False River

False River

False River by H.G. Reed (Fantasy/Paranormal)

Joe Lawson has sold his soul to the devil, who takes on human form as a seductive young woman known as Ellie May. Joe did so out of love ten years ago, to save the life of his wife-to-be, Catherine, and now Ellie May is back. She has a new, terrible demand he dare not refuse if he hopes to protect Catherine and their young daughter, Madeline.

What Joe doesn’t know is that his town is full of Others — angels and archangels who are aware of his predicament and there to help, if only he will ask. Once he does, angels and demons take up sides to do battle in his front yard, with the fate of Joe’s family riding on the outcome.

Having read the excellent archangel novel Fall From Grace by J. Edward Ritchie, I was intrigued with the premise of this one. The execution, however, was a disappointment.

Joe Lawson is a pretty tedious guy. He can’t really feel love without a soul, and so he hasn’t been a great husband or dad. The family farm — an apple orchard, of course — is dying in the throes of a drought, and he has given up hope of holding on much longer. He mulls over his desperate situation again and again, paralyzed by his lousy luck, making no progress whatsoever. Meanwhile, Catherine is not a sympathetic character; we never see her as anything other than angry at Joe. The archangels have their moments, but overall — with the exception of Gabriel and a brief cameo by an unlikeable Michael — they are pretty flat. The one lively, well-rounded character is the devil, Ellie May. She’s witty and unerringly evil. She knows why she hates mankind, and she is the one character we truly understand.

There’s inference that Madeline’s existence holds something akin to messianic importance for the future, but that is never explained. A sequel in the making, perhaps? Overall, with more inspired writing and the injection of a personality for Joe, this could have been a fun read, but mostly I was counting the pages until it ended.

Grandma gives False River three stars. 3 stars

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

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We Own the Sky

We own the Sky

We Own the Sky by Sara Crawford (Fantasy/Paranormal)

Although this isn’t classified as Young Adult, the 16-year-old protagonist, Sylvia, her personal demons, and her knowledge of contemporary music make this an interesting, although sometimes dark, read for fans of Young Adult fiction.

Sylvia comes from a dysfunctional family, suffers from depression, and has been institutionalized for attempted suicide — facts that estrange her from most of the kids in her Marietta, Georgia, high school. She questions her own sanity because of the “flickering people” only she can see, including a handsome guy who keeps showing up whenever she is singing or playing an instrument. In time, she comes to realize that all of the flickering people hover around artists and that they are Muses — not the classic Greek ones, but Earthly Muses, deceased human artists given the opportunity to inspire others.

It’s a fun concept, and for a while it’s a pleasure to watch Sylvia’s life improve as she and her Muse, Vincent, interact, giving Sylvia a new lease on life and a chance to excel at what she loves — writing and performing music. However, some of the classic Greek Muses don’t agree with the concept of Earthly Muses and plot to put an end to their existence.

This is Book One in The Muse Chronicles, and as such it ends with a major cliffhanger that leaves one feeling abandoned. I also found her father’s ultimate reaction to her behavior hard to accept as reasonable, but to say more would give away too much. Overall, however, it’s a worthwhile read, as long as you’re ready for some dark moments without resolution until Book Two.

Bella gives We Own the Sky four stars. 4 stars

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

The Broken Girls

The Broken Girls

The Broken Girls by Simone St. James (Paranormal, Mystery)

The girls referred to in the title of this book have been sent to Idlewild Hall, a creepy, second-rate boarding school in a small Vermont town. They are the girls no one knows what to do with – hard to handle, illegitimate, or simply unwanted. Built in 1919, the school is rumored to be haunted, and the girls who live in this dreadful place over the years pass along stories of Mary Hand, the resident ghost. Even after the school is closed in the 1970s, the abandoned buildings continue to throw a chilling pall over the town and its inhabitants.

In 2014 Fiona Sheridan, a local journalist, has her own reasons for hating Idlewild Hall. Twenty years ago, her older sister was murdered and her body was dumped in the abandoned school’s playing field. Now the place has been purchased and is about to be restored, and Fiona uses the potential story as cover to feed her obsession with the property and its history. She is on the grounds the day a shocking discovery is made, and soon she is delving into more than she bargained for.

