Tag Archives: family drama

Where the Lilacs Bloom Once Again by Roni Rosenthal Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

The struggles and hardships faced by a young Jewish-Romanian woman and her family in 1930s Romania are explored in full in author Roni Rosenthal’s “Where the Lilacs Bloom Once Again”.

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The Synopsis

Friddie, 18, is an ordinary yet rebellious young Jewish woman, living in Bucharest in the 1930s. Born and raised in Romania’s capital, she dreams of living as a “free Romanian woman.”

After calling off her wedding to a young, parentally-approved accountant, she escapes to a city on the coast, where she meets a scientist-perfumer named Freddy. He is the true love she has been looking for—and a ticket to her dream.

Soon, though, that dream turns into a nightmare she never could have predicted.

Friddie’s story of incredible hardship is interwoven with the stories of her family. We follow her Aunt Rosa’s life as the glue of her household, even though she loses her husband in mysterious circumstances; her Uncle David, who dreams of becoming a schoolteacher and starting a family in Iași, and her cousins, who uproot their lives in Bucharest to start again in Israel.

In this tragic-heroic novel, the true stories, the victims, and the small moments of happiness are revealed in the Danube’s labor camps, under the fascist-dictatorial and communist rule that has been a part of Romania for so many years.

Based on the true experiences of a Jewish Romanian family, Where the Lilacs Bloom Once Againunearths stories that could so easily be lost to the passage of time. This family’s tale has emerged at a critical time, to show the need for compassion and kindness, even in the hardest moments.

The Review

Much like the author felt compelled to write this story, I felt compelled to read this incredibly moving and emotional story as the rise of anti-semitism continues to plague the United States, and my desire to bring awareness to this cause made this one story I couldn’t turn down. The heart and passion for which the author crafts this narrative made this a truly incredible read. The depth of detail the author captures in this narrative also does an incredible job of bringing to life captivating imagery that creates an almost period-piece film style of writing. 

The most engaging aspects of this story are the author’s inclusion of both history and culture along with her own family history into the narrative, as well as the dynamic character development this story takes on. The way the author was able to incorporate and tell her own family’s history and illuminate the rarely discussed Romanian labor camps and how Jewish-Romanian citizens were forced to experience its cruel nature, highlighted the hardships and struggles they were forced to endure, while the characters, while based on true events and people, added a depth of human connection and emotion that kept the reader invested in the events this historical fiction is depicting.

The Verdict

Captivating, emotional, and brilliantly written, author Roni Rosenthal’s “Where the Lilacs Bloom Once Again” is a must-read historical fiction drama. The strength of the family portrayed in this book and the inspiration they have on others to overcome tragedy and hardship kept me as a reader invested, and spoke to the need to end hatred and violence against the Jewish people around the world. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Roni Rosenthal is the CEO and Founder of “The Pencil Pro.” She is the innovator of the Brain-Empowered with Creativity model, an adjunct-Professor and an Education Director.

Roni is known for challenging and motivating people in becoming creative thinkers.

She is a frequent speaker at workshops, universities, and schools.

Roni believes that creative thinking is a virtue and a must have skill in the 21st century. Her goal is to promote original thinking worldwide, and she has developed the tools to do so.

www.ronirosenthal.com

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One Visit by George Veck Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

TRIGGER WARNING: SCENES OF DRUG ABUSE AND SEXUAL ABUSE OCCUR IN THIS NOVEL. READER DISCRETION IS ADVISED.

A young man hoping to keep his brother out of the care system must contend with an abusive father, a former acquaintance turned drug dealer and his own addiction in author George Veck’s “One Visit”.

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The Synopsis

In sleepy, rural North Wales, Frankie Gibbs, a recently laid off, aimless twenty-year-old on Universal Credit, wants nothing more than to keep his younger brother out of the care system. He single-handedly takes this upon himself while their alcoholic, cocaine-addict, single-parent father, Guy Gibbs, heaps misery on their lives through systematic abuse and his never-ending wild parties. After Guy is sent to prison, Frankie is coerced into opening his home to Justin, an acquaintance from his school days now turned drug dealer, while his own addiction and self-worth spiral beyond recognition.

The Review

This was a truly gritty, dark, and twisted crime drama. The author expertly weaves together a heartbreaking tale that examines the impact that drug addiction, abuse, and toxic family relationships can have on people. The haunting imagery and chilling atmosphere capture the grim setting and cinematic, almost indie-film quality of the novel.

The aspects of this narrative that really stood out were the heartbreaking character developments of this novel and the emphasis the author put on capturing the surrounding culture and tone of the people around the main cast of characters. The exploration of Wales in general and both the terminology and culture that exists within their community was fascinating for a U.S. reader to explore, while the traumatic road these characters travel down feels both relatable and emotional all at once.

The Verdict

Thought-provoking, shocking, and engaging, author George Veck’s “One Visit” is a must-read crime drama. The horrors that the protagonist and his brother endure as the narrative descends further and further into chaos hone in on the growing problem of drug abuse and violence as a whole around the world, and will speak to readers on a very distinct level. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

I grew up in rural North West Wales, where hardships and a lack of opportunities spurred my passion for tackling tough subjects, such as poverty, addiction and mental health. Currently studying a masters degree in screenwriting at the University of South Wales, I’ve written and directed three short films. One Visit was the first feature-length screenplay I ever wrote, and through the exposure of this novel, I hope to garner interest and funding to turn it into a film one day. For news regarding my future novels and films, follow @vecks_gems_productions on Instagram.

https://www.instagram.com/vecks_gems_productions

Interview with Author Sharifullah Dorani

1) Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into writing?

Before I start, I would like to thank you for the interview and your review of The Lone Leopard

I was born and brought up in Kabul, Afghanistan, and claimed asylum alongside my parents in the UK in 1999. I finished all my higher education in the UK. I am married and live with my wife and three children in a quiet town in England. 

How did I get into writing? I love writing, especially about my country Afghanistan. Therefore, I did my PhD on Afghanistan and subsequently published some two dozen articles and a book (more below) on my native land. 

The idea for writing The Lone Leopard, however, was actually conceived in 1992 when the ‘pro-Communist’ Najibullah regime collapsed and the mujahideen took over Kabul. Turning Shia against Sunni and vice versa, setting Afghanistan’s main ethnic groups of Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara and Uzbek against each other, and accusing each other of uniting with the remnants of pro-Communist members and thus not being Islamic enough, the 15 or so mujahideen groups fought each other in the streets of Kabul, killing tens of thousands of innocent Kabulis, displacing hundreds of thousands, and turning half of Kabul into mudbrick rubble with bombs, rockets and cannon fire.

Taking refuge in the basements of our blocks while the gunfire, shelling and fighting continued, I decided (if I made it alive) to write about what we ordinary Afghans went through. Unlike thousands of Kabulis, I was fortunate enough to live, and 18 years later, in 2010, I started writing about the experience: after 12 years of writing/rewriting (and extensive research, including consulting nearly a thousand sources), The Lone Leopard is the result.

