The Frog Theory

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The Frog Theory by Fiona Mordaunt (General Fiction)

The title of this book refers to the theory that a frog put into boiling water will jump out, but if put into cold water slowly heated to a boil, will stay and be cooked to death. It is a metaphor for the inability to perceive danger and to react appropriately when a situation is getting worse little by little.

In this case, the frog is Clea, a girl from the wealthy side of London, who is being abused by her stepfather. The boy who makes her aware of what’s slowly happening is Kim, who lives in a housing project on the wrong side of town. Kim and his buddy Flow deal drugs, drink beer, and go to parties. We also follow The Principal, a woman who runs a school for problem teenagers. Kim becomes a student at her school, and the four main characters come together.

Eventually we realize that they are all frogs. Kim lives a pointless life and keeps making the same mistakes. Flow’s fiancé, Jackie, cheats on him, coming on to Kim and everybody else, but he defends her in spite of the evidence. The Principal was wronged by her former husband, but rather than telling her children the truth about their father, she told them he died and continuously feels guilty about it.

The book description calls this a laugh-out-loud story, but I found only the occasional snicker, usually provided by Flow. The one and only character whose fate I actually cared about was Clea. I found it hard to root for Kim, and The Principal was annoying. The “miracle” that happens to her felt completely out of context, a true WHAT THE HECK WAS THAT? moment for me. An epilogue does its best to wrap it all up into a neat package and provide a final surprise, but for me it fell flat.

Four-letter words aside, the use of the vernacular was interesting, as was the look at life on a different side of London.

Bella gives The Frog Theory three stars. 3 stars

Potty-mouth Index: HIGH   If you, the reader, are at all offended by use of the “f” word, the “c” word, and a few others of the same persuasion, this book will definitely offend.

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review and participation in the blog tour. For Fiona Mordaunt’s guest post go here.

Everything You Want Me to Be

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Everything You Want Me to Be by Mindy Mejia (Thriller)

High school senior Hattie Hoffman is the consummate actress, not only on stage but in real life. She has perfected being whoever each person in her life wants her to be – the adoring best friend content to play second fiddle, the conscientious honor-roll student every teacher loves, the compliant girlfriend of the dumber-than-dirt football jock. She knows exactly what she’s doing, and that’s what makes her such an enthralling character in this suspenseful thriller. Everything she does is carefully orchestrated, until the night she is murdered.

The setting is a small town in rural Minnesota, where farming families grow soy and cotton and everyone knows everyone else. County Sheriff Del Goodman is investigating Hattie’s death, a job complicated by the fact that her father is his fishing buddy and good friend. Peter Lund is the new English teacher at Hattie’s high school whose marriage is slowly dissolving. He reluctantly left the life he loved in Minneapolis to move to his ailing mother-in-law’s farm, and his unhappiness is driving a wedge between himself and his wife.

All three take turns narrating parts of the story. Del is a no-nonsense old-timer who doesn’t mince words; Hattie is hovering between childhood and adulthood, attempting to find her real self; and Peter is desperate for someone who appreciates and understands him. Del’s narration chronicles his investigation after the murder, while Hattie and Peter provide backstory leading up to her death, and each has a distinctive voice and perspective that works well to keep the reader engaged. The people we meet are people we recognize – flawed human beings showing honest emotions, overwhelmed by what’s happening around and to them, making understandable, if regrettable, mistakes – which makes it all the harder for the reader to be sure who the murderer really is. A well-written story with engaging characters you will care about and a finish that offers some hope for second chances.

Grandma gives Everything You Want Me to Be five stars.5 stars

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

The Impossible Fortress

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The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak (General Fiction)

Although this is classified as Adult General Fiction by the publisher, it is a coming-of-age story that could easily be Young Adult. The narrator is a fourteen-year-old boy in 1987, and his “impossible fortress” is both his homemade computer game and a fourteen-year-old girl.

