Forbidden

Forbidden

Forbidden by F. Stone (Suspense/Thriller)

This is a complex and fast-paced thriller with strong main characters — a female Canadian paramedic with a tragic past who suffers from severe bouts of PTSD and a devout Muslim police captain working in a Middle Eastern city where corruption makes it hard to know whom to trust. The massacre of fifteen American aid workers brings the paramedic and the captain together as reluctant allies when both become targets of a local governmental cover-up of the massacre. The arrival of an American CIA Agent bent on finding out who killed the American volunteers adds another layer of risk, as he believes the captain may have masterminded the whole thing. Despite their differences in background and outlook on life, the paramedic and the captain must work together to find the true perpetrator. Along the way they also (no surprise) find each other.

The author did a lot of research to ensure authenticity in her portrayal of the region and Islam, and her respect for her subject matter is evident. She also consulted with weapons experts, police officers, and cultural experts, and uses her own experience as a paramedic to bring authenticity to her characters’ actions. She does a good job of getting inside the heads of both a woman with heavy emotional issues and a disillusioned and unhappy man struggling with violating Sharia law while protecting that woman.

The story is set in the year 2047 — most likely to allow for creation of a new Middle Eastern entity known as the Republic of Islamic Provinces and Territories — but this is not a futuristic tale. Transportation, technology, medicine, etc. remain unchanged from 2017. Also somewhat incongruous is the fact that the paramedic is a “seer,” which pops up now and then, but has very little bearing on the story and, for me at least, compromised a character to whom I could otherwise easily relate.

My major complaint, however, is the book’s need for a good proofreader. While it did not detract from my overall enjoyment of the story, I did find many sentences that were missing articles (the, a, an) or prepositions. Punctuation was funky in places. More distracting were the occasional inappropriate or misused words, including “shoulder” where it should have said “soldier.” I had to read that one sentence more than once to make sure I wasn’t imagining it.

Normally, the issues named above would take an average story down to three stars, but I enjoyed the story itself a great deal and appreciate the author’s careful and extensive preparation to tell it.

Grandma gives Forbidden four stars. 4 stars

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

The Visitors

The Visitors

The Visitors by Catherine Burns (Literary Fiction, Thriller)

For all of her life, Marion has been the object of ridicule from her peers, her older brother, John, and her highly opinionated mother. Now a spinster in her 50s, she lives with John in the big old house where they grew up. Timid and out of touch with the world, she stays in the house and does her best not to irritate John. But John keeps “visitors” in the cellar, and while Marion manages to put them out of her mind most of the time, she can’t ignore them forever, especially when John becomes disabled and she’s the one who must take care of them.

This debut novel is less of a thriller and more of a chilling character study, with its creepiness coming from the fact that basically “invisible” people like Marion and John could be your neighbors just down the block. I was immediately drawn into Marion’s world where her dead mother’s haughty voice continues to regale her with judgmental observations, and strangers who show Marion the most basic kindness populate her daydreams of having normal relationships and a meaningful life. Then there are the occasional references to the visitors in the cellar, the backward glances at pivotal incidents in her painful childhood, and her daily ups and downs as the slovenly, not-so-bright woman living in the decrepit mansion with her creepy bachelor brother. Together they add up to a story that brings Marion to life. I came to like her and feel for her and couldn’t help but wonder how she would cope with the visitors in the cellar, when that time came.

The reader sees everything through Marion’s eyes and Marion’s way of thinking, and it’s a fascinating journey. While what’s going on in the cellar may seem potentially off-putting, it’s handled well and does not become the focus of the tale. Instead, we’re with Marion as she melds her past and present in an effort to create her own future. And, of course, to take care of the visitors.

Grandma gives The Visitors five stars. 5 stars

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

The Visitors will be released on September 26, 2017, and is available for pre-order.

The Art of Hiding

The Art of Hiding

The Art of Hiding by Amanda Prowse (Women’s Contemporary Fiction)

The missing husband with a deep, dark secret and a clueless wife has become a familiar trope in women’s contemporary fiction. (See The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall.)

Something terrible takes the husband out of the picture — be it death, a trip from which he never returns, or accusation of a heinous crime. The wife, accustomed to an idyllic life of upper class ease and opulence, is suddenly faced with harsh reality: she has been married for decades to a man she doesn’t really know. To make matters worse, their finances — of which she has always remained blissfully ignorant — are a mess. Her high-society friends turn their backs.  Now, fraught with anger and disillusionment, she must struggle to remake her life, come to terms with his deceptive behavior, and figure out why he did this to her and the kids. At the same time, she mourns his loss and must protect her children from the truth about their father so as not to taint his memory.

In The Art of Hiding, Nina is a socially stunted stay-at-home British mom who has always let her husband, Finn, take care of everything. When Finn dies in a fatal single-car accident, she learns they are penniless; his formerly thriving construction business has gone belly up, and she never knew. He owes an exorbitant amount of money to creditors, and every family possession, except for the clothes on their backs, is being taken by court order — the huge house in a posh neighborhood, all of its expensive contents, their luxury car. Nina’s two boys can no longer go to their expensive private school, and they are not welcome in the homes of their former friends. Her sister, Tiggy, from whom she has become estranged, comes to help, even though she has always disapproved of Finn’s influence on Nina.

Thrown out on the street, with no car and no work experience, Nina is an emotional, incompetent mess. She has no skills; she has lived her entire adult life within her husband’s shadow, letting him take responsibility for everything. She’s in tears a lot, and she’s at loose ends, afraid of trying anything. Her teen-aged son is understandably sullen and angry; her pre-teen son is more resilient and forgiving. For much of the book, we watch them struggle until finally Nina gets a job, and the family comes to terms with its new life.

