An Accidental Messiah

The Accidental Messiah

An Accidental Messiah by Dan Sofer (Religious Fantasy)

Moshe Karlin and his fellow members of The Dry Bones Society are plenty busy in this  sequel to An Unexpected Afterlife. Moshe started The Dry Bones Society when he realized that he was not alone in being resurrected from the dead. Large numbers of new resurrectees are appearing in Jerusalem graveyards on a daily basis, and they need help in acclimating to their new circumstances. Unlike Moshe, who died two years before and was able to resume his previous life, the new resurrectees are coming from further and further back in history, leaving them totally unfamiliar with present-day Jerusalem and its occupants. Moshe now needs patrons with deep pockets and political influence in order to give the newly undead a chance to survive in modern times.

This book felt much more complicated than Book One as we follow a number of different story lines related to different characters. Some of the undead are doing their best to hide who they were the first time around, but Irina still can’t remember her former identity. Eli Katz is struggling to figure out if he really is Elijah the Prophet, while his girlfriend, Noga, has made a significant discovery regarding the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel but doesn’t know if she should go public with the information. Various sinister individuals are trying to derail The Dry Bones Society, putting Moshe Karlin, his close associates, and his family in danger. Plus there’s the foretold End of Days to worry about and the highly anticipated arrival of the messiah.

As with Book One, this novel is full of Jewish religious lore and a strong sense of place as we follow the assorted characters on their adventures in Jerusalem. For me, it wasn’t as much fun as the first book where the entire concept was new and the characters a little more lighthearted. Some things are resolved but many more await Book Three. Dan Sofer is a good writer, and while none of the characters really resonate with me, I remain interested in how their situation will resolve itself.

Grandma gives An Accidental Messiah four stars. 4 stars

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


Abuse of Discretion

Abuse of Discretion

Abuse of Discretion by Pamela Samuels Young (Suspense)

Sexting is the topic of this excellent courtroom drama. Fourteen-year-old Graylin has a nude photo of a classmate on his cell phone, and someone has tipped off the police. Graylin didn’t take the photo; someone Snapchatted him anonymously, but he took a screenshot and now faces charges of possession of child pornography. He hasn’t distributed it or even shown it to his best friend, but if he is found guilty as charged, this straight-A student and all-around good kid will go on record as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

Compounding the odds against him is the fact that he is a black kid with an ex-con for a dad and a drug-addicted mother who has disappeared from his life. His school friends and family and his attorney, Angela Evans, are all black, as is the author, which gives this novel a welcome freshness in point of view and experience. And, it is a fast-paced, all-absorbing story that was hard to put down.

The story is told through the eyes of several individuals, including Graylin, his friends and family, Angela, and also The Shepherd, a sex trafficker who specializes in kidnapping children. As book three in the Dre Thomas Series, it continues the story of Angela’s boyfriend, Dre Thomas, whose niece was taken by The Shepherd. His testimony has put The Shepherd in prison, and The Shepherd is out for revenge.

Author Pamela Samuels Young is an attorney with experience in the juvenile justice system, and online safety is one of her areas of interest. Sex trafficking in the United States is another topic she covers in an effort to raise awareness about dangers facing young people today. Abuse of Discretion makes a thought-provoking statement about current-day sexual permissiveness in advertising, movies, and television: How can we blame today’s children for accepting as normal what we have allowed to become ubiquitous in their environment?

Grandma gives Abuse of Discretion five stars. 5 stars

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

Citizen Kill

Citizen Kill

Citizen Kill by Stephen Clark (Thriller)

This government conspiracy thriller involves a discredited former CIA operative who is seeking to get back into the agency’s good graces. To do so, he must commit covert assassinations that go against his better judgment, killing American citizens who are suspected of, but not proven to be, radicalizing Muslims.

Equipped with an ice gun that shoots bullets of ice coated with a seafood toxin that stimulates a heart attack, Justin Raines begins killing Imams and others whose names are sent to him one by one by a CIA bigwig. Meanwhile, we also follow the newly inaugurated president of the United States, a reporter for a Washington newspaper, a young Muslim woman running a school for American Muslim children, various political figures, and some of Justin’s former CIA team members who form his current support system. While that may sound overwhelming, it’s not, with all but one of the narratives working well together to tell the story.

