Jenny of Lebanon

Author: Gabrielle Olexa

Genre: Fiction, Literary Fiction, Women’s Fiction, Contemporary Fiction

Type: Novelette

Summary: All’s quiet at 318 White Ash Lane—which is good. Billy could use some quiet. But fate has another plan. That plan’s name is Jenny, and she wears a purple bikini. 

Why I liked it: it is a poignant read about the kind of romantic love that defines a person’s life. Not a romance or a drama, but the slow baring of the two characters’ feelings through their dysfunctional interaction.

And now for the chatty part!

The most striking thing about this little gem is the vivid imagery that is used to evoke emotional reactions inside the reader. The author leads you on a journey from the front lawn, where a cat’s attempts to capture a bird are thwarted by a flung set of keys, to the interior of the house, shabby and neglected, to the kitchen and the light bulb and the peculiar contents of the freezer. All of these pictures act as symbols and precursors of the mental and emotional states of the characters.

The language is literary, and it you are a fan of fast-paced action and concise descriptions, then maybe this is not for you. It is also not a romance. This story doesn’t happen in a world where things are black and white. I felt for the characters, but I wasn’t sure if I liked or disliked them or if I felt sorry for one of them, both of them, or if they deserved their fate. Their existence in shades of grey, like all the rest of us, made them relatable and interesting at the same time.

Jenny of Lebanon is a quick afternoon read, and a really enjoyable one at that! It is romantic, poignant, and leaves you with a sense of mellow bitterness… and yes, maybe a little bit of hope too!

Grammar, syntax, style: pretty much perfect. A job very well done!

Politicians in Hell

Author: J.C. Paulk

Genre: Fiction, Humor, Satire

Type: Novel

Summary: Billiam finds himself in an even stranger myriad of Hell than the one before.  Here, politicians have a strange dress code, are obsessed with skin care, and are terrified of not voting.  He discovers a mystery when he meets a clockwork man.  It will become the most normal part of his entire day.

Why I liked it: Because, quite simply, it was good fun!

And now for the chatty part!

Humor is one of the ways we have to deal with stressful times. I picked up this book at a time when I was feeling depressed and really needed some levity. And it achieved its purpose: it made me chuckle and sometimes even laugh out loud, it lifted my spirits and lightened my mood. It took me with it in this bizarre flavour of Hell, where modesty norms are flipped around, leaving the reader to ponder how ridiculous our firmly held beliefs on propriety and modesty really are sometimes.

This is satire, and as such, it does have a target. I expect that J.C. Paulk will annoy some, especially those who take themselves too seriously, or those who feel comfortable with the current political establishment. And, let’s not forget, he has invented a Hell for vegans! That definitely merits some righteous indignation. But the book achieves its goal, which is to make you laugh and alleviate some of the anxiety many of us feel these days when watching the news.

The language flows nicely, and it becomes obvious early on that this text has been written by an intelligent person wit. I must admit that I figured out early on the secret of Dungaire ointment and the other Dungaire products, but it didn’t detract from the pleasure I got in reading this book.

Grammar, syntax, style: I’ve said it before: J.C. Paulk has a serious issue with commas, and a slightly less serious issue with apostrophes. I never thought it possible, but he managed to add another level of complexity to the it’s-its dilemma by inventing its’. By now, I think he’s just trolling us, and he’s doing all of it on purpose. Maybe he’s preparing us for Grammarians in Hell!

Storms In Jars

Author: E.J. More

Genre: Fiction, Horror, Paranormal Fiction

Type: Short story collection (5 stories)

Summary: A lonely creature with only its own hunger for company; an alcoholic looking to bargain, whatever the cost; a childhood friendship turned sour, and the demons that lurk in shadowy corners of a grown-up world. These and other stories can be found in this dark collection of nightmarish tales.

Why I liked it: This short story collection made me feel for the unlikeliest of characters and connected me with emotions I didn’t know I had.

And now for the chatty part!

I don’t read much horror, and when I do, I don’t normally expect to empathise with the monsters. But I do read a lot of books, and I often find myself wishing that the expected thing doesn’t happen. Many stories disappoint me. They have the happy ending, the “proper” conclusion, the one that doesn’t disturb you too much. It’s not even that that ending is not appropriate, it’s just that, as a reader, I haven’t been driven to feel this particular ending is necessary or fits the story best.

This book did the opposite of what I expected on both counts: it made me empathise with the monsters, and it surprised me emotionally. The author expertly manipulated my feelings towards zombies and human-eating ghouls. Although the endings of the stories were not too unexpected, the emotions that went with them were not clean-cut. Instead of catharsis, I was left pondering about the moral greyness of the world in general. Now, I’d say, if a horror book makes you ponder life, the universe, and everything, it has definitely achieved its goal!

The collection is a quick read (about 18,000 words, you can read it in an afternoon), so for me it was the ideal respite between novels.

Grammar, syntax, style: I found very few typos, and even commas (one of my pet peeves) were mostly correctly placed. This was one of the first indie books I read, so I was stricter back then. Looking back now, in comparison to most other indie books I’ve read, it’s nearly perfect.

