The Frog Theory

the-frog-theory

The Frog Theory by Fiona Mordaunt (General Fiction)

The title of this book refers to the theory that a frog put into boiling water will jump out, but if put into cold water slowly heated to a boil, will stay and be cooked to death. It is a metaphor for the inability to perceive danger and to react appropriately when a situation is getting worse little by little.

In this case, the frog is Clea, a girl from the wealthy side of London, who is being abused by her stepfather. The boy who makes her aware of what’s slowly happening is Kim, who lives in a housing project on the wrong side of town. Kim and his buddy Flow deal drugs, drink beer, and go to parties. We also follow The Principal, a woman who runs a school for problem teenagers. Kim becomes a student at her school, and the four main characters come together.

Eventually we realize that they are all frogs. Kim lives a pointless life and keeps making the same mistakes. Flow’s fiancé, Jackie, cheats on him, coming on to Kim and everybody else, but he defends her in spite of the evidence. The Principal was wronged by her former husband, but rather than telling her children the truth about their father, she told them he died and continuously feels guilty about it.

The book description calls this a laugh-out-loud story, but I found only the occasional snicker, usually provided by Flow. The one and only character whose fate I actually cared about was Clea. I found it hard to root for Kim, and The Principal was annoying. The “miracle” that happens to her felt completely out of context, a true WHAT THE HECK WAS THAT? moment for me. An epilogue does its best to wrap it all up into a neat package and provide a final surprise, but for me it fell flat.

Four-letter words aside, the use of the vernacular was interesting, as was the look at life on a different side of London.

Bella gives The Frog Theory three stars. 3 stars

Potty-mouth Index: HIGH   If you, the reader, are at all offended by use of the “f” word, the “c” word, and a few others of the same persuasion, this book will definitely offend.

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review and participation in the blog tour. For Fiona Mordaunt’s guest post go here.

No Place Like Home: Guest Post by Fiona Mordaunt, author of “The Frog Theory”

Reading Armadillo by William Boyd as a teenager excited me in large part because he mentioned Fulham, where I grew up – a tangible connection to my own experiences. It made sense to set The Frog Theory there, too, where the characters were born, and where I started writing their stories at the age of fifteen.

‘When I see those mountains I feel a little leap of excitement and I know I’m nearly home!’ said a woman in a pub in Scotland. I looked out of the window with her at the stunning view and wished I felt like that about somewhere.

Not long afterwards, I spent a stint living in Australia and when I came back, I felt that leap for the first time. Oh, that’s what she meant. But I don’t get it with mountains, I get it when I know I’m approaching London – London is my home! I thought. There was something alluring about the idea of roots and connection.

I am now conscious of that same excitement every time I go to London. Memories pop up like forgotten photographs – remember this, remember that, myriad emotions jostling for space. I enjoy seeing cranes pecking like robotic dinosaurs at some new building project; art galleries; theatre. I walk through More London for our pilgrimage to Dim T (sharing platter, dim sum, other delicious things) and stop halfway when Tower Bridge is perfectly framed. I turn around on the spot and look at The Shard; I do it again. Old. New. Old. New. Just once more in the imaginary time machine.

Sometimes there are small children making their way diligently up and down the moat. My daughter has been one of them, incongruous amongst the business people striding up and down on their mobile phones, smart in their slick office clothes. I wonder whether the architects knew how much children would enjoy the area too and how they would slot in so happily?

While I am in town, there is always time for Borough Market and for Jose on Bermondsey Street; the food and the wine calls so sweetly – tapas fit for gods. I may even pay a visit to House of Fraser, just over London Bridge, fondly known as ‘Hoff’! So re-named by my great friend, Moira.

At this point I feel the urge to mention Balham. ‘Places connect us,’ I said to someone here in Gaborone when they first arrived,

‘I used to live in Balham, too! For eight years. I had a little workshop there with a garden… and frogs, in the conservation area.’

‘No way, which street?’

‘Bushnell Road, do you know it?’

‘Know it? I was just around the corner!’ And so we went on for a happy hour or more. It is our way of establishing connections, of finding things in common.

I am well used to coincidences of this sort, they happen all the time, but here’s one that amazed even me: I was in London and I hailed a black taxi from Waterloo to Wandsworth. The driver asked me where I lived and I said, ‘You might not have heard of it, but we live in Gaborone right now.’

