How to Keep Rolling After a Fall

How to Keep Rolling

How to Keep Rolling After a Fall by Karole Cozzo (Young Adult)

Wow. This book grabbed me from page one and didn’t let go. It immediately sets the stage: Nikki, the seventeen-year-old narrator, is volunteering in a rehab center, fulfilling a community service requirement after being accused of cyber-bullying. Although others were involved, the incident has turned her into a pariah in her small New Jersey town. She has lost all of her privileges at home, her parents barely acknowledge her, and her friends have abandoned her. In her senior year, she’s forced to go to a new high school after being expelled from the one where she was a cheerleader, an accomplished stage performer, and one of the most popular girls in her class. Notoriety dogs her; once strangers realize who she is, they reject her, adding to the terrible loneliness that has become her norm.

Except for Pax. Matthew Paxton is an attractive, athletic young man close to her age who comes to the rehab center to play wheelchair rugby. An automobile accident two years before has left him paralyzed from the chest down. When he attempts to befriend her, she tells him her story up front—no use prolonging the inevitable rejection, she thinks. Instead he says he believes in fresh starts, and for the first time in a long time, she has a friend. But then, that’s how he insists they keep it—strictly friends—in spite of a growing mutual romantic attraction.

While this story could have descended into darkness or a pity party, it never did. Nikki’s narration is full of personality that made me like her immediately and care about her future. Pax is a survivor with just the right amount of vulnerability to keep him from being a cliché. Their dialogue rings true, and Nikki’s priorities are realistic for her age while showing real growth by the end of the novel. I believe young adult readers, as well as adults in general, will find these characters engaging and the book hard to put down.

Grandma gives How to Keep Rolling After a Fall five stars. 5 stars

Potty-mouth Index: MINOR

Bella Reads and Reviews received How to Keep Rolling After a Fall from the publisher as an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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The Dawn’s Early Light

The Dawn's Early Light

The Dawn’s Early Light by Lee Duffy (Military Thriller)

This book is a fast read that held my attention from the get-go. The plot is somewhat familiar — terrorists have taken control of a plane full of Americans and are holding them hostage. A U.S. counter-terrorist team made up of the military’s best deploys to save them.

What neither side knows is that Major Mike Elliot is onboard. He is an ex-Special Forces operative haunted by past mistakes that cost him his first family, and now his second wife is in danger and he cannot fail again. Not knowing what’s happening in the outside world, he is determined to give it his all, even though he will be up against four desperate and brutal terrorists.

Various named characters in assorted branches of the military, CIA, foreign service, White House, and more are introduced, with what, to me, was an overload of names, positions, and duties that begged for an organizational chart for quick reference. The point of view is everyone’s, so that we know what’s going on in the head of each character mentioned above, plus the terrorists’ boss, the CIA’s local informer, and the informer’s girlfriend, to name a few. I admit to some skimming now and then during the planning discussions about the Delta Force rescue, but could not put the book down once the action began. It is well written, and one can tell that the author knows his stuff when it comes to the military, security, and international relations in the Middle East.

This book is the first in a series of Mike Elliot thrillers.

Grandma gives The Dawn’s Early Light four stars. 4 stars

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

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My Girl

My Girl - Official Front Cover

My Girl by Jack Jordan (Thriller)

I read this book in one sitting. It’s fast-paced and relatively short. It’s also dark and full of people living nightmarish lives.

Paige has become a pill-popping alcoholic ten years after the unsolved disappearance and apparent dismemberment of her then-fourteen-year-old daughter and the recent wrist-slashing suicide of her husband. She does degrading things in order to support her chemical dependencies, lives in disgusting conditions, and gets herself into dangerous situations she doesn’t remember much about. The author sets the stage with lots of bile, vomit, urine, blood, and other bodily fluids to demonstrate how low she has fallen.

Family members—her dead husband’s parents, her own father, and her brother—try to stand by her as she sinks lower and lower, and she pushes them away as she heads toward self-destruction. She seems to be losing her mind. Strange things happen in her home. Did she do these things herself, or is someone in her extended family out to get her?

A major twist took me by surprise and changed the story completely, leaving me curious about how it would all play out and keeping my attention. That said, the story was a tad far-fetched for me in places and required considerable suspension of disbelief in certain areas, primarily medical and forensic. To say more would ruin the surprise, which is this book’s primary strong point.

I had no problems with the author’s writing style; the book moves right along and it’s well-edited in terms of grammar and punctuation. As long as you don’t mind watching someone sink into the depths of despair and degradation, you will probably enjoy it. Jack Jordan is definitely an author to watch.

Grandma gives My Girl four stars. 4 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy of this book in return for an honest review and participation in the pre-release blog tour.

 

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Savaged Lands

Savaged Lands

Savaged Lands by Lana Kortchik (Historical Fiction)

Savaged Lands tells the story of a family in Nazi-occupied Ukraine during World War II as seen through the eyes of the elder teen-aged daughter, Natasha. It is also a love story and a testament to human endurance and survival under the worst of circumstances.

