Contemporary Fiction

Now That We’re Adults

Now That We’re Adults
Published: September 6, 2016
Author's Twitter: @PlaidCoreLynn
A group of geeky 20-somethings in Scranton, PA, struggle to form post-college identities without alienating each other in the process. When happy-go-lucky Wade is dumped by his longtime girlfriend, he’s left to wonder whether she might have a point about his lack of ambition. Needing a distraction from the heartbreak, he begins programming a video game, which soon becomes a passion project as he strives to prove he can follow through on his own. Meanwhile, his brother Ian barely has time for games now that he’s overloaded at work and struggling to connect with pregnant wife Kat, who’s starting to doubt whether she wants a baby at all. In fact, without the shared experience of college, their entire friend group is splintering. Needing his friends more than ever, Wade becomes obsessed with turning back the hands of time. But with everyone’s hopes and expectations so tangled up, it might take an outsider—someone like painfully shy librarian Eleanor—to provide some much-needed perspective. That is, if she could get out of her head long enough to risk making a connection.

Assessed  

5 Stars

Now That We’re Adults is a beautifully crafted book that will affect different readers in different ways. For some, this will be a book about a time that has passed you by, before the complexities of adult life fully took over. For others, it will be a tale of the inevitable – a glimpse into a period of life that is different for everyone, but always has the result of shaping us into the people we will be. Even much older people who haven’t been in their twenties for decades will find that while the scenery changes, the nature of people doesn’t. This is a book about ups and downs, and the minor and major tragedies that unfold as the result of the decisions we make. Whether the reader is looking at the book with the benefit of hindsight or as a cautionary tale of the future, the story that unfolds is one that will evoke a number of emotions and culminates in an ending that will leave you satisfied.
The characters in Now That We’re Adults are well-written and convincing twenty-somethings. Wade is a childish lover of video games who feels the sting of first love lost and must mature as a person to heal and move on. Eleanor is stuck in the past, and has self-esteem issues which prevent her from finding happiness. Ian and Kat are well-intentioned newlyweds who, like most young married couples, are confronted with the burdens of adulthood sooner rather than later. A lot of their conflict arrises when they have their first child, and each find themselves less-enamored with their role in the new family than either had anticipated. What follows for each character is a tale of growth and compromise, and without giving away too much of the book, the endings will resonate with many people who have witnessed or are in similar situations as authentic. This a down-to-earth presentation that doesn’t shy away from the most uncomfortable of emotions, and the author has a gift for depicting guilt, grief, melancholy and listlessness. That isn’t to say that the book is all maudlin, and each character’s arc reaches a satisfying conclusion.
The dialogue is snappy and realistic, and the author does a good job of making interactions and events seem organic. The book’s structure alternates focus on members of the main cast, but it isn’t guilty of head-hopping and the character focused on is clearly depicted at the beginning of each chapter. The stories interweave at points, and having the characters play off one another is a particularly enjoyable aspect of the book. Readers of all ages will find something to like in this book, although obviously the closer to twenty you are, the more the story will resonate. I give Now That We’re Adults 5 stars and recommend it for inclusion in Awesome Indies.

Among The Branded

Among The Branded
Published: May 2, 2017
Author's Twitter: @lindasmolkin
What if a 70-year-old letter from World War II changed the course of your life? While attending Valor of the ’40s, art director Stephanie Britain stumbles upon a flea market selling letters from the war. She buys a handful, hoping they’ll inspire the redesign for a client’s website at her branding and design firm. At first, she’s drawn by the lost art of penmanship, but soon discovers a hidden treasure nestled inside declarations of love from homesick soldiers. Stephanie enlists a coworker to translate one and realizes it’s not a love letter after all. When a shocking discovery about a client causes Stephanie to question her principles and dedication to her firm’s business, she’s forced to make a difficult decision—one that could give her peace of mind, yet ruin her career in the process. Contemporary fiction with a historical touch, AMONG THE BRANDED explores family life, an unexpected friendship, and moral conflicts that make us wonder what’s more important: our livelihood or our beliefs.      

