Category Archives: Contemporary Fiction

The Girl and the Bomb by Jari Jarvela

Today’s book is one of a few translated works I’ve been reading lately. While good, it’s obvious this book may challenge US readers with its cultural and societal differences. However, it’s good for us, especially now, to broaden our minds and horizons.

I received an ARC or review copy of this book from the author/publisher. All opinions are my own.

TitleThe Girl and the Bomb
AuthorJari Järvelä, Kristian London (translator)
SeriesMetro-trilogia, Book 01
Publish Date: October 1, 2015 by Amazon Crossing
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Source: provided by the author/publisher

Publisher’s Description: Rust and Metro live life to the fullest in the small Finnish city of Kotka. The lovers work together by day and write graffiti by night, always staying one step ahead of the law. But their luck runs out after an ambush by rogue security guards causes Rust to fall to his death. Having literally left their marks all over the city, Metro cannot help but be reminded of Rust everywhere she goes, making it impossible for her to move past the tragedy. Heartbroken and alone, she becomes determined to get to the bottom of her partner’s death and to exact revenge on those responsible by using the tool she knows best: spray paint. As she fights to bomb the system, she is constantly—and harshly—reminded of how unfair life can be. Up against lies, betrayal, and corruption, Metro musters the strength and inspiration to persevere in the name of truth and by adding beauty to an ugly world.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.


Agent Annie says…

Good book. Really enjoyed the two points of view of the graffiti artist and the security officer as they told their side of the story. I thought the ending was weak because it didn’t have a sense of completeness. How did either person’s life change? Were they affected by their own or other’s actions? Did either of them have a change of mind or grow as a person? Without the events in the book, would there be a difference in the future?

However, what the thoughts were of the two as they battled discovering and being discovered was excellent. I think the translator did a great job of using appropriate American slang but kept true to the Finnish names and landmarks, which added to the flavor of the story. I also wanted to know more about the character “Baron.” It seemed like he was ignored for the last several chapters, but leading up to them, he could have played an integral part in the betrayal or even as a setup at the end. I expected something like the graffiti artists turning the tables on the investigators and taping the mistreatment during the investigation, which would be released to the press.

This is very much a book written for an audience different than US readers. There were too many cultural anomalies with difference in economies, education after high school, governance, taxes and privatization of social services and even law enforcement. I give it a 3.

Other recommendations…

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Millenium, Book 01).

I received an ARC or review copy of this book from the author/publisher. All opinions are my own.

The Marvelous Misadventures of Ingrid Winter by J.S. Drangsholt

Professor, wife, and mother Ingrid Winter is sent to a conference in Russia, where all her mental anxieties push her into some crazy antics.

I received an ARC or review copy of this book from the author/publisher. All opinions are my own.

ingridTitleThe Marvelous Misadventures of Ingrid Winter
AuthorJ.S. Drangsholt
Series: stand-alone
Publish Date: March 1, 2017, by Amazon Crossing
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Source: Purchased via Kindle First

Publisher’s DescriptionIngrid Winter is desperately trying to hold it all together. A neurotic Norwegian mother of three small children and an overworked literature professor with an overactive imagination, Ingrid feels like her life’s always on the brink of chaos.

Her overzealous attempt to secure her dream house has strained her marriage. She’s repeatedly reprimanded for eye rolling in faculty meetings. Petulant PTA parents want to drag her into a war over teaching children to tie their shoes. And an alarmingly persistent salesman keeps warning her of the potential dangers of home intrusion.

Clearly she needs to get away. But Russia? Forced to join an academic mission to Saint Petersburg to promote international cooperation, Ingrid finds herself at a crossroads while drinking too much cough syrup. Will this trip push her into a Siberian sinkhole of existential dread or finally give her life some balance and direction?

Possible spoilers beyond this point.


