Read My New Short Story About Mental Health for Free: ‘Pomegranates’

“They say Arizona is a place for folks to start over, and that’s what I had in mind when I landed in the high desert of Prescott. I remember, it was the year the sun rose red over the United Kingdom, and boilin’ wine flowed across the hills of Northern California.”

~ Pomegranates ~

Sometimes, a story reaches so close to your heart, you decide to publish it for free. A gift to the world.

That’s how I feel about my new short story, “Pomegranates.” I’m giving it to you for free–to read, to ponder, to share with your friends, or family, or book club.

Read “Pomegranates” now.

What is ‘Pomegranates’ About?

“Pomegranates” is very different than my debut novel, The Apollo Illusion, which was a science fiction dystopia. Rather, “Pomegranates” is contemporary realism, more akin to the styles of Where the Crawdads Sing or The Prince of Tides.

It’s about a young woman and her neighbor. It deals with themes of mental health, loneliness, and kindness. At the end of the story, in my “Note from the Author,” you’ll see why “Pomegranates” is so close to my heart.

I’ve published the story in PDF format so you can read it on your computer, download and print it out, or even save and email it to your Kindle. I hope you enjoy it, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on the story in the comment section below.

Naomi Alderman’s ‘The Power’ Flips Girl Power on its Head (Book Review)

The Power book cover

The Power makes a strong societal and political statement meant for girls and women. The ending will chill you into your bone marrow and even make you question a woman’s role in ancient human life.

Book: The Power

Author: Naomi Alderman

Publisher: Little Brown and Company

Published: Oct. 10, 2017

Amazon Link: https://www.amazon.com/Power-Naomi-Alderman/dp/0316547603

Stars: 4/5

Rarely do I find a new, recently published book that poses such a deep philosophical question, that I find myself pondering it two weeks after finishing.

I won’t lie: about halfway through Naomi Alderman’s The Power, I started wondering about the hype surrounding it. The book was good, and I was enjoying the story, but did it really deserve to be listed as one of the New York Times 10 Best Books of the Year, a Los Angeles Times Best Book of the Year, and one of former President Obama’s favorite reads?

And then, I got to the end—the final part. And OH. MY. GOD. Yes it does!

The Power turns girl power on its head and really makes us #bossbabes ask ourselves: what would we do if we suddenly became more powerful than men? What if we really could run the world?

Are we as innocent as we believe?

The Story

The plotline is simple, so I’m taking this straight from the back cover of the book.

“All over the world, women and girls are discovering they have the power. With a flick of the fingers, they can inflict terrible pain and even death. And with this small twist of nature, everything changes drastically … The Power takes us on a journey to an alternate reality and exposes our own world in bold and surprising ways.”

My Take

Here’s the thing about The Power: its strength is not in character development or even astonishing plot twists (though, there are some of those). In fact, I sometimes felt detached from the characters, which is the main reason I scored this book with four stars, rather than five.

Instead, The Power makes a strong societal and political statement meant for girls and women. The ending will chill you into your bone marrow and even make you question a woman’s role in ancient human life.

More than anything, the book strikes me as a near-metaphor for #MeToo, with young women igniting “the power” in older women. However, although the story begins with messages of empowerment, it soon turns darker and poses deeper questions about human nature. At times, it’s hard to read.

Margaret Atwood called The Power “electrifying.” I’d have to say, I agree with her.

***

Hey, guess what? I got two advanced reviewer copies of some hot new books coming out in July 2019! One is a contemporary dystopia, the other a science fiction. Don’t miss them! Follow my blog, or …

 

 

Nico Walker’s ‘Cherry’ Will Take You on a Journey of Scumbaggery (Book Review)

cherry book cover

Book: Cherry

Author: Nico Walker

Publisher: Knopf

Published: Aug. 14, 2018

Amazon Link: https://www.amazon.com/Cherry-novel-Nico-Walker/dp/0525520139

Stars: 3/5

Nico Walker has an edge that polished and professional writers may not have attained, allowing you to understand the world through the eyes of an addict who cares for nothing but his next high.

You will find no heroes in this story about service members deployed to Iraq, drug addicts and bank robbers.

