Tag Archives: Contemporary Literary Fiction

Review & Giveaway: The Little Teashop on Main by Jodi Thomas

THE LITTLE TEASHOP
ON MAIN
by
Jodi Thomas
Genre: Contemporary Literary Fiction / Coming of Age
Publisher: HQN
Publication Date: May 7, 2019
Number of Pages: 336 pages

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A rainy-day ritual—a tea party between three little girls—becomes the framework of not only their friendship, but their lives.
Blonde, curly-haired Zoe is openhearted, kind and free-spirited, and dreams of becoming a famous actor in New York City. Shy Emily struggles with mental health but has the heart and soul of a writer. And Shannon—tall, athletic, strong—has a deep sense of loyalty that will serve her well when she heads off to military college.
As Zoe, Emily, and Shannon grow into women—forging careers, following dreams, and finding love—they’ll learn that life doesn’t always unfold the way they want it to, but through it all, the one constant is each other and their regular tea parties. And when the unthinkable happens, the girls must come together to face the greatest test of all.

A deeply moving novel about the family that raises us, the hearts that nurture us, and the great friendships that define our lives.


PRAISE FOR THE LITTLE TEASHOP ON MAIN:
“Heart-wrenching as well as heartwarming, the book reflects the experiences of these seven multifaceted and compelling characters as they journey through challenging years together.” — NY Journal of Books“A comforting treasure for regular Thomas readers who enjoy the easy flow of her writing, a little steamy romance to spice things up, and the development of vulnerable, realistic characters.” — Booklist
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review

 

The Little Teashop on Main had me in its grasp with just the title because I love tea and quaint businesses set up in little towns. As a woman who didn’t grow up with many close girlfriends, I am also drawn to stories where the characters meet as youngsters and then navigate womanhood together. I have yet to find my bosom friend or a group of girls who can magically fit into the same pair of pants as me, but books like this one make me feel like one of the girls.

This is as close to a perfect story if I’ve ever read one. If you’re a woman, you can relate to at least one of the three women. If you’re a man, you’ve probably been in love with one or all three of them. Which is why opening the story with Jack Hutchinson was such a great choice. It is reminiscent of the narrative style in another book, The Virgin Suicides, but the tone is completely different and the other narrators are the women themselves, not boys or men who were on the outside looking in.

I feel as though Thomas put every ounce of care into writing this story because even the names that she chose for her characters suit their personalities perfectly. The hippie, single mother named Alex pairs perfectly with her dancing fairy-like daughter named Zoe. The name Emily very easily brings to mind a shy girl raised by a very proper and imposing mother, whereas Shannon is the name of a headstrong girl who won’t be pushed around. I don’t know if the author intended to have two male characters with rhyming names, Jack and Mack, but both men are very similar: reliable and simple – as in lacking artifice, not intellect. The character named Fuller might not match the All-American name at first glance, but he’s the pull ‘em up by the bootstraps type. And he certainly works hard to make a life for himself and the people he loves; thus, becoming “fuller” in a sense.

I enjoyed every moment with this book. As carefully as Thomas chose the names of her characters, she was precise with each word on every page. I have a bad habit of skimming when a book gets slow or gives me information that I don’t want or need. I never did that with this one. While I could predict a few plot points or motives, I was surprised with the overall arc of the story and did not want it to end. I was truly invested in each character and loved getting to know them. I hope that Thomas might consider writing a companion book to this one.

 

With millions of books in print, Jodi Thomas is both a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of over 45 novels and 14 short story collections. Her stories travel through the past and present days of Texas and draw readers from around the world.
In July 2006, Jodi was the 11th writer to be inducted into the Romance Writers of America Hall of Fame. With five RITA’s to her credit, along with National Readers’ Choice Awards and Booksellers’ Best Awards, Thomas has proven her skill as a master storyteller.
Honored in 2002 as a Distinguished Alumni by Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, Thomas enjoys interacting with students at West Texas A&M University in Canyon, Texas, where she currently serves as Writer in Residence.
 
When not working on a novel, or inspiring students to pursue writing careers, Thomas enjoys traveling with her husband, renovating an historic home, and “checking up” on their grown sons and four grandchildren.

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Review: Blood and Remembrance by Chris Manno

 
BLOOD AND REMEMBRANCE
by
CHRIS MANNO
Genre: Contemporary Literary Fiction
Publisher: Dark Horse Books
Publication Date: March 3, 2018
Number of Pages: 321 pages

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Blood and Remembrance is the prequel to the award-winning Texas novel, East JesusThis new, stand-alone story rampages from the west Texas plains to Huntsville’s Death Row and back. Cowboys, ranchers, driven oilmen, desperate convicts and headstrong women grapple with truths of the heart, of life, and the coming of age in a dramatic struggle you’ll live yourself and never forget.
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review
It is hard to believe that it has been two years since I reviewed East Jesus. But when I started reading this prequel to East Jesus, I was immediately transported back to that foreign feeling version of Texas that Manno describes so vividly. Everything feels real, a little too real at times, but it’s such a different version of my great state than I am used to. I won’t go into detail about that all over again, but I can’t help but marvel at how vast and different Texas can be.
The writing reminds me of some of these great short stories we read in my Southwestern Literature days at UT. I can’t remember the titles or authors unfortunately, but I remember the way they made me feel. Those stories made me feel like this one did, the desire to lean in and recoil simultaneously. I suppose it was the fascinating characters that drew me in, but their actions or the situations that they found themselves in would have me back peddling pretty quick too.
I wonder if Manno writes from some imaginary movie that plays in his head. Because this book, much like the sequel, is cinematic. And a very stylistic cinematic work at that. While Tarantino would be the obvious comparison, I see Manno’s style as more of a Wes Anderson. His work is very much character driven and there’s really not a whole lot going on when you attempt to analyze the plot. There are multiple storylines running parallel to each other as you follow one main character for a bit and then another, and they do converge at multiple points. With most novels that use that technique, you nervously anticipate the final collision. But with Manno’s laidback, cowboy pace, you just sort of lope along with the story and know that it will happen whenever it will happen.
For me, the real gem in this book is the dialogue. In East Jesus, Manno did a masterful job of writing teen speak, so I’m not at all surprised that I am a huge fan of the dialogue in this book as well. It makes me wonder how many convicts and cowboys he’s run into over his lifetime. He does a great job writing lines for the sassy women in the book as well. My favorite line is this bit of inner dialogue, “I’m still on hiatus, blessedly suspended between the sins I’ve committed and those yet ahead.”
There were some spots that could have used more editing, but thankfully they didn’t pull me out of the story.
Blood and Remembrance will transport you with its powerful simplicity. There’s a grotesque beauty to the setting and the characters. Immerse yourself fully and pick up East Jesus if you crave more.

