The Au Pair

The Au Pair

The Au Pair by Emma Rous (Psychological Suspense)

If you enjoy books that keep you guessing right up to an ending you never saw coming, this will be right up your alley.

Twenty-five-year-old Seraphine has always felt that she didn’t belong in her family. She doesn’t resemble her twin brother or her older brother. When she finds a family photo of the day she and her twin were born, their mother is holding only one baby. And shortly after that photo was taken, their mother committed suicide.

Seraphine’s father has died, and her wealthy, strong-willed grandmother refuses to talk about the day Seraphine’s mother fell to her death. The one person who may have answers is her older brother’s former au pair, Laura. But when Seraphine sets out to find her, everything becomes even darker and more complicated.

The tale unravels in chapters alternately voiced by Seraphine and Laura, with Seraphine documenting the present, and Laura revealing the past. The characters and the location, a seaside mansion on the English coast, come alive.  Although a couple of coincidences felt too convenient, the overall resolution was complex and unforeseeable, making for a satisfying ending.

Four and a half stars.

This reviewer received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley with a request for an honest review.

The Au Pair will be released on January 8, 2019, and is available for pre-order.

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Something in the Water

Something in the Water

Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman (Suspense)

“Something in the water” refers to an object, but by the end of this book I was beginning to think it was a contaminant in what the main characters were drinking. Two basically normal people who loved each other turned into greedy, conniving, and often unbelievably stupid individuals making very poor choices, and it all happened practically overnight.

The book starts off with a bang. The narrator is digging a shallow grave into which she rolls her husband’s corpse. Wow. How did that happen and why?

Wanting to know the answer to that question was the only thing that kept me reading to the end. Most of what came in between was either painfully slow, highly unlikely, or an attempt at suspense where there wasn’t any. Are those sharks in the water where they’re scuba diving in Bora Bora? Oh, no! How did that mobster she’s been interviewing know where to send honeymoon flowers and champagne, and why did he send them? Better tell new hubby they came from somebody else!

What was meant to be a surprise twist at the end was just another in a long series of improbabilities. And why was hubby dead? Darwinism at its most pure.

Yes, Catherine Steadman is the actress in Downton Abbey. And yes, this book is slated to become a movie. Don’t let either of those keep you from passing by this one.

Two stars.

This reviewer received a free copy from the publisher via NetGalley.

An Accidental Messiah

The Accidental Messiah

An Accidental Messiah by Dan Sofer (Religious Fantasy)

Moshe Karlin and his fellow members of The Dry Bones Society are plenty busy in this  sequel to An Unexpected Afterlife. Moshe started The Dry Bones Society when he realized that he was not alone in being resurrected from the dead. Large numbers of new resurrectees are appearing in Jerusalem graveyards on a daily basis, and they need help in acclimating to their new circumstances. Unlike Moshe, who died two years before and was able to resume his previous life, the new resurrectees are coming from further and further back in history, leaving them totally unfamiliar with present-day Jerusalem and its occupants. Moshe now needs patrons with deep pockets and political influence in order to give the newly undead a chance to survive in modern times.

This book felt much more complicated than Book One as we follow a number of different story lines related to different characters. Some of the undead are doing their best to hide who they were the first time around, but Irina still can’t remember her former identity. Eli Katz is struggling to figure out if he really is Elijah the Prophet, while his girlfriend, Noga, has made a significant discovery regarding the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel but doesn’t know if she should go public with the information. Various sinister individuals are trying to derail The Dry Bones Society, putting Moshe Karlin, his close associates, and his family in danger. Plus there’s the foretold End of Days to worry about and the highly anticipated arrival of the messiah.

As with Book One, this novel is full of Jewish religious lore and a strong sense of place as we follow the assorted characters on their adventures in Jerusalem. For me, it wasn’t as much fun as the first book where the entire concept was new and the characters a little more lighthearted. Some things are resolved but many more await Book Three. Dan Sofer is a good writer, and while none of the characters really resonate with me, I remain interested in how their situation will resolve itself.

Grandma gives An Accidental Messiah four stars. 4 stars

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

Alternate Side

Alternate Side

Alternate Side by Anna Quindlen (Literary Fiction/Women’s Contemporary Fiction)

Alternate Side is a character-driven slice-of-life story, the type at which Anna Quindlen excels. You get to know her people as though they were friends. As with most of us, their lives have moments of drama among mostly no-big-deal daily stuff, but because you know these people, you’re interested. If, perchance, you can identify with them and their problems, all the better.

Nora Nolan and her husband, Charlie, live in a closely knit New York City neighborhood of comfortably rich people with housekeepers and a shared handyman. They all know each other, socialize at catered neighborhood events, but are not quite friends. In other words, they don’t bare their hearts to one another. Still, they care about each other, and when something happens to one, the others come to help.

