Tragic Deception


Tragic Deception by M.A. Comley and Linda S. Prather (Crime/Suspense/Thriller)

I read Clever Deception, the prequel novella to the Deception series, before breakfast, then immediately moved on to Tragic Deception and finished it the same day. Alex Fox is the type of believable heroine I appreciate, a less-than-perfect woman who keeps on going in spite of the odds and her own mistakes. In this book, she has moved to the U.S. from Great Britain, where she was on the police force, and is now working in New York City. She encounters the same anti-female bias from male counterparts in the NYPD as she experienced at home in Gloucester and has alienated quite a few of them, not the least of whom is her commanding officer. He suspends her for insubordination and gives her a mandate: solve a trio of high-profile infant kidnappings within the week or don’t come back.

The collaboration of authors Linda Prather and M.A. Comley – American  and British, respectively – gives authenticity to the character as a British transplant navigating the world of urban American law enforcement. Her British-isms amuse her fellow police officers, while their use of the vernacular confuses her. I enjoyed watching both grow to understand and appreciate each other almost as much as I enjoyed the fast-paced, engrossing story.

The frightening serial killer introduced in Clever Deception, the Escape Artist, has a presence but doesn’t dominate the book. He remains significant as Alex’s motivation for moving to New York, and even plays a part in the resolution of the kidnappings, but her life also moves on and is not simply an obsession with finding him. This realistic approach gives the character even more credibility and depth. I believe this series has great promise, and I look forward to the next book.

Grandma gives Tragic Deception five stars. 5 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received an ARC from the authors in exchange for an honest review.


Clever Deception


Clever Deception by M.A. Comley and Linda S. Prather (Crime/Suspense/Thriller)

This fast-moving novella sets the stage for the Deception series and introduces its heroine, British police officer Alexandra Fox — a no-nonsense woman doing her best to make it in a predominantly male profession, a situation made more difficult by heavily biased male leadership. The book also introduces the Escape Artist, a serial killer who has been targeting and brutally murdering the wives of men in law enforcement. Now the killer has set his sights on Alex and her family, and he begins communicating with her to make sure she knows.

Written by two New York Times best-selling novelists –one British and one American — this series is a brilliant collaboration of criminal fiction authors with backgrounds on two continents. Together, they have created a flawed but likeable heroine who captured my interest immediately and made me care about her future. I’m ready to see more of Alex Fox.

This book contains graphic violence intended to illustrate the depravity of the Escape Artist. While it made me cringe, it did not feel gratuitous.

Grandma gives Clever Deception five stars. 5 stars

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


The Coincidence of Coconut Cake


The Coincidence of Coconut Cake by Amy E. Reichert (Women’s Contemporary Fiction)

I chose to purchase this novel because it’s set in Milwaukee, a city not often featured in fiction. Since I was born and raised in Milwaukee, I wanted to know how the city was portrayed. I’m also a retired food writer, and this is a book involving a chef and her restaurant. Not to mention the appealing cover and interesting title.

I enjoyed the food, the recipes, and the wonderful descriptions that took me “home” to the city of my childhood, the place I still love to visit because it truly can be as much fun as this book suggests. I could taste the calamari at Festa Italiana and hear the squeak of a good cheese curd.

But I can’t say the same about the love story that this book tells. For one thing, I never learned to care about Lou, the female protagonist who makes a mean coconut cake and owns a struggling French restaurant. She is a perpetual victim with no backbone who panders to her scumbag fiance, Devlin. I did finally warm to Al, the British guy who hates Milwaukee but stays to write mean-spirited restaurant reviews for a local paper, including a scathing review of Lou’s place. However, I never did figure out what’s keeping this bitter Eton graduate in Brew City before he meets Lou.

