Blood & Water

Blood&Water

Blood & Water by Katie O’Rourke (Women’s Contemporary Fiction)

Once again Katie O’Rourke (Finding Charlie) has filled a book with real people, this time a single dad, the estranged younger sister who suddenly shows up in his life, a young wife struggling with multi-generational family issues, and a seemingly mismatched couple — he’s an adventure-loving motorcyclist and she’s confined to a wheelchair. All are connected in some way, and each has a story to tell, but their stories aren’t always what we think they will be.

O’Rourke has a talent for putting believable characters in real-life situations. They see things through their own lenses, make regrettable mistakes, have knee-jerk reactions, and are plagued by self-doubt. Family relationships, past or present, may not be the best, but nothing is cliched. People remain unpredictable, and what you believe is going to happen may be way off base.

This is a well-rounded story told from multiple points of view in alternating chapters, each revealing new facets of that specific narrator’s life as well as the lives and backstories of the other characters. O’Rourke’s references to current politics give the book a sense of timeliness without being overdone or distracting. We believe this is her best yet and look forward to more.

Grandma gives Blood & Water four and a half stars. 4.5 stars

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

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Leave No Trace

Leave No Trace

Leave No Trace by Mindy Mejia (Suspense)

Mindy Mejia (Everything You Want Me to Be) is a master at creating people you can see, feel, and touch. You understand where they’re coming from. You care about them. When the two main characters are both social outcasts as they are in Leave No Trace, it’s even better. Now you really want them to succeed.

Maya, a newly graduated speech therapist with a rocky past, is assigned to the case of Lucas, a nineteen-year-old patient in a mental hospital. Ten years before, he and his widowed dad disappeared into the Minnesota wilderness known as the Boundary Waters. They were assumed dead until Lucas broke into an outfitter’s store and was captured.

Now Maya is tasked with getting Lucas to communicate with her about where he and his father went and why. The death of a landlady occurred just before they disappeared, and the father is a prime suspect. But a bond has formed between Maya and Lucas, and Maya is torn between betraying Lucas’s trust or betraying the mentor who has seen her through thick and thin.

A strong sense of place pervades this novel. The author transports us to Duluth, Minnesota, and the Boundary Waters. We feel the draw the glacial lakes have on Lucas, and we find that Maya herself is no stranger to the outdoor life. She’s also extremely knowledgeable about the geology of the area, as that was the professional interest of the mother who deserted Maya and her father and left Maya with only a few precious agates to remember her by. All of it works together brilliantly to make an absorbing book that was impossible to put down. An unexpected twist near the end was just frosting on a well-constructed cake.

Grandma gives Leave No Trace five stars. 5 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free ARC from the publisher via NetGalley with a request for an honest review.

Leave No Trace will be released on September 4, 2018, and is available for pre-order.

Baby Teeth

Baby Teeth

Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage (Psychological Suspense)

When I started this book, I wasn’t sure I would finish it. Seven-year-old Hanna is not only unlikable, she’s terrifying. A tiny psychopathic manipulator, her goal is to get rid of her mother so she can have her father all to herself.

The mother, Suzette, appears to be a shallow upper class matron struggling to keep face while her daughter exhibits bizarre and sometimes violent behavior in public. The father, a successful businessman who is away a lot, knows Hanna only as a sweet, innocent child who adores him. He refuses to believe that she’s capable of the nastiness attributed to her by her mother and what he considers to be inept headmasters of private schools that keep expelling Hanna.

Before long, however, the personalities and backstories of Suzette and Hanna blossom as each narrates the tale in alternating chapters. Hanna becomes more terrifying, but Suzette is now someone I can care about. I found myself enthralled by Hanna’s resourcefulness as she gleefully tormented her mother in accelerated attacks. Meanwhile, the father begins to witness injuries and destruction that he cannot ignore.

The author does a great job of fleshing out the characters, including a child therapist who does her best to help the family cope with Hanna’s aberrant behavior. Hanna’s child side comes through as she gives snide names to adults like “Brown Teeth” and “Mrs. Stinky Breath.”

Suzette’s repeated navel-gazing regarding how she may have messed up as a mother became somewhat redundant at times, but not terribly. My one complaint is that the ending left everything hanging. Sometimes, you just want to know that the people you care about are going to be safe.

Grandma gives Baby Teeth four stars. 4 stars

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

Lies

Lies

Lies by T.M. Logan (Suspense)

Lies starts out strong. Joe Lynch suspects his wife is having an affair with Ben, a married friend with whom they socialize as couples. He confronts Ben in a hotel parking lot, they get into a fight, and he knocks Ben unconscious, possibly worse. Meanwhile, his own little boy is having an asthma attack in Joe’s car, and Joe must leave the scene if he’s going to save his son’s life. When he returns, Ben is gone and so is Joe’s phone, which he dropped during the scuffle. Things go downhill from there.

