Maya: Thirty-Five Years & Three Continents in the Remarkable Life of Maya Sian

Maya

Maya: Thirty-Five Years & Three Continents in the Remarkable Life of Maya Sian
by Teren Hanz (Non-fiction)

I love it when a book combines a riveting story with immersion in another culture. Dew Angels was that sort of book, and so is Maya.

This true story begins with nineteen-year-old Maya, born and raised in India, attending college in the 1970s, working toward her dream of independence and self-sufficiency. Her parents, however, are traditional Sikhs, and when the opportunity for an arranged marriage suddenly presents itself, they commit her to an older man totally unknown to them or Maya. The marriage takes place within a week, giving neither her family nor Maya time to learn anything about the man, who is not the person they have been led to believe he is. What follows for her are years of psychological abuse and isolation in a dysfunctional marriage, life-threatening illnesses, and three children who are basically ignored by their maniacal father, even when their welfare is at stake.

What sustains her throughout is her own strength of character, her belief system, and her sense of duty. Eventually, she realizes that her husband will never change, and only she can make the decision to change the course of her life and the lives of her children. For a woman in her culture and circumstance, breaking with tradition takes incredible courage and is not without risk, but she finds the strength to do so. The last chapters of the book are her take on finding the power within and achieving inner peace in the face of tremendous adversity.

Grandma gives Maya five stars. 5 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Everything We Left Behind

Everything We Left Behind

Everything We Left Behind by Kerry Lonsdale (Suspense)

This is book two in a series that began with Everything We Keep. Unlike the first book, which was told from the perspective of Aimee, a young woman whose fiancé, James, was buried on what should have been their wedding day, this book is told from the perspectives of James and his alter-ego, Carlos, the personality who “replaced” James for six years due to a mental condition caused by trauma.

In book one, Aimee discovered that James was alive and well and living in Mexico as Carlos, with no memory of his pre-Carlos existence. In book two, the story-telling involves a re-emerged James in present day alternating with flashbacks to Carlos in the past and James in the past. Aimee makes a tiny appearance, but the focus is on present-day James’s angst over losing her, losing six years of his life, and gaining two traumatized young sons who suddenly have a stranger for a dad when James resurfaces and Carlos disappears. Can James be the father he should be to two children he doesn’t know? Should he try to win Aimee back after all this time, or should he let her be and try to make a new life for himself and his sons?

As in the first book, we have to contend with James’s highly unlikeable biological family, including his incarcerated brother, Phil, who is the product of incest between their mother and her brother. James’s abusive father has died, but we learn details about his nastiness, and we find out more about older brother Thomas who choreographed James’s disappearance and hid his survival from those who loved him. We also have Claire, the mother who treated James badly as a child, but once she learned of his existence as Carlos, traveled to Mexico to surreptitiously look after him as the benevolent neighbor he and his sons called Senora Carla. Now that he’s James again, how will that relationship work out?

Had I published a review for Everything We Keep, I would have given it three stars. At times it seemed too far-fetched to take seriously, plus I found myself annoyed by repetitive descriptions and phrasing; if Aimee dipped her chin one more time, I was going to scream. Everything We Left Behind has improved in those areas. However, the constant flipping back and forth between personalities and time periods became overwhelming so that I began skimming to move things along and get to the conclusion. The conclusion, as one might expect, left openings for book three, including the out-of-the-blue reappearance of a book one character who didn’t make sense then and made even less sense now.

As long as they don’t mind Aimee’s absence, readers who loved Everything We Keep will probably love this book, as it continues the saga of James/Carlos and his sister-in-law and answers the question of what happened to James six years before. Readers with no prior knowledge of James’s and Aimee’s situation, however, may have a harder time finding this tale compelling or suspenseful.

Grandma gives Everything We Left Behind three stars. 3 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews Books received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Lying Game

The Lying Game

The Lying Game by Ruth Ware (Suspense)

This suspenseful novel was a page-turner, not only for the questions to be answered, but because I quickly learned to care about the characters, especially the narrator and her six-month-old daughter, a baby I could picture so vividly, I actually dreaded the possibility that I might have to read about her being endangered somehow.

The narrator, Isa, and her three best friends spent one year together as students at a second-rate British boarding school where telling lies became their chosen pastime. Eventually the four girls lost all credibility with peers and faculty and left the school in disgrace. Now, seventeen years later, past behaviors come back to haunt them after the discovery of human bones in a shallow grave near the school, and all of their futures are at risk.

