Evelyn, After

evelyn-after

Evelyn, After by Victoria Helen Stone (Women’s Contemporary Fiction)

As one of its Kindle First choices for the month of October, Amazon describes this book as psychological suspense involving a scorned wife’s obsession with the other woman, but I disagree. Although the initial chapters provide a promising introduction to the possibilities of how Evelyn, the wife, might seek revenge on her husband and his lover, Juliette, the book is not a thriller. Presented with a complex dilemma involving right and wrong, Evelyn’s primary concern is how the community will view her and her family if the truth comes out. While that might trigger evil, vengeful behavior in a more mean-spirited woman, Evelyn has become complacent over the years. She chooses, instead, to spy on Juliette and falls for Juliette’s husband. At that point things just get messy rather than suspenseful.

Victoria Helen Stone is the pen-name of Victoria Dahl, a popular romance writer, and this is her first book outside the romance genre. Elements of romance and explicit sex scenes exist in this book, but she also does a good job of capturing the fears, confusion, pain, and disillusionment experienced by a woman who is the victim of an unfaithful husband. Evelyn’s self-esteem is non-existent, and she’s extremely vulnerable. Her obsession with Juliette is believable; she needs to know what about this woman could make her psychiatrist husband risk his career, their marriage, their home, and the welfare of their teen-aged son.

The book is written in the third person from Evelyn’s point of view, and the chapters alternate between “Before” and “After” the pivotal event of meeting Juliette’s husband. The backstory told in “Before” chapters slowly illuminates how and why she goes to his art gallery, while the “After” chapters show the consequences of that fateful visit. Unfortunately, the final chapter, called “Now,” is an info-dump that quickly summarizes everything that happens in the weeks after the close of the previous chapter, as though the author just tired of the whole thing, and rather than continue telling the story, she wrapped it up with a “Where is Evelyn Now and How Did She Get There?” conclusion.

Grandma gives Evelyn, After four stars. 4 stars

 

Unfolding

Unfolding

Unfolding by Jonathan Friesen (Young Adult Fiction)

The cover of this book did not grab me, but the story sure did. It’s a well-written, gripping novel that kept me reading to find out how it all would, well, unfold.

Jonah is a high school senior who suffers from both a severe, body-twisting case of scoliosis and from epileptic seizures of ever-increasing intensity. His self-deprecating sense of humor helps him make it through life and also makes him a captivating narrator as he tells this tale of the secrets hidden in his hometown of Gullary, Oklahoma.

Much of what happens centers around Jonah’s eighteen-year-old next-door neighbor and love interest, Stormi, who was literally dropped into Gullary as an infant by a tornado. Stormi senses things before they happen, which makes her highly suspect in a small town that already considers her to be “unnatural,” and when a tragedy occurs, the townspeople blame her. Jonah’s love for Stormi — and his ability to protect her — are put to the test as things heat up.

I found it refreshing to read about a hero who wasn’t a paragon of physical perfection. His seizures occur at inopportune times, his twisted young body is an embarrassment, and yet he perseveres. His friend Arthur displays autistic tendencies that make it impossible for him to be dishonest, but also result in some creative problem-solving. The story has a few sinister characters, some mystery, some tragedy, and plenty of interesting plot twists that held me captive. I could feel the dry, gritty heat of summer in Oklahoma and feel the creepiness of the town’s abandoned maximum security prison that also plays a part in the story. At the same time, Jonah’s optimistic approach to life and his sense of humor kept the narration light enough to be enjoyable and full of hope.

Grandma gives Unfolding five stars. 5 stars

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

Unfolding is scheduled for release on January 1, 2017, and is available only on pre-order.

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How to Keep Rolling After a Fall

How to Keep Rolling

How to Keep Rolling After a Fall by Karole Cozzo (Young Adult)

Wow. This book grabbed me from page one and didn’t let go. It immediately sets the stage: Nikki, the seventeen-year-old narrator, is volunteering in a rehab center, fulfilling a community service requirement after being accused of cyber-bullying. Although others were involved, the incident has turned her into a pariah in her small New Jersey town. She has lost all of her privileges at home, her parents barely acknowledge her, and her friends have abandoned her. In her senior year, she’s forced to go to a new high school after being expelled from the one where she was a cheerleader, an accomplished stage performer, and one of the most popular girls in her class. Notoriety dogs her; once strangers realize who she is, they reject her, adding to the terrible loneliness that has become her norm.