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2) What inspired you to write your book?

I’ve partly answered this question above. I’d also like to add that my only inspiration is my people and country. I wanted to tell the contemporary Afghan and Afghanistan story from an Afghan perspective. Ahmad, the protagonist of my novel, therefore, gives a first-hand account of what I (and most Afghans) have experienced over the past four decades in Afghanistan (and in exile). My previous book, America in Afghanistan, published in 2019 by IB Tauris/Bloomsbury, was praised by reviewers for its Afghan perspectives, and is found at, among other institutions, Oxford and Harvard.

3) What theme or message do you hope readers will take away from your book?

The reader will get to know a great deal about the principles of Afghan culture, particularly independence, courage, loyalty, justice, revenge, righteousness, pride, honour, chastity, hospitality, love, forgiveness, faith (Islam) and respect of elders (parents in particular), among others, and some of these themes, in addition to jealousy, prejudice, betrayal, guilt and atonement, the book explores.

The Lone Leopard is a historical war drama. Once the reader reads it, I hope they will see how things have been in Afghanistan; they will understand the history and politics of the past four decades in Afghanistan; and they will see the real Afghan and Afghanistan. 

The Lone Leopard is a work of contemporary literary fiction, too, as it is solely based on human relations. The focus of the novel is primarily on the lives of Ahmad (15, a conservatively traditional Pashtun, dutiful child, gifted student, thoughtful but faint-hearted) and Frishta (16, progressive, Tajik, women’s rights activist, compassionate, outspoken and brave): will the faint-hearted Ahmad learn from Frishta to fight his cowardly side and stand up for himself and for what is right, even if his stance opposes traditions/his controlling mother; will the fearless Frishta journey from a middle-class girl to ‘the president of Afghanistan’; will Ahmad and Frishta with conflicting personalities/backgrounds fall in love; will the middle-class Wazir (15, Ahmad’s best friend/classmate: Pashtun, fearless, the school gangster, pro-mujahideen) ever fulfil his dreams of killing a Communist and joining jihad; and will the loveable Baktash (15, Ahmad’s best friend/classmate: Tajik/Hazara, timid but lovable, pro-Communism) live a normal life without getting bullied for being different. So, the reader will get drawn into a time (the 1980s-2010s) when historical events – several invasions of Afghanistan over the past four decades in particular – give rise to nationalistic and religious conflicts and impact the lives of the four characters and their families. 

 Moreover, The Lone Leopard is a mother-son relationship story, as familial aspects constitute a significant part of the narrative, especially (the importance of) parental respect, which you have highlighted (and liked) in your review. 

Incidentally, in addition to the Western reader, when writing the novel, I had the future Afghan generations in mind, especially for them to see what mistakes their ancestors committed and how they should avoid repeating them. One of them is how discrimination, alienation and division can destroy a country; and how unity, inclusion and empowerment of people – regardless of their sex, tribe, ethnic origin, religion, etc. – can help build a better country and, by extension, a better world.

4) What drew you into this particular genre?

The Lone Leopard can fit into several genres: literary fiction, women’s fiction, young adult fiction, coming-of-age, family drama, war drama, and romance. For me, however, it will always remain historical fiction drama, the story of contemporary Afghanistan. I chose the historical genre because I have a PhD in IR/history, have taught the history of Afghanistan and have lived through the historical periods The Lone Leopard covers. As a creative writing teacher may say, ‘write what you know’. 

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5) What social media site has been the most helpful in developing your readership?

I am not very good at social media and only use Twitter. I also have a LinkedIn account, but I have not made much use of it. 

6) What advice would you give to aspiring or just starting authors out there?

Read more, research a lot, and get a good command of creative writing techniques before starting your book. And keep it consistent: make sure you write/research/read every day, even if it is for half an hour. Oh, one more thing: start today; don’t wait for tomorrow. 

7) What does the future hold in store for you? Any new books/projects on the horizon?

My next book will focus on why the Doha Peace Agreement between the Taliban and America failed and the possible consequences of the failure for Afghanistan, the region and the international community.

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About the Author

SHARIFULLAH DORANI was born and raised in Kabul, Afghanistan, and claimed asylum in the UK in 1999. He has undergraduate and master’s degrees in Law from The University of Northampton and UCL, respectively. He completed his PhD on the US War in Afghanistan at Durham University and authored the acclaimed America in Afghanistan. Sharifullah frequently returns to Afghanistan to carry out research. He is currently South Asia and the Middle Eastern Editor at The Centre for Strategic Research and Analysis (CESRAN International) and has written nearly two dozen articles on Afghanistan (and the broader region), international relations and law. He lives with his family in Bedford, England.

Cover Me With My Izar by Nora Houri-Haim Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

Author Nora Houri-Haim takes readers on a journey exploring the history, culture, and modern story of Iraqi Jews through a multi-generational fictional novel in the book “Cover Me With My Izar”.

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The Synopsis

Through a series of stories that span several generations, ‘Cover Me with My Izar’, brings to vivid life the modern history of Iraqi Jews.

The stories are fascinating, humorous, filled with humanity, always captivating, and brimming with heart. Each story is told from the viewpoint of a different character across the generations.

From the tales of the vibrant Jewish community in Baghdad, through the terrors of the Farhud Pogrom to the mass immigration into Israel, a rich story of struggle and learning to adapt unfolds.

From the miracle that was visited upon the barren Latifa, to the disaster Ezra, the sword collector, brought on his own head; from Yvette, who decided to go and earn an education for herself against all odds, to the story of Itzik and Nava, children of the third generation born in Israel who wanted to be integrated into its newly forming society. These are just a handful of the rich tapestry of stories woven together to form the fabric of this book. A fabric as unforgettable and rich as that from which the traditional Izar gown, worn by the Jewish women of Iraq, is made. 

The Review

This was such a well-written and personal story. The author expertly found the balance between personal storytelling about family experiences and intimate looks into the culture and history surrounding the Jewish people of the Middle East over the last century. The way this story fell into an almost compilation of short stories that fell under a general story banner that connected to one another through the generations was such an inspired use of storytelling devices. The imagery and atmosphere were so vivid that the stories the author was bringing to life felt very real, allowing readers to feel quite connected to the narrative.

The blend of character development and culture really became the heart of this narrative. The exploration of several characters and their point of view over the course of an entire family’s history over the course of a century was an inspired creative choice and played well into the narrative choice to explore the Middle Eastern Jewish experience. It was original and allowed readers to fully feel immersed into an aspect and point of view of life that is rarely explored.

