The Frog Theory


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.



Serenity by Craig A. Hart (Thriller)

This fast-paced crime novel is a short, quick read that I polished off in an afternoon. The first in The Shelby Alexander Thriller Series, it introduces an interesting main character in Alexander, a sixty-year-old ex-boxer who is beginning to feel his age and resents it. He has made some big mistakes in his life and has returned to the northern Michigan town of Serenity to find peace. Of course, in a thriller, peace is not what the main character finds.

I found Alexander’s voice to be authentic and his limitations refreshing. He has aches and pains and all the usual signs of aging. He is annoyed by his thirty-year-old daughter’s concerns about his health and lifestyle, but he’s doing his best to reconcile with her after too many years of estrangement, so he puts up with it. He has come to understand and accept what drove her mother to leave him, but he’s not looking to try again. His sexy thirty-year-old girlfriend may be a bit of a stretch, but Serenity is a small, isolated town in the cold northwoods. As the introduction to a new series, the story contains just enough backstory to help the reader understand who Alexander is, where he’s been, and why he thinks the way he does.

The drug-dealing Ellis family is probably the most depraved set of relatives I’ve encountered, and the part about their mother felt unnecessary and over the top. I also marveled at what lousy shots the criminals were and how many bullets punctured everything except Alexander and his friends. (Since this is a series, I don’t think I’m giving away much here.) But all in all, I enjoyed the book and would read more about Shelby Alexander.

Grandma gives Serenity four stars. 4 stars

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

The River at Night


The River at Night by Erica Ferencik (Thriller, Women’s Contemporary Fiction)

This suspense-filled thriller takes the reader on a Maine whitewater-rafting vacation gone bad.

Wini reluctantly agrees to join three good friends – none of whom are particularly outdoorsy – on a guided excursion to the Maine wilderness. The four women will be gone for several days, hiking and rafting their way through a remote area with their highly capable guide. Things go terribly wrong, however, and they find themselves on their own, struggling to simply survive as they travel downriver, seeking their way back to civilization. To make matters worse, their one possible source of help turns out to be less than helpful.

This book immediately grabbed my interest and held it. The four women – Wini, Pia, Rachel, and Sandra – became very real to me, their personalities distinct and well-defined, their reactions and behaviors believable. As I traveled this journey with them, I found myself pondering how I would do under the same circumstances, and more than once, I breathed a huge sigh of relief that I wasn’t really there. The descriptions are well-done and the emotions are real. Nothing about this book is predictable; it kept me on the edge of my seat.

Grandma gives The River at Night five stars. 5 stars

The River at Night will be released in January, 2017. It is currently available for pre-order.

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

Finding Charlie

Finding Charlie

Finding Charlie by Katie O’Rourke (Women’s Contemporary Fiction)

Finding Charlie explores an unusual theme from the points of view of several different characters:  Why would the mother of two little girls decide to walk out on her family and never come back, and how has that affected those girls, their relationships to each other, their self-esteem, their ability to trust and relate to others and to her?

Nineteen-year-old Charlie and her twenty-five-year-old sister, Olivia, have been raised primarily by their father; their mother, Maria, walked out of their lives thirteen years ago without explanation. Now Charlie herself has disappeared without a clue, except for the admission of a friend that he left her behind in a Las Vegas hotel.  Even Charlie’s long-time, joined-at-the-hip best friend, Carmen, hasn’t heard from her, and that’s without precedent.

First Olivia, then Charlie and Maria, alternate narrating the story in this multi-layered look at complex family relationships. I thoroughly enjoyed their differing perspectives on the same events, especially those of the two sisters and how they viewed Olivia’s role as surrogate mother to Charlie. Backstory through reminiscences helps to flesh out their relationships and childhood experiences, while current events unfold to explain what has become of Charlie. I thought character development was outstanding.

At the same time, I believe this book would have benefited from tighter editing. Unnecessary sequences involving characters and events who have no influence on the plot or outcome are just filler material. For instance, we learn details about the condition and treatment of one of Olivia’s physical therapy patients, but we never see the woman again and the episode has no relevance to the bigger story. Carmen is suffering from an eating disorder that puts her in a treatment facility, but again, with no real impact on the story itself. The book also includes a number of invectives about environmental issues, hypocrisy in the Catholic church, the injustices of Medicaid policies, and treatment of migrant workers, none of which moves the story forward. While I appreciate books that want to bring up important topics, these vignettes just float through and then are gone. They feel like the author using the characters to express her personal opinions on issues of interest to her.

Grandma gives Finding Charlie four stars. 4 stars

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




Hillstation, by Robin Mukherjee (General Fiction)

Smart, funny, thought-provoking, entertaining — I found Hillstation by Robin Mukherjee to be a delightful treat that kept me chuckling and made me sorry to see it end.

