Frayed is very dark, full of foreboding from the beginning. Ava’s sister, Kesley, has been murdered, and the perpetrator is yet to be found. Ava herself has been the victim of an acid attack that has disfigured her face, but we don’t learn until the end how that happened. She is surrounded by people she can’t trust and schoolmates who keep their distance, not sure how to interact with her. She has a best friend and a boyfriend, but they’re not that great, either. She lives with a foster mother who took in Ava and Kesley after their parents died, but Ava has mixed feelings about calling the woman “mom.” A childhood friend, Rafe, reappears in Ava’s school, but he’s been in juvie and isn’t particularly trustworthy. Ava’s world is pretty grim.

Her life has had more than its share of tragedy, and now she’s trying to figure out who killed Kesley, which brings her face-to-face with the unsavory members of a female gang called KARMA. And along the way, through all sorts of nasty interactions with the KARMAs, she’s learning more and more about the sister she apparently never really knew.

The author sets up a number of possible individuals as the killer, but when the murderer is revealed, it’s a bit of a deus ex machina — someone who, at least for me, came out of the blue without prior indication that the person was even a possibility.

As the narrator of this story, Ava herself is hard to get to know. She never reveals much about her human side and never shows a sense of humor. Being a victim of a lousy life does not automatically make a protagonist likeable. Ava needs some vulnerability so that we care about her as a person. Otherwise, we keep reading only to find out who killed her sister.

We think this is an interesting first novel from a young author who shows great promise to grow with experience and coaching. She has a good sense of a story, but now needs to work on character development and story arc. Flaws are desirable and make characters more realistic, but they also need some likeable qualities.

We give this book four stars out of five. We wanted to know who did it, and the possibilities were intriguing. 4 stars

Potty-mouth Index: LOW Some rough language, but no use of the “f” word.

Bella Reads and Reviews received Frayed as an ARC from the publisher in return for an honest review.




The Two-Family House

Two-Family House

The Two-Family House by Lynda Cohen Loigman (General Fiction)

This book is the debut novel of a writer with great promise. I thoroughly enjoyed her writing style, and I found the story she told to be engrossing.

In the midst of a blizzard, two babies are born on the same night in a two-family house in Brooklyn. The mothers are sisters-in-law whose families have lived, one above the other, for many years. Their husbands are brothers who co-own a business, and each family already has several children. The daily lives of both families have long been intertwined, and after that night they are even more intertwined than before. As the years progress, however, the once-deep friendship between the two women begins to unravel, and only they know why.

While the reader has most likely figured out why, the real story lies in how the decisions made on that snowy night will ultimately affect the lives of everyone in the two families. How much will be revealed and what will the two women take to their graves? If and when it is revealed, how will the truth change the family dynamics?

The most important characters were well-drawn so that I cared about them, and the behavioral and emotional changes that occurred over time — some for the better, some not — felt realistic and understandable. The story spans twenty-one years, beginning in 1947, and is split into five parts with significant gaps in between. This requires periodic summaries of what happened in the interval, which sometimes seemed too minimal, but I don’t really know how a story with that timeframe could have been done any differently without becoming a somewhat unwieldy multigenerational saga. I found the ending to be satisfying, achieving the best possible outcome under the circumstances, and I would recommend this book for both its story and how well it was written.

Grandma gives The Two-Family House four stars. 4 stars


Tail & Trouble

Tail & Trouble

Tail & Trouble by Victor Catano (Science Fiction/Fantasy)

I’m not usually a fantasy kind of girl, but I did enjoy this story of psychic dogs, covens, wannabe witches, and a nasty wizard. Sheila is a good and powerful witch, and she has gone missing. Sheila’s boyfriend, Gabriel, and Orson, the bulldog who is her familiar, have gone looking for her. She’s out on coven business that her fellow witches won’t reveal, so Orson and Gabriel are on their own. Along the way they meet new magical types, and most are not so nice.

Gabriel tells the story, and he is a guy with attitude. He makes it fun to read. Orson has attitude of his own, and between the two of them, it is pretty entertaining. I never did get to know or care a lot about Sheila herself, which did make the story a little less interesting. I know that Gabriel and Orson love her, and she’s a good person who’s had a rough life. But it wasn’t quite enough for me.

There’s action and problems to solve, and so it kept my interest because I wanted to know how they would fix it all. It’s the kind of book where you know the ending is going to be happy, so the question is, “how do they do it?”

Bella gives Tail & Trouble four stars. 4 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free ARC in return for an honest review.


Dew Angels

Dew Angels

Dew Angels by Melanie Schwapp (General Fiction: Literary)

Dew Angels is an amazing book. I didn’t know what to expect when I chose this book from Net Galley, and I am so glad that it was there. The writing is superb, providing incredibly vivid pictures of a place I’ve never been and introducing me to a young woman whose story is all-absorbing.

Nola Chambers is a dark-skinned teenager born into a fair-skinned Jamaican family. As a result, she is verbally and physically abused by her father and shunned by those in her school and her village. A series of misunderstandings and tragic events separate her from those she loves and leave her believing that she is nothing but a source of shame, worthless and unlovable. Yet her personal strength and determination give her the courage to do remarkable things in the face of adversity and danger, keeping this reader engrossed right through to the very satisfying conclusion.

I learned volumes about Jamaican culture, botany, dialect, and lifestyles through Melanie Schwapp’s rich use of language, while being fully engrossed in Nola’s story. And I was left with an uplifting sense of hope at the end, a wonderful way to finally go to sleep after reading this book late into the night.

Grandma gives Dew Angels five stars. 5 stars

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