‘Funnily enough, I have! My best mate from school days moved there with his wife, you might know him.’

There are 231,592 people in Gaborone, 8.6 million in London, but it’s always worth a try, isn’t it? They are my next door neighbours! His wife is actually in my book club. Out of 22,000 black taxis I got into his. He even had photos of them together at their leaving do on his phone.

As for Fulham, I do return. It is precious for me but I would not want to live there. Too much history and too many memories which make me feel sad; my mum is not there anymore and I miss her.

Why should we have roots like a tree, deep in the earth, calling us back to one place, anyway? I think of orchids with their floating roots above the ground, closer to the sun, settling high in mystical forests, full of birds and animals, the babbling of water never far away. That image is so much more versatile; it suits. I edit out anything that bites. Or stings. And I add a treetop pub or two. There! Perfect! There’s no place like home.

fiona-morduant

After attending school for model-making, Fiona Mordaunt started Image Casting in 1998, specializing in customized body castings. Over the course of 13 years, she worked on such films as Atonement and The Wildest Dream, as well as for personal clients like Lionel Richie. In 2012, she relocated to Botswana with her husband and daughter where she currently resides.

http://www.fionamordaunt.com/

 

 

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Tragedy and comedy in perfect proportion.

Kim and Flow are the best of friends, living on a council estate, making money selling drugs.

Just around the corner in a smarter part of Fulham is Clea, a well-heeled young woman coping with a violent home life at the hands of her twisted step-father.

The Principal runs a famous college for problem teens. Fostering guilty secrets which distance her from her own children, she resists the advances of a man she sees on the train every day.

When Kim and Clea meet by chance, Kim is smitten but worried about her. Using the anecdote of the frog theory — that it will jump straight out of boiling water and live, but stay in and die if heated slowly from cold — he wakes her up to the dangerous situation she’s in at home.

Serendipity and a cake-fueled food fight that goes viral will bring Kim, Clea, Flow and The Principal together in weird and wonderful ways in this frenetic, laugh-out-loud story about love, conscience and lion-hearted nerve.

For our review of The Frog Theory go here.

The Impossible Fortress

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The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak (General Fiction)

Although this is classified as Adult General Fiction by the publisher, it is a coming-of-age story that could easily be Young Adult. The narrator is a fourteen-year-old boy in 1987, and his “impossible fortress” is both his homemade computer game and a fourteen-year-old girl.

Billy loves computer programming and he also loves TV’s Vanna White. When the latter appears on the cover of a Playboy magazine, Billy and his fellow underage buddies will go to extremes to get their own copies.Their elaborate plan is to break into the local typewriter repair shop that also sells magazines and newfangled home computers, which means they will need the security code. Billy makes friends with the owner’s daughter, Mary, in order to learn the code, not realizing that she’s a whiz at computer programming and a kindred spirit. As the attraction between them grows, he’s faced with a moral dilemma amidst increasing pressure from his friends to deliver the code. However, the story is more than the question of will he risk his budding romance for a magazine, and that makes it hard to discuss here without giving away too much.

For those who remember the 80s, Commodore 64s, or the “olden days” of early computer games, the author provides lots of authentic forays into popular music of the time and the awkwardness of early home computer technology. I thought it was over the top that the boys would undertake such a complicated plan to break and enter just for a magazine, but maybe fourteen-year-old boys are that desperate and that dumb or maybe it was more about the challenge of pulling it off. I also thought that Mary’s flirty programming notes to Billy seemed out of character once we learned her real situation. And, by telling us early on that Billy’s Impossible Fortress game didn’t win the competition, the author took away the tension of waiting to find out. Still, the book was enjoyable because Billy is a fun and believable narrator who made me laugh and the information about old-time computers was interesting.

Bella gives The Impossible Fortress four stars. 4 stars

Potty-mouth index: Clean

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

The Impossible Fortress will be released on February 7, 2017, and is available for pre-order.

 

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.

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Hillstation

Hillstation

Hillstation, by Robin Mukherjee (General Fiction)

Smart, funny, thought-provoking, entertaining — I found Hillstation by Robin Mukherjee to be a delightful treat that kept me chuckling and made me sorry to see it end.

