Gilding the Lily

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Gilding the Lily by Justine John (Mystery)

A well-written prologue can be the key to snagging a reader. In this case, the story begins with a woman who is feigning grief at the burial of another woman. It soon becomes clear that the former has caused the death of the latter and appears to have gotten away with it. What we don’t know is who has died and who remains.

We then meet our three main characters from whose perspectives the story is told: Amelia, Jack, and Evelyn. Amelia and her husband, Jack, live in England. Amelia’s widowed father, Roger, lives in New York City, and Evelyn is the new woman in his life. Amelia and Jack meet Evelyn for the first time at a surprise party for Roger’s 75th birthday, and it doesn’t take long for them to realize she is a gold-digger doing her best to come between Roger and Amelia. Amelia and Jack grow to hate and fear her, and when Roger’s health begins to fail, a bigger question arises: is she slowly killing him? Meanwhile, Evelyn hates Amelia because she is a threat to Evelyn’s continued hold on Roger. Hence, the question: who is going to dispose of whom?

The book has lots of short chapters told from alternating points of view. We know what Evelyn’s doing and thinking, and we know what Amelia and Jack are going through. We feel their frustration in dealing with someone so cunning that Roger’s friends think Evelyn is a bright light in his life. Occasionally there’s a scene that doesn’t seem to do anything to move the story along, but overall this debut novel is well done and worth the read.

Grandma gives Gilding the Lily four stars. 4 stars

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

The Patriots of Mars: The God That Failed


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The Patriots of Mars: The God That Failed by Jeff Faria (Science Fiction)

I don’t read a lot of books about sci-fi worlds, and, of course, if you’re reading about life on Mars, this is world-creation stuff. That part of this book was very impressive to me, although daunting at times. Simulated intelligence, bots for everything, aural and optic implants, artificial atmosphere, communication wonders, and an all-knowing technological presence called MOM that keeps everything going and everyone under observation. Lots of technical information about how things work and lots of detail that was mind-boggling but impressive. Lots of creativity and imagination.

The story itself starts with a group of young people trapped in a mine on Mars, and we soon learn that they’re up against some real baddies in terms of transnational corporations that control everything. We don’t get a lot of time to know these characters, however, before the story starts jumping among lots of characters on Earth and in various locations on Mars until, frankly, I was exhausted from trying to keep track of them all. The Homesteaders and the New Australians and others on Mars are doing their best to change the balance of power — hence the “Patriots” reference — while on Earth, the U.S. military is sending a ship full of troops to maintain the status quo. The early group of young people, one of whom gets visions from something called The Guide, become critical members of the resistance who must stop the incoming ship. Meanwhile, the SIMs and bots and MOM seem to be doing their own thing, in a complicated scenario that made me glad I wasn’t there.

The book is fairly long (or at least it felt that way), but it doesn’t really contain that much action, and the characters are flat. I would have been more interested in a book about the Homesteaders and the folks in New Australia who lived outside of the colonies established by the transnats. They seemed to have some personality and depth, but they remained on the periphery in more ways than one.

Grandma gives The Patriots of Mars three stars. 3 stars

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

The Frog Theory

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The Frog Theory by Fiona Mordaunt (General Fiction)

The title of this book refers to the theory that a frog put into boiling water will jump out, but if put into cold water slowly heated to a boil, will stay and be cooked to death. It is a metaphor for the inability to perceive danger and to react appropriately when a situation is getting worse little by little.

In this case, the frog is Clea, a girl from the wealthy side of London, who is being abused by her stepfather. The boy who makes her aware of what’s slowly happening is Kim, who lives in a housing project on the wrong side of town. Kim and his buddy Flow deal drugs, drink beer, and go to parties. We also follow The Principal, a woman who runs a school for problem teenagers. Kim becomes a student at her school, and the four main characters come together.

Eventually we realize that they are all frogs. Kim lives a pointless life and keeps making the same mistakes. Flow’s fiancé, Jackie, cheats on him, coming on to Kim and everybody else, but he defends her in spite of the evidence. The Principal was wronged by her former husband, but rather than telling her children the truth about their father, she told them he died and continuously feels guilty about it.

The book description calls this a laugh-out-loud story, but I found only the occasional snicker, usually provided by Flow. The one and only character whose fate I actually cared about was Clea. I found it hard to root for Kim, and The Principal was annoying. The “miracle” that happens to her felt completely out of context, a true WHAT THE HECK WAS THAT? moment for me. An epilogue does its best to wrap it all up into a neat package and provide a final surprise, but for me it fell flat.

Four-letter words aside, the use of the vernacular was interesting, as was the look at life on a different side of London.

Bella gives The Frog Theory three stars. 3 stars

Potty-mouth Index: HIGH   If you, the reader, are at all offended by use of the “f” word, the “c” word, and a few others of the same persuasion, this book will definitely offend.

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review and participation in the blog tour. For Fiona Mordaunt’s guest post go here.