Agent_Annie_100Agent Annie says…

The Marvelous Misadventures of Ingrid Winter by J.S. Drangsholt is a careening ride through the stream of conscious of a neurotic, anxiety-riddled woman. I read this book so fast because the narrator’s anxiety was so strong you just couldn’t step away from it. If the author’s hope was to give you a glimpse as to how anxiety makes a person say or do crazy things, she hit the mark, but man, I never want to be that immersed in it again.

badge3v4Outside of the good writing of conveying what Ingrid was thinking and feeling, I wasn’t a big fan of this story. It seemed kind of boring as far as the action goes or the main character’s relationships. Not much really happened. I think the promotional material from Amazon’s Kindle First program didn’t really convey the true nature of this book and I was disappointed. I appreciated getting a early opportunity to read it, but I would have never spent money on this book. I did however suggest it to a relative that enjoyed Where Did You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple and I would be interested to see if they liked this book. I personally can only give this book a 3.

Other recommendations…

Here are some other novels with anxious main characters: A Stranger on the Planet by Adam Schwartz, Planetfall (sci-fi) by Emma Newman, Daffodil Dancing by Jean Jardine Miller.

I received an ARC or review copy of this book from the author/publisher. All opinions are my own.

LaRose by Louise Erdrich

“In this literary masterwork, the author of the National Book Award-winning The Round House and the Pulitzer Prize nominee The Plague of Doves wields her breathtaking narrative magic in an emotionally haunting contemporary tale of a tragic accident, a demand for justice, and a profound act of atonement with ancient roots in indigenous culture.”  –from Goodreads

laroseTitleLaRose
Author: Louise Erdrich
Series: stand-alone
Publish Date: May 10th 2016 by Harper
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Narrator: Louise Erdrich
Source: Purchased in audio

Publisher’s DescriptionNorth Dakota, late summer, 1999. Landreaux Iron stalks a deer along the edge of the property bordering his own. He shoots with easy confidence—but when the buck springs away, Landreaux realizes he’s hit something else, a blur he saw as he squeezed the trigger. When he staggers closer, he realizes he has killed his neighbor’s five-year-old son, Dusty Ravich.

The youngest child of his best friend, Pete Ravich, Dusty was best friends with Landreaux’s five-year-old son, LaRose. The two families have always been close, sharing food, clothing, and rides into town; their children played together despite going to different schools, and Landreaux’s wife, Emmaline, is half sister to Dusty’s mother, Nola. Horrified at what he’s done, the recovered alcoholic turns to tradition—the sweat lodge—for guidance, and finds a way forward. Following an ancient means of retribution, he and Emmaline will give LaRose to the grieving Peter and Nola. “Our son will be your son now,” they tell them.

LaRose is quickly absorbed into his new family. Plagued by thoughts of suicide, Nola dotes on him, keeping her darkness at bay. His fierce, rebellious new “sister” Maggie welcomes him as a co-conspirator who can ease her volatile mother’s terrifying moods. Gradually he’s allowed shared visits with his birth family, whose sorrow mirrors the Raviches’ own. As the years pass, LaRose becomes the linchpin linking the Irons and the Raviches, and eventually their mutual pain begins to heal.

But when a vengeful man with a longstanding grudge against Landreaux begins raising trouble, hurling accusations of a cover-up the day Dusty died, he threatens the tenuous peace that has kept these two fragile families whole.

Inspiring and affecting, LaRose is a powerful exploration of loss, justice, and the reparation of the human heart, and an unforgettable, dazzling tour de force from one of America’s most distinguished literary masters.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.


Agent_Annie_100Agent Annie says…

This is definitely not one of Erdrich’s better books. It is still filled with many stories and complex characters, but I didn’t feel that she wove the past and the present together strongly. I enjoyed learning the history with the chapters of the early years with Native Americans being forced to attend boarding school, but the ramifications of those years weren’t really brought to full light in this story. I liked the imagery of the first LaRose being pursued by a bodiless head and then the 2 boys, Romeo and Landreaux thinking they had been caught after they ran away because they saw the head of their school headmistress. When I was listening to it, I thought for sure there would be more imagery or something that would make these heads significant. That wasn’t the case.