Approved 

5 Stars

Among the Branded by Linda Smolkin is a contemporary fiction that reminds us that we might be done with the past, but the past isn’t done with us. The main character, Stephanie, attends a World War II event (Valor of the ’40s) with her family and purchases a bundle of authentic war letters which she at first believes to be romantic in nature. Her goal is to use them as part of an ancestry website she is building for work, but quickly finds out that the letters are not what they seem. What follows is a thought-provoking journey to reconcile the past with the present, as Stephanie befriends Izzy, a man whose connection to the letters will change both of their lives forever. The book is well-researched, and the historical elements compliment the contemporary setting without getting too bogged down in the details.
The book reads easily and is well-edited, and the supporting cast of characters are interesting and believable. The novel has a steady pace, and I found myself able to get through most long passages comfortably. The story of Steph and Izzy will keep the reader engaged throughout, and without giving away too much, the story reaches a satisfactory conclusion while delivering a clear message. This work allows the reader to view the horrors of war through a modern lens, while attempting to bridge the past and present in a way that is easily approachable. In this way, Among the Branded definitely succeeds.
If there is any criticism to be made about the book it probably lays with the dialogue. There is a lot of dialogue in the book, and characters will often spend entire chapters having just one conversation. This is fine for most of the novel, but there are also a few scenes where it drags on for too long, only to have the conversation end with non-satisfactory conclusion or a cliche. I didn’t think that these few instances were enough to warrant a full-star being deducted, but it was something that was noticeable. If you can be patient through these longer conversations, though, Among the Branded offers something for everyone, and is a book I think most readers will appreciate. I give it 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5.

A Dog’s View of Love, Life, and Death

A Dog’s View of Love, Life, and Death
Author:
Published: June 5, 2017
In A Dog's View of Love, Life, and Death, human beings, content they know the answers to life’s big questions, continue making the same mistakes time and time again. Dogs, being their closest non-human companions, and knowing a little more than humans think they know, assist them discreetly with their evolution of consciousness. After spending twelve years paralyzed from the neck down, Seamus McGarry can’t quite believe he’s communicating telepathically with a dog named Rosie. Millionaire Will Roper is living the life and feeling in control of his destiny. But his anger issues are landing him in hot water. If that isn’t enough, Saddam Hussein, his dead mother’s dog, and a man living in a doorway have all crossed his path. Things will never be the same again. Old-timer Lennon, a Harlequin Great Dane, New York, born and bred, feels life is passing him by. That is, until a dog shows up at the shelter and helps him understand his existence here isn’t quite what it seems. Dolores Fanon, a recovering addict, has been clean and relatively serene for 3 years. However, life’s just dealt her a low blow. She’s struggling to cope, and when a psychic working for the N.Y.P.D. appears in her life, secrets from the past come flooding into the present.

5 Stars

 

 

The book is well-written and well-edited, and the characters are well-drawn. The humans in the book are at varying stages in their lives, and each is facing a conflict or personal struggle of some kind. The role that dogs play in their lives is different for each, but the dogs often take on the position of empathetic but removed observer, asking spiritual questions and pontificating on the motivations and fears of their “masters”. I put ‘masters’ in quotation marks because, as mentioned before, this is a book that will make you ask who the truly evolved life form is. The setting compliments the chaotic nature of the humans’ world, and Archer paints a New York City that is bustling and unforgiving. The stories move along at a quick pace and it was easy to get through several vignettes in a sitting. While the subject matter is tough, the book itself is very digestible. This is a book that will grab your attention, but refuses to hold your hand. While each characters’ story arc ends in a satisfying conclusion, the reader will find that many of the queries the book raises will have to be answered by the readers themselves. While this book will appeal most to animal-lovers, there is something in here for everyone, and A Dog’s View of Love, Life and Death is easily a 5-star read.