Chris Manno of Fort Worth, Texas, earned a doctorate in English from Texas Christian University and teaches writing at Texas Wesleyan University. 

East Jesus, his first novel, was named “finalist” (second place) for Best Fiction of 2017 by the North Texas Book Festival. The novel takes a close-up, visceral look at West Texas life in 1969 and the good folks who lived it, grappling with notions of family, patriotism and violence, both domestic and in a far-off, unpopular war. 

Blood and Remembrance is the prequel to East Jesus, tracing the roots of the main characters in both books, examining the harsh but classically All-American story of life in the Texas panhandle. 

Manno is also the author of a third novel, Voodoo Rush, winner for Best Fiction of 2018 by the North Texas Book Festival, and a collection of short stories titled Short Fiction for the Impatient Reader. Both books are available from White Bird Publications of Austin Texas. 


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Review: East Jesus by Chris Manno

EAST JESUS
by
Chris Manno
Genre: Contemporary Literary Fiction
Publisher: White Bird Publications
Date of Publication: March 8, 2016
Number of Pages: 314
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In the summer of 1969, a small town in west Texas prepares to send one of their finest young men off to fight a faraway, controversial war. A parallel battle of domestic violence erupts at home as a younger generation struggles to reconcile older notions of right and wrong and even fractured family ties with the inevitable price that the fighting demands. 

Much like today’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Vietnam war is little understood by those left behind, but the lessons of strength, commitment and duty are timeless, then and now. East Jesus, the story of that national struggle today as well as back in 1969, is a plangent, soulful journey lived through the eyes of a wide-ranging, colorful array of characters, with a conclusion readers will never forget.

 
There’s more.  “East Jesus,” said one editor, “is a message of hope for our children.” Too often, teenagers who’ve survived a young lifetime of domestic violence believe “this is the hell I was born into, this is the hell I must accept for life.” East Jesus turns that notion on its ear: though there’s a price to pay, there’s a better way that rises above the violence.
The novel is peopled by strong characters, particularly women, in a salt-of-the-earth, small town, west Texas community. The price of a far away, unpopular war always comes due in small town America, then (set in 1969) as well as now (Iraq and Afghanistan). But the lesson of hope, sacrifice and redemption is timeless.
To read East Jesus is to live that story, to transcend the fighting at home and abroad, and to embrace the hope and faith in what’s right above all else.

Experience East Jesus, live the story–you’ll never forget it.

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Review
Now I know that this book isn’t YA, but I have to say that Manno has the teen speak and tone down to the point that I was not expecting the man in his picture (see below) as the author. Sorry if that’s ageist, but I mean it as a compliment. As someone who loves reading YA because I never outgrew the teen angst and obsession with anything Apocalyptic, I don’t think that I could maintain a tone as authentic as Manno. But I’ve digressed.
While I had trouble keeping all the characters straight in the beginning (there are lots of people… and dogs… with strange names), I think I finally got a hang of things about a quarter of the way through. And while I didn’t particularly care for some characters (Travis lost the parent lottery), I found them all interesting and realistic.
So many books have domestic abuse in them and I’ve found that most have some sort of an explanation (not justifying it, but there’s usually some stupid reason) for why it occurs. The reason unfolds at the end of this book. But I was so wrapped up in whatever moment was happening that I didn’t sit and ponder about it.
I’ve lived my whole life in Texas, most of it bordering a sleepy ol’ Western-ish town, but I still feel like I’m reading about foreign places when I read novels like this one. I guess that’s an attribute to just how vast and varied our great state is. I don’t think the fact that it’s set on the cusp of the 70’s is the issue either. There’s just something very different about a town where there’s literally only a handful of places to spend a Friday night. And yes, football does make an appearance.
My takeaway from this book is you don’t get to pick who your family is, but you can pick the people around you who can be your new family. And you might not succeed in protecting each other, but that doesn’t mean you should give up on building a new, good life. Manno doesn’t paint a pretty picture of this town and time period, but I found this book refreshing all the same.

Chris Manno matriculated from Springfield, Virginia and graduated from VMI in 1977 with a degree in English. He was commissioned in the Air Force and after completing flight training, spent seven years as a squadron pilot in the Pacific at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa and Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii. He was hired by American Airlines as a pilot in 1985 and was promoted to captain in 1991. He flies today as a Boeing 737 captain on routes all over North America and the Caribbean. He earned a doctorate in residence at Texas Christian University and currently teaches writing at Texas Wesleyan University in addition to flying a full schedule at American Airlines. He lives in Fort Worth.
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