The Lying Game

The Lying Game

The Lying Game by Ruth Ware (Suspense)

This suspenseful novel was a page-turner, not only for the questions to be answered, but because I quickly learned to care about the characters, especially the narrator and her six-month-old daughter, a baby I could picture so vividly, I actually dreaded the possibility that I might have to read about her being endangered somehow.

The narrator, Isa, and her three best friends spent one year together as students at a second-rate British boarding school where telling lies became their chosen pastime. Eventually the four girls lost all credibility with peers and faculty and left the school in disgrace. Now, seventeen years later, past behaviors come back to haunt them after the discovery of human bones in a shallow grave near the school, and all of their futures are at risk.

Ruth Ware, author of In a Dark, Dark Wood and The Woman in Cabin 10, has created complex characters with believable relationships. Through backstory, we see how two relatively innocent fifteen-year-olds—Isa and Fatima—could be sucked into participating in what might have seemed like an okay game at the time. True to their natures, the two have gone on in adulthood to become professional women with families of their own. Kate and Thea, the originators of the “game,” have darker pasts and appear to be less successful as adults. All four value their mutual friendship, even though they have rarely seen one another in the past seventeen years. But once reunited in their old haunt, they find they are simultaneously reassured by each other’s presence but also less trusting of one another as individuals. The end result for me was less concern about who did what and more about how each of them would fare. That meant late nights up reading and, afterwards, an ending that I still think about.

Grandma gives The Lying Game five stars. 5 stars

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

The Lying Game will be released on July 25, 2017, and is available for pre-order.

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.

The Mother’s Promise

the-mothers-promise

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.

The Guineveres

the-guineveres

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.