The love story itself was predictable and sometimes tedious, with a bit of unbelievable thrown in. Maybe some people swoon at first sight, but Al was enough of a cynic, I found it hard to accept that he could be that obsessed with Lou from moment one. Considering their mutual — albeit unspoken — attraction, the passage of sometimes multiple weeks between their “non-dates” was also difficult to comprehend, as was their mutual ability to never mention what they did for a living. In short, it wasn’t really a question of reading to find out what would happen between them, but rather how long it would take.

The writing is okay, and the book isn’t terrible. On the contrary, a lot of folks seem to love it. I just wanted a little more substance and a little less coincidence, I guess.

Grandma gives The Coincidence of Coconut Cake three stars. 3 stars

The Girl From Venice

The Girl From Venice

The Girl from Venice by Martin Cruz Smith (Historical Fiction)

This World War II story takes place in Nazi-occupied Italy after Mussolini has switched sides and the war is winding down but not yet over. A Venetian fisherman named Cenzo finds the body of a girl floating in a lagoon and takes it onboard his boat. The young woman is not dead, however, and he soon learns that she is being actively sought by the German SS. His efforts to protect her plunge him into danger as he must interact with individuals on both sides of the war effort, including his older brother, Giorgio, a famous Italian film star with questionable allegiances. Bad blood already exists between the brothers, and Cenzo is torn between trusting Giorgio and turning him in.

The story is told primarily from Cenzo’s point of view, with the occasional switch to that of another character. Cenzo is a simple, self-deprecating man with a subtle sense of humor that quickly won me over and left me smiling. Little by little, his backstory, as well as that of the girl, Giulia, is revealed, while the mystery of who betrayed her and her family to the Nazis is not solved until the end. The Venetian setting is different from that of other WWII novels I’ve read, providing a glimpse into how Mussolini’s leadership affected the ordinary citizen and also into the life of an Italian fisherman.

The author is primarily a crime novelist, and his writing is precise and without frills. The continuous action held my interest from beginning to end, and I was deeply invested in knowing how it would all work out.

Grandma gives The Girl from Venice five stars.5 stars

The Girl from Venice will be published on October 18, 2017 and is available on pre-order.

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


Finding Charlie

Finding Charlie

Finding Charlie by Katie O’Rourke (Women’s Contemporary Fiction)

Finding Charlie explores an unusual theme from the points of view of several different characters:  Why would the mother of two little girls decide to walk out on her family and never come back, and how has that affected those girls, their relationships to each other, their self-esteem, their ability to trust and relate to others and to her?

Nineteen-year-old Charlie and her twenty-five-year-old sister, Olivia, have been raised primarily by their father; their mother, Maria, walked out of their lives thirteen years ago without explanation. Now Charlie herself has disappeared without a clue, except for the admission of a friend that he left her behind in a Las Vegas hotel.  Even Charlie’s long-time, joined-at-the-hip best friend, Carmen, hasn’t heard from her, and that’s without precedent.

First Olivia, then Charlie and Maria, alternate narrating the story in this multi-layered look at complex family relationships. I thoroughly enjoyed their differing perspectives on the same events, especially those of the two sisters and how they viewed Olivia’s role as surrogate mother to Charlie. Backstory through reminiscences helps to flesh out their relationships and childhood experiences, while current events unfold to explain what has become of Charlie. I thought character development was outstanding.

At the same time, I believe this book would have benefited from tighter editing. Unnecessary sequences involving characters and events who have no influence on the plot or outcome are just filler material. For instance, we learn details about the condition and treatment of one of Olivia’s physical therapy patients, but we never see the woman again and the episode has no relevance to the bigger story. Carmen is suffering from an eating disorder that puts her in a treatment facility, but again, with no real impact on the story itself. The book also includes a number of invectives about environmental issues, hypocrisy in the Catholic church, the injustices of Medicaid policies, and treatment of migrant workers, none of which moves the story forward. While I appreciate books that want to bring up important topics, these vignettes just float through and then are gone. They feel like the author using the characters to express her personal opinions on issues of interest to her.

Grandma gives Finding Charlie four stars. 4 stars

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