 

 

Then She Was Born

Then She Was Born
Published: January 9, 2017
Then She Was Born is more than a novel. It's an international human rights awareness campaign supported by eleven Nobel Peace Prize laureates, the Dalai Lama and Pope Francis. Based on an inconceivable reality for many in the world today, Then She Was Born combines the drama and redemption of Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner with the spirituality of Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist. A child is born and the joy of her parents turns to horror. The child is different, in a way that will bring bad luck to their superstitious community. The tradition should be for her to be abandoned, but Nkamba, the grandmother, is allowed to care for her. Naming her Adimu, Nkamba raises her as her own. Adimu is constantly marginalized and shunned by the community, although her spirit remains undiminished and full of faith. But when she encounters the wealthy British mine owner Charles Fielding and his wife Sarah, it is the beginning of something which will test them all. As Charles Fielding's fortunes wane, he turns in desperation to a witch doctor whose suggestion leaves him horrified. But as events begin to spiral out of control he succumbs to the suggestions and a group of men are sent on a terrible mission. The final acts, of one man driven by greed and another by power, will have a devastating effect on many lives. Cristiano Gentili's glittering prose and vivid imagery will have you captivated from the first page.

 

Then She Was Born by Cristiano Gentili has been awarded the Awesome Indies Seal of Excellence for Outstanding Independent Literature! Check out our first assessment of this riveting work below!

In a little Tanzanian village a child is born, but her parents’ joy quickly turns to horror when they see that she’s different in a way that brings bad luck to the entire village, for she’s an albino. In many African cultures, albinos are objects of scorn and hatred, neither human nor animal. The father rejects her, refusing even to give her a name, and the villagers want her taken to the forest and left to die. But, her grandmother, remembering her own terrible experience when she gave birth to an albino child that was left to die, begs to be allowed to take the child and raise it.

Through a rare stroke of luck, the grandmother, Nkamba, convinces the village chief and the shaman and is allowed to take the child, which she names Adimu. Adimu grows up suffering the scorn of the village until she meets Charles and Sarah Fielding, a wealthy white couple who own a mine near the village. A bond develops between them, but Charles, a man consumed by the desire for wealth, suffers financial loss and falls sway to the village shaman, who covets power, leading him to make a decision that imperils Adimu’s life, his relationship with his wife, and his sanity.

Then She Was Born by Cristiano Gentili is a profound, thought-provoking novel that highlights the plight of albinos in Africa through the life of one such individual. The characters are brought to life on the pages, as is the physical and cultural environment and its impact on the people inhabiting it. The author could have preached about the terrible treatment inflicted upon albinos, but instead does a masterful job of ‘showing’ the reader through Adimu’s encounters with other villagers, with the gangs who hunt albinos for their supposed magical powers, and the relationships between black and white Africans, people who are united by a common culture while at the same time divided by race and class. Character motivations are also shown by their reactions to events; for instance, the shaman’s obsession with power as he puts his traditional beliefs up against the lure of Christianity, brought to Africa by the white missionaries, but carried on by local converts. At the same time, the way locals carry two belief systems and reconcile them in their daily lives, and the conflicts this causes, is highlighted. Throughout the book, the strength of the human spirit, and its ability to redeem is abundantly apparent.

The cover, a simple graphic showing hands of different colors clasped, highlights both the conflict and cooperation that exists in the story.

Without preaching, the author highlights the plight of Africa’s albinos more effectively than all the UN pamphlets or political speeches.

Another great strength of this book is that, though it was written originally in Italian, the English translation is so smooth, it’s not at all apparent that this is a translation.

Most westerners are unaware of the problems faced by albinos in traditional African societies, but after reading this book, can not only become aware, but might just be called to action to help do something about it.

I give this book five stars for theme and execution. A compelling read.

 

 

 