The main character and narrator, Rabindra, is a young man of twenty-two who has never left Pushkara, the remote mountain town in India where he was born. As the second son in an upper-class Brahmin family, he is constantly being compared — unfavorably — to his older brother who has been to England and is now the village doctor. To make matters worse, Rabindra’s best friend, Pol, is a low-born in the Indian caste system, making him forbidden company for a Brahmin and an added source of irritation to Rabindra’s father. Both Rabindra and Pol long to leave Pushkara, their goal being to marry English brides and move to England. When an itinerant troupe of British entertainers end up in Pushkara by mistake, Rabindra and Pol believe the young female dancers have been sent by the gods in answer to their prayers. The confusion this creates for all concerned makes for a very entertaining story.

As a fan of Sonny in the movie “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” I especially enjoyed the main characters’ flowery Indian-English speech patterns characterized by unnecessarily complex, and often humorous, sentence structures. As Rabindra himself explains to the newly arrived British girl of his dreams, “For your information, our prodigious facility in the English patois is consequent upon historical circumstances. Several generations ago, there came to reside among these fragrant peaks a gentleman in receipt of an education from a most illustrious establishment, far away from here, in which English was the prescribed means of linguistic intercourse. Being of a pedagogic inclination, he established our first school…” and so on. To which she replies, looking at her travel companion, “I thought you said they spoke English.”

The story has its unexpected twists and turns, the tongue-in-cheek humor is consistent throughout, and the characters are well-developed and fun. The book provides a glimpse of life in a remote Indian village and offers the opportunity to reflect on what might happen if one attempts to transcend one’s limitations.

Grandma gives Hillstation five stars. 5 stars

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

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Claiming Noah

Claiming Noah

Claiming Noah by Amanda Ortlepp (Women’s Contemporary Fiction)

Two baby boys are born through in vitro fertilization — one to Catriona and James Sinclair, who are the genetic parents, and one to Diana and Liam Simmons who receive the extra embryo donated by the Sinclairs. Then, one of the babies is kidnapped, and everyone’s life changes.

I enjoyed this book for many reasons. The premise itself is intriguing and immediately caught my imagination: Where was this headed? The characters are well-developed, and they act like real people. Nobody is too good to be true; no one is intrinsically evil. The author knows her stuff, whether medical or legal. And the pacing is just right, moving the action along while still allowing the reader time to learn to care about everyone involved.

The story is told, alternately, from the points of view of Catriona and Diana, giving plenty of opportunity to personally experience each mother’s joys and losses. The story itself had enough suspense to keep me reading “just one more chapter,” until I read the entire book in one day. I had my theories and my opinions of what I hoped would happen, but was never sure that it would be so.

The topic of IVF and all of its personal, social, medical, and legal ramifications is ripe for discussion, making Claiming Noah a great choice for a book group.

Grandma gives Claiming Noah five stars. 5 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy from the publisher via Net Galley, in return for an honest review.

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Faithful

Faithful

Faithful by Alice Hoffman

This is a beautifully written book that immerses the reader in the life and mind of a young woman for whom everything seems false and useless. Shelby Richmond was once a popular, self-absorbed teenager, but in the aftermath of a tragic experience she suffers from a deep sense of worthlessness. She reacts with brutal honesty toward herself and others, determined to push other people away, even those who keep on coming back in spite of her behavior.

We meet her two years after a car accident that has left her best friend, Helene, in a coma from which she is not expected to recover, and Shelby burying herself in remorse because she was the driver. After cutting her wrists and spending time in a psychiatric facility, Shelby has retreated to her parents’ basement and has shaved her head as penance for her sins. But someone unknown intermittently sends her postcards with little drawings and cryptic messages like “Do something” or “Save something” or “Trust someone,” and the postcards seem to come at just the moment when she needs them. Knowing someone out there is aware of her pain inspires her to not give up.

The story is written in third person present tense, primarily from Shelby’s point of view, but occasionally the omniscient author sneaks in and we know what other characters are thinking or have experienced in the past. Present tense gives it a sense of immediacy—a report of what’s happening now. We are in this together with Shelby. We want to know who is her secret “angel.” We want to make sure she’s going to be okay, that she will eventually heal and regain her sense of self.

While this may sound like a dark, depressing story, it’s not. Nor is it predictable. Shelby is a good person caught in a dark place, but she also has spunk and attitude and a desire to keep things real. At the same time, she’s believable and vulnerable, and a character you will think about after the last page has been turned.

Grandma gives Faithful five stars. 5 stars

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

This book is available for pre-order with release scheduled for November 1, 2016.

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