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

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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.

 

The Orphan’s Tale

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The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff (Historical Fiction)

The Orphan’s Tale is a story of survival during World War II from the point of view of two women: one a German trapeze artist hiding from the Nazis because she is Jewish, the other a Dutch teenager who has rescued a Jewish baby from a boxcar full of babies bound for a concentration camp. Each has found refuge in a traveling German circus whose owner is quietly doing his best to save whomever he can.

Both women narrate the story in first person, alternating chapters, and we get to know them well. Each has painful secrets she keeps from the other for reasons of self-preservation, and at times they clash more than they get along. But their survival depends on the teenager, Noa, becoming a passable aerialist to justify her presence in the circus and to give Astrid, the professional, a partner for her act.  Forced into cooperation, they eventually become fast friends, tying their survival and their futures together, although the road to friendship is a bumpy one.

The author has done a good job of conveying a sense of circus life as it applies to the story, including the difficulties of life on the road complicated by the shortages of war, the dangers of traveling through occupied France, and the financial decline of the circus itself. Her characters are believable, flawed individuals who make mistakes, hold grudges, and distrust others, yet long to connect for they know they cannot go it alone, either through this war or through life. Nothing about this book was predictable, and the ending was a complete surprise, yet plausible. Jenoff kept my interest throughout, the teaser in her prologue driving me to read late into the night to find out what that was all about.

Grandma gives The Orphan’s Tale five stars. 5 stars

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

The Orphan’s Tale will be released on February 21, 2017, and is available for pre-order.

The Mother’s Promise

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The Mother’s Promise by Sally Hepworth (Women’s Contemporary Fiction)

The lives of four women – a single mom with cancer, her fifteen-year-old daughter, an oncology nurse, and a hospital social worker – intertwine in unexpected ways in this complex tale exploring family, friendships, marriage, and motherhood.

Alice has stage three ovarian cancer, and she fears for her daughter, Zoe, who suffers from crippling social anxiety disorder that renders her almost helpless without Alice as her safety net. Zoe’s father has never been part of her life, and she has no relatives other than a totally unreliable alcoholic uncle. Kate and Sonja, Alice’s nurse and social worker, respectively, seek to help. But their own lives are beginning to fall apart for personal reasons, and as the story unfolds, each woman learns things about herself and others that will change her life and her relationships forever.

The story is narrated from the points of view of each woman, and we get to know them intimately. We experience Zoe’s paralyzing fear of everyday things, we share Alice’s losses, we ache with Kate and feel her longing, and we begin to understand Sonja’s inability to make a decision that may seem simple but never is. Their lives come together in believable, if unexpected, ways, and each character finds new strengths within herself to do what must be done. This well-written and knowledgeable book is fascinating, satisfying, and absorbing.

Grandma gives The Mother’s Promise five stars. 5 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy of this book from St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.

The Mother’s Promise will be released on February 21, 2017 and can be pre-ordered.

Serenity

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Serenity by Craig A. Hart (Thriller)

This fast-paced crime novel is a short, quick read that I polished off in an afternoon. The first in The Shelby Alexander Thriller Series, it introduces an interesting main character in Alexander, a sixty-year-old ex-boxer who is beginning to feel his age and resents it. He has made some big mistakes in his life and has returned to the northern Michigan town of Serenity to find peace. Of course, in a thriller, peace is not what the main character finds.

I found Alexander’s voice to be authentic and his limitations refreshing. He has aches and pains and all the usual signs of aging. He is annoyed by his thirty-year-old daughter’s concerns about his health and lifestyle, but he’s doing his best to reconcile with her after too many years of estrangement, so he puts up with it. He has come to understand and accept what drove her mother to leave him, but he’s not looking to try again. His sexy thirty-year-old girlfriend may be a bit of a stretch, but Serenity is a small, isolated town in the cold northwoods. As the introduction to a new series, the story contains just enough backstory to help the reader understand who Alexander is, where he’s been, and why he thinks the way he does.

The drug-dealing Ellis family is probably the most depraved set of relatives I’ve encountered, and the part about their mother felt unnecessary and over the top. I also marveled at what lousy shots the criminals were and how many bullets punctured everything except Alexander and his friends. (Since this is a series, I don’t think I’m giving away much here.) But all in all, I enjoyed the book and would read more about Shelby Alexander.

Grandma gives Serenity four stars. 4 stars

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