No Place Like Home: Guest Post by Fiona Mordaunt, author of “The Frog Theory”

Reading Armadillo by William Boyd as a teenager excited me in large part because he mentioned Fulham, where I grew up – a tangible connection to my own experiences. It made sense to set The Frog Theory there, too, where the characters were born, and where I started writing their stories at the age of fifteen.

‘When I see those mountains I feel a little leap of excitement and I know I’m nearly home!’ said a woman in a pub in Scotland. I looked out of the window with her at the stunning view and wished I felt like that about somewhere.

Not long afterwards, I spent a stint living in Australia and when I came back, I felt that leap for the first time. Oh, that’s what she meant. But I don’t get it with mountains, I get it when I know I’m approaching London – London is my home! I thought. There was something alluring about the idea of roots and connection.

I am now conscious of that same excitement every time I go to London. Memories pop up like forgotten photographs – remember this, remember that, myriad emotions jostling for space. I enjoy seeing cranes pecking like robotic dinosaurs at some new building project; art galleries; theatre. I walk through More London for our pilgrimage to Dim T (sharing platter, dim sum, other delicious things) and stop halfway when Tower Bridge is perfectly framed. I turn around on the spot and look at The Shard; I do it again. Old. New. Old. New. Just once more in the imaginary time machine.

Sometimes there are small children making their way diligently up and down the moat. My daughter has been one of them, incongruous amongst the business people striding up and down on their mobile phones, smart in their slick office clothes. I wonder whether the architects knew how much children would enjoy the area too and how they would slot in so happily?

While I am in town, there is always time for Borough Market and for Jose on Bermondsey Street; the food and the wine calls so sweetly – tapas fit for gods. I may even pay a visit to House of Fraser, just over London Bridge, fondly known as ‘Hoff’! So re-named by my great friend, Moira.

At this point I feel the urge to mention Balham. ‘Places connect us,’ I said to someone here in Gaborone when they first arrived,

‘I used to live in Balham, too! For eight years. I had a little workshop there with a garden… and frogs, in the conservation area.’

‘No way, which street?’

‘Bushnell Road, do you know it?’

‘Know it? I was just around the corner!’ And so we went on for a happy hour or more. It is our way of establishing connections, of finding things in common.

I am well used to coincidences of this sort, they happen all the time, but here’s one that amazed even me: I was in London and I hailed a black taxi from Waterloo to Wandsworth. The driver asked me where I lived and I said, ‘You might not have heard of it, but we live in Gaborone right now.’

‘Funnily enough, I have! My best mate from school days moved there with his wife, you might know him.’

There are 231,592 people in Gaborone, 8.6 million in London, but it’s always worth a try, isn’t it? They are my next door neighbours! His wife is actually in my book club. Out of 22,000 black taxis I got into his. He even had photos of them together at their leaving do on his phone.

As for Fulham, I do return. It is precious for me but I would not want to live there. Too much history and too many memories which make me feel sad; my mum is not there anymore and I miss her.

Why should we have roots like a tree, deep in the earth, calling us back to one place, anyway? I think of orchids with their floating roots above the ground, closer to the sun, settling high in mystical forests, full of birds and animals, the babbling of water never far away. That image is so much more versatile; it suits. I edit out anything that bites. Or stings. And I add a treetop pub or two. There! Perfect! There’s no place like home.

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After attending school for model-making, Fiona Mordaunt started Image Casting in 1998, specializing in customized body castings. Over the course of 13 years, she worked on such films as Atonement and The Wildest Dream, as well as for personal clients like Lionel Richie. In 2012, she relocated to Botswana with her husband and daughter where she currently resides.

http://www.fionamordaunt.com/

 

 

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Tragedy and comedy in perfect proportion.

Kim and Flow are the best of friends, living on a council estate, making money selling drugs.

Just around the corner in a smarter part of Fulham is Clea, a well-heeled young woman coping with a violent home life at the hands of her twisted step-father.

The Principal runs a famous college for problem teens. Fostering guilty secrets which distance her from her own children, she resists the advances of a man she sees on the train every day.

When Kim and Clea meet by chance, Kim is smitten but worried about her. Using the anecdote of the frog theory — that it will jump straight out of boiling water and live, but stay in and die if heated slowly from cold — he wakes her up to the dangerous situation she’s in at home.

Serendipity and a cake-fueled food fight that goes viral will bring Kim, Clea, Flow and The Principal together in weird and wonderful ways in this frenetic, laugh-out-loud story about love, conscience and lion-hearted nerve.

For our review of The Frog Theory go here.

Everything You Want Me to Be

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Everything You Want Me to Be by Mindy Mejia (Thriller)

High school senior Hattie Hoffman is the consummate actress, not only on stage but in real life. She has perfected being whoever each person in her life wants her to be – the adoring best friend content to play second fiddle, the conscientious honor-roll student every teacher loves, the compliant girlfriend of the dumber-than-dirt football jock. She knows exactly what she’s doing, and that’s what makes her such an enthralling character in this suspenseful thriller. Everything she does is carefully orchestrated, until the night she is murdered.

