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.

Everything You Want Me to Be

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Everything You Want Me to Be by Mindy Mejia (Thriller)

High school senior Hattie Hoffman is the consummate actress, not only on stage but in real life. She has perfected being whoever each person in her life wants her to be – the adoring best friend content to play second fiddle, the conscientious honor-roll student every teacher loves, the compliant girlfriend of the dumber-than-dirt football jock. She knows exactly what she’s doing, and that’s what makes her such an enthralling character in this suspenseful thriller. Everything she does is carefully orchestrated, until the night she is murdered.

The setting is a small town in rural Minnesota, where farming families grow soy and cotton and everyone knows everyone else. County Sheriff Del Goodman is investigating Hattie’s death, a job complicated by the fact that her father is his fishing buddy and good friend. Peter Lund is the new English teacher at Hattie’s high school whose marriage is slowly dissolving. He reluctantly left the life he loved in Minneapolis to move to his ailing mother-in-law’s farm, and his unhappiness is driving a wedge between himself and his wife.

All three take turns narrating parts of the story. Del is a no-nonsense old-timer who doesn’t mince words; Hattie is hovering between childhood and adulthood, attempting to find her real self; and Peter is desperate for someone who appreciates and understands him. Del’s narration chronicles his investigation after the murder, while Hattie and Peter provide backstory leading up to her death, and each has a distinctive voice and perspective that works well to keep the reader engaged. The people we meet are people we recognize – flawed human beings showing honest emotions, overwhelmed by what’s happening around and to them, making understandable, if regrettable, mistakes – which makes it all the harder for the reader to be sure who the murderer really is. A well-written story with engaging characters you will care about and a finish that offers some hope for second chances.

Grandma gives Everything You Want Me to Be five stars.5 stars

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

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.

The Brazilian Husband

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The Brazilian Husband by Rebecca Powell (Women’s Fiction)

The Brazilian Husband is classified as a “Romance” on Amazon, but to me this incredible book was everything but. It is a fascinating story full of secrets, suspense, and surprising revelations set against the backdrop of heartbreaking shantytowns, terrifying urban crime, natural beauty, and the resilient, exuberant people of Brazil. It kept me reading from page one, and I never wanted to put it down.

Judith is a Londoner whose husband of fifteen years has committed suicide. Together with their daughter, Rosa, she is fulfilling his request to take his ashes home to his native Brazil, a place they never managed to visit together.

Judith knew Edson was gay when she married him; it was an arranged marriage paid for by his lover, Gavin, in order to hide the men’s relationship while keeping Edson in Great Britain. What she hadn’t bargained for was the baby girl he brought with him, whom she would raise as their daughter, nor did she expect to fall in love with Edson himself.

Rosa, about to turn sixteen, blames Judith for Edson’s suicide; she doesn’t know her father was gay, nor does she know that Judith is not her natural mother. All of that changes in Brazil as they search for Edson’s family. Nothing is as he said it was, including the circumstances of Rosa’s birth.

While I don’t normally review Romance novels, I was willing to accept this book from the author because she lived and worked in a woman’s shelter in Brazil, which promised authenticity for the setting. I am so glad I did. Rebecca Powell is an extremely talented writer who knows how to keep a story moving while creating a strong sense of place and vibrant characters whose lives and fates I cared about. There is romance, but nothing formulaic about it. Rather, it’s a stirring story with believable people seeking to understand, accept, and love one another under extreme circumstances.

Grandma gives The Brazilian Husband a rousing five stars.   5 stars

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

Heartborn

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Heartborn by Terry Maggert (Young Adult Science Fiction/Fantasy)

I’d like to start by saying that I really enjoyed this book. I especially loved the fantasy world that Terry Maggert creates. The imagination and creativity of authors who write these types of books always fascinates me. He has brought to life a whole society living in the clouds, with Skywatchers, Scholars, Watershapers, Blightwings (my favorite), Flyers, and the Factors of the nasty Crescent Council, as well as Windbeasts, Airdancers, elementals, and, of course, Heartborn — the rarities born with a need to care for others.