The story is told solely from the point of view of Nina, and, to be honest, I skimmed much of the middle while she languishes in grief and confusion. I found myself less than sympathetic to her dilemma. We’re shown glimpses of her sad, somewhat abusive childhood, but instead of making her tough and self-sufficient like her sister, it apparently left her eager to let someone else take care of her. Her total lack of awareness regarding her husband’s stress-filled, apparently suicide-inducing daily existence seemed unrealistic. The one character I truly enjoyed was Tiggy.  I didn’t know the boys well enough to have more than a cursory interest in their story’s outcome, and I was pretty sure what it would be anyway.

The writing, for me, was uninspired and at times, the dialogue seemed stilted and unnatural.

Grandma gives The Art of Hiding three stars. 3 stars

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

The Art of Hiding will be released on August 22, 2017, and is available for pre-order.

The Best Kind of People

The Best Kind of People

The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall (Women’s Contemporary Fiction)

The missing husband with a deep, dark secret and a clueless wife has become a familiar trope in women’s contemporary fiction. (See The Art of Hiding by Amanda Prowse.)

Something terrible takes the husband out of the picture — be it death, a trip from which he never returns, or accusation of a heinous crime. The wife, accustomed to an idyllic life of upper class ease and opulence, is suddenly faced with harsh reality: she has been married for decades to a man she doesn’t really know. To make matters worse, their finances — of which she has always remained blissfully ignorant — are a mess. Her high-society friends turn their back. Now, fraught with anger and disillusionment, she must struggle to remake her life, come to terms with his deceptive behavior, and figure out why he did this to her and the kids. At the same time, she mourns his loss and must protect her children from the truth about their father so as not to taint his memory.

The Best Kind of People is just such a book. Joan is a trauma nurse with a long career in emergency medicine. Her husband, George, is a highly respected teacher who, years before, tackled a school shooter and kept tragedy from occurring at the elite private school where he teaches and his daughter is a junior. Now, however, he has been accused by students of inappropriate behavior and attempted rape. He’s arrested and imprisoned without bail, and, in an instant, he goes from town hero to villain. Neighbors and co-workers turn against Joan, her daughter, and her grown son. Her sister, Clara, from whom she has become estranged, comes from New York City to help, even though Clara has never been a fan of George. Joan soon learns that family money she thought she could fall back on in George’s absence is mysteriously missing from his personal account.

The story is told from the points of view of several key characters other than George, and it kept my attention from the get-go. Each character became a real person to me — realistically flawed, likeable, plausible. Their reactions to the charges against their husband/father/brother-in-law are believable and understandable. Their lives drastically change over the year it takes for George to come to trial — their personal relationships suffer, they do questionable things and make mistakes, they experience a range of evolving emotions. Through it all, even as more damning evidence surfaces, George swears he’s been set up, so an element of mystery remains — did he do it or didn’t he? I found my own feelings about the case changing over time. I knew how I wanted the trial to come out, and I kept reading, wanting to know the answer because I wanted to know how each family member would ultimately fare.

The ending, frankly, was a disappointment; it felt like the author took the easy way out.

Grandma gives The Best Kind of People three and a half stars. 3.5 stars

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

The Best Kind of People will be released on September 19, 2017, and is available for pre-order.

 

The Mentalist Series

The Mentalist Series

The Mentalist Series by Kenechi Udogu (Young Adult Paranormal/Fantasy)

When I was contacted by author Kenechi Udogu, I agreed to read Book One of this series, Aversion. Ms. Udogu sent me the box set, and I’m glad she did, for when I finished Aversion, I needed to know what was going to happen next and ended up reading all four books. Since each book is more of a novella, reading the foursome was a reasonable undertaking and, in reality, the first three should have been a single book. (The fourth is a prequel.) Neither of the sequels to Book One is a stand-alone novel; they both require knowledge of the preceding book(s) in order to make sense.

Aversion and Sentient are told from the point of view of the protagonist, Gemma, who has always known she was different, but at the age of fifteen, going on sixteen, is still learning just how different she is. What I liked about her is that she’s basically a normal teen in a normal world but has inherited special gifts and responsibilities as an “Averter” — one who can step in and avert tragedy by telepathically convincing a potential victim to avoid the risky situation. Her gifts require her to keep her distance from peers and follow rules laid out for her kind, but when she becomes involved with classmate Russ, everything in her life changes and keeps on changing, not always for the good.

Keepers (Book Three) is told in chapters alternating between her point of view and Russ’s. After two books told only from Gemma’s POV, this was a surprise and took some getting used to. Constantly going back and forth allowed the author to build tension by ending the chapters at critical points, but as the reader, I found it frustrating to have the POV change just when I was getting used to the current one. This book wraps up the three-part story sufficiently but does not resolve everything, leaving room for future books, should the author wish to write more.

Broken Ties is the prequel to the other three books, relating the story of how Gemma’s parents came together. Again, it is told alternately by her father and mother, but this time the approach works well, since it’s fun to see how each perceives the other. Without prior knowledge of why this story is significant, however, I’m not sure a reader would find the ending sufficient to make this a stand-alone novella.

I enjoyed the author’s writing style very much. She had my interest from the first sentence and kept it all the way through. I can’t say enough about how much I liked the characters and the story. Unfortunately, the reading experience was lessened by annoyances like a constant lack of commas around the names of people when they were being addressed (“Let’s eat Grandma” vs. “Let’s eat, Grandma”) which could have been avoided by a good editor (or a knowledgeable Averter). Run-on sentences and improper use of semi-colons also would have benefited from intervention. That said, I believe Kenechi Udogu has a real storytelling talent and her books are worth reading.

Bella gives The Mentalist Series four stars. 4 stars

Potty-mouth Index: CLEAN

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