The Verdict

Brilliantly written, captivating, and engaging, author Nora Houri-Haim’s “Cover Me With My Izar” is a must-read family and multi-generational fiction novel of 2022. The unique setting and history the author explores in this narrative were so amazing to behold, and the rich cultural explorations were truly entertaining and emotionally driven, keeping readers invested throughout the narrative. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Nora Houri-Haim was born in 1953 in the “new, old” city of Tel Aviv, to parents who’d made aliyah from Iraq. She spent her childhood surrounded by her huge extended family and grew up on the knees of her aunts and uncles, listening to stories from the “old country.” These stories were in sharp contrast to the reality around Nora. In the fledgling state of Israel, anything foreign, and especially anything connected to the Arab world, was frowned upon. This dissonance defined Nora’s childhood and inspired her writing as an adult. She finished her schooling in Tel Aviv, and then served in the Israeli military as an educational adviser. After completing her BA, Nora got married, had four kids and spent eight years teaching 6-8th graders. Nora completed her MA, with honors in Literature and Creative Writing from Ben Gurion University in the Negev. While there, she began writing her first novel, Cover Me with my Izar”. The novel was nominated by her publisher for the Sapir Prize for debut novels and was praised by the National Library during the year it was published.

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Stay by Katherine Lawrence Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

A young girl desperate for a family dog finds her world turned upside down as crisis after a crisis hits her family in author Katherine Lawrence’s “Stay”.

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The Synopsis

Millie is eleven (going on twelve) and enjoys doing what kids usually like to do: riding her bike and dreaming of the day she can convince her family to get a dog. She also writes in her diary daily. But instead of writing to herself, she writes to her twin brother Billy, who died before he was born. Alright, so it’s not totally normal, but it’s manageable.

Millie’s life as she knows it comes to a screeching halt, however, when her parents decide to separate. Her mother gets a new boyfriend, and her father moves into a new place – an apartment – with a big sign on the door that says NO DOGS ALLOWED.

As she struggles to get her parents back together – not just for her sake, but for the sake of her future dog as well – Millie is elated when her father moves back in a short while later. She can’t understand why her parents aren’t happy at the reconciliation until she learns the truth: her father has moved back in because he has been diagnosed with cancer.

Told through the diary entries of Millie, Stay is a moving portrait of a family in a time of crisis, whose pain is filtered through the thoughts and actions of an eleven-year-old girl, capturing the essence of what it means to grow up, confront your fears, support your family, and share in the wild optimism that only youth can harbour.

Never one to shy away from tough issues, and constantly experimenting with form, acclaimed Saskatchewan poet Katherine Lawrence shifts successfully and beautifully into juvenile fiction with this moving story-in-verse.

The Review

This was such a beautiful and heartfelt read. The way the author was able to craft such an emotional middle-grade read in such a short amount of time was brilliant. The imagery and the almost lyrical way the story flowed really helped elevate the emotions and instill the ever-changing atmosphere in a natural way. The themes the author explores here, from family and what defines it to the bond between a pet and its person and so much more, really helped engage readers in this narrative.

The thing that really stood out to me was the way the author was able to balance the character development of the narrative with the poetic writing style of the story itself. The way each chapter was broken up into a poetry-style system of letters from the protagonist to her late twin brother was so heartfelt to read, and the nuances and complexities of this family dynamic and relationship with one another really added a relatability and honesty that cannot be mimicked. 

The Verdict

Haunting, emotionally driven, and beautifully written, author Katherine Lawrence’s “Stay” is a must-read novel of family drama meets poetry. The heart and depth that the author captures while also crafting an engaging narrative for younger readers really highlights the subtle nuances and captivating imagery the author is able to invoke in this narrative. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Never Mind is Katherine Lawrence’s third collection of poetry. The manuscript won the 2015 John V. Hicks Long Manuscript Award and the 2014 City of Regina Writing Award. Her previous collections have been equally honoured. Originally from Hamilton, Ontario, Katherine chairs Access Copyright Foundation, and is a former president of the Sage Hill Writing Experience board of directors. She moved to Saskatchewan in 1982 and currently lives in Saskatoon with her husband.

http://www.katherinelawrence.net/

Mrs. Varman by Sanjeeta Behera Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

A loving and hard-working wife struggling to connect with her husband finds her world turned upside down after a chance meeting in author Sanjeeta Behera’s “Mrs. Varman”. 

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The Synopsis 

Julia is a versatile wife. She could relish a chicken burger with ease or lick her fingers off spicy chicken curry accompanied by frequent gulps of water when having them along with her husband Sachin. She loved to add variety to her cooking as well be it American, Chinese or Indian. She could acclimatize in a different cultural background, though not very different since Sachin was born and brought up in America with roots in India.

She could travel to anyplace with him as well, but not just because of her love for him, she loves to travel and explore herself. If all this doesn’t make you feel that she is versatile then wait till you reach the end of the Novel and explore the ups and downs in her life, her experiences and multiple characters that come to life in your way.

She travelled all the way to India along with Sachin. On the sweaty, tiring days of summer and on days that she would hanker for her husbands love she did feel low and discouraged. But she was able to get out of it. She couldn’t keep her hair on though at times during her highs or lows. She didn’t want to. She wanted to express it when happy and burst out in tears when not.

Vijay, especially notorious and ignorant what Lalbagh Colony would describe him as, got flattered by grace or sophistication. Within a shanty dwelling, he thought cutlery of silver was not out of reach, still he could fumble when his fake branded t-shirt just welcomed a real one.

He had a dramatic past and thinks that Julia can help him get what he was missing in his life.

Julia travels, explores, adjusts to different environments, learns a lot and this story will take you through her fascinating journey that includes a thrilling experience.

The Review

This was an incredibly well-balanced novel. The author did a great job of balancing out the intrigue and mystery of the narrative with the romance and the family drama of the character development. The rich atmosphere and setting the author crafted were expertly brought to life through the perfect combination of imagery and tone, conjuring up the varying settings in a way that made them almost a characters unto themselves.

The character development was truly the highlight of this narrative, mainly due to the great emphasis on culture and the cultural clashes and similarities that we all share. The back and forth travel between the U.S and India, as well as the backstories and cultures of the cast of characters, made situations experienced by many the world over feel fresh and unique, and drew me in as a reader. This also helped elevate the main mystery as it was revealed and became the glue that held the structural balance between this mystery and the humor and drama of the main characters.

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The Verdict

A memorable, heartfelt, and entertaining read, author Sanjeeta Behera’s “Mrs. Varman” is a must-read romance thriller of 2022. The unique cultural perspective and the fast-paced family drama and mystery help elevate this story of love, marriage, and what happens when relationships feel the strain of life and we struggle to find our true identity in life. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

https://www.facebook.com/Sanjeetas-Hub-102569265741908/?ref=pages_you_manage

Root That Mountain Down By Evan Balkan Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

A man on a mission to bring his murdered father’s body back home to the United States comes face to face with the cruelty and violence, (as well as the hope and beauty hidden within), of the blood diamond business in author Evan Balkan’s “Root That Mountain Down”. 

