The Springthorpe Agenda

Springthorpe Agenda

The Springthorpe Agenda by Dale Ripley (Thriller)

Creepy stories, to me, are ones that could actually happen and are, therefore, frightening to contemplate. They employ scary situations that just might be possible if one is unfortunate enough to encounter them. If they’re too far out, it can be hard to feel that necessary sense of dread.

The opening chapter of The Springthorpe Agenda makes it clear that something awful is going on in an old age home. In a hidden room below the facility, writhing bodies and crying forms in crumpled heaps huddle inside steel cages, begging to “go back.” A gray-haired woman is strapped to an exam table surrounded by “sharp instruments, needles and serums.” Meanwhile, upstairs, beaming elderly patients with glazed eyes and big, toothless smiles crowd around the nurse, eager to get their pills. Hmmm…

When Mark Hogarth gets a text from his sister that their dad has died unexpectedly, he’s surprised and filled with guilt. Dad was a patient at Springthorpe Manor, the same nursing home where their mother died of Alzheimer’s disease not that long ago. Dad seemed healthy, and Mark didn’t visit often enough. Now, when he calls the facility, a nurse tells him they’ve already cremated his dad’s body, and he needs to come pick up the ashes. Odd, but then, Springthorpe Manor also has its own sprawling cemetery right next door, so it’s apparently some sort of a full-service facility.

It doesn’t take long for Mark to suspect that not all is well at Springthorpe, which sets him on a quest to find out what really happened to his parents. Things move along quickly, there are some suitably sinister characters, an amazing coincidence involving a child, and a weird twist that creates a surprise ending – not quite a deus ex machina, but close. Whether you find any of it creepy — or just unusual — is up to you.

Mechanically speaking, Ripley is a good writer with an interesting style and a flair for descriptive phrasing. The line editing is flawless, but the book has some distractions common to first novels that have not had strong content editing. Head-hopping occurs often enough to be noticeable – the character whose head you’re in can’t know what someone else is remembering at that moment. It’s also disconcerting when a character is acutely aware of her own eye or hair color, so that she watches someone through her own emerald green eyes or flips her own blond hair over her shoulder. It’s not like she has more than one option. Still, the how-will-this-all-end question is strong enough to keep one reading.

Grandma gives The Springthorpe Agenda three and a half stars. 3.5 stars

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

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Blood & Water

Blood&Water

Blood & Water by Katie O’Rourke (Women’s Contemporary Fiction)

Once again Katie O’Rourke (Finding Charlie) has filled a book with real people, this time a single dad, the estranged younger sister who suddenly shows up in his life, a young wife struggling with multi-generational family issues, and a seemingly mismatched couple — he’s an adventure-loving motorcyclist and she’s confined to a wheelchair. All are connected in some way, and each has a story to tell, but their stories aren’t always what we think they will be.

O’Rourke has a talent for putting believable characters in real-life situations. They see things through their own lenses, make regrettable mistakes, have knee-jerk reactions, and are plagued by self-doubt. Family relationships, past or present, may not be the best, but nothing is cliched. People remain unpredictable, and what you believe is going to happen may be way off base.

This is a well-rounded story told from multiple points of view in alternating chapters, each revealing new facets of that specific narrator’s life as well as the lives and backstories of the other characters. O’Rourke’s references to current politics give the book a sense of timeliness without being overdone or distracting. We believe this is her best yet and look forward to more.

Grandma gives Blood & Water four and a half stars. 4.5 stars

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

Leave No Trace

Leave No Trace

Leave No Trace by Mindy Mejia (Suspense)

Mindy Mejia (Everything You Want Me to Be) is a master at creating people you can see, feel, and touch. You understand where they’re coming from. You care about them. When the two main characters are both social outcasts as they are in Leave No Trace, it’s even better. Now you really want them to succeed.

Maya, a newly graduated speech therapist with a rocky past, is assigned to the case of Lucas, a nineteen-year-old patient in a mental hospital. Ten years before, he and his widowed dad disappeared into the Minnesota wilderness known as the Boundary Waters. They were assumed dead until Lucas broke into an outfitter’s store and was captured.

Now Maya is tasked with getting Lucas to communicate with her about where he and his father went and why. The death of a landlady occurred just before they disappeared, and the father is a prime suspect. But a bond has formed between Maya and Lucas, and Maya is torn between betraying Lucas’s trust or betraying the mentor who has seen her through thick and thin.

A strong sense of place pervades this novel. The author transports us to Duluth, Minnesota, and the Boundary Waters. We feel the draw the glacial lakes have on Lucas, and we find that Maya herself is no stranger to the outdoor life. She’s also extremely knowledgeable about the geology of the area, as that was the professional interest of the mother who deserted Maya and her father and left Maya with only a few precious agates to remember her by. All of it works together brilliantly to make an absorbing book that was impossible to put down. An unexpected twist near the end was just frosting on a well-constructed cake.

Grandma gives Leave No Trace five stars. 5 stars

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

Leave No Trace will be released on September 4, 2018, and is available for pre-order.

Baby Teeth

Baby Teeth

Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage (Psychological Suspense)

When I started this book, I wasn’t sure I would finish it. Seven-year-old Hanna is not only unlikable, she’s terrifying. A tiny psychopathic manipulator, her goal is to get rid of her mother so she can have her father all to herself.

The mother, Suzette, appears to be a shallow upper class matron struggling to keep face while her daughter exhibits bizarre and sometimes violent behavior in public. The father, a successful businessman who is away a lot, knows Hanna only as a sweet, innocent child who adores him. He refuses to believe that she’s capable of the nastiness attributed to her by her mother and what he considers to be inept headmasters of private schools that keep expelling Hanna.