In September, 1941, Natasha, her younger sister and brother, parents, and maternal grandparents are living together in Kiev when the Nazi occupation begins. An older brother is already serving in the Soviet Army. Things soon take a turn for the worse as German soldiers begin a brutal campaign against the citizens of Kiev, confiscating their radios and all of their food, commandeering their homes and their warm clothing, and subjecting them to continuous terror and fear. Jewish families, including that of Natasha’s best friend, are driven from their homes and marched through the streets, never to be seen again. Natasha’s father is arrested and sent to a labor camp. Her sister’s fiancé disappears. When the harsh Ukrainian winter sets in, things only get worse for those who remain. Meanwhile Natasha and a Hungarian soldier fall in love, a dangerous relationship for both of them if they are caught together.

Lana Kortchik is a gifted writer whose prose pulled me right in. Her knowledge of Kiev and its history made this an absorbing read, simultaneously heartbreaking and uplifting because the suffering, the hardships, the losses, and the triumphs were real. She created well-developed characters with weaknesses I could understand, strengths I could believe in, and fates I cared about. I found myself reading this book late into the night.

Grandma gives Savaged Lands five stars. 5 stars

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

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I’m Not Her

I'm Not Her

I’m Not Her by Cara Sue Achterberg (Science Fiction & Fantasy)

I’m Not Her is a body-swap story, which makes it a combination of fascinating and terrifying. What would it be like to suddenly “be” someone else—to live in that person’s body instead of your own and to have to be her, day in and day out, for better or for worse?

Carin is an attractive, spoiled, well-heeled young woman who looks down her aristocratic nose at Leann, the morbidly obese young cashier at the local grocery store. Leann leads a tough, impoverished life, and she has no use for the skinny, snotty Carin who buys organic food and puts on airs. When an accident in the checkout lane causes the two women to swap bodies and identities, but maintain their own personalities, the adventure for both of them begins.

Some of it is predictable. Carin learns what it’s like to be shunned because of her physical appearance, and she comes face-to-face with the realities of survival at the bottom of the social ladder. Leann, meanwhile, finds that possessing good looks and money is no guarantee of eternal happiness. Their lives are further complicated by Leann’s precocious and lovable five-year-old son, Trevor, whom Carin in her new role comes to love and wants to nurture and protect, while Leann realizes she cannot live without him and must get him back, even if she no longer looks like the mother he loves. Leann’s low-life husband provides added tension and danger to Carin’s new life and Trevor’s safety.

Both Carin and Leann take turns narrating their experiences as they attempt to negotiate the lives and relationships of their new identities. The author does a good job of giving each her own distinct voice and personality, which they maintain throughout the book even as we watch them grow and change within their awkward circumstances. Meanwhile, Carin’s family and friends must cope with her new honesty unfettered by fake niceties, while Leann’s abusive husband finds his wife’s not so submissive anymore.

My one complaint is the ending, which leaves a bunch of loose ends and implies a future that feels a little too simple after such major upheavals for both women and their acquaintances. But since the entire thing is a fantasy, suspension of disbelief and assumption of a rosy future may not be all that much to ask.

Grandma gives I’m Not Her four stars. 4 stars

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

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Death by Diploma

death by diploma

Death by Diploma by Kelley Kaye (Mystery)

This book is a murder mystery with a light-hearted approach, which I learned is called a “cozy mystery.” Although there is some description of the murder scenes (slight spoiler there), the story dwells more on the two women teachers who decide to solve the murders and bring the murderer to justice.

The teachers, Emma and Leslie, are quirky characters who are pretty intense sometimes. I’ve never known a teacher as off-the-wall as Leslie, which is probably a good thing. But I have known the coach types and others described in the book. Leslie quotes Shakespeare for everything and makes wisecracks all the time. Her over-the-top energy made her seem superficial to me, like she couldn’t just be real, and sometimes I got tired of her.

The story is told from Emma’s point of view, which makes her more appealing, plus she’s more normal. There’s a little romance, but mostly it’s about the sleuthing done by the teachers, mostly after-hours, and how they finally solve the mystery. This is the first in a series called “Chalkboard Outlines,” so we know this duo will be back. It’s an easy read, and if you like light-hearted murder mysteries (which seems like an oxymoron to me), you’ll probably enjoy this.

Bella gives Death by Diploma four stars. 4 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy from Red Adept Publishing in return for an honest review.

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Treasure of the Black Hole

Treasure-of-the-Black-Hole

Treasure of the Black Hole by S. Evan Townsend (Science Fiction)

This book is a fun space adventure with lots of inventive creatures, a treasure to be found, bad guys to avoid, and a possible love interest with questionable motives. Private detective Rick Bailey and his trusted secretary, Rose, who happens to be a giant Roach, are pulled into a scheme to help a lovely princess recover royal jewels. The truth of what’s going on is soon revealed when Rick finds himself sucked into all sorts of tough situations and the princess is no such thing.

The best part of this book is the creativity of the author in coming up with weirdo space folks with multiple body parts, unusual capabilities, and strange habits. Add to that the mysterious world of space craft dynamics and outer space physics — including the black hole mentioned in the title – and you have the makings of an intriguing novel that will keep you well-entertained.

The lead character tells the story with just the right amount of wise-guy attitude to keep it amusing while he encounters his assorted roadblocks and evades the cosmic police who happen to be after him, as well. A few twists and turns keep the story from being predictable. I have no idea if any of the space dynamics are accurate, but it didn’t matter to me as a layperson. I enjoyed the author’s version of how things worked, and while I didn’t always understand what it all meant, it just added to the adventure.

Grandma gives Treasure of the Black Hole five stars.5 stars

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

 

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