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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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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The Thing Is

The Thing Is

The Thing Is by Kathleen Gerard (General Fiction)

Prozac is a spirit guide dog. He’s had multiple lives as different breeds of dogs and has even spent time with some famous people over the centuries. His purpose is to help humans solve their spiritual and emotional problems. His big dream, however, is to be the mongrel, Sandy, on stage in a Broadway production of Annie. When this story takes place, he is a cute little Yorkshire Terrier in modern times living a good life with an elderly lady named Helen. And let’s face it, who could resist that face?

Meredith could. She’s grieving the loss of her fiancé and after three years, can’t seem to get on with her life. Through no choice of her own, she ends up dogsitting Prozac when Helen has an accident, but she’s not happy about it. It becomes clear that Prozac’s role is to get her out of her funk and back to being a productive person.

The story is told from two points of view — Prozac’s and Meredith’s. The descriptions of Prozac’s behavior are very accurate if you know Yorkies, which we happen to have two of in our house. Meredith is kind of annoying at times, but that’s the point — she’s stuck in her grief and needs a push to get out. Much of the action involves people at a senior living facility, and there is some mystery and some excitement at the end.

I thought the author was very creative when Prozac would remember something helpful from his past life as an Eskimo dog or Cleopatra’s lapdog or whatever. He has a fun personality and is also a lot smarter than the average dog because of his experiences, but he still does all the dopey Yorkie things. This made the book fun to read even if the end was somewhat predictable.

Bella gives The Thing Is four stars. 4 stars

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

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Mercer Girls

MercerGirls

Mercer Girls by Libbie Hawker (Historical Fiction)

In 1864, Asa Mercer traveled from his home in Seattle to Lowell, Massachusetts, where he sought marriageable women of good character who would be willing to move to Washington Territory. Large numbers of men had migrated to this furthest frontier, but few women had done so, and the growing city needed the positive influence of “true women.” At the same time, lack of cotton due to the Civil War had silenced Lowell’s textile mills, impoverishing female mill workers as well as the families of mill owners.

Mercer Girls is a fictionalized account of three women who join Mercer’s group—Jo, Dovey, and Sophronia. Each has a different background, a different disposition, and a different reason for making the trip west. They endure hardship together and become fast friends as they travel from the East Coast to the West Coast, primarily by paddleboat with overland travel through Panama, and finally arrive in Seattle to a mixed reception from various levels of society. The book then follows them for the next seven years.

I found Mercer Girls to be an enjoyable read for the most part. The characters are well-developed, and I became invested in finding out their fates. For me, it bogged down a bit when the women’s suffrage movement and Susan Anthony’s appearance before the Washington legislature became the focus, but I stuck with it, and in the end the inclusion of suffrage was significant to the futures of the three women. The research conducted by the author is impressive, and the book is well-written. As one unfamiliar with the history of Seattle, it provided me with new knowledge, a welcome secondary benefit.

Grandma gives Mercer Girls four stars. 4 stars

The Two-Family House

Two-Family House

The Two-Family House by Lynda Cohen Loigman (General Fiction)

This book is the debut novel of a writer with great promise. I thoroughly enjoyed her writing style, and I found the story she told to be engrossing.

In the midst of a blizzard, two babies are born on the same night in a two-family house in Brooklyn. The mothers are sisters-in-law whose families have lived, one above the other, for many years. Their husbands are brothers who co-own a business, and each family already has several children. The daily lives of both families have long been intertwined, and after that night they are even more intertwined than before. As the years progress, however, the once-deep friendship between the two women begins to unravel, and only they know why.

While the reader has most likely figured out why, the real story lies in how the decisions made on that snowy night will ultimately affect the lives of everyone in the two families. How much will be revealed and what will the two women take to their graves? If and when it is revealed, how will the truth change the family dynamics?

The most important characters were well-drawn so that I cared about them, and the behavioral and emotional changes that occurred over time — some for the better, some not — felt realistic and understandable. The story spans twenty-one years, beginning in 1947, and is split into five parts with significant gaps in between. This requires periodic summaries of what happened in the interval, which sometimes seemed too minimal, but I don’t really know how a story with that timeframe could have been done any differently without becoming a somewhat unwieldy multigenerational saga. I found the ending to be satisfying, achieving the best possible outcome under the circumstances, and I would recommend this book for both its story and how well it was written.

Grandma gives The Two-Family House four stars. 4 stars

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Dew Angels

Dew Angels

Dew Angels by Melanie Schwapp (General Fiction: Literary)

Dew Angels is an amazing book. I didn’t know what to expect when I chose this book from Net Galley, and I am so glad that it was there. The writing is superb, providing incredibly vivid pictures of a place I’ve never been and introducing me to a young woman whose story is all-absorbing.

Nola Chambers is a dark-skinned teenager born into a fair-skinned Jamaican family. As a result, she is verbally and physically abused by her father and shunned by those in her school and her village. A series of misunderstandings and tragic events separate her from those she loves and leave her believing that she is nothing but a source of shame, worthless and unlovable. Yet her personal strength and determination give her the courage to do remarkable things in the face of adversity and danger, keeping this reader engrossed right through to the very satisfying conclusion.

I learned volumes about Jamaican culture, botany, dialect, and lifestyles through Melanie Schwapp’s rich use of language, while being fully engrossed in Nola’s story. And I was left with an uplifting sense of hope at the end, a wonderful way to finally go to sleep after reading this book late into the night.

Grandma gives Dew Angels five stars. 5 stars

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

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