Billy loves computer programming and he also loves TV’s Vanna White. When the latter appears on the cover of a Playboy magazine, Billy and his fellow underage buddies will go to extremes to get their own copies.Their elaborate plan is to break into the local typewriter repair shop that also sells magazines and newfangled home computers, which means they will need the security code. Billy makes friends with the owner’s daughter, Mary, in order to learn the code, not realizing that she’s a whiz at computer programming and a kindred spirit. As the attraction between them grows, he’s faced with a moral dilemma amidst increasing pressure from his friends to deliver the code. However, the story is more than the question of will he risk his budding romance for a magazine, and that makes it hard to discuss here without giving away too much.

For those who remember the 80s, Commodore 64s, or the “olden days” of early computer games, the author provides lots of authentic forays into popular music of the time and the awkwardness of early home computer technology. I thought it was over the top that the boys would undertake such a complicated plan to break and enter just for a magazine, but maybe fourteen-year-old boys are that desperate and that dumb or maybe it was more about the challenge of pulling it off. I also thought that Mary’s flirty programming notes to Billy seemed out of character once we learned her real situation. And, by telling us early on that Billy’s Impossible Fortress game didn’t win the competition, the author took away the tension of waiting to find out. Still, the book was enjoyable because Billy is a fun and believable narrator who made me laugh and the information about old-time computers was interesting.

Bella gives The Impossible Fortress four stars. 4 stars

Potty-mouth index: Clean

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

The Impossible Fortress will be released on February 7, 2017, and is available for pre-order.

 

Heartborn

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Heartborn by Terry Maggert (Young Adult Science Fiction/Fantasy)

I’d like to start by saying that I really enjoyed this book. I especially loved the fantasy world that Terry Maggert creates. The imagination and creativity of authors who write these types of books always fascinates me. He has brought to life a whole society living in the clouds, with Skywatchers, Scholars, Watershapers, Blightwings (my favorite), Flyers, and the Factors of the nasty Crescent Council, as well as Windbeasts, Airdancers, elementals, and, of course, Heartborn — the rarities born with a need to care for others.

The story fluctuates between the angels in House Windhook, a powerful family looking to overthrow the oppressive Crescent Council, and a seventeen-year-old on Earth named Livvy. Livvy is waiting for a heart transplant, but we know early on that she is very important to members of House Windhook. Keiron, the youngest son, has plunged to Earth in an effort to find her and save her, while the entire family prepares to do battle with the Crescent Council and its supporters in order to change the future of their society.

I enjoyed the style of writing. I was in the moment with the characters and felt like I knew them pretty well. Where it fell apart for me was the ending when I just became confused. I had to go back and reread parts to make sure I didn’t miss something, and when I finished I still wasn’t sure where Livvy was – on earth or up in the clouds? Were her parents really her parents after all, or was she adopted like she said? All of the people who seemed to exist in two worlds – were they watching and taking care of her the whole time? Were they really angels? There were too many unanswered questions for me.  I know it’s the first in a series, and that’s not the problem. I’m just not sure what happened in the last chapter or two. I will definitely be interested in reading the next book, but there are some things I felt should have been more clear in the closing to the first.

Bella gives Heartborn 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.

History of Wolves

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History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (Literary Fiction)

History of Wolves is a beautifully written coming-of-age story that grabs hold of the reader on many levels and does not let go. Emily Fridlund’s descriptive prose carries one into the wooded reaches of northern Minnesota to experience first-hand the isolation and loneliness, not only of this remote area but also of fifteen-year-old Linda who lives there with her aging hippie parents. Born into a now-defunct commune and raised in a cabin in the woods, Linda is an outsider in her school and pretty much of a loner. When a married couple with a small boy moves into a summer home across the lake, she befriends the young wife and agrees to babysit their four-year-old. But something’s not quite right, and Linda, in her naïveté, doesn’t know how to respond.

The story is narrated by Linda as a twenty-six-year-old, and as she includes more details about her dysfunctional family and a questionable teacher-student relationship in her school, she also makes occasional reference to “the trial” and questions “they” would later ask her. Something bad is going to happen, and we are skillfully taken there while learning to care more and more about Linda and those around her. A sense of foreboding grows until we realize what’s going to happen, and then we wait anxiously to learn how the trial will play out.