In fact, the protagonist in Nico Walker’s debut novel, Cherry, is so detestable, you might find yourself hoping he fails. Because he deserves whatever comes to him, and here’s the thing: he’d agree with you.

Cherry published in 2018 and received much buzz because it was written by a man who is currently serving time in prison for robbing banks. He also happened to be an Army medic in the Iraq War and a heroin addict.

And perhaps that might have been one of my greatest qualms with the book; I didn’t feel like I was reading a novel. The story felt like a memoir, with its raw, choppy narration told in first-person from an anonymous narrator—who is obviously the anti-hero of the story.

The Story

Boy meets girl. Boy gets high with girl. Boy and girl break up. Boy and girl get back together. Girl goes to college. Boy joins Army. Boy marries girl. Boy goes to war. Girl cheats on boy. Boy returns from war. Boy and girl divorce. Boy and girl get back together. Boy and girl get high.

Welcome to the first modern-day story about the modern-day opioid epidemic.

So Here’s the Deal

Not everyone is going to love this book. There’s a lot of cussing (I mean, A LOT). There’s a lot of sex. There are even some scenes that depict animal cruelty, to show the complete soulessness of certain characters.

I don’t mind the cussing and the sex. That’s life. The animal cruelty did bother me, but I understand why Mr. Walker included those scenes.

My Take

My issue with the book is the complete scumbaggery of the nameless protagonist and narrator. He has no redeeming qualities to help us root for him despite his flaws, except that maybe he loves dogs.

And then there’s the writing. At first, I thought Mr. Walker was using a highly stylized approach so his character would appear disconnected from reality (like a drug addict). But after reading the acknowledgements section, I realized this was the best Mr. Walker could write.

The crude coarseness of Mr. Walker’s writing did have its advantages though. His story has an edge that polished and professional writers may not have attained, allowing you to understand the world through the eyes of an addict who cares for nothing but his next high. I appreciated this perspective.

I didn’t hate the book necessarily, but I suppose I wanted more from Mr. Walker—some higher epiphany or realization by the end. But the story just felt … hollow. Shallow. And a little bit sad.

But maybe that’s the point of Cherry. If so, Mr. Walker definitely accomplished his goal.

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How ‘American War’ by Omar El Akkad Will Change Your Worldviews (Book Review)

american war book cover
Sharis Pick image

*This book was a Shari’s Pick for January 2019!

‘American War’ drags us through the heartbreaking toll that war causes everyday people and it makes us see.

Book: American War

Author: Omar El Akkad

Publisher: Knopf

Published: April 4, 2017

Amazon Link: https://www.amazon.com/American-War-Omar-El-Akkad-ebook/dp/B01LXK1HBB

Stars: 4/5

“This isn’t a story about war. It’s about ruin.” – American War

After I finished reading war journalist’s Omar El Akkad’s debut novel, American War, one quote came to mind from Ernest Hemingway: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

Mr. El Akkad bled all the way through this haunting, moving, and conscience-punching book that begs the question: What if the United States turned its most ruthless foreign policies against its own people in a second American Civil War over fossil fuels?

But while Mr. El Akkad draws obvious parallels to modern-day controversies—such as drones, torture, refugee camps, and the weaponizing of desperation for terrorism—his story is not a political one. Instead, American War drags us through the heartbreaking toll that war causes everyday people and it makes us see.

The Story

Part dystopia, part family saga, American War follows the story of one family ravaged by the new Civil War, the Chestnuts. Specifically, curious and adventurous Sarat Chestnut, who is only 6 years old when the book begins.

Taking place several decades in the future, Sarat’s world in the South is different than the one we know today. The coastal cities have been overtaken by the ocean, Florida is now the Florida Sea, and the Free Southern State is fighting for its right to continue using fossil fuels, which have been outlawed by the North. The rivers are dead, and food is nearly impossible to grow.

When the war drives the Chestnuts from their simple home by the river, we follow Sarat’s story through refugee camps, radicalization, massacres, and immeasurable loss. This is the story of how one innocent girl becomes the victim of so much greed, eventually turning her into a weapon that will devastate the country.

