The Springthorpe Agenda

Springthorpe Agenda

The Springthorpe Agenda by Dale Ripley (Thriller)

Creepy stories, to me, are ones that could actually happen and are, therefore, frightening to contemplate. They employ scary situations that just might be possible if one is unfortunate enough to encounter them. If they’re too far out, it can be hard to feel that necessary sense of dread.

The opening chapter of The Springthorpe Agenda makes it clear that something awful is going on in an old age home. In a hidden room below the facility, writhing bodies and crying forms in crumpled heaps huddle inside steel cages, begging to “go back.” A gray-haired woman is strapped to an exam table surrounded by “sharp instruments, needles and serums.” Meanwhile, upstairs, beaming elderly patients with glazed eyes and big, toothless smiles crowd around the nurse, eager to get their pills. Hmmm…

When Mark Hogarth gets a text from his sister that their dad has died unexpectedly, he’s surprised and filled with guilt. Dad was a patient at Springthorpe Manor, the same nursing home where their mother died of Alzheimer’s disease not that long ago. Dad seemed healthy, and Mark didn’t visit often enough. Now, when he calls the facility, a nurse tells him they’ve already cremated his dad’s body, and he needs to come pick up the ashes. Odd, but then, Springthorpe Manor also has its own sprawling cemetery right next door, so it’s apparently some sort of a full-service facility.

It doesn’t take long for Mark to suspect that not all is well at Springthorpe, which sets him on a quest to find out what really happened to his parents. Things move along quickly, there are some suitably sinister characters, an amazing coincidence involving a child, and a weird twist that creates a surprise ending – not quite a deus ex machina, but close. Whether you find any of it creepy — or just unusual — is up to you.

Mechanically speaking, Ripley is a good writer with an interesting style and a flair for descriptive phrasing. The line editing is flawless, but the book has some distractions common to first novels that have not had strong content editing. Head-hopping occurs often enough to be noticeable – the character whose head you’re in can’t know what someone else is remembering at that moment. It’s also disconcerting when a character is acutely aware of her own eye or hair color, so that she watches someone through her own emerald green eyes or flips her own blond hair over her shoulder. It’s not like she has more than one option. Still, the how-will-this-all-end question is strong enough to keep one reading.

Grandma gives The Springthorpe Agenda three and a half stars. 3.5 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy of the book from the author with a request for an honest review.

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Leave No Trace

Leave No Trace

Leave No Trace by Mindy Mejia (Suspense)

Mindy Mejia (Everything You Want Me to Be) is a master at creating people you can see, feel, and touch. You understand where they’re coming from. You care about them. When the two main characters are both social outcasts as they are in Leave No Trace, it’s even better. Now you really want them to succeed.

Maya, a newly graduated speech therapist with a rocky past, is assigned to the case of Lucas, a nineteen-year-old patient in a mental hospital. Ten years before, he and his widowed dad disappeared into the Minnesota wilderness known as the Boundary Waters. They were assumed dead until Lucas broke into an outfitter’s store and was captured.

Now Maya is tasked with getting Lucas to communicate with her about where he and his father went and why. The death of a landlady occurred just before they disappeared, and the father is a prime suspect. But a bond has formed between Maya and Lucas, and Maya is torn between betraying Lucas’s trust or betraying the mentor who has seen her through thick and thin.

A strong sense of place pervades this novel. The author transports us to Duluth, Minnesota, and the Boundary Waters. We feel the draw the glacial lakes have on Lucas, and we find that Maya herself is no stranger to the outdoor life. She’s also extremely knowledgeable about the geology of the area, as that was the professional interest of the mother who deserted Maya and her father and left Maya with only a few precious agates to remember her by. All of it works together brilliantly to make an absorbing book that was impossible to put down. An unexpected twist near the end was just frosting on a well-constructed cake.

Grandma gives Leave No Trace five stars. 5 stars

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

Leave No Trace will be released on September 4, 2018, and is available for pre-order.

