The Broken Girls

The Broken Girls

The Broken Girls by Simone St. James (Paranormal, Mystery)

The girls referred to in the title of this book have been sent to Idlewild Hall, a creepy, second-rate boarding school in a small Vermont town. They are the girls no one knows what to do with – hard to handle, illegitimate, or simply unwanted. Built in 1919, the school is rumored to be haunted, and the girls who live in this dreadful place over the years pass along stories of Mary Hand, the resident ghost. Even after the school is closed in the 1970s, the abandoned buildings continue to throw a chilling pall over the town and its inhabitants.

In 2014 Fiona Sheridan, a local journalist, has her own reasons for hating Idlewild Hall. Twenty years ago, her older sister was murdered and her body was dumped in the abandoned school’s playing field. Now the place has been purchased and is about to be restored, and Fiona uses the potential story as cover to feed her obsession with the property and its history. She is on the grounds the day a shocking discovery is made, and soon she is delving into more than she bargained for.

The novel follows two different timelines – Fiona in 2014 and four Idlewild Hall girls in 1950. We get the points of view of all five characters in alternating chapters, and before long their stories begin to intertwine. Each 1950s Idlewild girl has a unique backstory, and when one of them goes missing, her friends must fight to have authorities take her disappearance seriously. That disappearance, along with sightings of Mary Hand, will affect Fiona, as well.

The author has created an eerie setting populated with characters we come to care about. I thoroughly enjoyed her writing style and found her dialogue to be exceptionally true to how people speak. The story itself is a gentle inclusion of paranormal with mystery, suspense, and historical fiction, and the ending satisfyingly answers the questions raised throughout the book.

Grandma gives The Broken Girls 4.5 stars. 4.5 stars

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

The Broken Girls will be released by the publisher on March 20, 2018 and is available for pre-order.

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The Murder of Manny Grimes

The Murder of Manny Grimes

The Murder of Manny Grimes by Angela Kay (Mystery/Thriller)

This book was a mixed bag for me. I was interested in the basic story: who killed Manny Grimes and why? The story bogged down once in a while, but it had its share of worthwhile developments and complex details. The characters were all a little too prickly for me; I didn’t find any that I truly cared about as individuals, which makes it harder to be invested in the outcome. Still, I wanted to know what happened and found the plot interesting.

Unfortunately, this book needs a good copy editing. Most annoying is improperly punctuated dialogue with random paragraph breaks that make it hard to know who is saying what. Odd phrasing (Claire unleashed her arms with a sighCalhoun took her lips to his) and misused words (…Walker replied, becoming irritant …a completely separate incidence to Grimes’ murderHis questionable eyes turned to shockThe furniture and decorum sent out an unwelcome sensation…) are distracting. Mixing of tenses in a single sentence and sloppy grammar occur too many times to be ignored.

The structure could also use some tightening, and the author gives away too much when she suddenly puts us inside the perpetrator’s head about two-thirds of the way through the novel. Until then, we know what the investigators know, which makes sense. Suddenly giving us the perp’s point of view doesn’t add anything that won’t come out eventually, and while it may be meant to add tension, it simply feels out of place and awkward. I believe the author has promise, but she needs guidance in order to do her best work and would benefit from working with a good editor.

Grandma gives The Murder of Manny Grimes three stars. 3 stars

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

Right Handed Lefty

Right-Handed Lefty

Right Handed Lefty by Ryan Coughlin (Coming of Age, Young Adult)

This book has a strong sense of place, that place being southwestern Wisconsin in 1983. Locals talk like someone out of the movie Fargo, and small town life makes it hard to be different. Characters include a twelve-year-old Native American boy adopted by white parents; his two misfit friends, one of whom is Hmong; and adults haunted by the loss of a child, infidelity, and memories of combat in World War II. There is also a sexually abused girl and an elderly Native American man with his own history of persecution.

The story centers on the three boys but also delves into the minds and backstories of the adults, making this a multi-layered work that eventually all comes together. The one superfluous character is the girl, who has no real influence on the plot except to be a first love for Ellis, the Native American boy. It takes a while for the action to get going, but once it does, things move along pretty well. I admit to sliding over some of the description, and I really don’t like dream sequences since they don’t show what’s really happening and just bog things down.

The writing style is clunky at times, and the book needs a good editor. It has misspelled, extra, or missing words, and words that are just plain wrong, like “illicit” where the author meant “elicit.” I think the author has promise and his characters were interesting, but this book needs refining to be as good as it could be.

