Just One Life

Just One Life

Just One Life by Pat Abercromby

This was a difficult book to read, not because of the writing, but because of the subject matter. We follow Fran through roughly sixty years of her life, over half of it married to a man she never truly loves, a man for whom she settles because of his physical appeal but who lacks a sense of humor as well as a moral compass, is a poor communicator, and never provides the quality of companionship she craves. We watch her give up more than one satisfying career to live in places she doesn’t enjoy in order to accommodate her husband’s career, and we learn about the men she sleeps with and the ones she loves but cannot have. We know early on that she will become her husband’s reluctant caregiver after he has a debilitating stroke, and we experience her resentment about giving up all personal ambitions to take care of him in her old age. In short, we’re reading about the life of a woman who comes to regret how it all plays out. It’s not a very jolly topic.

We also follow, on the periphery, the story of her lifelong friend, Iona, who has issues of her own with the men in her life. We see Fran’s and Iona’s daughters grow up, and we learn about the difficulties and joys they bring and how the two women’s lives continue to intertwine. Because of the timespan to be covered, multiple years often pass in a single sentence, which can leave the reader feeling left in the dust. We know Fran well in some ways, but mostly we’re just voyeurs peeking through her windows, watching someone whose days and life are whizzing by without much detail, and we don’t feel particularly involved.

Without involvement, there’s little investment. Add to that the lack of any type of story arc, mystery, or real tension, and you have what is basically a human interest story. Upon reading the author’s guest post, I am guessing that this book is more autobiographical than not (emphasis on “guessing”), which would explain a lack of riveting plot points.

The writing is fine. The story has its interesting aspects. Would I have finished the book if I hadn’t promised to participate in this blog tour? I’m not sure.

Grandma gives Just One Life three stars. 3 stars

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

For our Guest Post from author Pat Abercromby, go here.

The Child

The Child

The Child by Fiona Barton (Suspense)

The skeleton of an infant is unearthed at a London urban renewal site, and the lives of several women who don’t know each other are about to become intertwined. Each woman has a stake in the outcome of the ensuing investigation, albeit for different reasons, including the reporter who seeks to answer the question of who buried the newborn there and why.

We hear the story from their various points of view, which gives the reader intimate knowledge of each woman’s background and the basis for her concerns about the discovery. The tale has enough twists and unexpected turns to keep the reader involved in figuring out what’s going on, and the ending provides a satisfying conclusion that gives all aspects of the story a reasonable resolution.

My one complaint is that one character’s POV is in first person, while all of the others are in third, and I found that transition jarring at times. To me there was no good reason for singling her out that way. However, that was a minor distraction, for the author writes well and the plot and pacing kept me interested throughout. I cared about how it would all play out, and while some readers may anticipate the big reveal, I did not and was sufficiently surprised to enjoy the final twist.

Grandma gives The Child five stars. 5 stars

Bella Reads and Reveiws received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The Child will be released on June 27, 2017 and is available for pre-order.

The Idea of You

The Idea of You

The Idea of You by Amanda Prowse (Contemporary Fiction)

This tale is meant to be a tearjerker as we witness the heartbreak of forty-year-old newlywed Lucy who wants a baby with a terrible fierceness but cannot carry a pregnancy past the first trimester. Between chapters dealing with the here and now, we read Lucy’s poignant messages to a baby girl, her thoughts on what she and her daughter would be doing together if that were only possible.

Meanwhile her husband, Jonah, is supportive, but he is already father to Camille, a seventeen-year-old who lives with her mother but now comes to stay with Lucy and Jonah for a while. When Camille and Lucy don’t get along, Jonah seems to side with his daughter, and Lucy begins feeling isolated in her own home and eventually in her marriage.

A rather predictable event takes place, along with a somewhat surprising revelation, both of which turn Lucy’s marriage even further on its ear. It’s now up to her to either “put on her big girl shoes” as her chauvinistic jerk of a boss likes to say, or watch her marriage dissolve.

For me, this felt too much like a tearjerker for tearjerker’s sake. Miscarriage is not an unknown to this reviewer, and it’s nothing to make light of, but life goes on. It must. Unfortunate things happen in a lifetime, and how we handle them is the real test of character. Lucy’s continuous, obsessive dwelling upon what was not to be made it difficult to regard her as the strong, resilient woman she supposedly is, and I almost quit reading. Jonah was not a sympathetic character; I probably liked Camille better than anyone. At least she was a naïve teenager who had reason to be immature, and watching her grow was the best part of the story.

Grandma gives The Idea of You three stars. 3 stars

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

The Steps

The Steps

The Steps by Iveta Redliha (Thriller)

This interesting book explores a topic not often encountered in novels: the possible psychological effects of surrogacy on the surrogate mother, the parents who have contracted her services, and the child. Leonora is a selfish young woman who is paid to bear a child for Kurt and Nellie. They move her into their house in order to keep it all secret, and it’s not long before the housekeeper, Greta, realizes what a conniving brat Leonora really is.