Except for Pax. Matthew Paxton is an attractive, athletic young man close to her age who comes to the rehab center to play wheelchair rugby. An automobile accident two years before has left him paralyzed from the chest down. When he attempts to befriend her, she tells him her story up front—no use prolonging the inevitable rejection, she thinks. Instead he says he believes in fresh starts, and for the first time in a long time, she has a friend. But then, that’s how he insists they keep it—strictly friends—in spite of a growing mutual romantic attraction.

While this story could have descended into darkness or a pity party, it never did. Nikki’s narration is full of personality that made me like her immediately and care about her future. Pax is a survivor with just the right amount of vulnerability to keep him from being a cliché. Their dialogue rings true, and Nikki’s priorities are realistic for her age while showing real growth by the end of the novel. I believe young adult readers, as well as adults in general, will find these characters engaging and the book hard to put down.

Grandma gives How to Keep Rolling After a Fall five stars. 5 stars

Potty-mouth Index: MINOR

Bella Reads and Reviews received How to Keep Rolling After a Fall from the publisher as an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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I’m Not Her

I'm Not Her

I’m Not Her by Cara Sue Achterberg (Science Fiction & Fantasy)

I’m Not Her is a body-swap story, which makes it a combination of fascinating and terrifying. What would it be like to suddenly “be” someone else—to live in that person’s body instead of your own and to have to be her, day in and day out, for better or for worse?

Carin is an attractive, spoiled, well-heeled young woman who looks down her aristocratic nose at Leann, the morbidly obese young cashier at the local grocery store. Leann leads a tough, impoverished life, and she has no use for the skinny, snotty Carin who buys organic food and puts on airs. When an accident in the checkout lane causes the two women to swap bodies and identities, but maintain their own personalities, the adventure for both of them begins.

Some of it is predictable. Carin learns what it’s like to be shunned because of her physical appearance, and she comes face-to-face with the realities of survival at the bottom of the social ladder. Leann, meanwhile, finds that possessing good looks and money is no guarantee of eternal happiness. Their lives are further complicated by Leann’s precocious and lovable five-year-old son, Trevor, whom Carin in her new role comes to love and wants to nurture and protect, while Leann realizes she cannot live without him and must get him back, even if she no longer looks like the mother he loves. Leann’s low-life husband provides added tension and danger to Carin’s new life and Trevor’s safety.

Both Carin and Leann take turns narrating their experiences as they attempt to negotiate the lives and relationships of their new identities. The author does a good job of giving each her own distinct voice and personality, which they maintain throughout the book even as we watch them grow and change within their awkward circumstances. Meanwhile, Carin’s family and friends must cope with her new honesty unfettered by fake niceties, while Leann’s abusive husband finds his wife’s not so submissive anymore.

My one complaint is the ending, which leaves a bunch of loose ends and implies a future that feels a little too simple after such major upheavals for both women and their acquaintances. But since the entire thing is a fantasy, suspension of disbelief and assumption of a rosy future may not be all that much to ask.

Grandma gives I’m Not Her four stars. 4 stars

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

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Eleanor & Park

Eleanor and Park

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (Young Adult)

Grandma Says:

This book captured my interest from page one and held it all the way through to the very satisfying end. Eleanor and Park tell the story of their relationship in alternating segments, and their voices are distinct and believable. They each feel like a misfit in their teen-aged world — Park because he’s slightly built and half-Korean in a school full of large white guys, and Eleanor because she’s a chubby, freckled redhead from a terrifyingly dysfunctional family who quickly becomes the target of bullies in her new school.

Eleanor hides shabby second-hand clothes — and what she feels is her embarrassingly full body — beneath loose men’s shirts. At the same time, she flies her freak flag in defiance of everybody around her, decorating her unruly hair with fishing lures and tying men’s neckties around her wrists as accessories. Her home life breaks your heart, but she’s a survivor. She takes on the world when she needs to, but is a realist who also knows when to walk away.

Park is a quiet young man who buries himself in action comics, popular music, and taekwondo. He’s acutely aware of his Asian background, which he believes negatively influences his stature and his facial features, and he does not realize how appealing he really is. His family is strong and his home life secure, and he and Eleanor could not be more different from each other.

The relationship between them develops slowly and carefully, fitting with their personal insecurities. And from the opening page, the reader knows that something is going to eventually keep them physically apart. The journey to find out how it all happens and how they will cope with it has its dark moments but ultimately left me with hope for their individual futures.

Grandma gives Eleanor & Park five stars. 5 stars

Potty-mouth Index: HIGH but appropriate to character development and storyline.

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