The one that did not work for me was the president, Savannah Reed. On Inauguration Day, during the parade, her 12-year-old son is killed when a bomb explodes along the route. Like any mother, she is devastated, but unlike a tough woman who has chosen to become the leader of the free world knowing the risks and responsibilities, she lasts one week in the White House and then transfers power to the Vice President and stays away for six months.

During that time, she befriends a young girl who lost her mother to the Inauguration Day bombing and is now in a wheelchair. When Savannah goes back to being president, she moves the child and her immigrant Bosnian father into the White House, along with Savannah’s own husband and teen-aged son. She helps the child with homework, takes her and her father along on political fundraisers across the country, and spends weekends with them dining in Washington restaurants. Then they and the first family all go to Camp David. Her husband is jealous, and then he’s not.

Unfortunately, all of this detail contributes nothing to the thriller’s plot. Instead, we watch a distracted, incompetent president live vicariously through a motherless child while everything around her goes down the drain. So much for being the first woman in the Oval Office.

If one can ignore that part, this is a book thriller aficionados will enjoy.  It has the requisite love story, some redemption, some justice meted out to the guilty, and some surprises. The story moves right along, the writing is fine, and it all wraps up at the end.

Grandma gives Citizen Kill three and a half stars. 3.5 stars

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


The Madonna of the Mountains

The Madonna of the Mountains

The Madonna of the Mountains by Elise Valmorbida (Historical Fiction)

Northern Italy in 1923 is the setting for this story of Maria Vittoria, a young woman about to begin an arranged marriage. We travel with her through the next two decades as Fascism and Mussolini take over the country and “Trust no one” becomes her mantra. World War II brings cruel Nazis and marauding Partisans, hunger, deprivation, and fear. Meanwhile, she is raising five children, enduring an abusive marriage, and doing what she believes she must to feed her family and keep them safe.

In addition to painting a picture of life in Italy before, during, and after World War II, this is a tale of a loveless marriage, misplaced pride, religious dominance, and the devaluing of women, not only by their fathers and brothers, but also by their husbands and sons. Maria endures not only political tyranny but also that imposed by the men in her life. Yet, she is a traditionalist willing to impose the same fate on her daughters.

As with any story spanning several decades, children grow up before you have a sense of who they are, things happen in the background, the main characters age, and, unless it’s a three-volume saga, you begin to feel like you’ve missed a lot. I care about Maria’s children because they’re Maria’s children, not because I know them as individuals. In fact, mostly, I don’t like them, based on the little I’ve seen. I dislike her husband, and because I’m judging from a blurry snapshot, it’s hard to tell if he has changed much after all these years.

Still, this is the story of a survivor, a woman who perseveres. It is a tale of the sort of hardships that drove many of our own ancestors to seek a better life in a different country. It is well-written and kept me engaged enough to finish it in two days.

Grandma gives The Madonna of the Mountains four stars. 4 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Madonna of the Mountains will be released on June 12, 2018, and is available for pre-order.


Alternate Side

Alternate Side

Alternate Side by Anna Quindlen (Literary Fiction/Women’s Contemporary Fiction)

Alternate Side is a character-driven slice-of-life story, the type at which Anna Quindlen excels. You get to know her people as though they were friends. As with most of us, their lives have moments of drama among mostly no-big-deal daily stuff, but because you know these people, you’re interested. If, perchance, you can identify with them and their problems, all the better.

Nora Nolan and her husband, Charlie, live in a closely knit New York City neighborhood of comfortably rich people with housekeepers and a shared handyman. They all know each other, socialize at catered neighborhood events, but are not quite friends. In other words, they don’t bare their hearts to one another. Still, they care about each other, and when something happens to one, the others come to help.

After nearly thirty years together, Nora and Charlie have grown apart. Their twins are graduating from college and moving on with their lives, leaving an empty nest. While Nora loves New York City life, Charlie wants to move to a warm climate where he can golf year-round. She has a job she enjoys; he’s not all that happy in his. Little things he does are starting to annoy her. He’s threatened by the possibility that she will take a new position with status greater than his. When an act of violence rocks the neighborhood, she and he see the incident very differently.

