the hoped-for blockbuster.

The story has several plotlines, but two stand out: a romance between two first-year students and a medical mystery.

Jack, a former cop, is attracted to Anna, who suffers from Lou Gehrig’s disease. Although she has feelings for him their personalities aren’t altogether compatible, and various missteps and misunderstandings keep them apart. Their story follows the conventional pattern of romance novels without the usual emotionalism. Both know Anna will die young, but the story is almost over before they become close enough to acknowledge it.

Because of the point of view, Jack and Anna occasionally seems like puppets, doing what the plot requires rather than acting from character-driven motivation. Jack’s infatuation with pet-food PR slut Avery is one example. We’re told that Jack resists sex with Avery because he’s waiting for “the one,” yet he’s sexually enthralled by Avery. That kind of paradox is certainly possible, but readers aren’t shown enough of Jack’s thoughts to understand why this intelligent, experienced man gives in to a juvenile infatuation.

The medical mystery begins when animals and birds in the area begin to die in startling numbers. A zoo vet and a pathology instructor work to discover why, but corporate interests at the zoo are less interested in the truth than in avoiding bad publicity. This conflict culminates in one of my favorite scenes as an Aussie thug employed by the zoo tries to intimidate the vets.

An Animal Life succeeds most completely on an intellectual level. I learned a lot about what veterinarians do and the challenges they face. The book raises the ethical dilemma of caring for animals while exploiting them for food, experimentation, and entertainment. An Animal Life offers no solution and has no ideological agenda – all the characters except Anna are unapologetic meat eaters – but it reminds us that humans and animals are part of the same ecosystem. Our treatment of animals has environmental consequences. On a personal level, the story depicts callousness and cruelty toward animals as character flaws, kindness toward them as a mark of goodness, and respect for them as essential in a veterinarian.

I noticed smatterings of punctuation errors concentrated in certain parts of the book, an uneven job of proofreading, but by and large an Animal Life is well written and worth the time of any reader who cares about animals and enjoys biology. 4 stars.

The Clock Of Life

The Clock Of Life
To Kill a Mocking bird meets the Civil Rights Movement.  This southern tale is a coming-of-age story about doing right just because it's right. In the small town of Hadlee, Mississippi, during the 1980’s, Jason Lee Rainey struggles to find his way amongst the old, steadfast Southern attitudes about race, while his friendship with a black boy, Samson Johnson, deepens.    

Reviewed by Awesome Indies Assessor

Truly Excellent & Thought-Provoking

The Clock of Life by Nancy Klann-Moren is a Southern USA coming of age story about a boy called Jason Lee who lives with his widowed mother and his uncle, who was injured in Vietnam and still suffers from the remains of shrapnel in his brain. The book details Jason Lee’s emergence from innocence as he finds out the truth about his father’s death in the Vietnam war and, more significantly, about his civil rights activities in the sixties.

The story begins in 1974 when Jason Lee begins school. He meets his best-friend-to-be Samson, an African American boy, and Culver and Eugene Chubb call him a nigger-lover for the first, and not the last, time. J.L soon becomes aware of the racial prejudice that surrounds him and of its damaging effects on people. When he discovers his father’s journal about his role in the Selma to Montgomery civil rights march, he feels a sense of pride and rightness in his father’s actions. His father’s story helps to give him the courage to stand up for what is right and is the beginning of J.L working out what he believes is important and what he wants to do with his life.

The story takes a leisurely pace but moves steadily, building up the background of and our connection with the characters. J.L narrates his story in a simple, matter-of-fact way so that we get a real sense of him and his life and, in particular, how he is changed by what happens to him. He doesn’t tell us about the characters around him, he shows their characters by describing what they do and say. I felt as if I sat on that porch with him and his Uncle Mooks. J.L’s life seems very ordinary, so when the unthinkable shatters it, the event has more power than it would in a story full of dramatic events.

The story is unassuming but powerful. It shows the continuing ravages of the Vietnam war on those who fought in it and on the wives and children of those who died in it. Uncle Mooks says they called the Vietnam war a conflict, but conflicts are for solving by talking through, not by fighting. This simple but profound statement by Mooks is characteristic of this otherwise damaged man, and the book has many little gems like this. J.L has always thought of his father as a Vietnam hero, but he comes to see that the more important fight was and still is the one for civil rights and racial equality. He realises that his father’s action in marching with his black brothers is what makes him the real hero.

As his mother says, his father fought so that Jason Lee and Samson could be friends. This honoring of the bravery of those early civil rights activists and drawing inspiration from their actions is the second theme that weaves through the pages of this fine novel.

Technically, as far as I could see, this novel is flawless. It has a strong voice, well-drawn characters, a realistic and moving plot, and important, well-expressed themes. The editing is of a high standard, and the writing has the occasional gem like this one: Her handwriting looked like a delicate thread had broken off its spool and spilled onto the paper.

The story is enjoyable, moving and informative, shedding light on a period of US history as experienced by those who were either directly involved or who lives were affected by the events both at the time and for years after.

All up, this is a truly excellent and thought-provoking book. I highly recommend it.

5 stars.