Fiction

To Do the Deal, A Novel in Stories

To Do the Deal, A Novel in Stories
Author:
Illustrator: GB Tran
Published: September 22, 2014
This humorous career and family drama will captivate anyone who has ever held a job, lived in a family, or been on either side of a sales transaction. To Do the Deal, A Novel in Stories is about the quotidian — the challenges, minute dramas, and endearing moments that make up the every day. Set in a suburb of Washington, DC, To Do the Deal sets its focus not on the power brokers that dominate the nation’s capital but rather, on one family that is muddling along. Through ten stories, one each set in the years 1991 through 2000, we follow Kenneth Bodine on his quest to make a decent living in commission sales. We also follow his wife, Jodi, who tries hard as wife, worker, and mother and who often gets it right but just as often overthinks. To Do the Deal will appeal to readers who like witty stories, well told; who appreciate carefully plotted narratives; and who want to be entertained by an ensemble cast of deftly drawn characters. The language is literary yet light: readers who put check marks in the margins next to lines that resonate will mark a lot of pages. Beyond the appeal of its writing, To Do the Deal will captivate anyone who has ever held a job, lived in a family, or been on either side of a sales transaction.

Reviewed by Awesome Indies

To Do the Deal Review: One of the best books I’ve read this year

According to conventional wisdom novels and short stories are completely different species, and never the twain shall meet. In To Do the Deal: A Novel in Stories, Cathy Baker shows us that, in the hands of a master craftsman, conventional wisdom is wrong.

To Do the Deal is the story – actually ten stories – of Kenneth Bodine, a man in search of himself. It starts in 1991, when Ken breaks up with his girlfriend, known only as Watermelon, and meets Jodine, who is about to break up with her boyfriend. After the two successfully break off their unfortunate hookups and end up with each other, what follows is a series of ten stand-alone short stories that take us to the year 2000 – as Ken moves from job to job, eventually ending up in sales, where he shines, despite his absolute lack of people skills.

Each story is a self-contained episode in Ken’s increasingly chaotic life, but each also segues seamlessly into the next. Baker has created the perfect born loser in Ken, the model put upon housewife/mother in Jodi, and a cast of supporting characters that, if you’ve ever experienced the suburbs of Washington, DC, you’ll swear you’ve lived next door to them. The humor in To Do the Deal is understated, tongue-in-cheek, that sneaks up on you, gently grabs your funny bone, and before you know it, has you clutching your sides and blinking back tears. At times you feel sorry for Ken, and at others, you want to give him a solid kick in the rear – all the while, you’re chuckling at the predicaments he manages to get himself into.

There are no surprises in this book, but it is not predictable. It ends in the best possible way, given the state of mind of the main character and the effect he has on everyone with whom he comes into contact. Despite the lack of surprise, it is satisfying because you find yourself saying, ‘but for the grace of God, that’s where I’d be.’ Baker’s use of domestic banter between Ken and Jodi (which, given the last name she acquired at marriage, is what Jodine prefers to be called) is so realistic, you feel like a voyeur reading it. She does a particularly good job in describing the relationship Ken and Jodi have with their children – just ask anyone who has had to raise kids in today’s economy. Between episodes of humor, the author also describes human relationships in a way that is so spot on, you wonder if she wasn’t a psychologist in another life.

If you want a good weekend read, this is a definite ‘must-read.’ One of the best books I’ve read this year.

 

 

Walking with Elephants

Walking with Elephants
Publisher:
Published: November 17, 2011
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.

 

The Clock Of Life

The Clock Of Life
Publisher:
Published: April 23, 2014
Author's Twitter: @klanncy
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

Truly Excellent & Thought-Provoking

5 Stars

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.

