Maya: Thirty-Five Years & Three Continents in the Remarkable Life of Maya Sian

Maya

Maya: Thirty-Five Years & Three Continents in the Remarkable Life of Maya Sian
by Teren Hanz (Non-fiction)

I love it when a book combines a riveting story with immersion in another culture. Dew Angels was that sort of book, and so is Maya.

This true story begins with nineteen-year-old Maya, born and raised in India, attending college in the 1970s, working toward her dream of independence and self-sufficiency. Her parents, however, are traditional Sikhs, and when the opportunity for an arranged marriage suddenly presents itself, they commit her to an older man totally unknown to them or Maya. The marriage takes place within a week, giving neither her family nor Maya time to learn anything about the man, who is not the person they have been led to believe he is. What follows for her are years of psychological abuse and isolation in a dysfunctional marriage, life-threatening illnesses, and three children who are basically ignored by their maniacal father, even when their welfare is at stake.

What sustains her throughout is her own strength of character, her belief system, and her sense of duty. Eventually, she realizes that her husband will never change, and only she can make the decision to change the course of her life and the lives of her children. For a woman in her culture and circumstance, breaking with tradition takes incredible courage and is not without risk, but she finds the strength to do so. The last chapters of the book are her take on finding the power within and achieving inner peace in the face of tremendous adversity.

Grandma gives Maya five stars. 5 stars

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

Everything We Left Behind

Everything We Left Behind

Everything We Left Behind by Kerry Lonsdale (Suspense)

This is book two in a series that began with Everything We Keep. Unlike the first book, which was told from the perspective of Aimee, a young woman whose fiancé, James, was buried on what should have been their wedding day, this book is told from the perspectives of James and his alter-ego, Carlos, the personality who “replaced” James for six years due to a mental condition caused by trauma.

In book one, Aimee discovered that James was alive and well and living in Mexico as Carlos, with no memory of his pre-Carlos existence. In book two, the story-telling involves a re-emerged James in present day alternating with flashbacks to Carlos in the past and James in the past. Aimee makes a tiny appearance, but the focus is on present-day James’s angst over losing her, losing six years of his life, and gaining two traumatized young sons who suddenly have a stranger for a dad when James resurfaces and Carlos disappears. Can James be the father he should be to two children he doesn’t know? Should he try to win Aimee back after all this time, or should he let her be and try to make a new life for himself and his sons?

As in the first book, we have to contend with James’s highly unlikeable biological family, including his incarcerated brother, Phil, who is the product of incest between their mother and her brother. James’s abusive father has died, but we learn details about his nastiness, and we find out more about older brother Thomas who choreographed James’s disappearance and hid his survival from those who loved him. We also have Claire, the mother who treated James badly as a child, but once she learned of his existence as Carlos, traveled to Mexico to surreptitiously look after him as the benevolent neighbor he and his sons called Senora Carla. Now that he’s James again, how will that relationship work out?

Had I published a review for Everything We Keep, I would have given it three stars. At times it seemed too far-fetched to take seriously, plus I found myself annoyed by repetitive descriptions and phrasing; if Aimee dipped her chin one more time, I was going to scream. Everything We Left Behind has improved in those areas. However, the constant flipping back and forth between personalities and time periods became overwhelming so that I began skimming to move things along and get to the conclusion. The conclusion, as one might expect, left openings for book three, including the out-of-the-blue reappearance of a book one character who didn’t make sense then and made even less sense now.

As long as they don’t mind Aimee’s absence, readers who loved Everything We Keep will probably love this book, as it continues the saga of James/Carlos and his sister-in-law and answers the question of what happened to James six years before. Readers with no prior knowledge of James’s and Aimee’s situation, however, may have a harder time finding this tale compelling or suspenseful.

Grandma gives Everything We Left Behind three stars. 3 stars

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

The Lying Game

The Lying Game

The Lying Game by Ruth Ware (Suspense)

This suspenseful novel was a page-turner, not only for the questions to be answered, but because I quickly learned to care about the characters, especially the narrator and her six-month-old daughter, a baby I could picture so vividly, I actually dreaded the possibility that I might have to read about her being endangered somehow.

The narrator, Isa, and her three best friends spent one year together as students at a second-rate British boarding school where telling lies became their chosen pastime. Eventually the four girls lost all credibility with peers and faculty and left the school in disgrace. Now, seventeen years later, past behaviors come back to haunt them after the discovery of human bones in a shallow grave near the school, and all of their futures are at risk.

