While my sister recovers from getting blasted by fifteen kids trying to pass the SATs or apply for colleges (yes...it's that time of year again!) - I will step in and offer my own attempt at a lit review. I've just finished reading Daniella Bova's first publication - and its quite a window into the process of honing one's craft as a writer (and an excellent reason why independent publishing is neither the end of great literature, nor an easy thing to do). I'll explain what I mean in a moment.
First a brief synopsis (without giving too much away - her Amazon link is here)
Tears of Paradox takes place in the not-too-distant future in suburban Philadelphia (roughly 2025-2030) and depicts a sort of 'worst case scenario' unwinding of the Constitution as viewed by ordinary people whose primary concerns are raising families and living ordinary lives unmolested by the powers that be. It follows Jason Wallace and his wife Michelle through their courtship, marriage, and hardships as an increasingly heavy-handed federal healthcare bureaucracy chisels away at their prosperity, security, and even their very lives and the lives of their families. If you're a member of the intelligentsia, you probably won't recognize these characters, but if you spent time around military personnel, blue collar workers, or farmers, you'll instantly know exactly about whom you're reading. Jason and his close friend and brother and law Brad spend their high school and college days blissfully unaware of anything in the world at large beyond their latest escapades with the ladies or their next fishing trip. But as they each fall for the love of their lives and discover the responsibilities of marriage and family, the encroachment of aggressive federal power sets off in each of them an internal struggle between their desire to do right by their families, and their desire to fight back against the waning of their freedoms.
As a character study, this is a powerful tome - albeit, incomplete (for reasons I've discussed with the author herself). Daniella has, without any formal study, intuitively grasped word choice and characterization so well that within the first several pages of 'Tears', I was hooked, and I stayed hooked despite the unconventional (and some would say flawed) plot construction, enduring a mighty eyestrain headache to finish the book in about 8 hours of reading over a weekend. I cared immensely for these people almost instantly. It is a credit to her, that the author managed to make a Tolstoy-esque "deconstruction" story into a bit of a page turner despite the notable lack of car chases and shootouts. :) This is a deeply introspective, philosophical work, but it is propelled along by truly inspiring characters and a tone that perfectly captures the feeling of liberty-minded Americans today...a creeping sense of dread.
By the way, this is also a distinctly Catholic story - many of the characters come to their faith more and more as society crumbles, but it all revolves around Michelle's faith and the influence of that faith on her loved ones, especially her husband. Daniella gets the spiritual messages just right, IMHO, and I strongly identify with Jason's struggle to remain true to his emerging Catholicism despite the constant temptation to lash out at those who would strip him of his right to worship.
Impressive that I considered this a page-turner 95% of the time I was reading it despite the fact that the very nature of this story is for it to be a soul-crushing GRIND. I kid you not when I say that things just get harder and harder and HARDER to push through for the characters, and you, as a reader, will absolutely feel that.
I think the story could have done with some aggressive editing for flow, plot construction, and pacing. It lacks a beginning/middle/end, and key turning points for the characters thus wind up feeling like just another scene when they really shouldn't. There are also sections of the narrative that are a bit "nested" - you start following one scene and then the character digresses into another related memory...and from there into another, and you want to follow them all, because they all offer something important, but there were a few places where this nested delivery made me put the book down for a minute to think. On top of that, you read through the story expecting things to build to a dramatic climax and that never really happens. And many things that are built up during Michelle's telling of her story from the future perspective are not paid off. This is evidently because the original draft included events from this first book and the second - which will be released in December of 2014 (pending any delays she might encounter). I think the story itself could be a slam-dunk best seller if some hard choices were made as to which memories and anecdotes were crucial to the plot and which were just 'nice to have' - and if the plot was ordered in an easier-to-follow classic dramatic sequence, but for a first-time effort, I was nonetheless impressed with the level of world-building and character insight Daniella possessed.
With that in mind, your milage may vary as to whether you find the tale frustrating or engaging (it was a little of both for me, but I plan to stick with it through book 2 because of the characters...they're that real and likable to me).
Now, what did I mean at the start of this review? Like Jason in the book, not everyone is built to prefer formal education as their way of learning new skills, and not every writer is going to find their voice and master their craft by sitting and listening to professors pontificate as to what is "story". Often, the best way to learn is to just sit down and do it, and then get feedback from your would-be audience. Indy publishing offers aspiring authors the chance to have their material read by critical eyes and start the process of maximizing their potential, and it produces books like these that would be turned down by publishing houses without major revisions, but that are a window into a major talent...a talent that is far more likely to grow and produce something truly memorable and astounding through independent publication and feedback than through classroom education or no-feedback rejections by publishing houses that are necessarily focused on maintaining classic narrative structure and selling books in the here and now, rather than developing talent. And, of course, if you are going to self-publish, you have to be willing to accept criticism and keep developing, which, I assure you, is not an easy thing to do. I sincerely hope Daniella keeps writing - I believe she has something amazing to offer us if she sticks with it and masters her craft.
Final Verdict: Personally recommended, but your milage may vary