The Flower Seller

The Flower Seller
Author:
Published: 2 Jun. 2016
Author's Twitter: @EllieHWriter
Jessie Martin believes that when it comes to love there are three types of people: the skimmers, the bottom dwellers and the ones who dive for pearls.  Jessie is a pearl diver. She had thought her husband William was a pearl diver too. But when William leaves her for a much younger woman, it’s not just Jessie’s heart that is broken, her ability to trust is shattered too. All Jessie wanted was a love she could believe in. Was that so much to ask?  Loyalty it seems has gone out of fashion. Refusing to retire from the battlefield of life, Jessie resolves to put her heartache behind her. She doesn’t want to be that woman who was too scared to love again. There has to be another pearl diver out there; all she has to do is find him. Urged on by her sassy best friend, Anne and her daughter Hannah, Jessie makes three New Year’s resolutions: get a divorce, get a promotion, get a life. Enthusiastically embracing her new start, Jessie sets about making all her resolutions come true. When fate brings handsome flower seller Owen Phillips into her life, will Jessie have the courage of her convictions? Can she take her heart in her hands and give it away again? Hope springs eternal they say but a bruised heart needs to time to heal. Will Owen have the patience to understand? Will Jessie be brave enough to take that leap of faith? By the time summer holds her firmly in it’s warm embrace, Jessie’s monochrome world of heartache has been transformed into one full of colour, romance and love. Jessie can hardly believe her luck.  Can Owen really be the one? All things seem possible and even husband William’s attempts to bully Jessie into a less than fair divorce settlement don’t have the power to upset her as they once might have. Supported by Owen, Jessie stands her ground. Putting William’s deceit and betrayal firmly in the rear view mirror of her life, Jessie is full of hope for the future.  Perhaps loyalty and true love haven’t gone out of fashion after all. When autumn’s burnished hues colour the world around her, Jessie looks forward to cosy nights by log fires with her handsome flower seller. But is Owen really the pearl diver Jessie had hoped for? Or is Jessie’s fragile trust about to be shattered all over again? The Flower Seller is an engaging and page-turning read full of love, deceit, betrayal and hope. This romantic tale follows Jessie from the depths of winter, to the excitement of spring through a hot and passionate summer to the turmoil and drama of a stormy autumn. As a second winter approaches and her world is once more turned upside down, will Jessie ever find a love she can believe in with a man she can trust?

4.5 stars

The Flower Seller tells the story of Jessie Martin, an at-times bland and by-the-book solicitor (someone who handles the buying and selling of land properties) with the firm of Smith Mathers in the fictional Essex market town of Abbeyleigh. When we meet Jessie, she is just coming out of a 21-year marriage in which she sacrificed her career for her family and now has little to show for it. Amid a contentious divorce with her ex, William, Jessie reluctantly tries to find love again at the suggestion of her daughter, Hannah, and her adventurous friend Anne. When a blind date at a hamburger restaurant that doesn’t seem to go well turns out to be a message from the universe in disguise, Jessie is set on a journey that will test her character, patience and her capacity to forgive.The book itself is well written and well edited (UK Style) and structured appropriately for the story. There is little to complain about technically, but it should be noted that this is a book that can drag in some places. The author seems to make a joke about this in the beginning when Jessie tries desperately to prove that people in her line of work do have senses of humor, but the author is also not joking. Many of the scenes involving the firm and Jessie’s attempt to further her role there, the litigation segments and some of the dialogues between Jessie & William and Jessie & Owen can move at a slow pace. I know there are readers out there who will want to know all of the information presented, so for some it might not even be an issue, but I could see how others might be pressed to rush through those parts to get to more of the exciting aspects of the book.

The author’s voice is authentic and the idea of a woman being held back by the men in her life is prevalent throughout. Whether it’s in her marriage, in her job or even in her newly emerging personal life, Jessie is a character who is forced to overcome obstacles put in her way by the males she interacts with. When she does overcome them, the reader celebrates for her. Without giving away too much, the ending is a complete surprise. The author does a great job of building up the suspense before knocking the reader’s world completely out of whack. While deciding on a score I oscillated between 4 and 5 stars and settled on 4.5 Stars. I feel that for some readers this will just be an above-average contemporary romance that drags in some places. I think there are a lot of readers, though, who will find a wonderfully-crafted story with a lot of heart, some humor and a sense of authenticity that is very hard to find.