I also don’t feel that I was that engaged with any of the characters. The author chose to move between several as first person voice, but in this case, I think it made it difficult to really bond with a specific character. I also thought the relationship between Emmaline and Father Travis came out of nowhere. Father Travis’ passion was brought forth throughout the story, but Emmaline reciprocating felt too abrupt.

The main character, LaRose, was supposed to have been the 5th of a line of healers and other than the fact his father gave him away to make up for killing Dusty, I didn’t see how LaRose actually did any healing that was special. Perhaps that’s the point in the story is that the day to day lives of Native Americans are not really that different or extraordinary than the rest of us, but it is the small things and the continuity from one generation to the next that makes everyone special, but I had to really stretch to understand that might have been the point.

badge3v4I did enjoy the author’s narration. She was able to catch the cadence of a Native American’s voice and fluidly went from the first person to narrator which can be difficult. I give this book a 3 since I have read others by Louise Erdrich that are far better.

Jasmine by Kris Michaels

Join the romances at Guardian Security as Jasmine finds the love of her life.  Number 6 in the series – don’t miss it!

JasmineTitleJasmine
Author: Kris Michaels
Series: Kings of Guardian #6
Publish Date: January 27, 2017
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Source:  Purchased ebook from Amazon.com

Publisher’s Description: Jasmine King loved her chosen profession until she was assigned as Chad Nelson’s personal security officer.

The sex-fueled country superstar was either a stone cold killer or the target of a deranged psychopath. Regardless, the self-absorbed bad boy was now hers to protect, and she’d be damned if she’d fail—despite the singer’s best efforts to make things difficult.

One minute Chad Nelson was the reigning king of country music and in the next, an FBI murder suspect in not one, but two murders. As if that’s not bad enough, he’s in the cross-hairs of someone who wants him dead. He’s got a front row seat to the destruction of his wildly successful and carefully constructed life.

Jasmine and Chad are plunged into a deadly situation when the race to get him to safety reveals pursuit by not only Chad’s enemies but worse, Guardian’s. Now, positions are reversed as the country star reaches back to a military past to help free Jasmine from a bloody confrontation. Thankfully, Chad’s not the shallow performer Jasmine originally suspected, and she’ll use any advantage to protect her man as Guardian scrambles to find the killer.

Nervous Nellie’s nervousness necessitates knowledge of the novel. In other words…spoilers.  *BEWARE*


Nervous Nellie says…Nervous_Nellie_100

Another stellar story from the world Guardian Security. I haven’t seen much of Jasmine in any of the previous books, so to read her story was a treat. Jasmine is tough and don’t forget it. She can hold her own against anyone but that goes against every chivalrous bone in Chad’s body. He’s a down home country boy that was taught to respect his elders and open doors for ladies.

Jasmine and Chad fell together fairly quickly, but there is a lot of stressful situations that presented themselves so they had to bond fast. The mystery whodunnit was fairly easy to figure out, but that’s not the point of the book. The point is to join the King family and welcome another member to their ever extending family.

badge5v5Jared makes the most appearances since he’s head of the domestic side of Guardian security, but Drake, Dixon, Doc, Amanda, Frank, Joseph, Ember, Jason and some extent Reece and Faith all made it out to the ranch to meet the singer that their sister hooked her star to.

I love this King family. It’s hard to pick a favorite because they all have their own unique situations. I’ll be interested to see more of the family in the next book. I’ll even be more interested to see WHO is in the next book!

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Double Review: A Monster Calls and A Swift Pure Cry

Today we have a double-review. A Monster Calls, popular recently because of the movie, was written by Patrick Ness based on notes written by author Siobhan Dowd, who also penned A Swift Pure Cry.

monster-callsTitleA Monster Calls
AuthorPatrick Ness
Series: stand alone
Publish Date: September 27, 2011
Genre: YA Fantasy
Source: Purchased

Publisher’s DescriptionAn unflinching, darkly funny, and deeply moving story of a boy, his seriously ill mother, and an unexpected monstrous visitor.