Reyna is a young woman whose mother has just died under unusual circumstances, leaving Reyna a run-down property she never knew her mother owned. As she struggles to understand it all, she meets a young man she finds simultaneously attractive and frightening. How this will all tie together is part of the book’s allure.

Iveta Redliha is a Latvian writer, and this work has been translated into English with mixed results. Most glaring is the frequent lack of “the” or “a/an” and unfortunate word choices not normally used in conversation or even story-telling, revealing reliance on a thesaurus without really understanding the vernacular. On a formatting level, it lacks quotation marks, using dashes to indicate dialogue.

Fortunately, the story itself was intriguing enough to keep me reading in spite of these distractions. The author is a good storyteller and a promising writer. With some publishing help for an English-speaking audience, this book could be a success.

Grandma gives The Steps four stars. 4 stars

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

Gilding the Lily

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Gilding the Lily by Justine John (Mystery)

A well-written prologue can be the key to snagging a reader. In this case, the story begins with a woman who is feigning grief at the burial of another woman. It soon becomes clear that the former has caused the death of the latter and appears to have gotten away with it. What we don’t know is who has died and who remains.

We then meet our three main characters from whose perspectives the story is told: Amelia, Jack, and Evelyn. Amelia and her husband, Jack, live in England. Amelia’s widowed father, Roger, lives in New York City, and Evelyn is the new woman in his life. Amelia and Jack meet Evelyn for the first time at a surprise party for Roger’s 75th birthday, and it doesn’t take long for them to realize she is a gold-digger doing her best to come between Roger and Amelia. Amelia and Jack grow to hate and fear her, and when Roger’s health begins to fail, a bigger question arises: is she slowly killing him? Meanwhile, Evelyn hates Amelia because she is a threat to Evelyn’s continued hold on Roger. Hence, the question: who is going to dispose of whom?

The book has lots of short chapters told from alternating points of view. We know what Evelyn’s doing and thinking, and we know what Amelia and Jack are going through. We feel their frustration in dealing with someone so cunning that Roger’s friends think Evelyn is a bright light in his life. Occasionally there’s a scene that doesn’t seem to do anything to move the story along, but overall this debut novel is well done and worth the read.

Grandma gives Gilding the Lily four stars. 4 stars

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

The Orphan’s Tale

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The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff (Historical Fiction)

The Orphan’s Tale is a story of survival during World War II from the point of view of two women: one a German trapeze artist hiding from the Nazis because she is Jewish, the other a Dutch teenager who has rescued a Jewish baby from a boxcar full of babies bound for a concentration camp. Each has found refuge in a traveling German circus whose owner is quietly doing his best to save whomever he can.

Both women narrate the story in first person, alternating chapters, and we get to know them well. Each has painful secrets she keeps from the other for reasons of self-preservation, and at times they clash more than they get along. But their survival depends on the teenager, Noa, becoming a passable aerialist to justify her presence in the circus and to give Astrid, the professional, a partner for her act.  Forced into cooperation, they eventually become fast friends, tying their survival and their futures together, although the road to friendship is a bumpy one.

The author has done a good job of conveying a sense of circus life as it applies to the story, including the difficulties of life on the road complicated by the shortages of war, the dangers of traveling through occupied France, and the financial decline of the circus itself. Her characters are believable, flawed individuals who make mistakes, hold grudges, and distrust others, yet long to connect for they know they cannot go it alone, either through this war or through life. Nothing about this book was predictable, and the ending was a complete surprise, yet plausible. Jenoff kept my interest throughout, the teaser in her prologue driving me to read late into the night to find out what that was all about.

Grandma gives The Orphan’s Tale five stars. 5 stars

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

The Orphan’s Tale will be released on February 21, 2017, and is available for pre-order.

The Mother’s Promise

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The Mother’s Promise by Sally Hepworth (Women’s Contemporary Fiction)

The lives of four women – a single mom with cancer, her fifteen-year-old daughter, an oncology nurse, and a hospital social worker – intertwine in unexpected ways in this complex tale exploring family, friendships, marriage, and motherhood.

Alice has stage three ovarian cancer, and she fears for her daughter, Zoe, who suffers from crippling social anxiety disorder that renders her almost helpless without Alice as her safety net. Zoe’s father has never been part of her life, and she has no relatives other than a totally unreliable alcoholic uncle. Kate and Sonja, Alice’s nurse and social worker, respectively, seek to help. But their own lives are beginning to fall apart for personal reasons, and as the story unfolds, each woman learns things about herself and others that will change her life and her relationships forever.

The story is narrated from the points of view of each woman, and we get to know them intimately. We experience Zoe’s paralyzing fear of everyday things, we share Alice’s losses, we ache with Kate and feel her longing, and we begin to understand Sonja’s inability to make a decision that may seem simple but never is. Their lives come together in believable, if unexpected, ways, and each character finds new strengths within herself to do what must be done. This well-written and knowledgeable book is fascinating, satisfying, and absorbing.

Grandma gives The Mother’s Promise five stars. 5 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy of this book from St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.

The Mother’s Promise will be released on February 21, 2017 and can be pre-ordered.