Unfortunately, the strong beginning and initial tension were not sustained. Plenty of unexplained things happen, the plot moves right along, but I still found myself putting the book down, sometimes for days at a time, without any longing to get back to the story. Although I was curious as to what was going on, I was never gripped with a need to keep reading in order to find out. Perhaps it was because I had no sympathy for any of the characters except Joe’s little boy.

If there were clues to what was going on, I missed them. Instead, I felt totally sideswiped by the ending. It seemed contrived to me, highly unlikely. On the other hand, I couldn’t really identify with any of the adults, and so it’s possible that their behaviors in this case were plausible; I just don’t think I know anyone who would go so over the top for the reasons given.

Grandma gives Lies three stars. 3 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy from the publisher via NetGalley with a request for an honest review.

 

Jar of Hearts

Jar of Hearts

Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier (Thriller)

Thirty-year-old corporate executive Georgina Shaw is going to prison. Fourteen years ago, her best friend, Angela Wong, disappeared. But Angela’s remains have been found in a shallow grave, and while Georgina didn’t kill Angela, she knew what happened to her high school friend and never told anyone. Now she has plea-bargained a five year sentence in return for testifying against the killer.

But there are additional, gruesome details that Georgina continues to hide, and when she’s about to be released from prison, copy-cat murders — albeit with a twist — begin to occur. Somebody knows Georgina’s secrets, and that person is coming for her.

I read this book in a single day. Everything about it held my interest — the characters, the fast-paced storytelling, the suspense, the writing style. The arresting officer’s unrequited high school crush on Georgina and his current involvement in investigating the new homicides add depth and intrigue to the story, while the author deftly reveals just enough clues to let the reader have the satisfaction of starting to figure it all out.

Grandma gives Jar of Hearts five stars. 5 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley with a request for an honest review.

 

 

The Subway Girls

The Subway Girls

The Subway Girls by Susie Orman Schnall (Historical Fiction)

The lives and career ambitions of two young women — one in 1949 and one in 2018 — intersect in this timely novel that seeks to show how much and how little has changed for women over a span of almost seventy years.

From 1941 to 1976, the New York City subway system held a beauty contest called Miss Subways. Placards featuring the individual winners adorned the subway trains, each young woman getting her fleeting moment of glamor and fame for a month. For Charlotte in 1949, the contest offered an escape from her father’s heavy-handed control of her future, as well as a possible break into the male world of advertising as a career. In 2018, Olivia faces cutthroat male co-workers in her New York City advertising firm as she makes a last-ditch effort to land an important contract with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

We follow each young woman in her own era in alternating chapters. Although there are a few surprises, I found much of it predictable and some of the coincidences a bit much. I felt like Olivia made some poor choices for a supposedly savvy businesswoman, and the conclusion was less than satisfying. Still, it is an interesting read for the historical aspects and a look at life in NYC, both post-World War II and present day.

Grandma gives The Subway Girls three stars. 3 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews Books received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley with a request for an honest review.

The Subway Girls will be released on July 10, 2018, and is available for pre-order.

South of Main Street

South of Main Street

South of Main Street by Robert Gately (Contemporary Fiction)

In the fictitious town of Coalsville, Pennsylvania, Main Street divides the “haves” from the “have-nots.” The wealthy, like recently widowed Henry Wolff, live north of Main Street. But Henry is not your typical rich guy. The money came from his wife, and now his younger daughter wants him declared incapable of handling his own affairs in order to keep him from squandering her inheritance.

While this may sound like a dire novel of family feuding, it’s actually more of a Forrest Gump-like story. Henry suffers from a form of post-war PTSD that has him acting childish. His is a simple view of life that he shares with the troubled people he meets, including a boy with an absent mother and abusive father, a young female drug addict, and two homeless people. We watch him interact with people from both sides of Main Street in ways that are wise and compassionate but can be misconstrued as incompetent, if that is one’s goal. Fortunately for Henry, his elder daughter is willing to take on her sister in court.

This is a relatively slow-going book with a predictable ending, but that doesn’t stop it from being a worthwhile, feel-good read. It does contain some minor mistakes that would benefit from a good editing, such as the occasional change in tense from past to present and use of a wrong word. But overall, Robert Gately tells a good uplifting story.

Grandma gives South of Main Street three and a half stars. 3.5 stars

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