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The Synopsis

Felix Laszlo is on a somber mission: Retrieving the body of his murdered father, a doctor who had volunteered to treat the civilian casualties in war-torn Sierra Leone, and bringing him home to be buried in the United States.

Along the way Felix will discover how little he knew about his father, Africa and himself. Once in Africa, Felix will see first-hand the greed and corruption that is commonplace in the “blood diamond” trade. But he will also find beauty, heartbreak, joy as well as the path to his future.

The Review

This was both an emotional and culturally significant read. The narrative did such an amazing job of really delving into the horrors and struggles of the wars and ruthless blood diamond trade in Africa. The novel captures so many themes that readers are going to be able to relate to, from the concept of families and how they work to the culture of violence that exists within war-torn countries and the misconceptions and prejudices that exist against the people of Africa as a whole. The striking clash of the violent attacks on both the people of Africa and those doctors and volunteers who come to help with the prejudice that people have against all African citizens as a result of the violence highlights the never-ending cycle of hatred and pain that continues to this day.

The character growth in this narrative was the perfect vehicle for the themes of this story. The complexity of the protagonist’s mission as Felix grapples with his father’s brutal loss while also seeking firsthand the violence and struggles the people of Africa are facing themselves makes this such a brilliant story, and the balance of mystery and action with the pops of romance and emotional family drama made this such an enrapturing story to behold. 

The Verdict

Haunting, engaging, and thought-provoking, author Evan Balkan’s “Root That Mountain Down” is a must-read novel. The clashes of grief and anger mixed with both the horrors of war and the hope that survives in the face of that war made this both a complex yet a much-needed story that I just couldn’t put down. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Evan L. Balkan is the author of three novels, including the PEN/Faulkner nominated Independence, and seven books of nonfiction, including The Wrath of God: Lope de Aguirre, Revolutionary of the Americas, as well as many essays and short stories in an array of publications. His screenplays, including Spitfire, adapted from his novel of the same name, have won multiple fellowships and awards. He is a co-writer for the television series, Wayward Girls. He coordinates the English Department at the Community College of Baltimore County, where he runs the creative writing program, and is an adjunct faculty member in the Johns Hopkins University’s graduate Teaching Writing program. He holds degrees in the humanities from Towson, George Mason, and Johns Hopkins universities and has served as a guest lecturer at Yale, Johns Hopkins, Bryn Mawr, and many other institutions. 

https://evanlbalkan.wixsite.com/evanbalkan

The Oberlynn Origins: Prequel to The Oberlynn Generations Series by J. Traveler Pelton Review

The foundations for a family legacy that will withstand the test of time take center stage in author J. Traveler Pelton’s “The Oberllyn Origins: Prequel to the Oberllyn Generations Series”. 

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The Synopsis

In the beginning, the kidnapped ancestors of the Oberllyn’s had to rescue themselves from slavery in a strange land. How does someone travel from the freedom of tribal lands to Scotland and back again generations later with their integrity unblemished? Who were the true barbarians, the colonists or the native peoples? Travel back with us to the time when trees were tall, the settled country was being invaded by refugees from a failed civilization, and two young people made the best of a terrible situation. They founded a dynasty. However, their first task was survival.

The Review

This was a truly compelling historical fiction/drama. The author really drew the reader in, capturing the raw and visceral nature of early life in the Americas and how the Native American people were treated so cruelly by the settlers. Yet the action and history moved quite quickly, allowing brief yet impactful glimpses at the multitude of events throughout the 18th and 19th centuries through the eyes of this vastly growing family. 

The way the author was able to connect the larger story of the Oberllyn Family from the original trilogies to this prequel was so engaging. The descriptive nature and wide cast of characters the author employed into the narrative was magnificent to behold, and really made the settings come to life in a very real way. The attention to detail the author utilized to the language and actions of the people back in those eras was so precise and made the characters feel alive on the pages.

The Verdict

Memorable, engaging, and awe-inspiring, author J. Traveler Pelton’s “The Oberllyn Origins: Prequel to the Oberllyn Generations Series” is a must-read novel. The history, the culture, and the examination of several generations of what would become a prominent family in the author’s other series made this such an entertaining read. The story was heartfelt and emotional, and the characters were so vibrant on the page that readers won’t be able to put down this book until the very end. If you haven’t yet, download or purchase your copy of this amazing story today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

J. Traveler Pelton was born in West Virginia in the last century. She is active in her home church and was the Nation’s Mother for her tribe for several years. She is still wife to Dan after 47 years (He is so long-suffering!), mother of six adults, a grandmother of nine, a Clinically Licensed Independent Social worker in private practice, a retired adjunct professor of social work at her local university, and an avid reader. She lives on a mini-farm with her husband, seven alpaca, a flock of spoiled chickens, five Siamese cats, four Pomeranians, a talkative Amazon parrot named Gizmo, and her aviary of canaries. Traveler enjoys the intersection of fantasy, possibility, creativity, and speculation. Join her on the other side of the imagination tree. She’ll be sitting there waiting for your visit.

travelerpelton.com

You Can Go Your Own Way by Eric Smith Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

A young man desperate to save the last piece of his late father’s memory finds himself trapped inside of the arcade he’s been fighting for with the daughter of the man who wants to turn the arcade into a gaming cafe, and while trapped together during a winter storm, the two find their rivalry and insults melting away as something more develops between them in author Eric Smith’s “You Can Go Your Own Way”. 

The Synopsis 

No one ever said love would be easy…but did they mention it would be freezing?

Adam Stillwater is in over his head. At least, that’s what his best friend would say. And his mom. And the guy who runs the hardware store down the street. But this pinball arcade is the only piece of his dad that Adam has left, and he’s determined to protect it from Philadelphia’s newest tech mogul, who wants to turn it into another one of his cold, lifeless gaming cafés.

Whitney Mitchell doesn’t know how she got here. Her parents split up. Her boyfriend dumped her. Her friends seem to have changed overnight. And now she’s spending her senior year running social media for her dad’s chain of super successful gaming cafés—which mostly consists of trading insults with that decrepit old pinball arcade across town.

But when a huge snowstorm hits, Adam and Whitney suddenly find themselves trapped inside the arcade. Cut off from their families, their worlds, and their responsibilities, the tension between them seems to melt away, leaving something else in its place. But what happens when the storm stops?

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The Review

This was a brilliant and well-written YA contemporary romance and family drama. The author does a fantastic job of making the story and characters come to life on the page, feeling very real and engaging as a whole. The settings played such a vital part of the narrative in this book, and the arcade especially felt like a character all its own, as if we could just walk in off the street today to pay homage to this brilliant blast from the past. 

The character development was so moving and brilliantly crafted in this narrative. The emotional toll each character is going through is felt so much in their stories, from Adam’s heartbreaking loss to the desperation to be seen that Whitney is going through. The way these two get lost in their own personal turmoil and clash with one another, and the way they find their way back to one another, is so entertaining and gripping to read that I felt lost in their growing narrative.