The Glade

The Glade
Author:
Publisher:
Published: 13 Nov. 2013
Author's Twitter: @harmony_kent
You are being arrested for the murder of your husband… You have a secret you can’t tell…The evil is gathering… The Wenstrops have it all: health, wealth and happiness. But then it all begins to fall apart. Helen is arrested for murder, yet is either unable or unwilling to give a defence. During her detention, vital evidence goes mysteriously missing and tensions are running high. Helen finds herself surrounded and yet alone: not knowing who she can trust or how she can tell her enemies from her friends. Helen has to work through her self-doubts and fears, in order to know whether her suspicions and misgivings are valid or simply products of an overwrought mind. There are those who would like to encourage her confusion, and those who would help her – but how to know one from the other? And then there are those who actively mean her harm. Meanwhile, malignant forces in the forest are gathering power, ready for a final assault. Helen finds herself in a battle of life and death, and faces having to lose everything in her attempts to thwart the evil that has insinuated itself into her very existence – but is she ready to make the ultimate sacrifice? This sensational second novel by acclaimed author Harmony Kent will have you alternately laughing, crying and gripping the edge of your seat as this roller coaster ride of a plot unfolds. It will keep you guessing through its many twists and turns, and hijack your attention right up until you turn the final page. This book has it all: murder, intrigue, the supernatural, a broken marriage, a love affair, courage against impossible odds, suspense, and high drama.

Reviewed by  

The Glade is basically a supernatural suspense story. It’s different, intriguing and totally unpredictable.

Like many indie works this book crosses genres. The supernatural element puts it in the fantasy category, but apart from The Presence that Helen and Geoff, her husband, feel in their little glade in the Forest of Dean and the dead people who get up and walk, it all happens in the fairly ordinary world of a small country village. It’s this low key approach that makes the story all the more chilling because we can’t immediately dismiss it as a fantasy world. This real world basis means that the book also fits into the mystery and suspense categories. There isn’t so much fantasy that it would turn off those who aren’t generally fantasy readers, and there’s plenty of mystery and suspense for fans of those genres. Kent’s characters and the world she creates around them are very real, but beneath this ordinary exterior lies a dark underbelly.

Helen has cancer and she and her husband retire to the Forest of Dean to live out her remaining days. Things do not go as they expect, however, and the author takes the reader on a roller coaster ride to find out the truth behind the strange events, and then to work out how to destroy the menace that has haunted the village for generations.

The story is extremely well done in terms of plot and pacing. I never knew what would happen next, was often surprised and always keen to keep reading. The characterisation was excellent. I got to know Helen quickly and soon became concerned for her. Though Geoff was a bit of a mystery, it worked for the story because Helen also discovers that she never really knew her husband. Mike and John were well-rendered and were both lovely characters, and Sheila also came across loud and clear.

I was particularly impressed by how Kent handled the backstory. We moved seamlessly from past to present until they coincided, and the backstory never felt like backstory. Beginning the story, as she did, part way through, created an added layer of mystery as we wonder now Helen got to the point where she took her husband’s life. Another thing the author did well was to feed the information out at the right pace, just enough crumbs to keep you reading, but never too much at once, and she left the real revelations until right at the end, exactly as a good mystery should be.

Endings can make or break a novel, and in this case, the end was its crowning glory and made it much more than just an ordinary suspense story. I was concerned about it for some time as the end grew near, wondering it if would leave me miserable – it could easily have gone either way. Of course, I’m not going to tell you whether it did or not, but I will say that I thought the end was magnificent.

Some of the phrasing I found strange, but I think that’s because it’s local lingo – the author is English.

I like the cover too; it does a good job of expressing the feel of the book. I recommend it for those who enjoy a good supernatural suspense story.

It’s really worth a read.

Review by S M Spencer

5 Stars

 

This is an excellent book – the perfect mix of mystery, thriller, horror, fantasy & even a touch of romance. Couldn’t put it down. Probably not a good book to take on a camping trip to an isolated forest however 🙂

5 stars for sure.

The Battle for Brisingamen

The Battle for Brisingamen
Category:
Author:
Publisher:
Published: 10 Jan. 2014
Author's Twitter: @harmony_kent
There is a World not too Far Away … Beneath the north sea a land of magic lies undetected. The lives of many are drawn inexorably closer together in a race against time, as both energy companies and evil beings attempt to destroy the magic which is protecting not just this land but all worlds. The unwitting protagonists have no idea of how suddenly and irrevocably their lives are about to change. It is a race against time to try and recover the lost necklace, Brisingamen, which holds the ancient power of the Goddess Freya, and to prevent the undersea drilling from taking place. Are Aart, Matthias, Gemma and Dirck up to the challenges they now must face?   Here there be Dragons, and all manner of Creatures …