The main character and narrator, Rabindra, is a young man of twenty-two who has never left Pushkara, the remote mountain town in India where he was born. As the second son in an upper-class Brahmin family, he is constantly being compared — unfavorably — to his older brother who has been to England and is now the village doctor. To make matters worse, Rabindra’s best friend, Pol, is a low-born in the Indian caste system, making him forbidden company for a Brahmin and an added source of irritation to Rabindra’s father. Both Rabindra and Pol long to leave Pushkara, their goal being to marry English brides and move to England. When an itinerant troupe of British entertainers end up in Pushkara by mistake, Rabindra and Pol believe the young female dancers have been sent by the gods in answer to their prayers. The confusion this creates for all concerned makes for a very entertaining story.

As a fan of Sonny in the movie “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” I especially enjoyed the main characters’ flowery Indian-English speech patterns characterized by unnecessarily complex, and often humorous, sentence structures. As Rabindra himself explains to the newly arrived British girl of his dreams, “For your information, our prodigious facility in the English patois is consequent upon historical circumstances. Several generations ago, there came to reside among these fragrant peaks a gentleman in receipt of an education from a most illustrious establishment, far away from here, in which English was the prescribed means of linguistic intercourse. Being of a pedagogic inclination, he established our first school…” and so on. To which she replies, looking at her travel companion, “I thought you said they spoke English.”

The story has its unexpected twists and turns, the tongue-in-cheek humor is consistent throughout, and the characters are well-developed and fun. The book provides a glimpse of life in a remote Indian village and offers the opportunity to reflect on what might happen if one attempts to transcend one’s limitations.

Grandma gives Hillstation five stars. 5 stars

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



The Thing Is

The Thing Is

The Thing Is by Kathleen Gerard (General Fiction)

Prozac is a spirit guide dog. He’s had multiple lives as different breeds of dogs and has even spent time with some famous people over the centuries. His purpose is to help humans solve their spiritual and emotional problems. His big dream, however, is to be the mongrel, Sandy, on stage in a Broadway production of Annie. When this story takes place, he is a cute little Yorkshire Terrier in modern times living a good life with an elderly lady named Helen. And let’s face it, who could resist that face?

Meredith could. She’s grieving the loss of her fiancé and after three years, can’t seem to get on with her life. Through no choice of her own, she ends up dogsitting Prozac when Helen has an accident, but she’s not happy about it. It becomes clear that Prozac’s role is to get her out of her funk and back to being a productive person.

The story is told from two points of view — Prozac’s and Meredith’s. The descriptions of Prozac’s behavior are very accurate if you know Yorkies, which we happen to have two of in our house. Meredith is kind of annoying at times, but that’s the point — she’s stuck in her grief and needs a push to get out. Much of the action involves people at a senior living facility, and there is some mystery and some excitement at the end.

I thought the author was very creative when Prozac would remember something helpful from his past life as an Eskimo dog or Cleopatra’s lapdog or whatever. He has a fun personality and is also a lot smarter than the average dog because of his experiences, but he still does all the dopey Yorkie things. This made the book fun to read even if the end was somewhat predictable.

Bella gives The Thing Is four stars. 4 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy from Red Adept Publishing in exchange for an honest review.



The Two-Family House

Two-Family House

The Two-Family House by Lynda Cohen Loigman (General Fiction)

This book is the debut novel of a writer with great promise. I thoroughly enjoyed her writing style, and I found the story she told to be engrossing.

In the midst of a blizzard, two babies are born on the same night in a two-family house in Brooklyn. The mothers are sisters-in-law whose families have lived, one above the other, for many years. Their husbands are brothers who co-own a business, and each family already has several children. The daily lives of both families have long been intertwined, and after that night they are even more intertwined than before. As the years progress, however, the once-deep friendship between the two women begins to unravel, and only they know why.

While the reader has most likely figured out why, the real story lies in how the decisions made on that snowy night will ultimately affect the lives of everyone in the two families. How much will be revealed and what will the two women take to their graves? If and when it is revealed, how will the truth change the family dynamics?

The most important characters were well-drawn so that I cared about them, and the behavioral and emotional changes that occurred over time — some for the better, some not — felt realistic and understandable. The story spans twenty-one years, beginning in 1947, and is split into five parts with significant gaps in between. This requires periodic summaries of what happened in the interval, which sometimes seemed too minimal, but I don’t really know how a story with that timeframe could have been done any differently without becoming a somewhat unwieldy multigenerational saga. I found the ending to be satisfying, achieving the best possible outcome under the circumstances, and I would recommend this book for both its story and how well it was written.

Grandma gives The Two-Family House four stars. 4 stars