The Verdict

A memorable, heartfelt, and thoughtful approach to the YA Contemporary Romance, author Eric Smith’s “You Can Go Your Own Way” is the perfect read for this fall! The balance found in the old-school arcade and classic rock style Adam embodies with the more modern video game and social media world that Whitney embodied was amazing to read and watch unfold, and the way they found a bridge to connect with one another was an emotional payoff that readers won’t want to miss. Be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

About the Author

ERIC SMITH is an author and literary agent from Elizabeth, New Jersey. When he isn’t working on other people’s books, sometimes he tries to write his own. He enjoys pop punk, video games, and crying during every movie. He lives in Philadelphia with his wife and best friend, Nena, and their son, Langston. WWW.ERICSMITHROCKS.COM

Social Links:

Author website: https://www.ericsmithrocks.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ericsmithrocks

Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/ericsmithrocks

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/55920774-you-can-go-your-own-way 

Buy Links:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/You-Can-Your-Own-Way/dp/1335405682 

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/you-can-go-your-own-way-eric-smith/1138256191 

Books a Million: https://www.booksamillion.com/p/9781335405685?AID=10747236&PID=7651142&cjevent=c39c9d3b5dee11eb83ba01ab0a240614 

IndieBound:  https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781335405685 

BookShop.org: https://bookshop.org/books/you-can-go-your-own-way/9781335405685

AppleBooks: https://books.apple.com/us/book/you-can-go-your-own-way/id1540270939 

Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Eric_Smith_You_Can_Go_Your_Own_Way?id=9soIEAAAQBAJ 

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Here is an Excerpt from “You Can Go Your Own Way”

CHAPTER 1

Adam

“The playfield is truly the heart of every pinball machine. All of the player’s goals are right there, splayed out in front of them. And like life, it’s up to you to find a way to reach them, with the tools you’re presented. In this case, it’s a ball.”—THE ART AND ZEN OF PINBALL REPAIR BY JAMES WATTS

The sound of collective screaming and a massive crash shake my entire workshop, and I almost stab myself with a piping-hot soldering iron.

“Adam!” my mom yells from inside the arcade. If another pack of junior high kids from the nearby Hillman Academy “accidentally” flip over a machine trying to get it to tilt, I am going to lose it. I grip the iron, the cracked brown leather wrapped around the metal handle squeaking a little against my skin, and shake my head, trying to refocus. Maybe I can finish this before it’s time to pick up that custom piece—

And another crash rattles the walls. A few parts tumble off my shelves, tiny intricate pieces of metal and glass, bits of copper wire, all clinking against my table.

I attempt to catch a few of the electronic pieces, trying not to burn myself with the iron in my other hand, and then a hammer falls off the perforated wall of tools in front of me. It collides with a small cardboard box full of pinball playfield lightbulbs, and I wince at the small crack and pop sounds.

“Goddammit,” I grumble out. I toss the soldering iron aside and try to clean up the mess. At least those lightbulbs are like, ten bucks a dozen on arcade wholesale websites. But pinball machines have a lot of lights.

“Adam!” This time it’s Chris. “Dude, where are you?”

I’m about to bolt from the workshop when I remember Mom is out there. I reach for the latest read I promised her I’d finish—We Built This Gritty by Kevin Michaels, a book on launching small businesses by an entrepreneur here in Philly that one of her colleagues is teaching at the county college—and immediately yank my hand back. The soldering iron had gone right in between the pages when I tossed it, and the book is already smoking. I pull the iron out and set it aside and flap the book around wildly, little wisps pooling up from inside the bright orange book. I flip it open.

It’s burnt right down the middle. Great. Something tells me she won’t be able to trade this back in at the campus store.

I glance over at The Beast and give the forever-in-progress Philadelphia-themed home-brewed pinball machine a pat, the glass still off the surface, wires and various parts splayed out over the playfield. My well-worn copy of The Art and Zen of Pinball Repair by James Watts sits smack in the middle of everything. I’ve still got a way to go before I can try playing Dad’s unfinished machine again, but if anyone is gonna get me there, it’s Watts. If I could just get a free chunk of time in between the studying and the arcade and the—

An array of swears echoes from inside the arcade, snapping me back.

Right. Chris. Mom. Chaos. Potentially broken and nearly irreplaceable machines worth thousands of dollars.

I unplug the soldering iron and place it in its little stand, like a quill pen in an inkwell. I wedge the now-toasty book under my arm and take a few steps to pick up some speed, to get a little force, and I push my shoulder against the dark red wooden workshop door. I push, gritting my teeth. The splintering surface presses into my arm, stinging with the pressure, until finally, the wood squeals against the frame, shrunken in and wedged together due to the sharp Philadelphia winter.

The whole workshop is like that, really, casting a major contrast to the polished, well-kept-despite-its-years pinball arcade. The cracked workshop table that is way more rickety than it has any right to be, tools showing their age with hinges that refuse to move and metal pieces falling off shrinking wood and weak plastic handles, vintage pinball parts that maybe still work, a concrete floor with a surface that’s chipping away, revealing dirt and dust, lightbulbs I don’t even remotely trust. My sad excuse for a drafting table sits off to the end of the workshop, and I’ve never really used it, preferring to fuss with plans right on the messy workshop table, next to all of Dad’s scribbles.

We could clean it up, have this room match the rest of the arcade. But I love it. It reminds me of him.

The door swings open suddenly and hits the wall inside the arcade with a loud bang.

And it is absolute chaos here.

A bunch of little kids are rushing outside, and I see a couple of adults gathering coats and their small children, who are likely about to join the exodus. The afternoon light that’s pouring in from the wide-open front door and the large plate-glass windows lining the wall make me wince. The glare hurts only slightly less than the idea of customers hustling out of here on a Saturday, easily our best, and only, solid day during the wintertime off-season. Especially now, at the end of the year, with so few days left before we close for the New Year holiday.

People don’t come to pinball arcades in the winter. Well. Maybe they do, but not when your arcade is located near all the tourist stuff in Old City, all the college students are away on break, and you don’t serve any alcohol. No tourists, no college kids, no booze, no pinball. It’s a neighborhood for expensive restaurants and niche boutiques, old-timey candy shops and artisan pour-over coffee. Not an arcade with a poor excuse for a snack bar inside that mostly serves soda, chips, and reheated chicken tenders and fries.

If it wasn’t for the upcoming Old City Winter Festival, I’m not sure we’d be able to keep the lights on come January. And there’s a businessman out in West Philadelphia who would very much like to see that happen, and there’s no way I’m going to let him do that. I’ve eaten way too many burnt chicken tenders that were “well, these are still kinda good, Adam” according to my mom, but not good enough for the customers. I’ve paid my dues.

“Mom!” I shout, looking to the back of the arcade. “Chris, what is—”

But then I see it.