The author poses questions that remain with the reader: What’s the difference between what we consider doing and what we end up doing? At what point, if any, are we obligated to take responsibility for the well-being of someone else? What do we owe our friends in terms of loyalty? Linda’s need for connection and acknowledgement from others colors her view of what’s happening around her, and her inexperience with life and desire to please leave her without the wherewithal to act appropriately. But what would we have done under the same circumstances?

Grandma gives History of Wolves five stars. 5 stars

History of Wolves is scheduled for release on January 3, 2017, and is available for pre-order.

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

The Dragon Sphere

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The Dragon Sphere by Abel Gallardo (Young Adult Fantasy, Middle Grade Fiction)

This book, the first in a series called “Nation of Dragons,” introduces Landon Brown, a fifteen-year-old who learns that he is a “dragonoid” or “halfling,” half dragon and half human. He has no idea prior to this; all he knows is that his dad has been absent most of his life. His dad, it turns out, is a highly regarded elder among dragons; his mom is human. Full-blooded dragons can take on human form a few hours per day, while dragonoids are humans who won’t literally transform into dragons but have special powers and need training to learn how to harness them.

At fifteen, Landon goes into training in a summer camp for dragonoids, where he encounters a number of magical things and makes friends with other halflings, including Aurora, whose mother is a dragon elder. They learn about both good and evil dragons and that one of the most feared has been imprisoned in The Dragon Sphere. A group of evil dragons and their followers wish to find and release him in order to regain power over humans, and it becomes the mission of Landon and Aurora, along with their fellow trainee, Shade, to bring back The Dragon Sphere unopened. Unfortunately, many dragonoids before them have taken on the same mission and failed, never to be heard from again. Landon also sees this as an opportunity to finally find his dad and confront him about abandoning Landon and his mom.

This book is categorized as Young Adult Fantasy, designated for readers 12 to 18 in grades 6 through 12. However, it felt more on the younger side, like Middle Grade fiction. The simple, sometimes stilted, sentence structure and limited descriptions and character development left me, as a high school-aged reader, wanting more depth. That said, it has plenty of action, and the story will keep a middle schooler engaged. The author has a vivid imagination and has created an interesting dragon world and fun powers for young dragonoids. There are some messages about believing in one’s self and stick-to-it-tiveness, but the one I expected, about global warming and doing our best to preserve the environment from destruction, wasn’t developed.

Bella gives The Dragon Sphere four stars. 4 stars

Potty-mouth index: CLEAN

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

The Guineveres

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The Guineveres by Sarah Domet (Contemporary Women’s Literature)

Four teenagers, each named Guinevere, end up together in a home for girls run by Catholic nuns. Abandoned by their families for various reasons, Gwen, Ginny, Win, and Vere bond as a result of their common name and do their best to cover each others’ backs as they struggle with the austere convent life. Vere narrates their story in first person, telling it as an adult twenty years later. The main theme is their united attempt to escape the convent early, rather than wait until they are released at the age of eighteen.

My experience with this book was a mixed bag. Each girl’s character was fairly well-developed, and they acted in ways consistent with their personalities. The nuns were better than the usual caricatures of nuns, and the priest was believably flawed without being criminal. At the same time, the setting itself – time and place – was never clearly defined, except for “the War” and “the War Effort” and the nuns taking in wounded, comatose soldiers, which left me guessing it was World War II era, since no war since has involved everyday citizens that way, and references to the Veterans Administration put it after 1930.

Every now and then the story stopped for a chapter told by one of the Guineveres, in the first person, about how she ended up at the convent. This format was confusing, since Vere was the only one narrating the rest of the story; if felt like those backstories should have been third person to help the reader keep it all straight and be true to the rest of the narrative. There were also random super-cheerful chapters about various female saints who joyfully endured terrible degradation and pain, usually to save their virtue. As one who grew up Catholic and read all about the saints as a kid, I found these to be highly exaggerated in their joyfulness, but wasn’t sure if that was meant to be humor or to imply that the nuns enhanced the stories for effect. I also wasn’t sure why they were there, except, perhaps, to fill out a novella into novel length.

While the book felt disjointed to me, it was still worth the read, and I believe others may find it more to their liking.

Grandma gives The Guineveres three stars. 3 stars

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