Pros Versus Cons

American War enticed me from the start, with its haunting opening from a mysterious narrator. However, the book began to slow toward the middle and dragged for several chapters. I believe this is because Mr. El Akkad wrote with too much description and narration, but not enough dialogue to shape the characters and scenarios.

However, as I began to approach the final two parts of the book, the story’s pace escalated quickly. I finally found myself connecting with Sarat and her plight with the emotion and empathy I was hoping for earlier in the book.

I’m glad I kept reading, because in the final two parts, Mr. El Akkad illustrated his immense capacity for writing effective, hard-hitting, and powerful dialogue. He seemed more connected to his writing; I’m not sure why, but the words and emotion felt rawer. Perhaps less edited to perfection?

Either way, the ending was powerful and left me dumbfounded. I finally understood why Mr. El Akkad had to write the way he did in the middle of the book. As a reader, I would not have understood the end with such potency otherwise.

The Final Note

As a journalist who’s covered the war in Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay, the Egyptian Revolution during the Arab Spring, and the Black Lives Matter movement in Ferguson, Mr. El Akkad obviously poured his heart into this story. He has written a strong, weighty, and influential book that will force you to re-think your worldviews. It forced me to re-think mine.

The morning after finishing American War, I was scanning through my Instagram feed and came to a post from National Geographic about a Syrian father with his 2-month-old baby in a refugee camp north of Greece. I’ve always felt empathy for the plight of refugees, but this time, something else struck me—a deeper understanding, as if I knew.

If American War opened my eyes in this way, perhaps it’s an antidote for the lack of compassion across the world today, and therefore a necessary read for everyone.

Did you like this book review? Then follow me on Goodreads for more like it!

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Will ‘An Anonymous Girl’ Stalk You into 2019 Thrills? (Book Review)

An Anonymous Girl book cover

A story of obsession and control, An Anonymous Girl will chill you to your bone and leave you pondering its intricate and dark characters.

Book: An Anonymous Girl

Author: Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Publishing: Jan. 8, 2019

Pre-Order Link: https://static.macmillan.com/static/smp/anonymous-girl

Stars: 4/5

If you’re into screwed up marriages, twisted sociopaths and brilliant stalkers, then you’d better grab a copy of An Anonymous Girl when it publishes on Jan. 8, 2019. Because this psychological thriller from bestselling authors Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen will give any lovers of Gone Girl, The Widow, or Girl on the Train their fix.

The Storyline

An Anonymous Girl begins by following Jessica (friends call her “Jess”)—your typical poor, young makeup artist living in New York City. Like many struggling artists in The Big Apple, Jess has secrets from her past she doesn’t want to face, which makes finding a relationship a tad difficult.

When the opportunity for some easy cash practically falls onto her lap during a makeup session one day, Jess signs up for a mysterious study on morality from the esteemed Dr. Shields. But as Jess becomes Subject 52, she begins to learn this study isn’t what it seems and now she’s in so deep, she’s not sure she can make it out alive.

What I Loved

The story’s pace is so fast—with its short chapters and cliffhangers—I found it hard to put down (even when I was exhausted from a long day at work). An Anonymous Girl switches point-of-view between Jess and Dr. Shields, which adds a layer of psychological depth to their newly forming, toxic relationship.

I don’t go for cheap thrills, instead preferring story arcs that allow me to understand a character’s motivations. I want to know the why and An Anonymous Girl delivers, developing a complex, fascinating and terrifying villain in Dr. Shields. In the end, you might find yourself empathizing with this cold, calculating doctor.

What Needed Work

I wanted more punch from the end. The story’s intensity developed so well, but the end wasn’t as strong as the buildup. It wasn’t ­bad, per say; in fact, the final note still completed the story nicely and gave me a sense of satisfaction. It just wasn’t enough.

The Final Note

A story of obsession and control, An Anonymous Girl will chill you to your bone and leave you pondering its intricate and dark characters. This is a strong book, a quick read—and I promise, it will be worth your time.

Did you like this review? Then follow me on Goodreads for more like it!

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What Would You Do If Your Mother Was Killed and You Wound Up on the Streets?

 

Imagine this: you’re a teenager and living in a small, one-bedroom apartment with your mom. She works 16-hour days and barely makes enough money to eat. You live in a desert inferno and barely leave your boxed home.