After nearly thirty years together, Nora and Charlie have grown apart. Their twins are graduating from college and moving on with their lives, leaving an empty nest. While Nora loves New York City life, Charlie wants to move to a warm climate where he can golf year-round. She has a job she enjoys; he’s not all that happy in his. Little things he does are starting to annoy her. He’s threatened by the possibility that she will take a new position with status greater than his. When an act of violence rocks the neighborhood, she and he see the incident very differently.

Having grown up in a friendly Midwestern neighborhood where block parties were common, I could identify with the measured camaraderie among neighbors. And being of a certain age, I could understand how Nora and Charlie felt. This story also deals with race relations, class privilege, and what are often referred to as first-world problems, yet refrains from passing judgment. If you are looking for fast-paced action , mystery, or romance, this book is not for you. But if you enjoy fine writing, Alternate Side is that.

Grandma gives Alternate Side five stars. 5 stars

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

Alternate Side will be released on March 20, 2018, and is available for pre-order.

The Family Next Door

The Family Next Door

The Family Next Door by Sally Hepworth (Women’s Fiction/Psychological Thriller)

This book involves five women who live in the upscale neighborhood known as Pleasant Court, where families mingle but also cherish and protect their privacy. Three women – Ange, Fran, and Essie – are married with young children. The new neighbor, Isabelle, is single and childless. Barbara is Essie’s single mom and grandmother to Essie’s little girls. All five women have their secrets and their frustrations, and we get to know them well as they take turns telling this story from their individual points of view.

Sally Hepworth (The Mother’s Promise) brings all of it together in an ending I didn’t see coming. Throughout the story, we’re aware of each woman’s struggles with motherhood, marriage, and men who disappoint in one way or another. We know about their psychological breakdowns, their mistakes, and what wears them out by the end of the day. We watch them grapple with personal demons that require difficult decisions. And running throughout is the question, who is the anonymous, mentally disturbed narrator who has taken someone else’s baby from the hospital?

All in all, it’s an interesting look at the face we put on for others and leaves you wondering what you don’t know about that nice family down the block.

Grandma gives The Family Next Door four stars. 4 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Family Next Door will be released on March 6, 2018 and is available for pre-order.

A Boy Made of Blocks

A Boy Made of Blocks

A Boy Made of Blocks by Keith Stuart (General Fiction)

Alex Rowe, the thirty-something narrator of this story, cannot stop dwelling on a tragedy that occurred during his childhood. As a result, his marriage is falling apart, he cannot relate to his autistic young son, and he barely communicates with his sister and widowed mom. When his frustrated wife kicks him out of the house and he loses his job, he realizes he needs to change his ways. In an effort to connect with his little boy, he learns to play Minecraft, a video game the boy loves, and little by little they literally build their own world together. In the process Alex comes to understand both himself and his child better and finally comes to terms with his past.

Although this may sound like a dire scenario, Alex is funny and likeable, and we grow to love his son, Sam. The book is populated with interesting characters who round out his life, and the entire story is uplifting and poignant. In real life, the author is the father of an autistic child, and while this is not his son’s story, his first-hand knowledge of autism and its challenges is apparent.

Unfortunately, the extensive descriptions of their Minecraft world were often too much for me, and I found myself skimming those passages. While it’s important to understand the game and how one creates with it, the details made my eyes glaze over. In general, however, I found the story and its characters enjoyable and the narrator a delight.

Grandma gives A Boy Made of Blocks four stars. 4 stars

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

The Wife Between Us

The Wife Between Us

The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen (Thriller)

The write-up for this psychological thriller warns that even when you think you have things all figured out, you’ll be wrong. This is true.

Lots of twists and unexpected turns make this a book that will keep you off-balance. What seems to be a somewhat unlikeable protagonist/narrator morphs into someone you begin to understand. Not everything she has said and done was reckless after all. She’s not as unreliable as she seems. There are good reasons why things happened the way they did. Things you don’t see coming suddenly make sense when you think back on how it all played out.

Hendricks and Pekkanen combine their respective careers as book editor and best-selling novelist to produce a work meant to make the most of what’s popular in today’s fiction. It’s full of familiar tropes: the rich, handsome, doting husband who’s too good to be true; the awestruck young wife blinded by her fairy-tale life; the vindictive former wife stalking the new wife. The authors cleverly tweak the familiar to keep it unpredictable and introduce new “aha!” moments that won’t let you put the book down until it’s finished.

A good read when you’re looking for something that holds your interest but then lets you move on without too much introspection… unless, of course, you’re married to someone who seems too good to be true.

Grandma gives The Wife Between Us four stars. 4 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.