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.

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The Blackbird Season

The Blackbird Season

The Blackbird Season by Kate Moretti (Suspense)

In The Blackbird Season, Kate Moretti gives us front-row seats to a drama about marriage, fidelity, teacher-student relationships, and the complicated interactions among peers in a small town, be they teenagers or adults. In typical Moretti fashion, she provides complex, nuanced characters whom we get to know well and whose flaws make them all the more real and relatable.

Alecia and Nate already have a stressful marriage. Her days are totally consumed by her obsession with their  autistic five-year-old, while Nate is closely – some might say excessively – involved with the high school students he teaches and coaches. When one of the students claims that she and Nate are having an affair, things begin to fall apart, and when the girl disappears altogether, it gets worse.

The story is told from the points of view of four different characters, and the timeline jumps back and forth, providing backstory at some points and current story at others, which I found potentially confusing at first. I thoroughly enjoy Moretti’s writing style, however. Her descriptions bring people and places alive, immersing the reader in each character’s experience, and her pacing keeps one engaged.

While this book is categorized as suspense based on the girl’s disappearance and the question of who is responsible, it’s really more of a study of the complexities, expectations, and disappointments of personal relationships. It also does a good job of exploring the tragic outcomes that can result from the loss of a small town’s main source of employment – in this case the local paper mill that once meant prosperity but now sits in ruin, abandoned and dangerous. The whodunit aspect takes a back seat to finding out how the main characters will fare when all is said and done.

Grandma gives The Blackbird Season five stars. 5 stars

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

The Blackbird Season will be released on September 26, 2017, and is available for pre-order.

The Miseries of Mr. Sparrows

The Miseries of Mr. Sparrows

The Miseries of Mr. Sparrows by Matthew A. J. Timmins (Humor/Mystery)

This is probably the most unique work I’ve reviewed in a very long time. It reads like a historical novel set in Victorian London, with a strong sense of place and gritty, Dickensian characters with lots of quirks and warts. At the same time, it’s very funny.

The setting is not exactly London but the very similar city of Claudon, capital of Albion, on the banks of the River Plew. Our anti-hero, Mr. Robin Sparrows, is a lowly legal clerk who is paid a pittance to do menial tasks for a disreputable law firm. He’s a timid, self-effacing fellow who falls prey to all sorts of dilemmas, most often due to the nefarious behavior of others. Still, his sense of duty propels him forward and keeps him going as he seeks to deliver a package to the Empire’s most notorious criminal, a man responsible for starting the Crocodile War with the nation of Crocodon.

I loved many things about this book. The writing is superb. The eccentric characters are entertaining, and the names of places — Upper-Hem-On-The-Edge, St. Audley’s Home for Limbless Soldiers — and the names of people — Lord Ernest Arenblast, the diminutive Warden Webert Stillbee — have the sparkling creativity of J.K. Rowling. I found myself chuckling at clever similes and plays on words as well as the outlandish situations in which the hapless Robin finds himself — attempting to hide on a windowsill while being attacked by a territorial pigeon was just one of many.

Readers with an appreciation for the mildly absurd and those who enjoy clever narrative and strong writing skills will find this refreshing novel most entertaining. If Mr. Sparrows were to return with new adventures, I would be happy to meet up with him again.

Grandma gives The Miseries of Mr. Sparrows 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 Antique House Murders

The Antique House Murders Cover

The Antique House Murders by Leslie Nagel (Cozy Mystery)

This is the second book in the Oakwood Mystery Series, the first being the entertaining The Book Club Murders which we reviewed in October, 2016. Amateur sleuth Charley Carpenter, the indomitable young owner of a vintage clothing shop, is back, this time intent on solving the murder of a friend during an apparent break-in and robbery gone wrong.

Tempers are flaring in Oakwood, Ohio. Plans to demolish an historic old mansion to make way for development are hotly contested, and folks in town are taking sides, sometimes with violent results. With her personal connection to the murder victim, Charley can’t stay out of the action, even though her snooping defies angry warnings from her police detective boyfriend and puts their relationship at risk.

Familiar friends from the first book are here, but we see less of them as Charley takes on more of a solo approach this time that gets her into plenty of trouble. There are enough twists and turns and potentially guilty people to keep the reader unsure of who the perpetrator might be right up to the end. The author does a good job of moving things along while providing an appropriate amount of description that puts us in close contact with the smells, sights, and sounds of the formerly elegant but now decrepit old house and all the secrets it holds. Charley, her long-suffering boyfriend, and her two best friends are likeable characters who keep things fun and interesting, and Book Two in the Oakwood Mystery Series does not disappoint.

Grandma gives The Antique House Murders five stars. 5 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews Books received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and participation in the post-release blog tour.

The Eye of Nefertiti, A Pharaoh’s Cat Novel

The Eye of Nefertiti

The Eye of Nefertiti by Maria Luisa Lang (Fantasy)

This is the second book in the Pharaoh’s Cat series but is a stand-alone tale in itself. The cat’s voice is very fun, which makes this a light read with some tension and a nice trip to ancient Egypt thrown in. This is a cat that can talk and walk on its hind legs when it’s with those in the know but must lower himself to true cat-like behavior in the presence of others and suffer the indignities that represents. He’s been around for a very long time, living in current-day New York City as well as ancient Egypt, hanging around with pharaohs.

The beginning is a little slow as the cat describes what the reader should know about his past and how he got to New York. However, his playful attitude toward his owners lightens the exposition part as it does the rest of the story. There’s magic and trips through time, and we meet Nefertiti herself. The details about life in ancient Egypt are very interesting but not overdone, giving the story authenticity. A few twists and turns keep things interesting, and while there’s never a sense of real peril, it has enough mystery and unknowns to keep one reading. All in all, it’s a nice, light read with a fun narrator.

Bella gives The Eye of Nefertiti four stars. 4 stars

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

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.

The Steps

The Steps

The Steps by Iveta Redliha (Thriller)

This interesting book explores a topic not often encountered in novels: the possible psychological effects of surrogacy on the surrogate mother, the parents who have contracted her services, and the child. Leonora is a selfish young woman who is paid to bear a child for Kurt and Nellie. They move her into their house in order to keep it all secret, and it’s not long before the housekeeper, Greta, realizes what a conniving brat Leonora really is.

Reyna is a young woman whose mother has just died under unusual circumstances, leaving Reyna a run-down property she never knew her mother owned. As she struggles to understand it all, she meets a young man she finds simultaneously attractive and frightening. How this will all tie together is part of the book’s allure.

Iveta Redliha is a Latvian writer, and this work has been translated into English with mixed results. Most glaring is the frequent lack of “the” or “a/an” and unfortunate word choices not normally used in conversation or even story-telling, revealing reliance on a thesaurus without really understanding the vernacular. On a formatting level, it lacks quotation marks, using dashes to indicate dialogue.

Fortunately, the story itself was intriguing enough to keep me reading in spite of these distractions. The author is a good storyteller and a promising writer. With some publishing help for an English-speaking audience, this book could be a success.

Grandma gives The Steps four stars. 4 stars

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