Having grown up in a friendly Midwestern neighborhood where block parties were common, I could identify with the measured camaraderie among neighbors. And being of a certain age, I could understand how Nora and Charlie felt. This story also deals with race relations, class privilege, and what are often referred to as first-world problems, yet refrains from passing judgment. If you are looking for fast-paced action , mystery, or romance, this book is not for you. But if you enjoy fine writing, Alternate Side is that.

Grandma gives Alternate Side five stars. 5 stars

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

Alternate Side will be released on March 20, 2018, and is available for pre-order.


Darkest Night

Darkest Night

Darkest Night by Tara Thomas (Romantic Thriller)

One of the things that drew me to this book was its setting – Charleston, South Carolina. This is the first book in the Sons of Broad series, which implies something location-driven (think Pat Conroy). It is not.

The setting is Charleston, but we could be in Omaha. We never hear anything about the city itself, and it has absolutely no influence on the story. There is none of the lush detail that transports you to its unique beauty, not even a single mention of Spanish moss.

If this book were the work of an indie author, I would be contacting her and suggesting she employ a good content editor. But this book is being published by St. Martin’s Press, and as such, it is a major disappointment.

It feels like a first novel that’s incorporating every storyline the author ever came up with, regardless of whether or not it contributes to a cohesive plot. Keaton is the youngest of three wealthy, handsome brothers: Kipling, Knox, and Keaton Benedict. He  miraculously discovers his spunky long-lost childhood sweetheart, Tilly, working in a gentleman’s club, heroically struggling to make her own way. They reunite and immediately fall into wild, passionate love. But then a crazed, conniving female fortune hunter (Elise), willing to commit blackmail and even murder to get Keaton to marry her, enters their lives. And, a dangerous, powerful villain (The Gentleman) is sending out his minions to destroy the Benedict brothers and makes Tilly his target. There’s also a vulnerable young girl (Jade/Kaja) working for The Gentleman. But she is strangely drawn to helping the Benedict brothers in spite of the fact that doing so will endanger her own life. She’s especially good at being in the right place at the right time. Oh, and did I mention the tough, no-nonsense female detective (Alyssa)? Or the fact that the Benedicts find their deceased father had another family?

The characters are flat but we do know they’re having good sex because we’re treated to all the details since this is billed as a romantic thriller. There’s not a real build-up of tension, but there are victims – dead or grievously injured – showing up regularly. And, because this is the first of a series, a lot is left unresolved. Tilly’s life is still in danger. The identity of The Gentleman remains unknown. Jade/Kaja remains on the run, and Kipling continues to flirt inappropriately with Alyssa.

If the prose were beautiful or the descriptions creative, this review might be nudged to three stars, but neither is true. The book starts with one of the brothers receiving a single, long-stemmed rose in a box, and the author doesn’t even bother to mention what color the rose is. When I found myself picturing a gray rose, I knew this book was in trouble.

Grandma gives Darkest Night two stars. 2-stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


Mr. Tender’s Girl

Mr. Tender's Girl

Mr. Tender’s Girl by Carter Wilson (Thriller)

Mr. Tender is a fictitious character in a graphic novel written by the father of fourteen-year-old Alice Hill. He’s a bartender who likes to ask people, “What would you be willing to do to get what your heart desires?” Obsessed by the idea of pleasing Mr. Tender, and goaded by a supposed message from him, Alice’s friends – twin girls her age – attempted to kill Alice with a kitchen knife.

Fourteen years later we meet Alice, who has survived but at a terrible price. She experiences severely disabling anxiety attacks and mourns the loss of her family. After the knifing, her mother blamed her father and moved Alice and her brother from London to the U.S.A. Her father has met an untimely death in London, and now Alice finds she has once again become a target.

This is a thriller full of scary events and situations that make you glad you’re not Alice. At times, though, it can be hard to read about her anxiety attacks and the depths to which she has fallen and continues to fall. Drugs, alcohol, death, and more become almost routine to her as she tries to put an end to her continued persecution. Some of the dysfunctional people around her begin to tip their hands early, but not all. It’s hard to call this an enjoyable book, but it was definitely one I could not put down. A little slow in the beginning, it eventually took off and is worth wading through to get to the good parts.

Grandma gives Mr. Tender’s Girl four stars. 4 stars

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