The Spider and the Stone

The Spider and the Stone

The Spider and the Stone by Glen Craney (Historical Fiction)

Lovers of castles and keeps, knights, and the lore of Scottish clans will thoroughly enjoy this well-written novel. Covering the years 1296 to 1330, the book brings to life the struggles of disparate and often warring Scottish clans to name a king they can all support while striving to rid Scotland of rule by the English kings Edward I, II, and III. Robert the Bruce, James Douglas (also known as The Black Douglas), and William Wallace (Braveheart) are among the familiar Scots portrayed here. We also meet Queen Isabella, wife of Edward II and sometimes known as the She-Wolf of France, plus a myriad of other characters including Edward II’s male lovers, some interesting clerics, a group of Knights Templar, and Isabelle MacDuff, a Scotswoman who played an important role in the crowning of Robert Bruce and is depicted here as James Douglas’s lover.

Glen Craney makes it clear that he has fictionalized the details and stories of historic characters about whose personal lives little is known. He has done extensive research, nicely displayed in his use of the vernacular and in his descriptions of countryside, castles, and towers. As one does from any good work of historical fiction, I came away with a desire to learn more about the time period – in this case, the wars for Scottish independence, the Plantagenet kings, the Knights Templar, and the Culdees. The book, although long, moves steadily and kept my unflagging interest, much of that driven by Craney’s writing style which fits the era in its elegance. The book includes intricate battle scenes based on real events, minor love scenes, and some gore.

Grandma gives The Spider and the Stone five stars.  5 stars

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

Advertisements

Revenants: The Odyssey Home

Revenants

Revenants: The Odyssey Home by Scott Kauffman (Historical Fiction)

A revenant is a person who returns after a long absence. In this book, more than one revenant is making the long trip back.

In an Ohio hospital in 1973, an unknown veteran of World War I is secreted away in a hidden room. Meanwhile, a teen-aged candy striper working in that hospital has recently lost her brother in Viet Nam and is now making bad decisions that threaten to derail her future. When she accidentally discovers the hideously injured old soldier, she decides she will get him home to his family before he dies. But no one seems to know who he is or where he comes from, except for one person who has good reason to keep him hidden. In the process of unearthing the soldier’s life story, the girl comes to realize the significance of honoring her brother’s memory by living her own life to the fullest.

This absorbing book takes the reader into the trenches of WWI as well as into the hearts and minds of characters who have lost loved ones in Vietnam or WWI. We witness the pain experienced by siblings, the despair and heartbreak of parents, and the anguish of girlfriends and fiancés who still suffer decades later. We feel the meaningless waste of young people with everything to live for, and we can only try to imagine the hell of being trapped in what remains of a body after horrifying injuries that render one unable to hear, see, walk, or communicate. At the same time, we watch the human spirit fight back, overcome, and go on.

This is not a light or happy book, but it is a book worth reading. While generally well-written, it does have some dialogue without sufficient dialogue tags so that at times it is hard to know who’s speaking. There are several noticeable spots where the final period is missing, and occasionally, a wrong word is used, my favorite being copula (a real word) when the author meant cupola.

Grandma gives Revenants: The Odyssey Home four stars. 4 stars

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

How Speleology Restored My Sex Drive

How Speleology

How Speleology Restored My Sex Drive by Michael Bernhart (Action/Adventure)

Don’t judge this book by its title – it is a witty adventure story involving some hefty topics, including racism, kidnapping, and the aftereffects of serving in Vietnam, yet it kept me chuckling from beginning to end. The year is 1993, and the narrator, Max Brown, is the 52-year-old father of mischievous nine-year-old twins, Mary and Margaret (M&M), and husband to their “scrumptious” mom, Sally, who is much younger than he. As the title suggests, he worries about sexual performance, but that’s nowhere near what this novel is all about.

His precocious daughters disappear into the wilds of northern Georgia while visiting Sally’s crazy backwoods uncle, Skeeter. They and Skeeter hope to find Confederate gold rumored to be hidden in abandoned mines. Local Klan members don’t take well to outsiders messing around in their territory, but decide to see what the treasure hunters might discover before getting rid of them. Max and Sally don’t know which of the locals they can trust as too many negative things occur after they confide in seemingly friendly folks. They must rely on their own wiles and wits if they’re going to find their girls before it’s too late.

What makes this such an enjoyable read is the voice of Max Brown as he relates what’s going on with his kids, his wife, her wacky uncle, and the various people they run into on their quest. Max’s self-deprecating humor and his wry observations keep the narration light and funny even when the stakes are high and things are going poorly. None of it makes light of what the KKK stands for, however, nor are Klansmen portrayed as buffoons. The book depicts racism in all its ugliness and introduces us to people who must face it every day. As for the title and what it implies, think PG-13 when it comes to sex. Max is honest and funny but too much of a gentleman to go into detail.

Grandma gives How Speleology Restored My Sex Drive four stars. 4 stars

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

Engadine Aerie

Engadine Aerie

Engadine Aerie by Bluette Mathey (Mystery/Suspense)

This is Book Five in the Hardy Durkin Travel Series, Durkin being one of those likeable everyday guys outside of law enforcement who just happens to keep stumbling upon, and solving, crimes and mysteries. In this case, there’s a murder, attempted murder, an attempted terrorist bombing, and a terrorist arms deal.

The author provides lots of characters to keep track of. Durkin is an outfitter/trekker who has joined a friend guiding her first ski tour group through a trip to the Engadine Valley of the Swiss Alps. We know every member of the group by name and follow their stories. We also follow wealthy royalty from Abu Dhabi and a set of sinister fraternal twins who live in the Engadine, plus a middleman or two in the arms deal. And because this is a stand-alone novel based on a series, we are brought up to date on Durkin’s past and his relationships with additional characters who appeared in previous books and are back again. For some of the aforementioned, we learn detailed family histories – in one case dating back to the Crusades, with theories about the Templars thrown in for good measure.