The story fluctuates between the angels in House Windhook, a powerful family looking to overthrow the oppressive Crescent Council, and a seventeen-year-old on Earth named Livvy. Livvy is waiting for a heart transplant, but we know early on that she is very important to members of House Windhook. Keiron, the youngest son, has plunged to Earth in an effort to find her and save her, while the entire family prepares to do battle with the Crescent Council and its supporters in order to change the future of their society.

I enjoyed the style of writing. I was in the moment with the characters and felt like I knew them pretty well. Where it fell apart for me was the ending when I just became confused. I had to go back and reread parts to make sure I didn’t miss something, and when I finished I still wasn’t sure where Livvy was – on earth or up in the clouds? Were her parents really her parents after all, or was she adopted like she said? All of the people who seemed to exist in two worlds – were they watching and taking care of her the whole time? Were they really angels? There were too many unanswered questions for me.  I know it’s the first in a series, and that’s not the problem. I’m just not sure what happened in the last chapter or two. I will definitely be interested in reading the next book, but there are some things I felt should have been more clear in the closing to the first.

Bella gives Heartborn four stars. 4 stars

Potty-mouth Index: CLEAN

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

Fifteen Words

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Fifteen Words by Monika Jephcott Thomas

At a time when World War II-era novels abound, this one is unusual in that it is set in Nazi Germany and follows the lives of a young German couple —Max and Erika – who fall in love, marry, and are then separated by war and its aftermath. Max is a religious man who hates Hitler and his regime, while Erika is a Nazi supporter, having grown up as an enthusiastic member of the Hitler Youth. They attend medical school together and after graduation, Max joins the army as a medic for the purpose of helping the soldiers, not furthering the Nazi cause. He is stationed in the city of Breslau, running a field hospital set up in a former monastery, when the Soviet army takes control of the city and sends him to a labor camp in Siberia.

Erika, meanwhile, is six months pregnant and is traveling with her father-in-law to the home of Max’s parents where she plans to live and give birth to their baby. She has no idea what has become of Max, but assumes he will be coming home soon, since the war is ending. Neither of them realizes that they will not see each other for four more years.

The title refers to the fact that letters sent home by Soviet prisoners were not allowed to contain more than fifteen words, thereby limiting their ability to tell their loved ones about their living conditions. As readers, however, we are privy to all of the deprivation, horrors, and mistreatment that Max and his fellow prisoners must endure at the hands of the Soviets. In alternate chapters, we observe Erika as she makes a life for herself and her daughter in occupied Germany while Max is gone.

After following their individual lives during four years of separation, it was clear that their reunion as a couple would not be an easy one, and I was particularly interested in how that reunion would ultimately play out. How long would it take them to get used to one another again? Was it even possible? Max isn’t the person he once was and no longer feels a bond with “home.” Erika has her misgivings and her secrets, and their daughter is less than welcoming to her father. Does he ever connect with his daughter, recapture a loving relationship with his wife, and at least come close to feeling as though he might fit in again? Unfortunately, the book stops abruptly upon his return home and leaves all of those questions unanswered.

Overall, this book is well written and well researched. While the story is fiction, the book is inspired by actual events in the lives of the author and her family (see our guest post from author Monika Jephcott Thomas). I just wish I knew more about Max’s fate, as I had become invested in his welfare (Erika’s not so much).

Grandma gives Fifteen Words four stars. 4 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews Books was given a free copy of the book by the author in return for an honest review and participation in the blog tour accompanying its release.

A Story of Hope, Love, and Faith: Guest Post by Author Monika Jephcott Thomas

It’s the eighth of May, 1945, and Word War Two has come to an end. The doorbell rings. Two American  army officers carrying riding crops step up to the door and one of them speaks, his manner and his tone both extremely commanding, ‘Within the next few hours, you must clear out your flat.’ Just like that. There is absolutely no opportunity for discussion or question. I am heavily pregnant and expecting the birth of my first child within a matter of days. I hurriedly gather up all of our possessions, and pack them into boxes, which we then stack at the front of the house. Now, I am literally sitting on the street with my in-laws.

This is an extract from my mother’s diary. I was born in Germany in 1945 a few days after this entry was written. My father was a POW in Siberia, so I didn’t meet him until I was four. The first years of my life were spent in occupied Germany. We lived in Mengede, Dortmund, in the North-West of the country. Allied troops wandering around the streets of my hometown were a familiar sight. The bitterness and resentment they had for the German people was palpable. The ransacking of homes and the rape of German women was rife. Germany in the months after the end of the war was a dangerous place. But it was all I knew. To me it was normality.