Ruth Ware, author of In a Dark, Dark Wood and The Woman in Cabin 10, has created complex characters with believable relationships. Through backstory, we see how two relatively innocent fifteen-year-olds—Isa and Fatima—could be sucked into participating in what might have seemed like an okay game at the time. True to their natures, the two have gone on in adulthood to become professional women with families of their own. Kate and Thea, the originators of the “game,” have darker pasts and appear to be less successful as adults. All four value their mutual friendship, even though they have rarely seen one another in the past seventeen years. But once reunited in their old haunt, they find they are simultaneously reassured by each other’s presence but also less trusting of one another as individuals. The end result for me was less concern about who did what and more about how each of them would fare. That meant late nights up reading and, afterwards, an ending that I still think about.

Grandma gives The Lying Game five stars. 5 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews Books received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Lying Game will be released on July 25, 2017, and is available for pre-order.

A Gleam of Light

A Gleam of Light

A Gleam of Light by T.J. and M.L. Wolf   (Science Fiction)

For fans of Native American culture, UFOs, and government secrecy about unexplained phenomena, this book provides a look at the possibilities linking ancient civilizations and the extraterrestrial.

After ten years in Washington, D.C., a young Hopi woman reluctantly returns to the Arizona reservation on which she grew up. She comes at the request of old friends who believe she can help them stop a military operation that threatens sacred lands. Even though she has lost her own way following the deaths of her activist parents, she is familiar with all the old teachings and old ways, giving her the background necessary to understand and respect what possibly lies beneath the area known as Sacred Peaks. In addition, she herself experienced a UFO sighting as a child, the effects of which still linger in her mind.

The story is full of Hopi lore, interesting archeology information, and insights into extraterrestrial sightings, and while at times the dialogue feels like recitation of a research text, the plot is intriguing enough to keep reader interest. The emphasis is more on action and lore than on character development, and so emotional connection with characters is somewhat limited. Some head- hopping occurs, but it’s minor. Like most stories of its kind, it leaves the reader pondering what’s possible in our universe, what’s hidden from ordinary citizens, and what the future may hold for mankind.

The authors are a married couple with an interest in ancient alien theories, and they’ve done a good job of putting together a story worth reading. More character development could widen its audience.

Grandma gives A Gleam of Light three stars. 3 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews Books received a free copy from the authors in exchange for an honest review.

Dark Designs

Dark Designs

Dark Designs by Stefanie Spangler (Urban Fantasy)

I have to admit, the first thing that drew me to this book was the cover. The second was the description – being a twin is always fun to think about when you’re not a twin, and I’d be okay with having some magic powers now and then.

Being urban fantasy, the story veers away from reality, which is what I expected, and that part was fine. The girls being twins, however, was never explored. They’re fraternal, not identical, which we don’t know early on because no description is given, even though the simple fact that Ivy is a redhead and Violet a brunette would have sufficed. We know Ivy is more reserved than Violet, but I never felt that I got to know either one very well, and there was no indication that their psychological connection was any different than my connection with either of my sisters. So much for the significance of twinness.

Each has magical powers to some degree, but they learn about their powers off-stage. We don’t know how they react to finding out they are different from their peers or how (or if) they hone their skills. Instead, the story abruptly jumps from the girls being clueless eight-year-olds to the day that Ivy comes home from college, back to the family farm that Violet now manages. We’ve had no opportunity to get to know them, to watch them grow in any way, and now they are adults about to be thrown into a magical dilemma.

Considering that this is a short novel, some fleshing out of the characters could have been done. Instead, we have the immediate jump into action with danger entering their lives, but since I hadn’t really become invested in the girls as people, it left me feeling detached. The author is in everyone’s head – both the good guys and the bad guys – so there is little opportunity to experience a whole lot of emotion with any one character or to learn more about someone through the eyes of a single person.

The story itself is entertaining; one always wants to know how the main characters are going to get out of a predicament. For the YA urban fantasy reader, this book delivers the good guys and the very scary bad guy, some magic, and a little budding romance. There are the young witches embarrassed by their unusual skills, the suspicious neighbors, and the disbelieving cops. There is some tension, some danger, and a creepy monster to give the reader the willies. And, for some reason, there is the angst of the missing mother who abandoned her twins in infancy without explanation. It does little to move the story along, however, and I have to wonder why it’s even in there, since no one actually makes any attempts to find out more and nothing changes regarding Mom.

One final point: the time jump from eight years old to college graduate would have made more immediate sense to the reader if Chapter One had been called a prologue. It sets the stage for the rest of the book and occurred more than a decade before the rest of the story. Ironically, the book does have an epilogue which didn’t feel significantly different enough to be an epilogue and could have simply been the final chapter. Unless, of course, it’s meant to portend Book Two.

Bella gives Dark Designs three stars. 3 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews Books received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.