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.

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The Blackbird Season

The Blackbird Season

The Blackbird Season by Kate Moretti (Suspense)

In The Blackbird Season, Kate Moretti gives us front-row seats to a drama about marriage, fidelity, teacher-student relationships, and the complicated interactions among peers in a small town, be they teenagers or adults. In typical Moretti fashion, she provides complex, nuanced characters whom we get to know well and whose flaws make them all the more real and relatable.

Alecia and Nate already have a stressful marriage. Her days are totally consumed by her obsession with their  autistic five-year-old, while Nate is closely – some might say excessively – involved with the high school students he teaches and coaches. When one of the students claims that she and Nate are having an affair, things begin to fall apart, and when the girl disappears altogether, it gets worse.

The story is told from the points of view of four different characters, and the timeline jumps back and forth, providing backstory at some points and current story at others, which I found potentially confusing at first. I thoroughly enjoy Moretti’s writing style, however. Her descriptions bring people and places alive, immersing the reader in each character’s experience, and her pacing keeps one engaged.

While this book is categorized as suspense based on the girl’s disappearance and the question of who is responsible, it’s really more of a study of the complexities, expectations, and disappointments of personal relationships. It also does a good job of exploring the tragic outcomes that can result from the loss of a small town’s main source of employment – in this case the local paper mill that once meant prosperity but now sits in ruin, abandoned and dangerous. The whodunit aspect takes a back seat to finding out how the main characters will fare when all is said and done.

Grandma gives The Blackbird Season five stars. 5 stars

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

The Blackbird Season will be released on September 26, 2017, and is available for pre-order.

The Sweet Oil of Vitriol

The Sweet Oil of Vitriol

The Sweet Oil of Vitriol by Daniel Eagleton (Suspense)

If you need a protagonist you will like and empathize with, this book is not for you. Tom Glaze is a failed Mossad agent who drinks too much, uses cocaine, fantasizes about every attractive woman he meets, and makes some poor decisions on the job and in his personal life. He is definitely not your usual hero type, and that made him interesting to me, although a sense of humor or some other endearing characteristic would have made him more palatable. I didn’t like him, but I still wanted to know if and how he was going to pull off a planned hit on a crooked international politician.

Eagleton’s writing style takes some getting used to. At first I thought the lack of the pronoun “he” was a typo, but I soon learned that the author prefers to write in sentence fragments, describing the action in a series of phrases minus a stated subject. I am not opposed to an attempt at originality as long as the endeavor works, and once I came to accept the absence of pronouns, it did. Overall, I found the book well-written and well-edited, with a rare proofreading oversight like “she put his hand on his.”

This is the first book in “The Tom Glaze Series,” and it did a good job of wrapping up the current story while leaving plenty of room for more action to come. Perhaps, as Tom Glaze makes more of a name for himself in his chosen trade, he’ll rely less on booze and drugs and keep his distractions under control. At least one could hope so, and this reader would be willing to find out.

Grandma gives The Sweet Oil of Vitriol four stars. 4 stars

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

Forbidden

Forbidden

Forbidden by F. Stone (Suspense/Thriller)

This is a complex and fast-paced thriller with strong main characters — a female Canadian paramedic with a tragic past who suffers from severe bouts of PTSD and a devout Muslim police captain working in a Middle Eastern city where corruption makes it hard to know whom to trust. The massacre of fifteen American aid workers brings the paramedic and the captain together as reluctant allies when both become targets of a local governmental cover-up of the massacre. The arrival of an American CIA Agent bent on finding out who killed the American volunteers adds another layer of risk, as he believes the captain may have masterminded the whole thing. Despite their differences in background and outlook on life, the paramedic and the captain must work together to find the true perpetrator. Along the way they also (no surprise) find each other.

The author did a lot of research to ensure authenticity in her portrayal of the region and Islam, and her respect for her subject matter is evident. She also consulted with weapons experts, police officers, and cultural experts, and uses her own experience as a paramedic to bring authenticity to her characters’ actions. She does a good job of getting inside the heads of both a woman with heavy emotional issues and a disillusioned and unhappy man struggling with violating Sharia law while protecting that woman.

The story is set in the year 2047 — most likely to allow for creation of a new Middle Eastern entity known as the Republic of Islamic Provinces and Territories — but this is not a futuristic tale. Transportation, technology, medicine, etc. remain unchanged from 2017. Also somewhat incongruous is the fact that the paramedic is a “seer,” which pops up now and then, but has very little bearing on the story and, for me at least, compromised a character to whom I could otherwise easily relate.

My major complaint, however, is the book’s need for a good proofreader. While it did not detract from my overall enjoyment of the story, I did find many sentences that were missing articles (the, a, an) or prepositions. Punctuation was funky in places. More distracting were the occasional inappropriate or misused words, including “shoulder” where it should have said “soldier.” I had to read that one sentence more than once to make sure I wasn’t imagining it.

Normally, the issues named above would take an average story down to three stars, but I enjoyed the story itself a great deal and appreciate the author’s careful and extensive preparation to tell it.

Grandma gives Forbidden four stars. 4 stars

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

The Visitors

The Visitors

The Visitors by Catherine Burns (Literary Fiction, Thriller)

For all of her life, Marion has been the object of ridicule from her peers, her older brother, John, and her highly opinionated mother. Now a spinster in her 50s, she lives with John in the big old house where they grew up. Timid and out of touch with the world, she stays in the house and does her best not to irritate John. But John keeps “visitors” in the cellar, and while Marion manages to put them out of her mind most of the time, she can’t ignore them forever, especially when John becomes disabled and she’s the one who must take care of them.

This debut novel is less of a thriller and more of a chilling character study, with its creepiness coming from the fact that basically “invisible” people like Marion and John could be your neighbors just down the block. I was immediately drawn into Marion’s world where her dead mother’s haughty voice continues to regale her with judgmental observations, and strangers who show Marion the most basic kindness populate her daydreams of having normal relationships and a meaningful life. Then there are the occasional references to the visitors in the cellar, the backward glances at pivotal incidents in her painful childhood, and her daily ups and downs as the slovenly, not-so-bright woman living in the decrepit mansion with her creepy bachelor brother. Together they add up to a story that brings Marion to life. I came to like her and feel for her and couldn’t help but wonder how she would cope with the visitors in the cellar, when that time came.

The reader sees everything through Marion’s eyes and Marion’s way of thinking, and it’s a fascinating journey. While what’s going on in the cellar may seem potentially off-putting, it’s handled well and does not become the focus of the tale. Instead, we’re with Marion as she melds her past and present in an effort to create her own future. And, of course, to take care of the visitors.

Grandma gives The Visitors five stars. 5 stars

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

The Visitors will be released on September 26, 2017, and is available for pre-order.

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.