It’s a real pleasure today to be launching the blog tour for Among The Branded, the debut novel by Linda Smolkin, published on 28th April and available as an e-book and paperback. This was another one of those times when I might not have discovered a book unless it had been part of a blog tour – thank you Anne at Random Things for inviting me, and for my e-copy. But I’m so very glad I did – this book was wonderful…
What if a 70-year-old letter from World War II changed the course of your life?
While attending Valor of the ’40s, art director Stephanie Britain stumbles upon a flea market selling letters from the war. She buys a handful, hoping they’ll inspire the redesign for a client’s website at her branding and design firm. She’s at first drawn by the lost art of penmanship, but soon discovers a hidden treasure nestled inside declarations of love from homesick soldiers.
Stephanie enlists a coworker to translate one and realizes it’s not a love letter after all. When a shocking discovery about a client causes Stephanie to question her principles and dedication to her firm’s business, she’s forced to make a difficult decision—one that could give her peace of mind, yet ruin her career in the process.
Contemporary fiction with a historical touch, Among The Branded explores family life, an unexpected friendship, and moral conflicts that make us wonder what’s more important: our livelihood or our beliefs. This moving debut novel by Linda Smolkin is a great addition for readers who enjoy books by Jodi Picoult, Kristin Hannah, and Liane Moriarty.
I will admit though that when I started reading I thought I might have made a bit of a mistake with this one. Everything’s a bit chaotic – a children’s party, Stephanie dressed in a furry dog suit, a Russian friend called Svetlana, and all a bit American for my tastes. But I mention that only in case others might feel the same – when I finally set this book aside with a smile and a satisfied sigh, having read it cover to cover in a single wonderful sitting, no-one was more surprised than I was.
The characterisation in this book is quite exceptional. This is a family you’ll laugh and cry with, beautifully drawn in every detail – I knew this was a book I was going to love from the moment they got into the car to take the eldest son to college, the whole sequence real, funny and touching. The older characters too are perfectly and authentically captured – I defy you not to love them as much as I did. And despite my early concerns about Svetlana, she turned out just fine too, with a lovely supportive friendship always tinged with humour and drawn with love.
I’ve mentioned “laugh” and “humour” a few times – and at times this book is seriously funny, even when the subject matter turns rather more serious. The chance discovery of the wartime letter sets in motion a whole sequence of events including a new and very special friendship, an uncovering of a hidden slice of history (sensitively and beautifully covered) and a significant moral dilemma needing an original approach to its resolution. There’s immense sadness in this book – present day, and in the discovered history – and the author accomplishes a magnificent balancing act in keeping things light and entertaining while not shying away from the difficult and uncomfortable to read. That conflict between livelihood and beliefs, set in the vividly drawn world of advertising, is complex and very real, and so perfectly judged in its handling.
If no-one picks up the film rights for this book, they’re seriously missing a trick – I’m casting it in my head already. An immensely accomplished debut, I’d unreservedly recommend it to all, whatever your preferred reading, and those comparisons – Jodi Picoult, Kristin Hannah, Liane Moriarty – are completely justified. In fact – and maybe I should whisper, although I doubt they’ll be reading – I think I actually liked Linda Smolkin’s writing a little more.
About the author
Linda Smolkin always wanted to be a writer—ever since she saw her first TV commercial and wondered how to pen those clever ads. She got her degree in journalism and became a copywriter. Linda landed a job at an ad agency, where she worked for several years before joining the nonprofit world. She’s currently working on her second novel, which will be released in Spring 2018. When not in front of the computer, she’s behind the drums (slightly) annoying her husband, son, and their 70-pound dog.