Ruth Ware, author of In a Dark, Dark Wood and The Woman in Cabin 10, has created complex characters with believable relationships. Through backstory, we see how two relatively innocent fifteen-year-olds—Isa and Fatima—could be sucked into participating in what might have seemed like an okay game at the time. True to their natures, the two have gone on in adulthood to become professional women with families of their own. Kate and Thea, the originators of the “game,” have darker pasts and appear to be less successful as adults. All four value their mutual friendship, even though they have rarely seen one another in the past seventeen years. But once reunited in their old haunt, they find they are simultaneously reassured by each other’s presence but also less trusting of one another as individuals. The end result for me was less concern about who did what and more about how each of them would fare. That meant late nights up reading and, afterwards, an ending that I still think about.

Grandma gives The Lying Game five stars. 5 stars

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

The Lying Game will be released on July 25, 2017, and is available for pre-order.

A Gleam of Light

A Gleam of Light

A Gleam of Light by T.J. and M.L. Wolf   (Science Fiction)

For fans of Native American culture, UFOs, and government secrecy about unexplained phenomena, this book provides a look at the possibilities linking ancient civilizations and the extraterrestrial.

After ten years in Washington, D.C., a young Hopi woman reluctantly returns to the Arizona reservation on which she grew up. She comes at the request of old friends who believe she can help them stop a military operation that threatens sacred lands. Even though she has lost her own way following the deaths of her activist parents, she is familiar with all the old teachings and old ways, giving her the background necessary to understand and respect what possibly lies beneath the area known as Sacred Peaks. In addition, she herself experienced a UFO sighting as a child, the effects of which still linger in her mind.

The story is full of Hopi lore, interesting archeology information, and insights into extraterrestrial sightings, and while at times the dialogue feels like recitation of a research text, the plot is intriguing enough to keep reader interest. The emphasis is more on action and lore than on character development, and so emotional connection with characters is somewhat limited. Some head- hopping occurs, but it’s minor. Like most stories of its kind, it leaves the reader pondering what’s possible in our universe, what’s hidden from ordinary citizens, and what the future may hold for mankind.

The authors are a married couple with an interest in ancient alien theories, and they’ve done a good job of putting together a story worth reading. More character development could widen its audience.

Grandma gives A Gleam of Light three stars. 3 stars

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

The Antique House Murders

The Antique House Murders Cover

The Antique House Murders by Leslie Nagel (Cozy Mystery)

This is the second book in the Oakwood Mystery Series, the first being the entertaining The Book Club Murders which we reviewed in October, 2016. Amateur sleuth Charley Carpenter, the indomitable young owner of a vintage clothing shop, is back, this time intent on solving the murder of a friend during an apparent break-in and robbery gone wrong.

Tempers are flaring in Oakwood, Ohio. Plans to demolish an historic old mansion to make way for development are hotly contested, and folks in town are taking sides, sometimes with violent results. With her personal connection to the murder victim, Charley can’t stay out of the action, even though her snooping defies angry warnings from her police detective boyfriend and puts their relationship at risk.

Familiar friends from the first book are here, but we see less of them as Charley takes on more of a solo approach this time that gets her into plenty of trouble. There are enough twists and turns and potentially guilty people to keep the reader unsure of who the perpetrator might be right up to the end. The author does a good job of moving things along while providing an appropriate amount of description that puts us in close contact with the smells, sights, and sounds of the formerly elegant but now decrepit old house and all the secrets it holds. Charley, her long-suffering boyfriend, and her two best friends are likeable characters who keep things fun and interesting, and Book Two in the Oakwood Mystery Series does not disappoint.

Grandma gives The Antique House Murders 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 and participation in the post-release blog tour.

Hello, Sunshine

Hello Sunshine

Hello, Sunshine by Laura Dave   (Women’s Fiction)

Sunshine Mackenzie is a social media lifestyle guru whose fabricated life is coming apart. She has achieved and maintained her celebrity status by pulling the wool over the eyes of her adoring fans, and she is about to lose everything at the hands of an unknown truth-teller.

The directness with which Sunshine tells this very enjoyable story is ironic, considering the lies that have brought her to this point, and I quickly became her biggest fan, not for who she claimed to be but for who she must become — herself. What I appreciated most about this telling is how real it felt. No one is transformed overnight, and wronged friends and estranged family members don’t leap to forgive. We don’t know who has outed her, and there are lots of possibilities. And we don’t know who she will become next, because neither she nor the people around her are clichés.

The story moves right along, and the characters rise up off the page. I knew and understood her sister, I loved her niece, and I wanted to meet Chef Z for myself. I recognized the fair-weather friends, the co-workers who were quick to distance themselves, and the wronged individuals from her past who were reticent to trust her again. And I came to understand how someone could get so caught up in her own lies that she no longer knew who she was. Sunshine is the biggest victim of her own lies, and Laura Dave made me want to make sure that Sunshine would be okay.

Grandma gives Hello, Sunshine five stars. 5 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews Books received a free advanced reader copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Hello, Sunshine will be released by Simon & Schuster on July 11, 2017, and is available for pre-order.