Blood & Water

Blood&Water

Blood & Water by Katie O’Rourke (Women’s Contemporary Fiction)

Once again Katie O’Rourke (Finding Charlie) has filled a book with real people, this time a single dad, the estranged younger sister who suddenly shows up in his life, a young wife struggling with multi-generational family issues, and a seemingly mismatched couple — he’s an adventure-loving motorcyclist and she’s confined to a wheelchair. All are connected in some way, and each has a story to tell, but their stories aren’t always what we think they will be.

O’Rourke has a talent for putting believable characters in real-life situations. They see things through their own lenses, make regrettable mistakes, have knee-jerk reactions, and are plagued by self-doubt. Family relationships, past or present, may not be the best, but nothing is cliched. People remain unpredictable, and what you believe is going to happen may be way off base.

This is a well-rounded story told from multiple points of view in alternating chapters, each revealing new facets of that specific narrator’s life as well as the lives and backstories of the other characters. O’Rourke’s references to current politics give the book a sense of timeliness without being overdone or distracting. We believe this is her best yet and look forward to more.

Grandma gives Blood & Water four and a half stars. 4.5 stars

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

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Leave No Trace

Leave No Trace

Leave No Trace by Mindy Mejia (Suspense)

Mindy Mejia (Everything You Want Me to Be) is a master at creating people you can see, feel, and touch. You understand where they’re coming from. You care about them. When the two main characters are both social outcasts as they are in Leave No Trace, it’s even better. Now you really want them to succeed.

Maya, a newly graduated speech therapist with a rocky past, is assigned to the case of Lucas, a nineteen-year-old patient in a mental hospital. Ten years before, he and his widowed dad disappeared into the Minnesota wilderness known as the Boundary Waters. They were assumed dead until Lucas broke into an outfitter’s store and was captured.

Now Maya is tasked with getting Lucas to communicate with her about where he and his father went and why. The death of a landlady occurred just before they disappeared, and the father is a prime suspect. But a bond has formed between Maya and Lucas, and Maya is torn between betraying Lucas’s trust or betraying the mentor who has seen her through thick and thin.

A strong sense of place pervades this novel. The author transports us to Duluth, Minnesota, and the Boundary Waters. We feel the draw the glacial lakes have on Lucas, and we find that Maya herself is no stranger to the outdoor life. She’s also extremely knowledgeable about the geology of the area, as that was the professional interest of the mother who deserted Maya and her father and left Maya with only a few precious agates to remember her by. All of it works together brilliantly to make an absorbing book that was impossible to put down. An unexpected twist near the end was just frosting on a well-constructed cake.

Grandma gives Leave No Trace five stars. 5 stars

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

Leave No Trace will be released on September 4, 2018, and is available for pre-order.

Baby Teeth

Baby Teeth

Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage (Psychological Suspense)

When I started this book, I wasn’t sure I would finish it. Seven-year-old Hanna is not only unlikable, she’s terrifying. A tiny psychopathic manipulator, her goal is to get rid of her mother so she can have her father all to herself.

The mother, Suzette, appears to be a shallow upper class matron struggling to keep face while her daughter exhibits bizarre and sometimes violent behavior in public. The father, a successful businessman who is away a lot, knows Hanna only as a sweet, innocent child who adores him. He refuses to believe that she’s capable of the nastiness attributed to her by her mother and what he considers to be inept headmasters of private schools that keep expelling Hanna.

Before long, however, the personalities and backstories of Suzette and Hanna blossom as each narrates the tale in alternating chapters. Hanna becomes more terrifying, but Suzette is now someone I can care about. I found myself enthralled by Hanna’s resourcefulness as she gleefully tormented her mother in accelerated attacks. Meanwhile, the father begins to witness injuries and destruction that he cannot ignore.

The author does a great job of fleshing out the characters, including a child therapist who does her best to help the family cope with Hanna’s aberrant behavior. Hanna’s child side comes through as she gives snide names to adults like “Brown Teeth” and “Mrs. Stinky Breath.”

Suzette’s repeated navel-gazing regarding how she may have messed up as a mother became somewhat redundant at times, but not terribly. My one complaint is that the ending left everything hanging. Sometimes, you just want to know that the people you care about are going to be safe.

Grandma gives Baby Teeth four stars. 4 stars

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

Looking for Dei

Looking for Dei

Looking for Dei by David A. Willson (YA Fantasy)

Nara Dall is a twin separated from her sister as a very small child. Raised in a small hamlet by a fatherly old monk, she knows nothing of her past nor does she understand why she is being told to hide her magical powers. She does know that if and when one’s magical powers are discovered, they can mark a person as “blessed” or “cursed,” and the person’s fate will vary accordingly. Are these god-given gifts from Dei or do they carry the potential for evil? How does it all fit in with a prophesy about “The Twins”?

The story takes place in a fictitious world, but this is not a dystopia. Magical people face risks from those who would take advantage of their powers and capabilities, but society itself is a reasonable place. Learning more about the land and its people was interesting but did not overwhelm the story so that it was possible to concentrate on the characters. Nara, her friend, Mykel, and the old monk show their true natures over time, as do the other characters who become critical to Nara and the people she cares about.