Then he was coming home. My papa, the man I had heard about and had seen in photos but had never met, was coming home. Mum seemed to be very busy getting things ready, with banners for his welcome and decorating the house with flowers. The local press were informed that this war hero was coming back, and then the morning arrived. We all went together to Mengede Station – Oma and Opa, Tante Änne, my Mum and myself. We were not allowed to go on to the platform so we stayed at the entrance where we were expecting him to emerge. I stood beside my Mum, waiting for him to appear, holding the little bunch of flowers I was going to give him. And suddenly, there he was! This man in his army uniform, looking very pale and thin, walking towards us. He stopped in front of us and nobody quite seemed to know what to do. So my Mum whispered to me “Give him the flowers and say hello.” I did, and I expected him to scoop me up in his arms and hug me, kiss me and tell me how much he loved me and how he had missed me… but he didn’t. Instead, he took a round brown Bakelite container out of his rucksack and gave it to me, saying “This is for you.” I opened it and it was full of sweets, such as I had never had before and I was sure my Mum would not allow me to have. However, it made me forget that he had not done all the things I had expected him to do, including not hugging my Mum or his parents.

We all walked back to my grandparents’ house and I held hands with them while Dad and Mum walked together, arm in arm. Once we were inside, after he had been shown around and we all had some ‘Kaffee und Kuchen,’ my grandparents suggested I went out to play with my friends so I took the brown container with me. However, as soon as I was out of sight of our house, I opened the container and stuffed myself with sweets. Then I went to meet my friends and, because I felt guilty for having eaten so many, I handed the sweets round to everyone, obediently doing what I had been taught – to share – keeping the empty box to play with later and to take home as evidence of my generosity. When I got home for supper, my Papa asked me where the sweets were. I held the empty box and opened the lid, showing him proudly that I had none left because I had shared them with my friends. I thought he would praise me but, instead, he became very angry with me for giving them away.

Of course, there was no way I could possibly understand then how many sacrifices he had made in order to give me that present, for how long he had deprived himself of even the horrible food they had to eat in the labour camp, how many people he had bribed to give this ‘treasure’ to me.

This first meeting between me and my father inspired a central moment in the last chapter of my novel Fifteen Words. How two young lovers, such as my mother and father were during World War Two, can be ripped apart by war, separated for such long and debilitating times, and then how they begin to repair the inevitable rifts that have formed between them, is the subject of the novel – one which, despite the bleak backdrop of war, is a story about hope, love and faith in all its forms.

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Monika Jephcott Thomas grew up in Dortmund Mengede, northwest Germany. She moved to the UK in 1966, enjoying a thirty-year career in education before retraining as a therapist. Along with her partner, Jeff, she established the Academy of Play & child Psychotherapy in order to support the twenty percent of children who have emotional, behavioral, social, and mental health problems, by using play and the creative Arts. A founder member of Play Therapy UK, Jephcott Thomas was elected President of Play Therapy International in 2002.

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Two young doctors form a profound and loving bond in Nazi Germany; a bond that will stretch them to the very limits of human endurance. Catholic Max – whose religious and moral beliefs are in conflict, has been conscripted to join the war effort as a medic, despite his hatred of Hitler’s regime. His beloved Erika, a privileged young woman, is herself a product of the Hitler Youth. In spite of their stark differences, Max and Erika defy convention and marry.

But when Max is stationed at the fortress city of Breslau, their worst nightmares are realized; his hospital is bombed, he is captured by the Soviet Army and taken to a POW camp in Siberia. Max experiences untold horrors, his one comfort the letters he is allowed to send home: messages that can only contain fifteen words. Back in Germany, Erika is struggling to survive and protect their young daughter, finding comfort in the arms of a local carpenter. Worlds apart and with only sparse words for comfort, will they ever find their way back to one another, and will Germany ever find peace?

Fifteen Words is a vivid and intimate portrayal of human love and perseverance, one which illuminates the German experience of the war, which has often been overshadowed by history.

Available on Amazon.

For Grandma’s review of Fifteen Words, go here.