Beyond My Dying Mind

Author: Andi Loveall

Genre: Fiction, Paranormal Fiction, Romance, Fantasy

Type: Novella

Summary: Noland would do anything to save Jasmine. After all, she saved him. But traveling through time to influence the living world has consequences, and if he’s not careful, he might doom them both forever.

Why I liked it: it is a beautifully written, emotional read, with original and self-consistent world-building and a touching storyline.

And now for the chatty part!

What immediately caught my attention when reading the first pages of this book was its contained lyricism in combination with the paced unveiling of the afterlife in which the story takes place. The author has conjured a strange, hostile, mysterious plane of existence for her characters. Reading this novella, I felt as if I was in a magical underwater world, the sounds of everyday life coming to me muffled and distorted. I was completely immersed in it.

The author has put a lot of thought into her world-building. Nothing is inconsistent, and the reader feels the potential for revelations and development. And she doesn’t dump information on you. Rather, this mysterious afterlife world with all its wondrous creatures is revealed slowly as you read, and nothing is out of place.

The book also deals with the sensitive issues of mental health, loneliness, and suicide, and the poignancy of the feelings really touched me. The author imparts emotion in an eloquent, dream-like way. Without revealing too much, I will say that I enjoyed the way Nolan’s attempts to influence his own timeline were handled. It is a fantasy scenario, but even to the physicist inside me it felt real and consistent with my understanding of time (if that makes any sense!).

If I had to criticise something, it would be the resolution, which I perceived as deus ex machina. I don’t know if the author meant it like this, or if there’s something I missed. Still, the text is so beautiful that I didn’t really mind. This book is not about the ending, it’s rather about the journey, as all good books are. Although, the ending was good too!

Grammar, syntax, style: I take notes on my Kindle when I read, and in this book I found a grand total of 5 errors, one or two of which were misspellings. I don’t think it gets better than that. Kudos on the correct use of commas. This is so rare in self-published books that I think it’s worth a mention!

Marianne Moves On

Author: Barbara Schnell

Genre: Fiction, Contemporary Fiction, Romance, Contemporary Romance, Women’s Fiction, Humor

Type: Novel

Summary: Small-town girl Marianne decides to leave her sheltered life and domineering mother for adventure in Los Angeles. Boy, is she in for a shock. She sees a naked man on stage; she gets HBO! She also falls in a serious case of ‘like’. The guy wants to get married. Should she? Well…

Why I liked it: it is a sane, funny, no-stupid-misunderstandings, no ridiculous plot twists, no unrealistic sex-god-six-pack men romance, with real characters and a refreshingly different, relatable, independent heroine.

And now for the chatty part!

I was barely one page into Barbara Schnell’s “Marianne Moves On” when I found myself chuckling. Schnell’s writing style is light, witty, and enjoyable, and the book is humorous in an intelligent way. Even if you didn’t have a domineering mother, you’ll feel for Marianne and understand her plight, but still laugh at the absurdity of the mother-daughter relationship and at the way Marianne deals with all her new experiences.

Marianne is a refreshing example of a heroine who is young but mature in her thought process, inexperienced but strong and fully capable of taking care of herself. She may not know exactly what she wants in life, but she goes about her relationships and her career in a breezily pragmatic way. She has fun and allows herself to get carried away at times, but she still doesn’t lose her focus. Having spent my twenties in a haze of insecurity, depression, and uncertainty, Marianne is the young woman I wish I’d been.

There are no explicit sex scenes in the book, but Marianne goes about discovering sex in the same not-taking-it-too-seriously way she does everything. This was a breath of fresh air. Instead of the unrealistic soul-rending passion of some romances, never mind the explosive orgasms some heroines are lucky to have even when losing their virginity, Marianne is not too excited about her first sexual experience and resolves to practice more, because practice makes perfect! This is how peoples’ sex lives really work, and finally, finally an author wrote about it in a way that still made it very interesting to read.

Another plus point: no stupid misunderstandings. This is one romance trope I absolutely can’t stand: the “he thinks she doesn’t like him, she thinks he doesn’t like her,” and the whole thing is not resolved for many thousands of words for no humanly understandable reason. Schnell stayed away from that cliche, and it was a job well done.

If you absolutely need a lot of drama and tears or overwhelming emotions to enjoy a book, maybe this is not for you. But: I am a very, and I mean excessively intense person, and there’s passion, tears, drama aplenty in my books. Still, I enjoyed Marianne’s adventure very much, and if I did, then chances are you’ll enjoy it too.

Grammar, syntax, style: nearly flawless, very few errors, and good use of commas (this is one of my pet peeves–why do people hate commas so much?). It doesn’t get much better than this for a self-published book. The only criticism I have–and I’m being a pedant here!–is that sometimes (rarely!) you’d have a full paragraph of sentences starting with “I,”– I did this, I did that, I went there. It was just a little tiring, but it didn’t detract from the overall quality of the book.