On the other side of the arcade, my mom has her hands on her hips and is glaring intently at a handful of college guys who are sheepishly milling about near one of the windows. And Chris is trying to lift up a machine that’s currently knocked over, the glass that would normally be covering the playfield shattered across the floor. Another machine is tilted, leaning against a support beam, and looks okay from here. But judging by the angle and the amount of force it would have taken to get it off the legs in the first place, I’m betting we’re going to have some dents on the light box (the back of the machine that juts up over the area where you actually play, and displays the score and art).

“What the hell?” I snap, kicking the workshop door closed and storming across the arcade. My thick black boots squeak loud against the worn, polished hardwood floor, all the imperfections of the ancient Philadelphia wooden boards permanently glossed in place. A few more guys, these ones my age, weave around me, fiddling on their phones and oblivious. Bits of glass crunch under my feet, and I glance down at a bumper, red and black and looking like one of those crushed lantern fly bugs that litter the city sidewalks.

“What happened?” I ask, tossing my burnt book onto the floor. I nudge the tilted machine upright and then bend down to help Chris, who is straining to move the machine on the floor. I manage to wedge my fingers under the side, carefully tapping the metal, trying to avoid any extra glass, and lift. Chris lets out a groan and I grit my teeth as we push the machine upright, and it nearly topples back over the other way, but Mom reaches out and stops it.

“They happened.” Mom nods back at the guys who are standing about awkwardly. “Any updates there?” She points at one of them, and that’s when I realize they’re all sort of keeping an eye on one vaguely familiar-looking dude in the middle, who is fussing with his phone.

“Just a second,” he grumbles out, and he flicks his head to the side, his emo black bangs moving out of his eyes. I can’t help but squint at him, trying to place his face. Half his head is shaved, and he has this sort of Fall Out Boy look that would be cool, if he and his pals hadn’t clearly destroyed a pinball machine in my family’s arcade. A splash of anxiety hits me in the chest as I realize I don’t know what game has been totaled, and I turn to look at the machine.

Flash Gordon.

I exhale, relieved that it’s not one of the more popular or rare games in the arcade. But still, it’s a machine from the ’80s. One of the first games in the industry to use the popular Squawk & Talk soundboard, a piece of technology that is wildly expensive to replace, since it isn’t made anymore. That’s the sort of pinball trivia both Chris and my mom tend to shush when I start rambling too much, telling me “that should be a tweet,” which translates to “shut up” in the nicest way possible. I’m almost positive that’s the reason they pushed me to get the arcade on social media—to have a place to share those musings.

The machine didn’t deserve this, even if that awful movie maybe did.

I run my hand along the side of the other machine that was just bumped into, leaning on one of the wooden beams that are scattered throughout the arcade, you know, holding the building up. It’s the Terminator 2: Judgment Day machine, and thankfully, it looks undamaged. A little dented along the light box, as I suspected, but the glass and everything else seems fine. It’s a popular one with the Millennial crowd, and I’m relieved.

“How much is it going to cost to fix?” the familiar guy with the hair asks. He must catch me staring at him, ’cause his eyes flit over to mine, irritated, and I look away, focusing back on the machine.

I pluck at some of the glass on the surface, nudging around some of the broken obstacles on the playfield, and feel a sharp sting in my hand. I quickly pull away and spot a thin line of red trailing along my palm.

“Adam?”

I glance up, and my mom, Chris, and Emo Hair are all staring at me expectantly.

“What?” I ask, focusing back down at the machine and then back at all of them.

“The cost,” my mom presses. “That machine. How much do you think it’ll cost to fix all of this?” She gestures at the floor and shakes her head, her mouth a thin line. All that brewing frustration that she’s trying to bury down. Kids mess with the machines often, and we’ve certainly had a few hiccups like this before, but I’ve never seen her looking this wildly angry. I didn’t even think she liked that machine.

“Oh.” I swallow and clear my throat. “I don’t know. It depends on how bad the damage is?” I scan the playfield and then the side of the machine, which has a sizable dent in the steel that I can probably hammer out. But the shattered glass, the pieces, and who knows what’s going on inside it. I think back to Watts’s The Art and Zen of Pinball Repair, my holy tome, written by my hero.

“If you think it’s broken, it is. And if you think it’s going to be cheap to replace, it’s not.”

I stare at the broken glass.

“You know what, how’s a thousand dollars?” the familiar guy holding the phone asks. He looks around at his dude friends, their faces awash in expressions that are essentially shrugs, each nodding at him. “Everyone Venmo me two hundred after this or I’ll kick your asses.”

Some of the guys laugh while the rest break out their phones.

“Why?” scoffs one of them. “You’re the one with the money.”

Emo Hair snorts out a laugh and shakes his head, and glances back up from his screen. The fact that all of them are so relaxed about that much money irks me. The arcade is barely scraping by these days, and it’s no wonder other businesses have been sniffing around the building this year, leaving painfully awkward notes and emails for Mom. I’ve seen a few of them, here and there. The worst ones come under the guise of pretending to be supportive. Do you need anything? We’re here for you. Just checking in. And then in the same breath, bringing up property values and plummeting interest in arcades.

And despite frequent requests to stop mailing us, a local real estate developer loves sending us physical mail about the benefits of selling real estate in Old City now, and they’re always addressed to Dad. Assholes.

“What’s your Venmo?” he asks, looking at my mom and then at me. My mom and I exchange a look. He huffs. “How about PayPal? Apple Pay?”

“I mean…we could take a check?” My mom shrugs, wincing. One of the bros groans like this has somehow physically wounded him, and before I can say anything, my mom snaps a finger at the guy. “Hey, you five are the ones who broke this machine. If I want you to go get that thousand dollars in a burlap sack full of coins at the bank down the road, you’ll get it.”

“Sorry, ma’am,” one of them mutters.

“Just Venmo it to me,” Chris says, pulling out his phone. “I’ll hit the bank when I run out to pick up sidewalk salt for the snow, and get it taken care of, Mrs. Stillwater.” He glances at my mom and shakes his head at me. I know that look. He’s about to force another freaking app on me, and I don’t think I’ll be able to talk about pinball on Venmo. It was bad enough when he tricked me into joining Pinterest, convincing me it was a pinball thing.

He steps over to the pack of guys, and they’re all looking at one another and their phones and his, and I really shouldn’t be surprised that he knows how to handle this. Him and his apps. I wish he’d just run the social media for the arcade, but he says it wouldn’t sound “genuine” or something. If typos make someone sound genuine, I am very genuine.

A year behind me at Central, a junior, Chris has this whole Adam Driver look about him. Same sharp cheekbones and bits of facial hair, only a little shorter and with thin square glasses, and as geeky as you can get without actually being in a Star Wars movie. My best friend since I was eight, and our only employee in the off-season, as everyone is either a college student heading home for the break or a fellow local high schooler who has no interest in working over the winter.