The setting is a small town in rural Minnesota, where farming families grow soy and cotton and everyone knows everyone else. County Sheriff Del Goodman is investigating Hattie’s death, a job complicated by the fact that her father is his fishing buddy and good friend. Peter Lund is the new English teacher at Hattie’s high school whose marriage is slowly dissolving. He reluctantly left the life he loved in Minneapolis to move to his ailing mother-in-law’s farm, and his unhappiness is driving a wedge between himself and his wife.

All three take turns narrating parts of the story. Del is a no-nonsense old-timer who doesn’t mince words; Hattie is hovering between childhood and adulthood, attempting to find her real self; and Peter is desperate for someone who appreciates and understands him. Del’s narration chronicles his investigation after the murder, while Hattie and Peter provide backstory leading up to her death, and each has a distinctive voice and perspective that works well to keep the reader engaged. The people we meet are people we recognize – flawed human beings showing honest emotions, overwhelmed by what’s happening around and to them, making understandable, if regrettable, mistakes – which makes it all the harder for the reader to be sure who the murderer really is. A well-written story with engaging characters you will care about and a finish that offers some hope for second chances.

Grandma gives Everything You Want Me to Be five stars.5 stars

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

All Darling Children

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All Darling Children by Katrina Monroe (Fantasy)

If you ever thought the character Peter Pan was more creepy than cute – a weirdo with narcissistic tendencies and a strange sense of fun – and that Wendy was a twit who needed to be more afraid, then this book is for you. I admit, I only know their story through Walt Disney, and maybe the original novel doesn’t paint such a rosy picture, but no matter what, I found All Darling Children to be more realistic and a lot of fun.

Well, maybe not fun. Peter really is a creep, but there’s more to Wendy than we knew. She’s Grandma Wendy in this version, and the heroine is her teen-aged granddaughter, Madge. The two are constantly at odds, with Madge doing her best to run away every chance she gets, and — no surprise — she makes the ultimate getaway with a trip to Never Never Land.

Captain Hook was always my favorite, and he’s there, too, along with Smee, Tiger Lily, and the Lost Boys, of course. Tinkerbell is out of the picture, though. Little Michael is now Great Uncle Michael, and he has multiple problems as a result of his bizarre childhood experience. Madge is a cynic after growing up under Grandma Wendy’s thumb, so her take on the whole thing is the best part. Throw in a surprise ending, and this could actually be called fun, in a weirdo way.

If you like the “other side” of fairy tales — think Wicked — this is for you.

Bella gives All Darling Children four stars. 4 stars

Potty-mouth Index: MODERATE

The Lost Order

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The Lost Order by Steve Berry (Thriller)

The Lost Order is the latest in the Cotton Malone adventure series, and what an adventure it is. Incorporating the Civil War-era secret society known as Knights of the Golden Circle and the present-day halls and back rooms of the Smithsonian Institution, this is a book full of political intrigue, ruthless treasure hunters, and steadfast individuals devoted to protecting a legacy most of us know nothing about.

Fact: In mid-nineteenth century United States, a clandestine organization of southerners known as The Knights of the Golden Circle wanted to annex territory in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean for the purpose of forming a southern empire, creating a “golden circle” of slave-holding states with its hub in Havana, Cuba. They amassed a fortune in gold and silver to finance the venture, but when the Civil War interfered, they buried their fortune in remote locations in the hopes that their plans might be resurrected someday. They left clues in the woods for those who knew how to recognize them and vested Individuals known as sentinels with the responsibility of protecting the hidden caches from treasure hunters. Confederate records, including those of the Knights, disappeared during the Civil War, and the full extent of the secret society’s reach and fortune is unknown.

Fiction: Two present-day factions of the Knights are close to finding a major vault of Confederate gold hidden in the Southwest. One faction plans to use it for nefarious purposes, the other wants to preserve it for posterity. Cotton Malone, former Justice Department agent, is called back into service because his ancestor was a Confederate spy who may be the final link to locating the vault before the Knights do. He and a former president of the United States are the last hopes for stopping a major disruption to Congress and for bringing cold-blooded killers to justice.

This book is enjoyable on many levels – as a thriller with the code-breaking aspects of The DaVinci Code, as a fascinating account of a dangerous secret society in American history, and as an insider’s romp through the back rooms, tunnels, and hidden places in the Smithsonian Institution.

Author Steve Berry is a history buff and preservationist, as well as a seasoned writer, and he also serves on the Smithsonian Libraries Advisory Board. This heavily researched work is packed with authentic information that illuminates as well as entertains, leaving the reader with the satisfying sense of having learned something while enjoying the action that never stops. Whether it’s the workings of Congress, the existence of hidden caches of gold and silver buried across the U.S., or the fascinating history of the Smithsonian itself, Berry keeps it interesting and relevant while providing a complicated plot with plenty of dangerous players and harrowing situations.

Grandma gives The Lost Order five stars. 5 stars

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

The Lost Order will be released on April 4, 2017, and is available for pre-order.