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.

By Gaslight

by-gaslight

By Gaslight by Steven Price (Historical Fiction, Mystery)

This book does a superb job of transporting the reader to gas-lit Victorian London and post-Civil War U.S.A., as well as the diamond mines of South Africa. Steven Price’s rich and descriptive prose sets the mood and atmosphere and satisfies the reader who appreciates literary fiction. The story alternates between the viewpoints of William Pinkerton, a detective searching for the criminal who eluded his famous father, the American detective Allan Pinkerton, and Adam Foole, a conman searching for his lost love. Their paths cross, and we have a front row seat to their interactions as they pursue a common person of interest, Edward Shade.

The work is quite long, and at times I found the pace to be somewhat slow. However, each time I picked it up, I was immediately drawn back in by the language and no-holds-barred descriptions of people, places, and lifestyles that made me glad I did not live in those times. This book is not for the faint of heart. You will smell noxious fumes, witness disgusting lack of personal hygiene up close, and inspect the dismembered remains of a murdered woman. The air around you will feel heavy, you’ll be wandering dark streets in the fog, and you’ll share the main characters’ desperation when things go wrong. In short, if you enjoy historical fiction, you’ll be in your element.

Steven Price writes without the use of quotation marks to delineate dialogue, and at first that can be disconcerting. However, their absence seemed to fit with the spare, deprived, and depraved times into which this book immerses the reader, and once I became used to it, I rarely noticed their absence.

Grandma gives By Gaslight four stars.4 stars

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

The Girl From Venice

The Girl From Venice

The Girl from Venice by Martin Cruz Smith (Historical Fiction)

This World War II story takes place in Nazi-occupied Italy after Mussolini has switched sides and the war is winding down but not yet over. A Venetian fisherman named Cenzo finds the body of a girl floating in a lagoon and takes it onboard his boat. The young woman is not dead, however, and he soon learns that she is being actively sought by the German SS. His efforts to protect her plunge him into danger as he must interact with individuals on both sides of the war effort, including his older brother, Giorgio, a famous Italian film star with questionable allegiances. Bad blood already exists between the brothers, and Cenzo is torn between trusting Giorgio and turning him in.

The story is told primarily from Cenzo’s point of view, with the occasional switch to that of another character. Cenzo is a simple, self-deprecating man with a subtle sense of humor that quickly won me over and left me smiling. Little by little, his backstory, as well as that of the girl, Giulia, is revealed, while the mystery of who betrayed her and her family to the Nazis is not solved until the end. The Venetian setting is different from that of other WWII novels I’ve read, providing a glimpse into how Mussolini’s leadership affected the ordinary citizen and also into the life of an Italian fisherman.

The author is primarily a crime novelist, and his writing is precise and without frills. The continuous action held my interest from beginning to end, and I was deeply invested in knowing how it would all work out.

Grandma gives The Girl from Venice five stars.5 stars

The Girl from Venice will be published on October 18, 2017 and is available on pre-order.

Bella Reads and Reviews received an advanced review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Unfolding

Unfolding

Unfolding by Jonathan Friesen (Young Adult Fiction)

The cover of this book did not grab me, but the story sure did. It’s a well-written, gripping novel that kept me reading to find out how it all would, well, unfold.

Jonah is a high school senior who suffers from both a severe, body-twisting case of scoliosis and from epileptic seizures of ever-increasing intensity. His self-deprecating sense of humor helps him make it through life and also makes him a captivating narrator as he tells this tale of the secrets hidden in his hometown of Gullary, Oklahoma.

Much of what happens centers around Jonah’s eighteen-year-old next-door neighbor and love interest, Stormi, who was literally dropped into Gullary as an infant by a tornado. Stormi senses things before they happen, which makes her highly suspect in a small town that already considers her to be “unnatural,” and when a tragedy occurs, the townspeople blame her. Jonah’s love for Stormi — and his ability to protect her — are put to the test as things heat up.