He nods at the guys, looking at his phone.

“All right, I got it,” he says and then turns to us. The bros stand there for a beat.

“You can leave,” my mom snaps and points toward the door.

“Right, right,” the familiar guy says and gestures for the rest of his pack to follow. They amble out of the shop, their feet crunching the glass on the floor in a way that makes me feel like it’s on purpose. I take a step forward, but Chris reaches his arm out, his hand pressing against my chest.

I glance up at him, and he just shakes his head.

I huff and bend down to sift through the glass and pieces of machine, while my mom disappears into the back office. There are some bumpers on the ground, and a few small white flags, little targets meant to be knocked down for bonus plays, are scattered about like baby teeth. The glass, though, that really bothers me. A good sheet of playfield glass can go for a little over a hundred dollars, and while I know that’s not technically a lot of money in the grand scheme of things…we don’t have that much to spare these days.

Jorge over at NextFab, the makerspace that Chris practically lives in when he isn’t here, has been great at helping me replace some parts, as well as teaching me how to build some of my own, which is way more helpful than YouTube tutorials. But a whole sheet of glass? Bumpers with intricate circuitry and copper coils? That’s not something easily 3D printed, especially when he keeps doing it for free. And I don’t know how much of that I can manage in my workshop. Or afford, for that matter.

I look around the dirty playfield for the remaining flags but…dammit, they are nowhere to be found. At least the back glass, the lit-up artwork on the back of the machine, isn’t damaged. Flash is still there, looking dead ahead at me, alongside Dale and the…ugh, wildly racist Ming the Merciless.

Hmm.

Maybe the machine did deserve this.

Chris squats down next to me.

“Want me to grab the broom?” he asks, picking at a broken bumper.

I look back to my hand. The line in my palm is ugly but clean. I flex my hand a little, and the cut widens, and I see just how far up and down my hand it goes. I wonder if I’ll need stitches or if it’ll scar.

“Sure.” I clear my throat and both of us stand up. I glance toward the arcade’s exit, the place now empty, as Chris walks over to the snack bar. “Must be nice,” I say, “being able to drop that much money without thinking about it.”

“Yeah, well, not like his dad isn’t good for it.”

“His dad?” I ask, peering over. Chris is behind the bar, some paper towels already scattered out in front of him, a broom in one hand. Heat lamps keeping fries and onion rings warm tint his face a reddish orange for a moment before he ducks back out.

“Well, yeah?” He shrugs, walking over. He places the paper towels in my hands and nods at the cut. “Apply pressure.” He starts sweeping, moving bits of glass and broken parts into a small pile. “I swear, one more incident like this, and that is what’s gonna make me finally try to get a job at the makerspace. Or a coffee shop…” He looks up at me as I stare at him. “What? You know I can’t work in here forever, bro.”

“What do you mean what? I know that part.” I laugh. “Who is his dad? You’re just gonna leave the story hanging there?”

He nearly drops the broom but reaches out to grab the handle.

“Are you serious?” he scoffs. I shrug and he shakes his head. “Adam, that was Nick. That’s why I thought you were so mad, looking like you were about to charge after him and his goons.” I shrug again. “Jesus, Adam. Nick Mitchell.”

The stress on that last name.

Mitchell.

It sends a shock through my entire system, and I turn to look at the exit, as though he and his friends might still be there. I tighten my hand into a fist, and the pain from the cut sears through my palm, lighting me up through my forearm. And I swear, for a moment I can feel it in my head, bouncing around like a pinball against bumpers.

Nick Mitchell.

Whitney Mitchell’s brother.

And also the oldest son of the man trying to buy my father’s arcade from my mother, with plans to make it into another one of his eSports cafés. He’s been poking around all year, like a vulture circling over something that might just die any minute. But this place still has a little life in it. A little fight in it.

And dammit, so do I.

Did he even recognize me? Did he know this was our arcade? Back when me and Whitney were supposedly friends, before high school changed everything, I don’t think I ever saw him come around. But I saw him all the time at school and before her dad’s career took off, when we’d play at Whitney’s old house in South Philly. And when we were kids, everyone had their birthday parties here at the pinball arcade. With so many mutual friends and the like, he had to have been in here at some point. Until they forgot about us, like the entire building was just one giant toy that fell behind a dresser.

“All right, well, I can tell you know who he is now,” Chris says, walking back toward the snack bar. He grabs some more paper towels and thrusts them at me, nodding at my hand. I look down, and the paper wad is an awful dark red, soaked through from my rage. “Go take a seat. I’m gonna get the first-aid kit out of your workshop.”

“What about Flash Gordon?” I ask, glancing back at the messed-up machine.

“It’s a problematic racist relic. Who cares? Come on.” He laughs, reaching out and grabbing my shoulder. “Besides, if you want some replacement bits, I’m heading to the makerspace tomorrow—we can rummage for parts. Go grab a seat.” He nods at the snack bar and walks off. I turn around and pull my phone out, snapping photos of the broken pinball machine. The scratched-up metal exterior, the dented places around the playfield. I bend down and snap pictures of some of the crunched glass still on the floor, the broken parts scattered in a neat pile thanks to Chris. I even take a few photos of the dented Terminator 2: Judgment Day machine.

I stroll over to the arcade’s snack spot, Dad’s last great idea for the place, and sit down. The chairs aren’t exactly the pinnacle of comfort, and the hard wood digs into my back, but it’s what my family could afford when we first put this spot in here. It’s still passably cozy enough that local writers will drop in to play a few games, drink our bad coffee or nurse a soda, and spend the day staring at a blank screen while scrolling through Twitter instead of writing.

I sigh and glance up at the wooden shelving that looms over the café corner, a shabby-chic display that Chris’s parents helped build. Tons of Mason jars, full of coffee beans and loose-leaf tea, illuminated by strings of white Christmas twinkle lights, sit on nearly every shelf. Decor meant for hip college students and artsy creatives in West Philly, pulled from a Pinterest board someplace and made real. I think it looks pretty, but if Gordon Ramsay made an episode about our arcade’s little food corner, it would just be a twenty-eight-minute scream.

Chris walks around the side, a little first-aid kit in hand, and gestures for me to give him my hand. I hold it out and he glances back at the Flash Gordon machine.

“Real shame,” he says, wistfully looking at the shattered game.

“Yeah.” I nod. “I took a bunch of photos to post—”

Pssssssst!

There’s the sound of spraying, and I scream, yanking my hand away. I glare at him, and he’s sporting the widest grin I’ve ever seen, a bottle of spray-on rubbing alcohol in his hand.

“Argh!” I groan. “Why!”

“Kidding, fuck that game.” He laughs.

“You could have told me you were going to do that!” I shout. He tilts his head a little at me. “Fine, you’re right—I would have made a scene over it.”

“Everything okay?” Mom’s in the doorway to the office, peeking out.

“Yeah, Mrs. Stillwater,” Chris says.