At seven minutes past midnight, thirteen-year-old Conor wakes to find a monster outside his bedroom window. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting– he’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the nightmare he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments. The monster in his backyard is different. It’s ancient. And wild. And it wants something from Conor. Something terrible and dangerous. It wants the truth.

From the final idea of award-winning author Siobhan Dowd– whose premature death from cancer prevented her from writing it herself– Patrick Ness has spun a haunting and darkly funny novel of mischief, loss, and monsters both real and imagined.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.


Agent_Annie_100Agent Annie says…

I decided to read this book because I saw a preview at the movie theater. The preview looked absolutely amazing, with the coloring of the images as they bled on the screen like a watercolor painting. It didn’t hurt that Liam Nesson was the voice of the monster. When I searched for the book, there was a movie tie-in, so I got that one and have thoroughly enjoyed not only reading the story, but learning about how they went about making the movie. One thing I did learn was that the original hardback had pictures in it that spread across more than a single page spread, so I kind of wish I had bought that instead. When you read or listen to this book (or watch the movie), do make sure that you have a box of Kleenex because it is heart-wrenching.

I am particularly fascinated that the author, Patrick Ness, was asked to write the story based on the notes and discussions the late author, Siobhan Dowd who died young of cancer, had with her editor. The book is about a mom dying of cancer and it’s why this is such a powerful book: having bad emotions about bad situations is not a reason to hate yourself. This is not an easy lesson to learn, and Conner, the son of the dying Mom, has no adult in his life helping him to understand that. When the monster tells Conner that he comes walking not to heal the sick mom, but to heal Conner himself, the true power of the story comes out.

badge5v5So, now I have read the book, watched the movie, and listened to the audio version. You cannot go wrong by choosing any one of these paths to immerse yourself in the story and idea that Patrick Ness & Siobhan Dowd created.

swift-pure-cryTitle: A Swift Pure Cry
Author: Siobhan Dowd
Series: stand alone
Publish Date: September 9, 2008
Genre: YA Contemporary
Source: Purchased

Publisher’s DescriptionIreland 1984.

After Shell’s mother dies, her obsessively religious father descends into alcoholic mourning and Shell is left to care for her younger brother and sister. Her only release from the harshness of everyday life comes from her budding spiritual friendship with a naive young priest, and most importantly, her developing relationship with childhood friend, Declan, who is charming, eloquent, and persuasive. But when Declan suddenly leaves Ireland to seek his fortune in America, Shell finds herself pregnant and the center of a scandal that rocks the small community in which she lives, with repercussions across the whole country. The lives of those immediately around her will never be the same again.

This is a story of love and loss, religious belief and spirituality—it will move the hearts of any who read it.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.


Agent_Annie_100Agent Annie says…

Because I read about A Monster Calls, I felt compelled to read one of Siobhan Dowd’s other books just to see why she was such an acclaimed author and why her editor thought it was important to publish her ideas/story posthumously. I chose A Swift Pure Cry, which did not disappoint.

This story takes place in modern day Ireland, which didn’t feel all that modern because of how backward the treatment was of the children who had just lost their mother. The church failed the children, the community failed the children and so did the school system. The young girl, Shell, has to take on the burden of caring for her younger siblings and her drunken father, she is acting the adult, but doesn’t have an adult to turn to when she herself needs help after she discovers she’s pregnant. I find it compelling that Siobhan Dowd has themes of children faced with very adult situations and not having adults to rely on and how the children make choices to get through these ugly circumstances which aren’t always based in reality.

badge5v5I would highly recommend these books for adults and young teens. Adults so that we don’t forget that young people have complex emotions and understand what’s going on, but from a powerless perspective, and for young teens so they can understand that they aren’t the only ones experiencing these circumstances. Books, on many occasions, have proven to be the only “friends” that people have and good books can help you make it through really tough situations.