I found it refreshing to read about a hero who wasn’t a paragon of physical perfection. His seizures occur at inopportune times, his twisted young body is an embarrassment, and yet he perseveres. His friend Arthur displays autistic tendencies that make it impossible for him to be dishonest, but also result in some creative problem-solving. The story has a few sinister characters, some mystery, some tragedy, and plenty of interesting plot twists that held me captive. I could feel the dry, gritty heat of summer in Oklahoma and feel the creepiness of the town’s abandoned maximum security prison that also plays a part in the story. At the same time, Jonah’s optimistic approach to life and his sense of humor kept the narration light enough to be enjoyable and full of hope.

Grandma gives Unfolding five stars. 5 stars

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

Unfolding is scheduled for release on January 1, 2017, and is available only on pre-order.

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A Supersleuth is Born

SuperSleuth

A Supersleuth is Born by T. Mara Jerabek (Middle Grade Fantasy)

I don’t usually review Middle Grade books, but I agreed to read this because the idea of a blind kid finding glasses that let him see sounded pretty good.

Ethan is a blind sixth grader who lives with his aunt because his parents have died. His best friend (and love interest) is Addison, a girl who meets him every day to take him to school, and his former best friend, Mikey, is now the kid who bullies him. He knows lots of people in town and is pretty independent, counting steps to get where he wants to go and being checked on by lots of neighbors as he travels between his house and that of the lady who takes care of him after school. One day, at the home of the caregiver, he finds a pair of magic goggles that give him the ability to see. They also talk to him about what’s going on, take pictures, record notes, and can increase his ability to hear conversations at a distance.

Meanwhile, his aunt/mom is a newspaper reporter who is trying to get new information about a bunch of stolen bikes in town, and since Ethan has always wanted to solve mysteries, he decides to use his new eyesight to help her and the police find the bike thief.

I’m not sure what to say about this, because everything was too simple and too quick, but maybe for middle-grade kids, that’s okay. The bullying kid, Mikey, suddenly becomes Ethan’s best friend again so they can solve mysteries together, but we never learn why he turned on him in the first place, and now, like overnight, everything’s okay. The mystery was a pretty minor one, and it’s hard to believe it took three kids to solve it when the police couldn’t. Plus, I never did understand why the thief had to steal kids’ bikes in order to do what he wanted to do. And I do think it would have been better if Ethan could have solved it all because he was an awesome blind kid instead of needing the goggles. They just turned him into another kid who could see.

I hope the author adds more tension and danger next time, to get the reader excited and nervous for Ethan, instead of making everything work out too easily. I liked Ethan’s voice as he told the story. He seemed like a kid I’d like to know, with a good sense of humor about life.

Bella gives A Supersleuth is Born three stars. 3 stars

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

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Meanwhile, at the Dernstrum Institute…

Meanwhile

Meanwhile, at the Dernstrum Institute… by Catherine Griffin (Mystery)

England, 1923: Following the death of her eccentric inventor father, Constance Wright has no money and no prospects. She takes a secretarial job at the scientific institute founded by her late godfather. There, in between learning to type, fending off her boss, coping with the Giant Walking War Machine, ghosts, and a dangerous variety of cabbage, she discovers her godfather left her a trail of clues to follow. Clues that might lead her to a fortune… if she can find it. And someone else is already on the trail…

Eccentrics are the norm at the Dernstrum Institute, where inventors of oddball things  come to live and work in the isolated town of Uggley-on-Sea on the Somerset coast. Told in the first person by young Constance Wright, this story comes complete with the sinister director of the institute, the crabby housekeeper/cook, the con artist, the medium, the vicar, and a couple of well-intentioned but misguided inventors. We get a glance at life in the 1920s, while also facing the mystery of what really caused the death of Professor Dernstrum, and what is he trying to tell his god-daughter with his posthumous clues? The narrator’s wry observations are part of the fun, and while the story is so-so, it provides a light, entertaining read.

Grandma gives Meanwhile at the Dernstrum Institute… four stars. 4 stars

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