Bella gives Right-Handed Lefty three stars. 3 stars

POTTY-MOUTH INDEX: MINOR

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

Sleep, Savannah, Sleep

Sleep Savannah Sleep

Sleep, Savannah, Sleep by Alistair Cross (Paranormal Mystery)

Sleep, Savannah, Sleep is a real treat: well-written, engaging, with a smart, appealing main character who has experiences that are just creepy enough to be on the edge of possible. Jason Crandall, mid-thirties and newly widowed, moves his two children – a belligerent teen and a sweet little seven-year-old – to a new town. He meets seemingly well-meaning people as well as a troubled young woman, a scary neighbor, and some sinister townsfolk. When the young woman goes missing, Jason starts experiencing night terrors, hallucinations, and visions. Before long, the reader isn’t sure which of his new acquaintances Jason should be trusting.

This is a paranormal murder mystery with a number of twists and an unexpected murderer. The paranormal aspects build tension without being unnecessarily horrifying, a feature I appreciated. The book’s main appeal, however, was a likeable protagonist I quickly came to care about. Jason has a sense of humor. He makes mistakes. He misses his deceased wife, but he doesn’t dwell on it. He finds himself attracted to women he meets and is conflicted by it. He struggles with fathering a rebellious son and a little girl who needs mothering, and all the while he’s seeing disturbing things that are scaring the crap out of him.

I enjoyed the author’s similes – “Brent’s jaw dropped open like a glove box” – except for his repeated references to a leathery voice. Try as I might, I could not make the connection between a voice and something tactile, visual, and possibly olfactory, but, in my experience at least, basically soundless. Nit-picky, I know, but each time it came up, it took me out of the story. That and one of my pet peeves: one does not “try and” do something, one “tries to” do it. This book was too well edited and proofread to allow that. That said, I plan to read Alistair Cross’s other novels. I’m hooked.

Grandma gives Sleep, Savannah, Sleep five stars. 5 stars

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

Sleep, Savannah, Sleep will be released on September 25, 2017, and is available for pre-order.

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.

The Fix

The Fix

The Fix by David Baldacci (Thriller)

If one reads enough thrillers, the themes become familiar: espionage, terrorism, governmental corruption, Russian mafia, special forces, stolen secrets, and so on. What differentiates these stories are the details and how the imminent threat to national security will be resolved. What also differentiates them is the main characters, the players who will solve the crime, stop the destruction, and foil the evil-doers. Character development—creating someone we feel we know and whose success we care about—becomes paramount if a story is going to keep us invested in the outcome.

In The Fix, David Baldacci gives us Amos Decker, a former football player with a tragic family history and a brain damaged by a sports injury that ended his career. As a result of the brain injury, he has a photographic memory and the ability to see auras, including colors that portend death, and he has lost his social skills. He’s great at parsing the details and seeing what others don’t see, but he’s a challenge to work with and pretty hopeless at establishing relationships. His female partner, FBI agent Alex Jamison, is a former reporter who sometimes has second thoughts about her career change and obviously has feelings for Decker, even though he frustrates the heck out of her. Together they provide the right mix of skill and vulnerability, and when we add in DIA agent Harper Brown—an amazing woman in her own right—and a cast of suspects that keep us guessing as to who did what and why, we have a book that’s hard to put down.

Baldacci is a prolific and accomplished author whose pacing, details, and storyline kept me absorbed from beginning to end. The Fix is the third book in the Amos Decker series, and having read it, I now want to go back and read the first two, Memory Man and The Guilty.

Grandma gives The Fix five stars. 5 stars

The Cutaway

The Cutaway

The Cutaway by Christina Kovac (Thriller)

In the television industry, a cutaway is a shot that interrupts the main action to show someone or something of interest on the periphery. It might cut to the crowd at a well-attended event or pan the surrounding neighborhood when the main story is about a building fire or a police investigation.

For TV news producer Virginia Knightly, the cutaway that sparks her curiosity happens to feature a young female attorney who has been reported as missing. Knightly’s observations about the event being filmed and the people surrounding the young woman send her on a personal quest to learn the truth about the attorney’s fate. As the story progresses, we learn about Knightly’s personal life, her challenges and demons, and become invested in her fate, as well.

One of the best things about this debut novel is the unique profession of its main character. Virginia Knightly is a refreshingly different type of crime investigator who brings us into the world of TV nightly news production. We spend time in the studio, we see the interactions among staff both behind and in front of the cameras, and we watch a news reporter in action as she pulls her story together and gets it ready for prime time. Other than the fact that all of the women are beautiful and the men are distractingly handsome, this book provides a welcome change from the usual protagonist: the jaded former police officer, disillusioned FBI agent, or emeritus military specialist brought out of retirement to solve the mystery.

At first I found The Cutaway to be a bit slow-going, but my interest in Knightly and her profession kept me reading. The action and my investment in the outcome really picked up at the half-way mark, and from that point on I was hooked.

Grandma gives The Cutaway four stars. 4 stars

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