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!

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!