My mom scowls at the two of us before breaking into a little smile, but that expression disappears as her line of sight moves toward the broken pinball machine. She closes the door, and I look back at the exit to the arcade again. I feel like with every setback this place has had this year, it gets us one step closer to my mom putting the pinball machines in storage for good and selling the place to Mr. Mitchell. And two damaged machines, one of which is basically destroyed, isn’t going to help.

“And I’m gonna need you to stop it,” Chris says, reaching out and grabbing my hand, slapping a large Band-Aid on my palm. I wince and suck air through my teeth, and he just gives me a look. He pulls out some of that gauze-wrap stuff and starts to bandage up the big Band-Aid, keeping it pressed to my palm. “That guy isn’t worth it, that machine isn’t worth it, and that family definitely isn’t worth getting all riled up over.”

“He had to have known this was my place,” I grumble. “Whitney probably sent him here. If not her, then definitely her father.”

“Oh, come on,” Chris scoffs. “I’m not her biggest fan either, and I know you two don’t get along, but she isn’t some nefarious supervillain. And her dad isn’t going to send henchmen here. When was the last time you and her even talked, outside of snarky social media posts? You like pinball, she likes playing Fortnite and Overwatch. Not exactly a blood feud.”

“I’m not even sure she’s into the video games at her dad’s places or whatever,” I grumble. At least, she wasn’t into video games when we were kids, always so irritated when we’d retreat inside to get in games of Halo. “Besides, you don’t understand.” I shake my head, trying to chase away the memories of that summer before high school and those first days wandering the halls at Central. Her and her new friends, leaning against their lockers, matching jean jackets and bright lip gloss. She was like an entirely new person, and the way she laughed with them when I walked over to say hi…

“Anyway.” I clear my throat. “I wouldn’t put it past her.”

“You need to spend more time worrying about the people who are there for you and less about those who aren’t,” he says, fastening the gauze together with two little metal clips. “Maybe go on a date with someone or something.”

“How do you even know how to do this?” I lift my hand up, flexing my fingers, ignoring the dating question. “There’s no time for that, between the arcade and school. If I kiss a girl by the end of my senior year, it’ll be a miracle.”

“Please, my dads are carpenters and you know how I spend my free time,” he says. “It’s best to be prepared in case someone loses a finger at home or in the shop or at the makerspace.”

I laugh and again find myself looking toward the door. I let out a long exhale through my nose.

“You think we’re going to get anyone else in here today?” Chris asks. “It’s just, you know, maybe I could duck out early to go work on stuff?” There’s this beat of silence that doesn’t need to be filled, and I sigh.

“I think we both know the answer there, right?” With the snowstorm we all know is coming, the brutally cold gusts of wind, and the fact that business slows to a crawl right before the Old City Winter Festival, there’s not much to even say.

I lean back in my chair a little, the sharp pain of the wood digging into my back weirdly comforting, distracting me from my hand and thoughts of Nick and Whitney and that whole terrible family.

“Do you need to talk?” Chris asks, and I glance back at him. “I mean, I can hang a bit longer if you need me.” He digs around in his pocket and pulls out a little candy bag and waves it at me, the plastic crinkling. Swedish Fish. Not the regular kind either; the tropical sort, with orange, pink, purple, and off-white fish in the mix. He shakes it until one drops out onto his hand, and he holds it up between his fingers. “I grabbed a bag at the CVS before I came over here, for my dads. Didn’t realize we’d have to use it, though.”

“Oh, God, no,” I whine. “If you’re gonna do that to me, just leave.”

Whenever Chris’s parents want to talk about “big feelings,” they break out these Swedish Fish candies. Have something important to say? Out comes the candy. It’s usually something critical that might make someone feel upset, but it’s the way you’re feeling, so it’s good to get it all out. Then pair it with something that makes you feel good while you’re hearing something that might make you feel bad.

It was a tradition Chris first told me about when we were really little, and one that’s been ongoing. I’m not quite sure why Swedish Fish are the candy of choice, but I’m guessing it’s because you can buy them in bulk at the South Philadelphia IKEA. He’s since introduced it to me and all our friends. Tell someone how you feel, let them eat the candy, and take in all those thoughts and emotions. Or, give someone the opportunity to say how they’re feeling, and take it all in. Simple enough. And while we don’t practice it at home, my mom often likes to say, “Do you need a fish?” when she thinks I have something I need to talk about.

I hate it so much.

“I hate this so much,” I grumble and pluck the fish from between his fingers.

“Listen,” he says, reaching out and closing my good hand around the candy. “You’re upset. You’re thinking about Whitney and the Mitchells. Nick and the boys. Both of those sound like terrible West Philadelphia indie rock bands. And you’re thinking about maybe going on Twitter and saying something snippy on social media. That what those pictures are for? Yeah?”

“N-no.” I barely stammer the word out. “It’s for…insurance.”

He gives me a look.

“You’re the worst.” I glower at him.

“Nothing good ever comes out of these little fights you have with Whitney online.” He presses, pointing at me. “All you do is get all the stores in the neighborhood riled up, dunking on one another. As if you get points for dunking on people online.”

“You’re the one who taught me how to use social media.”

“Don’t give me the whole ‘I learned it from watching you’ thing. Resist the urge to go online. It’s a waste of your energy,” he says, nodding at me. “Save your online presence for posting your pinball puns and facts. Now, eat your candy.”

“No.” I glare at him.

“Fine, fine.” He smiles, shaking his head, and pulls out his phone. “I’m gonna head off to NextFab. You behave.”

“Ugh, can’t you just work on your weird woodworking coffee things in the workshop?” I groan and gesture toward the red door on the other side of the arcade. “Then you could just be here all the time.”

He laughs and then sighs. “What are you going to do here without me?” he asks.

“Hmph,” I huff. “Probably have a meltdown on the regular.”

He reaches over and taps the screen of my phone, and my eyes flit up to him. “Don’t do it, and you’ll be fine,” he says and then bends over to grab his backpack. It’s this beaten-up leather thing that looks straight out of an old movie. I half expect to see it filled with vintage books tied together in beige string, but I know it’s just full of woodworking tools, and depending on the day, some glassblowing stuff. It’s not lost on me that my best friend spends all his time creating beautiful new things out of nothing, while I stress over repairing machines older than I am every single day.

He walks out of the snack bar and toward the door but stops and turns around.

“And hey, if you need to talk—” he throws something, and I reach out to catch whatever it is that is flapping its way toward me; the plastic bag of Swedish Fish makes a loud crinkling sound as I grab it out of the air “—text me. But I’m gonna want pictures of you eating your candy. It’s important that you trust the process.”

He’s out the front door, and I’m alone in the arcade with his candy and my phone.

Excerpted from You Can Go Your Own Way by Eric Smith, © 2021 by Eric Smith, used with permission from Inkyard Press/HarperCollins.