The novel follows two different timelines – Fiona in 2014 and four Idlewild Hall girls in 1950. We get the points of view of all five characters in alternating chapters, and before long their stories begin to intertwine. Each 1950s Idlewild girl has a unique backstory, and when one of them goes missing, her friends must fight to have authorities take her disappearance seriously. That disappearance, along with sightings of Mary Hand, will affect Fiona, as well.

The author has created an eerie setting populated with characters we come to care about. I thoroughly enjoyed her writing style and found her dialogue to be exceptionally true to how people speak. The story itself is a gentle inclusion of paranormal with mystery, suspense, and historical fiction, and the ending satisfyingly answers the questions raised throughout the book.

Grandma gives The Broken Girls 4.5 stars. 4.5 stars

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

The Broken Girls will be released by the publisher on March 20, 2018 and is available for pre-order.

Sleep, Savannah, Sleep

Sleep Savannah Sleep

Sleep, Savannah, Sleep by Alistair Cross (Paranormal Mystery)

Sleep, Savannah, Sleep is a real treat: well-written, engaging, with a smart, appealing main character who has experiences that are just creepy enough to be on the edge of possible. Jason Crandall, mid-thirties and newly widowed, moves his two children – a belligerent teen and a sweet little seven-year-old – to a new town. He meets seemingly well-meaning people as well as a troubled young woman, a scary neighbor, and some sinister townsfolk. When the young woman goes missing, Jason starts experiencing night terrors, hallucinations, and visions. Before long, the reader isn’t sure which of his new acquaintances Jason should be trusting.

This is a paranormal murder mystery with a number of twists and an unexpected murderer. The paranormal aspects build tension without being unnecessarily horrifying, a feature I appreciated. The book’s main appeal, however, was a likeable protagonist I quickly came to care about. Jason has a sense of humor. He makes mistakes. He misses his deceased wife, but he doesn’t dwell on it. He finds himself attracted to women he meets and is conflicted by it. He struggles with fathering a rebellious son and a little girl who needs mothering, and all the while he’s seeing disturbing things that are scaring the crap out of him.

I enjoyed the author’s similes – “Brent’s jaw dropped open like a glove box” – except for his repeated references to a leathery voice. Try as I might, I could not make the connection between a voice and something tactile, visual, and possibly olfactory, but, in my experience at least, basically soundless. Nit-picky, I know, but each time it came up, it took me out of the story. That and one of my pet peeves: one does not “try and” do something, one “tries to” do it. This book was too well edited and proofread to allow that. That said, I plan to read Alistair Cross’s other novels. I’m hooked.

Grandma gives Sleep, Savannah, Sleep five stars. 5 stars

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

Sleep, Savannah, Sleep will be released on September 25, 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.

Between Dreams

between-dreams

Between Dreams by Cynthia Austin (Paranormal fantasy)

We do not normally publish a review that is less than three stars. Instead, we connect with the author and let him or her know why we cannot give the book a better review. However, this book is getting some high star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, meaning that it appeals to a certain group of readers, if not to us. Because our two stars mean “We are not enthusiastic, but you may be,” we are taking this opportunity to explain our rating and to let readers decide for themselves if they find our concerns relevant to them.

The description was promising: Sidney Sinclair was living the dream of any eighteen year-old girl… A handsome rock star boyfriend, a closet full of designer clothes, a limousine service at her beck and call, and a mansion in the hills of Los Angeles. Even with all that glamour and excitement at her fingertips, she still feels as if she’s been missing something in her life so she decides to leave. While trying her best to put her dysfunctional romantic relationship aside and tend to her beloved Granny, Sidney unexpectedly stumbles upon an intriguing emerald pendant boxed away in her grandmother’s closet. Soon she learns it once belonged to her long-lost mother who committed suicide when she was just a baby. Suddenly feeling emotionally connected to the woman who had birthed her, Sidney begins to wear the necklace. This sends her on a whirlwind journey that alternates between fantasy and reality… Almost immediately, she starts having dreams linked to the mysterious pendant. As danger begins to seep into her life, Sidney refuses to remove the necklace and instead documents each dream to help her further understand them. However, she soon begins to wonder if they are dreams meant to bond her to a mother whom she never knew? Or a subconscious warning that threatens her very life?