Mathey personally visits the off-the-beaten-track locations she writes about, a strong point in this series. She also does a lot of research. We get details about various parts of the Alps with histories of hotels and other significant sites, brand names for what the rich are wearing, and descriptions of the expensive cars they’re driving. Falconry plays a part in the story, and the author does a good job of bringing that to life.

The plot is complicated, as tales of international intrigue often are, and I admit to sometimes losing track of it all, but not enough to miss out on the main points. Overall, this is a very ambitious book that is generally successful but could use a trimming of the minutiae.

Grandma gives Engadine Aerie four stars. 4 stars

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

Right Handed Lefty

Right-Handed Lefty

Right Handed Lefty by Ryan Coughlin (Coming of Age, Young Adult)

This book has a strong sense of place, that place being southwestern Wisconsin in 1983. Locals talk like someone out of the movie Fargo, and small town life makes it hard to be different. Characters include a twelve-year-old Native American boy adopted by white parents; his two misfit friends, one of whom is Hmong; and adults haunted by the loss of a child, infidelity, and memories of combat in World War II. There is also a sexually abused girl and an elderly Native American man with his own history of persecution.

The story centers on the three boys but also delves into the minds and backstories of the adults, making this a multi-layered work that eventually all comes together. The one superfluous character is the girl, who has no real influence on the plot except to be a first love for Ellis, the Native American boy. It takes a while for the action to get going, but once it does, things move along pretty well. I admit to sliding over some of the description, and I really don’t like dream sequences since they don’t show what’s really happening and just bog things down.

The writing style is clunky at times, and the book needs a good editor. It has misspelled, extra, or missing words, and words that are just plain wrong, like “illicit” where the author meant “elicit.” I think the author has promise and his characters were interesting, but this book needs refining to be as good as it could be.

Bella gives Right-Handed Lefty three stars. 3 stars

POTTY-MOUTH INDEX: MINOR

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

Sleep, Savannah, Sleep

Sleep Savannah Sleep

Sleep, Savannah, Sleep by Alistair Cross (Paranormal Mystery)

Sleep, Savannah, Sleep is a real treat: well-written, engaging, with a smart, appealing main character who has experiences that are just creepy enough to be on the edge of possible. Jason Crandall, mid-thirties and newly widowed, moves his two children – a belligerent teen and a sweet little seven-year-old – to a new town. He meets seemingly well-meaning people as well as a troubled young woman, a scary neighbor, and some sinister townsfolk. When the young woman goes missing, Jason starts experiencing night terrors, hallucinations, and visions. Before long, the reader isn’t sure which of his new acquaintances Jason should be trusting.

This is a paranormal murder mystery with a number of twists and an unexpected murderer. The paranormal aspects build tension without being unnecessarily horrifying, a feature I appreciated. The book’s main appeal, however, was a likeable protagonist I quickly came to care about. Jason has a sense of humor. He makes mistakes. He misses his deceased wife, but he doesn’t dwell on it. He finds himself attracted to women he meets and is conflicted by it. He struggles with fathering a rebellious son and a little girl who needs mothering, and all the while he’s seeing disturbing things that are scaring the crap out of him.

I enjoyed the author’s similes – “Brent’s jaw dropped open like a glove box” – except for his repeated references to a leathery voice. Try as I might, I could not make the connection between a voice and something tactile, visual, and possibly olfactory, but, in my experience at least, basically soundless. Nit-picky, I know, but each time it came up, it took me out of the story. That and one of my pet peeves: one does not “try and” do something, one “tries to” do it. This book was too well edited and proofread to allow that. That said, I plan to read Alistair Cross’s other novels. I’m hooked.

Grandma gives Sleep, Savannah, Sleep five stars. 5 stars

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

Sleep, Savannah, Sleep will be released on September 25, 2017, and is available for pre-order.

The Blackbird Season

The Blackbird Season

The Blackbird Season by Kate Moretti (Suspense)

In The Blackbird Season, Kate Moretti gives us front-row seats to a drama about marriage, fidelity, teacher-student relationships, and the complicated interactions among peers in a small town, be they teenagers or adults. In typical Moretti fashion, she provides complex, nuanced characters whom we get to know well and whose flaws make them all the more real and relatable.

Alecia and Nate already have a stressful marriage. Her days are totally consumed by her obsession with their  autistic five-year-old, while Nate is closely – some might say excessively – involved with the high school students he teaches and coaches. When one of the students claims that she and Nate are having an affair, things begin to fall apart, and when the girl disappears altogether, it gets worse.

The story is told from the points of view of four different characters, and the timeline jumps back and forth, providing backstory at some points and current story at others, which I found potentially confusing at first. I thoroughly enjoy Moretti’s writing style, however. Her descriptions bring people and places alive, immersing the reader in each character’s experience, and her pacing keeps one engaged.

While this book is categorized as suspense based on the girl’s disappearance and the question of who is responsible, it’s really more of a study of the complexities, expectations, and disappointments of personal relationships. It also does a good job of exploring the tragic outcomes that can result from the loss of a small town’s main source of employment – in this case the local paper mill that once meant prosperity but now sits in ruin, abandoned and dangerous. The whodunit aspect takes a back seat to finding out how the main characters will fare when all is said and done.

Grandma gives The Blackbird Season five stars. 5 stars

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

The Blackbird Season will be released on September 26, 2017, and is available for pre-order.