My biggest fear was that I would be left hanging regarding Nara’s expected reunion with her twin, but that did not occur. At the same time, their reunion exposes new sources of tension, and plenty of opportunity was left for a sequel. I’m not sure I would read the sequel as I have a pretty good idea what will happen, but I did enjoy this book and how believably the reunion of the sisters was portrayed.

Bella gives Looking for Dei four stars. 4 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley.

 

 

 

 

Into a Million Pieces

Into a Million Pieces

Into a Million Pieces by Angela V. Cook (Young Adult Paranormal Romance)

Allison is a teenage succubus. She and her twin, Jade, are gorgeous high-schoolers with the power to literally suck the life force from men through sexual activity. Their mother killed their father, the man she loved, by having intercourse with him, and eventually committed suicide because of her inability to control her lethal passions. Now Allison and Jade must navigate the treacherous world brought upon them by the family curse that makes them incredibly desirable but dangerous.

Allison, who narrates the story, has chosen to make herself unapproachable at school by wearing goth outfits and perpetuating rumors about herself as a weirdo to be avoided. Jade, on the other hand, thoroughly enjoys the attention and the high she gets after kissing guys. The guys, meanwhile, suffer debilitating fatigue as their life energy is drained, and they have no idea that they risk death if they press Jade for more.

The first half or so of this book is interesting but somewhat slow. Allison is a real downer as she tries to rein Jade in, while Jade is just plain over the top. Allison’s growing interest in Ren, a nice guy she meets at the library, is fraught with angst while Jade is out to get whatever she can at whatever price. The aunt they live with, a succubus who uses religion to help her maintain her virginity, annoys the heck out of both of them as she does her best to convert them and save their souls.

Then, at about sixty percent into the book, everything takes an unexpected turn, and the pace picks up. Now the reader is full of questions, and a second revelation (not entirely unexpected) adds even more intrigue.

Unfortunately, the questions are answered pretty quickly without the tension that would have put various characters at risk and made solving the mystery a whole lot more fun. At the same time, enough is left hanging so that a sequel is necessary, stranding the reader who hoped for a tidy conclusion.

Bella gives Into a Million Pieces three stars. 3 stars

Potty-mouth Index: Moderate. Also some moderately explicit sex scenes.

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy from the author and her publisher with a request for an honest review.

 

 

 

The Subway Girls

The Subway Girls

The Subway Girls by Susie Orman Schnall (Historical Fiction)

The lives and career ambitions of two young women — one in 1949 and one in 2018 — intersect in this timely novel that seeks to show how much and how little has changed for women over a span of almost seventy years.

From 1941 to 1976, the New York City subway system held a beauty contest called Miss Subways. Placards featuring the individual winners adorned the subway trains, each young woman getting her fleeting moment of glamor and fame for a month. For Charlotte in 1949, the contest offered an escape from her father’s heavy-handed control of her future, as well as a possible break into the male world of advertising as a career. In 2018, Olivia faces cutthroat male co-workers in her New York City advertising firm as she makes a last-ditch effort to land an important contract with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

We follow each young woman in her own era in alternating chapters. Although there are a few surprises, I found much of it predictable and some of the coincidences a bit much. I felt like Olivia made some poor choices for a supposedly savvy businesswoman, and the conclusion was less than satisfying. Still, it is an interesting read for the historical aspects and a look at life in NYC, both post-World War II and present day.

Grandma gives The Subway Girls three stars. 3 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews Books received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley with a request for an honest review.

The Subway Girls will be released on July 10, 2018, and is available for pre-order.

South of Main Street

South of Main Street

South of Main Street by Robert Gately (Contemporary Fiction)

In the fictitious town of Coalsville, Pennsylvania, Main Street divides the “haves” from the “have-nots.” The wealthy, like recently widowed Henry Wolff, live north of Main Street. But Henry is not your typical rich guy. The money came from his wife, and now his younger daughter wants him declared incapable of handling his own affairs in order to keep him from squandering her inheritance.

While this may sound like a dire novel of family feuding, it’s actually more of a Forrest Gump-like story. Henry suffers from a form of post-war PTSD that has him acting childish. His is a simple view of life that he shares with the troubled people he meets, including a boy with an absent mother and abusive father, a young female drug addict, and two homeless people. We watch him interact with people from both sides of Main Street in ways that are wise and compassionate but can be misconstrued as incompetent, if that is one’s goal. Fortunately for Henry, his elder daughter is willing to take on her sister in court.

This is a relatively slow-going book with a predictable ending, but that doesn’t stop it from being a worthwhile, feel-good read. It does contain some minor mistakes that would benefit from a good editing, such as the occasional change in tense from past to present and use of a wrong word. But overall, Robert Gately tells a good uplifting story.

Grandma gives South of Main Street three and a half stars. 3.5 stars

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