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.

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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