Then, one day, you take your younger brother for ice-cream. When you return, you find your mother dead. With no one left to care for you, you wind up on the street, trying to protect your younger brother.

What would you do?

The Making of a Monster

This is the premise of “Stone from HELL: An Apollo Illusion Short Story,” which just released on Amazon for only $0.99 this week (or FREE for Kindle Unlimited subscribers).

Stone from HELL_cover JPG version

I’ve always been fascinated by the birth of a villain, and “Stone from HELL” is the backstory of the most notorious hacker from my futuristic debut novel, The Apollo Illusion. If you read “Stone from HELL,” you might find hints of yourself in its protagonist. The story is dark, gritty, edgy, but most of all, it’s scary.

Scary because more than anything, “Stone from HELL” is about society’s dark forces that turn the best of us into the demons we fear at night.

Of course, you could go on living in your happy-go-lucky bubble, where these things don’t happen to your or your family. But then you wouldn’t get the thrill of challenging your mind to wonder, “What if?” And you’d miss the subliminal messages and hidden commentary about certain issues today. Issues that might affect you without your knowledge.

“Stone from HELL” is Short and Cheap, So Why Not Grab It Now?

For less than $1, “Stone from HELL” is a short story (about 24 Kindle pages) that you can read in 30 or 40 minutes. Really, if you buy it, I guarantee you won’t be sorry–especially if you’ve already read The Apollo Illusion and are dying for more.

Buy “Stone from HELL” now for only $0.99, and find out what makes a monster …

 

Hilary Dartt Gives Life a Second Chance with ‘The Composition of Order’ (Book Review)

 

The Composition of Order by Hilary Dartt

A wonderful, delightful story that had me crying at the end, with characters so real, I felt like they were my neighbors.

Book: The Composition of Order (The Seedling Homestead Series Book 1)

Author: Hilary Dartt

Publisher: Darttboard Creative Writing, LLC

Published: Sept. 19, 2018

Amazon link: https://www.amazon.com/Composition-Order-Seedling-Homestead-Book-ebook/dp/B07HBCKZ4P

Stars: 5/5

[DISCLAIMER: For the sake of full disclosure, Hilary Dartt was the structural editor for my novel, The Apollo Illusion. However, I bought my own copy of The Composition of Order and was not offered any compensation or benefit for reviewing it.]

Sometimes, becoming a mother makes you a horrible wife. Sometimes, planning life too much can have devastating consequences. And sometimes, those we love most are not who we thought.

Welcome to The Composition of Order by Hilary Dartt, a wonderful, delightful story that had me crying at the end (and I don’t always cry at the end of books).

The Story

The story focuses on Sarah Ward, who as a young (and adopted) child, always preferred order to chaos. Now as an adult, she’s stunned when Donny—her high school sweetheart and husband of 20 years—announces he wants a divorce.

As the couple prepares to see their only child off to college, they take one final, family road trip back home to the farm where Sarah grew up (and they met). There, Sarah finds a mysterious journal at a flea market. Oddly drawn to it, the personal story within prompts Sarah to try and win Donny back. But what Sarah discovers about herself and her family will change her future, and her outlook, forever.

My Take

For most of the story, I believed The Composition of Order to be a solid four stars. However, the story earned a fifth star in my book because of its powerful ending, which impacted me for days after I finished reading. Books often make me tear up, or feel sad, or smile at their closings. But Ms. Dartt managed to make me weep!

With characters so real, they could be neighbors or sisters, The Composition of Order will leave you feeling fuzzy inside, satisfied, and possibly examining your own life. Best of all, it will make you believe in the powerful love of a mother and have hope that second chances do happen—even if they look different than your typical storybook endings.

A must-read for every wife, mother, or woman who understands the complexities of family life, but loves with all her heart anyway.

Did you like this review? Then follow me on Goodreads for more like it!

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Goodreads Giveaway! One More Shot to Win ‘The Apollo Illusion’

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The bad news: the giveaway to win one of two signed copies of The Apollo Illusion ended yesterday.

The good news: you can still win an e-copy of The Apollo Illusion via Goodreads!

New Goodreads Giveaway Just Launched!

