Dark Designs

Dark Designs

Dark Designs by Stefanie Spangler (Urban Fantasy)

I have to admit, the first thing that drew me to this book was the cover. The second was the description – being a twin is always fun to think about when you’re not a twin, and I’d be okay with having some magic powers now and then.

Being urban fantasy, the story veers away from reality, which is what I expected, and that part was fine. The girls being twins, however, was never explored. They’re fraternal, not identical, which we don’t know early on because no description is given, even though the simple fact that Ivy is a redhead and Violet a brunette would have sufficed. We know Ivy is more reserved than Violet, but I never felt that I got to know either one very well, and there was no indication that their psychological connection was any different than my connection with either of my sisters. So much for the significance of twinness.

Each has magical powers to some degree, but they learn about their powers off-stage. We don’t know how they react to finding out they are different from their peers or how (or if) they hone their skills. Instead, the story abruptly jumps from the girls being clueless eight-year-olds to the day that Ivy comes home from college, back to the family farm that Violet now manages. We’ve had no opportunity to get to know them, to watch them grow in any way, and now they are adults about to be thrown into a magical dilemma.

Considering that this is a short novel, some fleshing out of the characters could have been done. Instead, we have the immediate jump into action with danger entering their lives, but since I hadn’t really become invested in the girls as people, it left me feeling detached. The author is in everyone’s head – both the good guys and the bad guys – so there is little opportunity to experience a whole lot of emotion with any one character or to learn more about someone through the eyes of a single person.

The story itself is entertaining; one always wants to know how the main characters are going to get out of a predicament. For the YA urban fantasy reader, this book delivers the good guys and the very scary bad guy, some magic, and a little budding romance. There are the young witches embarrassed by their unusual skills, the suspicious neighbors, and the disbelieving cops. There is some tension, some danger, and a creepy monster to give the reader the willies. And, for some reason, there is the angst of the missing mother who abandoned her twins in infancy without explanation. It does little to move the story along, however, and I have to wonder why it’s even in there, since no one actually makes any attempts to find out more and nothing changes regarding Mom.

One final point: the time jump from eight years old to college graduate would have made more immediate sense to the reader if Chapter One had been called a prologue. It sets the stage for the rest of the book and occurred more than a decade before the rest of the story. Ironically, the book does have an epilogue which didn’t feel significantly different enough to be an epilogue and could have simply been the final chapter. Unless, of course, it’s meant to portend Book Two.

Bella gives Dark Designs three stars. 3 stars

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

Hello, Sunshine

Hello Sunshine

Hello, Sunshine by Laura Dave   (Women’s Fiction)

Sunshine Mackenzie is a social media lifestyle guru whose fabricated life is coming apart. She has achieved and maintained her celebrity status by pulling the wool over the eyes of her adoring fans, and she is about to lose everything at the hands of an unknown truth-teller.

The directness with which Sunshine tells this very enjoyable story is ironic, considering the lies that have brought her to this point, and I quickly became her biggest fan, not for who she claimed to be but for who she must become — herself. What I appreciated most about this telling is how real it felt. No one is transformed overnight, and wronged friends and estranged family members don’t leap to forgive. We don’t know who has outed her, and there are lots of possibilities. And we don’t know who she will become next, because neither she nor the people around her are clichés.

The story moves right along, and the characters rise up off the page. I knew and understood her sister, I loved her niece, and I wanted to meet Chef Z for myself. I recognized the fair-weather friends, the co-workers who were quick to distance themselves, and the wronged individuals from her past who were reticent to trust her again. And I came to understand how someone could get so caught up in her own lies that she no longer knew who she was. Sunshine is the biggest victim of her own lies, and Laura Dave made me want to make sure that Sunshine would be okay.

Grandma gives Hello, Sunshine five stars. 5 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews Books received a free advanced reader copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Hello, Sunshine will be released by Simon & Schuster on July 11, 2017, and is available for pre-order.

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

gilding-the-lily

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.