Feast of Mercy

Feast of Mercy
Publisher:
Published: November 7, 2016
Author's Twitter: @KathrynMHearst
Nick never wanted to live forever, and he certainly didn’t want to join the Order of the Sinistra Dei. Unfortunately, before he’s able to get used to the idea of immortality, the High Judge from the Vatican arrives in New Orleans to investigate the strange events of Fat Tuesday. If Nick doesn’t play his cards right, his forever could be a whole lot shorter. Marin, a relatively new immortal, hasn’t had time to settle into the idea of living forever, and she doubts she ever will. When she’s forced to assist the High Judge in his investigation, she’ll do what she has to do to protect her clutch. However, her efforts bring her closer to facing the executioner’s blade. As their world spins out of control, Marin and Nick struggle to reconcile past hurts and hold onto their budding relationship. With new enemies, new abilities, and new desires threaten to tear them apart. It isn’t long before they realize … Loving someone means you want the best for them...but what happens when what’s best isn’t you? Feast of Mercy is the third book in the Sinistra Dei series. If you like mysterious supernatural creatures, conflict-ridden romance, and a lot of heat, then you’ll love this Urban Fantasy series.

Approved 

5 Stars

If you’re a fan of serial vampire fiction and are looking for a fresh voice that not only captures, but also amplifies the allure and mystique of the classics of the genre – look no further than the Sinistra Dei series by Kathryn M. Hearst!

The second novel in the series, Feast of Mercy continues the story of Gia and her would-be suitors on their holy quest, and delivers the same level of charismatic dialogue and meticulously detailed world-building as the first entry, Feast of The Epiphany. For fans of the first novel, you will find yourself again wracked with both empathy and schadenfreude as our characters fall into and out of love with each other during their adventure. While unfamiliar readers will likely want to start with the first book in the series, this entry has more than enough action, romance and witty dialogue to engage newcomers.

If Feast of The Epiphany was the introduction to this world, Feast of Mercy establishes in detail the hierarcy of power within that world. While this is primarily the story of Gia and her beaus, the Christian metaphysical aspects of the story are paid close attention to. This is a story of trust and betrayal and sacrifice and redemption. It is a tale that draws you in and makes you choose. It is the journey from first chance to final judgment.

The author takes great care when blending several genres into something that is current, sexy, smart and spiritual. I give this book 5 stars and recommend it highly to fans of vampire fiction.

 

 

 

 

 

Secrets of the Pomegranate

Secrets of the Pomegranate
Publisher:
Published: April 23, 2015
Passionate, free-spirited Deborah has finally found peace and a fulfilling relationship in her adopted city of Granada – but when she is seriously injured in the Madrid train bombings of 2004, it is her sister Alice who is forced to face the consequences of a deception they have maintained for ten years. At Deborah’s home in Granada, Alice waits, ever more fearful. Will her sister live or die? And how long should she stay when each day brings the risk of what she most dreads, a confrontation with Deborah’s Moroccan ex-lover, Hassan? At stake is all she holds dear… Secrets of the Pomegranate explores, with compassion, sensitivity and – despite the tragic events – humour, the complicated ties between sisters, between mothers and sons and between lovers, set against a background of cultural difference and prejudices rooted in Granada’s long history of Muslim-Christian struggles for power.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Riding the Dog

Riding the Dog
Author:
Publisher:
Published: November 12, 2014
Riding the Dog is a collection of nine short stories that all take place on a Greyhound bus. Strangers collide in cramped spaces. Secrets are told to nameless seatmates in the dark of the bus in the middle of the night. Two strangers exchange trinkets, unaware of a past that connects them. A woman crisscrosses the country looking for her brother who disappeared in New York City on 9/11. A soldier returning from Iraq with PTSD finds unexpected solace in the chaos of a broken-down bus. A down-and-out musician loses his most treasured possession on a deserted West Texas highway. Riding the Dog explores an often-invisible world – the world of a desperate, funny, resilient, heartbreaking America.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beverly

Beverly
Author:
Published: November 6, 2015
Author's Twitter: @fionapearse
Beverly sidesteps the need to interact with co-workers by working from home. When she must venture outside, she wears earphones so no one will bother her. Social niceties are designated to her best friend and flatmate, Ella. Beverly would be jealous of Ella’s gregarious charm and high-life, if she didn’t have the security of her long-term boyfriend, Roland, who spared Beverly from the dating scene and gave her a future. Beverly won’t speak for herself because she has a stutter. This is how she carefully arranges her life, until Roland breaks up with her… to date Ella.