Before long, however, the personalities and backstories of Suzette and Hanna blossom as each narrates the tale in alternating chapters. Hanna becomes more terrifying, but Suzette is now someone I can care about. I found myself enthralled by Hanna’s resourcefulness as she gleefully tormented her mother in accelerated attacks. Meanwhile, the father begins to witness injuries and destruction that he cannot ignore.

The author does a great job of fleshing out the characters, including a child therapist who does her best to help the family cope with Hanna’s aberrant behavior. Hanna’s child side comes through as she gives snide names to adults like “Brown Teeth” and “Mrs. Stinky Breath.”

Suzette’s repeated navel-gazing regarding how she may have messed up as a mother became somewhat redundant at times, but not terribly. My one complaint is that the ending left everything hanging. Sometimes, you just want to know that the people you care about are going to be safe.

Grandma gives Baby Teeth four stars. 4 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. with a request for an honest review.

Looking for Dei

Looking for Dei

Looking for Dei by David A. Willson (YA Fantasy)

Nara Dall is a twin separated from her sister as a very small child. Raised in a small hamlet by a fatherly old monk, she knows nothing of her past nor does she understand why she is being told to hide her magical powers. She does know that if and when one’s magical powers are discovered, they can mark a person as “blessed” or “cursed,” and the person’s fate will vary accordingly. Are these god-given gifts from Dei or do they carry the potential for evil? How does it all fit in with a prophesy about “The Twins”?

The story takes place in a fictitious world, but this is not a dystopia. Magical people face risks from those who would take advantage of their powers and capabilities, but society itself is a reasonable place. Learning more about the land and its people was interesting but did not overwhelm the story so that it was possible to concentrate on the characters. Nara, her friend, Mykel, and the old monk show their true natures over time, as do the other characters who become critical to Nara and the people she cares about.

My biggest fear was that I would be left hanging regarding Nara’s expected reunion with her twin, but that did not occur. At the same time, their reunion exposes new sources of tension, and plenty of opportunity was left for a sequel. I’m not sure I would read the sequel as I have a pretty good idea what will happen, but I did enjoy this book and how believably the reunion of the sisters was portrayed.

Bella gives Looking for Dei four stars. 4 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley.

 

 

 

 

Lies

Lies

Lies by T.M. Logan (Suspense)

Lies starts out strong. Joe Lynch suspects his wife is having an affair with Ben, a married friend with whom they socialize as couples. He confronts Ben in a hotel parking lot, they get into a fight, and he knocks Ben unconscious, possibly worse. Meanwhile, his own little boy is having an asthma attack in Joe’s car, and Joe must leave the scene if he’s going to save his son’s life. When he returns, Ben is gone and so is Joe’s phone, which he dropped during the scuffle. Things go downhill from there.

Unfortunately, the strong beginning and initial tension were not sustained. Plenty of unexplained things happen, the plot moves right along, but I still found myself putting the book down, sometimes for days at a time, without any longing to get back to the story. Although I was curious as to what was going on, I was never gripped with a need to keep reading in order to find out. Perhaps it was because I had no sympathy for any of the characters except Joe’s little boy.

If there were clues to what was going on, I missed them. Instead, I felt totally sideswiped by the ending. It seemed contrived to me, highly unlikely. On the other hand, I couldn’t really identify with any of the adults, and so it’s possible that their behaviors in this case were plausible; I just don’t think I know anyone who would go so over the top for the reasons given.

Grandma gives Lies three stars. 3 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy from the publisher via NetGalley with a request for an honest review.

 

Into a Million Pieces

Into a Million Pieces

Into a Million Pieces by Angela V. Cook (Young Adult Paranormal Romance)

Allison is a teenage succubus. She and her twin, Jade, are gorgeous high-schoolers with the power to literally suck the life force from men through sexual activity. Their mother killed their father, the man she loved, by having intercourse with him, and eventually committed suicide because of her inability to control her lethal passions. Now Allison and Jade must navigate the treacherous world brought upon them by the family curse that makes them incredibly desirable but dangerous.

Allison, who narrates the story, has chosen to make herself unapproachable at school by wearing goth outfits and perpetuating rumors about herself as a weirdo to be avoided. Jade, on the other hand, thoroughly enjoys the attention and the high she gets after kissing guys. The guys, meanwhile, suffer debilitating fatigue as their life energy is drained, and they have no idea that they risk death if they press Jade for more.

The first half or so of this book is interesting but somewhat slow. Allison is a real downer as she tries to rein Jade in, while Jade is just plain over the top. Allison’s growing interest in Ren, a nice guy she meets at the library, is fraught with angst while Jade is out to get whatever she can at whatever price. The aunt they live with, a succubus who uses religion to help her maintain her virginity, annoys the heck out of both of them as she does her best to convert them and save their souls.

Then, at about sixty percent into the book, everything takes an unexpected turn, and the pace picks up. Now the reader is full of questions, and a second revelation (not entirely unexpected) adds even more intrigue.

Unfortunately, the questions are answered pretty quickly without the tension that would have put various characters at risk and made solving the mystery a whole lot more fun. At the same time, enough is left hanging so that a sequel is necessary, stranding the reader who hoped for a tidy conclusion.

Bella gives Into a Million Pieces three stars. 3 stars

Potty-mouth Index: Moderate. Also some moderately explicit sex scenes.

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy from the author and her publisher with a request for an honest review.