Jar of Hearts

Jar of Hearts

Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier (Thriller)

Thirty-year-old corporate executive Georgina Shaw is going to prison. Fourteen years ago, her best friend, Angela Wong, disappeared. But Angela’s remains have been found in a shallow grave, and while Georgina didn’t kill Angela, she knew what happened to her high school friend and never told anyone. Now she has plea-bargained a five year sentence in return for testifying against the killer.

But there are additional, gruesome details that Georgina continues to hide, and when she’s about to be released from prison, copy-cat murders — albeit with a twist — begin to occur. Somebody knows Georgina’s secrets, and that person is coming for her.

I read this book in a single day. Everything about it held my interest — the characters, the fast-paced storytelling, the suspense, the writing style. The arresting officer’s unrequited high school crush on Georgina and his current involvement in investigating the new homicides add depth and intrigue to the story, while the author deftly reveals just enough clues to let the reader have the satisfaction of starting to figure it all out.

Grandma gives Jar of Hearts five stars. 5 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley with a request for an honest review.

 

 

The Last Train

The Last Train

The Last Train by Michael Pronko (Thriller/Mystery)

Michael Pronko writes mysteries set in Tokyo, making this book not only a fast-paced thriller but a close look at a city where holy temples rub shoulders with hostess clubs and high-speed trains provide a means for homicide.

Hiroshi Shimitzu is a Tokyo police detective who normally deals with white collar crime, but because he speaks English well, he is pulled into the investigation of an American businessman’s death by train. Insider trading, high-stakes real estate deals, and a mysterious ex-hostess give Hiroshi and his fellow detectives plenty to contemplate as they race against time to capture the murderer. In a unique twist for the average mystery, we already know who the killer is. What remains to be learned is why she did it and will she get away with it?

Novels with a strong, well-drawn sense of place rate highly with me, especially when they provide insights into an unfamiliar culture (Dew Angels, Hillstation, The Brazilian Husband, Savaged Lands). This book is no exception. Pronko takes us deep into Tokyo nightlife as well as giving us glimpses of the holy shrines, religious practices, and food traditions that are an integral part of daily life. We meet everyday people, teen-aged call girls, hard-boiled corporate executives, and ex-sumo wrestlers. At the same time, he creates well-developed characters who keep the reader’s interest.

Grandma gives The Last Train four and a half stars. 4.5 stars

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

Abuse of Discretion

Abuse of Discretion

Abuse of Discretion by Pamela Samuels Young (Suspense)

Sexting is the topic of this excellent courtroom drama. Fourteen-year-old Graylin has a nude photo of a classmate on his cell phone, and someone has tipped off the police. Graylin didn’t take the photo; someone Snapchatted him anonymously, but he took a screenshot and now faces charges of possession of child pornography. He hasn’t distributed it or even shown it to his best friend, but if he is found guilty as charged, this straight-A student and all-around good kid will go on record as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

Compounding the odds against him is the fact that he is a black kid with an ex-con for a dad and a drug-addicted mother who has disappeared from his life. His school friends and family and his attorney, Angela Evans, are all black, as is the author, which gives this novel a welcome freshness in point of view and experience. And, it is a fast-paced, all-absorbing story that was hard to put down.

The story is told through the eyes of several individuals, including Graylin, his friends and family, Angela, and also The Shepherd, a sex trafficker who specializes in kidnapping children. As book three in the Dre Thomas Series, it continues the story of Angela’s boyfriend, Dre Thomas, whose niece was taken by The Shepherd. His testimony has put The Shepherd in prison, and The Shepherd is out for revenge.

Author Pamela Samuels Young is an attorney with experience in the juvenile justice system, and online safety is one of her areas of interest. Sex trafficking in the United States is another topic she covers in an effort to raise awareness about dangers facing young people today. Abuse of Discretion makes a thought-provoking statement about current-day sexual permissiveness in advertising, movies, and television: How can we blame today’s children for accepting as normal what we have allowed to become ubiquitous in their environment?

Grandma gives Abuse of Discretion five stars. 5 stars

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

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.

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.