Unfortunately, we found the story itself to lack the promised intrigue. Instead, we found ourselves skimming the last half, hoping something would happen. The rock star boyfriend (Ray) is a cliche, and the “beloved Granny” is a device to give Sidney a reason to leave Ray, go home, and find the pendant. Granny is in a coma, and Sidney doesn’t “tend to” her at all; she hires a nurse and goes back to her old grocery clerk job and her friends. Perhaps Granny is being kept alive in the book so she can come out of her coma for a happy ending in a future installment, but so far, she has no presence whatsoever.

Ray floats in and out of Sid’s life, claiming he cares but apparently bedding other women, and she keeps taking him back because he’s her true love, for whatever reason. At the same time, she’s having dreams about a green-eyed man and then meets him at the grocery store and again at a bar, and of course, he’s unbelievably handsome and sexy and she’s torn between him and Ray. Still nothing happens, but we know she’s conflicted. She also rants about religion and the Catholic church, which does nothing to move the story along, and just feels like venting by the author.

What cinches the two-star rating for us are two things: dreams related in detail and an out-of-the-blue cliffhanger ending dropped like a bomb.

Dreams are dreams, not reality; if they are not what’s actually happening to the main characters, they can feel superfluous, even when they’re meant to  portend doom. They’re still only imagination until something actually happens, and too many of them, related in detail, hold back the action and become ho-hum reading at best, boring at worst.

Cliffhanger endings work for a TV series; in fact, they have become obligatory. They should not happen in a novel, however, as an abrupt ending that just comes out of nowhere and stops the action (or lack thereof) cold. Yes, the ending is a jaw-dropper, but that’s not a good thing when it makes you think, “Where did that come from?  Are you serious?”

If we are expected to pick up Book Two in the Pendant series, it’s going to take some build-up to a new crisis in the making, not something that blindsides us. Think of a series like The Hunger Games or Divergent or Twilight. Each book in the series stands alone, with a story arc that is complete and satisfying and makes you want to stick with the characters because you’ve seen them grow and change, and their welfare has become important to you. You care about them as people, and you want to know what comes next. That’s not happening here. At least not for us.

We give Between Dreams two stars. 2-stars

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

 

 

 

The Raven Bride (Short Story)

The Raven Bride

The Raven Bride by Sean Fesko (Short Story, Historical Fiction/Paranormal)

We agreed to review The Raven Bride after being approached by the author, even though we don’t normally do short stories. The era and setting is that of the Salem witch trials, a topic that interested us. The description asks the question, “What do you do when the ones that should save you are the ones that accuse you?” As you might guess, you can’t do much.

The year is 1692, and sixteen-year-old Victoria Crowe lives with her mother and little sister just north of Salem, Massachusetts. Her father passed away earlier in the year, leaving the women to survive on their own. The church helps out when it can, but then, one night while their mother is out of the house, the local deputies come to arrest Victoria and her little sister as witches. Will Victoria be able to convince the town that they are not evil?

While Mr. Fesko characterized this as paranormal fiction, I found it to be more along the lines of historical fiction in that it does a good job of entering the mind of an innocent accused of witchcraft in a turbulent time in Colonial history. On the other hand, everything happens so quickly, there is little time to contemplate the fate of Victoria and her family, leaving me feeling somewhat cheated out of what could have been a longer, more intense experience if he had simply turned it into a novella. The paranormal part comes later, and I won’t attempt to explain it here in order to avoid spoilers.

The writing is well done to a point, but there are jarring inconsistencies of language and word usage that took me right out of the story. Victoria is the narrator, and while most of the time she speaks in a somewhat inaccurate, but obviously intended to be, Olde English style, she occasionally throws in modern phrases like “Good job!” or “I lost it” meaning she lost control of her emotions. A few “haths” or “thous” do not Olde English make, and that aspect of the storytelling could have been done much better.

This is a quick read, and it leaves one thinking about good and evil and their origins.

Grandma gives The Raven Bride three stars. 3 stars

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

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