That’s right. 🙂 A new Goodreads Giveaway just launched on Saturday this week. This time, your odds of winning are MUCH better. I’m giving away 100 e-book copies of The Apollo Illusion.

YES, YOU HEARD ME CORRECTLY. 100 E-COPIES!

But hurry and enter now, before the giveaway ends! https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/284907-the-apollo-illusion.

 

 

 

Why Indie Authors Have to Stick Together

I’ve heard self-publishing “experts” say time and time again that no big difference exists between an author going the traditional route or the indie route.

Ahem — I beg to differ.

Therefore, here are the reasons why us indie authors have to stick together:

1) We have to pay for EVERYTHING.

Editors, designers, copyright filing, advertising, and yes, book tours.

2) And let’s just admit it. Major traditional publishers have one gargantuan advantage over us: connections.

Connections to major media outlets (like the New York Times and Entertainment Weekly), to librarians, to book store owners, to distributors, and to online influencers.

3) No one takes us seriously when we’re starting out.

4) Those dang literary pirates want to steal and sell our stuff!

5) We’re a bunch of anti-establishment rebels.

Of course, we take on this load because we have SO MUCH MORE CONTROL. Over everything.

  • Creativity
  • Legal rights
  • Marketing
  • Design
  • Presentation
  • Pricing

But man, for an indie author trying to make it, you guys know this is an uphill battle! I don’t care what anyone says, going indie is a tougher climb. And this, my friends, is why we all gotta stick together.

While you’re here, did you know I published my debut novel six months ago? “The Apollo Illusion” is a science fiction dystopia about a future society’s frightening overdependence on technology. Learn more by clicking here!

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Is ‘Wildchilds’ by Eugenia Melian the Wild Ride it Should Be? (Book Review)

Wildchilds Book Cover

Book: Wildchilds

Author: Eugenia Melian

Publisher: Fashion Sphinx Books

Published: Sept. 20, 2018

Amazon link: https://www.amazon.com/Wildchilds-Eugenia-Melian-ebook/dp/B07GXZS2H7

Stars: 2/5

This was my first choice for my first NetGalley Advanced Reviewer Copy (ARC), so trust me when I say, I really wanted to give this debut novel more than two stars. The story was good, and I can tell it was deeply personal for Author Eugenia Meliàn. Unfortunately, Wildchilds was not executed well, like reading a proofread first draft rather than a final product.

The Summary

Here’s the deal with Wildchilds: it’s a story about the dark side of the fashion industry, a #MeToo coming out for a sector that has yet to acknowledge its dirty secrets.

Wildchilds concentrates on Iris, a former Paris model now living in a sort of exile with her teenage daughter, Lou. When Iris’s former lover—who is also the father of Lou—dies, she’s forced to return to Paris to secure his photography estate for her daughter. In doing so, Iris must confront the hidden demons from her past and the trauma she endured as a model many years ago.

Great concept, right? Ms. Meliàn is a former model herself and a veteran agent in the fashion industry, so she gives the reader a real inside look into the profession. However, once I began to read, the story took a turn for the worse.

The Fall

The transitions between points-of-view (POV) and timelines were choppy. At certain parts, Ms. Meliàn transitioned from a third-person POV on one character, to a first-person POV from a completely different character within the same paragraph. Other times, she did not include paragraph breaks, chapter breaks, or character labels when switching POV, creating a sense of daunting confusion for the reader.

Often, her dialogue was shallow or repetitive, slowing the story’s pace. Frequently, she’d spend several paragraphs describing the physical attributes of something—a person or a setting—but skirted over the types of important, profound emotions, backstory, or narration readers crave. Her writing usually told, but rarely showed.

The result was a feeling of disconnect, of a story that dragged, of one-dimensional characters. This book had so much more potential.

The Hope

I do believe Ms. Meliàn has it in her to turn this novel around and create a magnificent piece of work. Her ability to write well with deep suspense and intensity shone through from time to time, especially during a pivotal confrontation between the main protagonist and her dark antagonist. I would encourage Ms. Meliàn to seek out a strong structural editor who can help to hone her craft and work this book into one that would touch many lives.

As it stands now, however, I cannot find it in myself to give Wildchilds more than two stars. I do hope that changes one day.

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