Alternate Side

Alternate Side

Alternate Side by Anna Quindlen (Literary Fiction/Women’s Contemporary Fiction)

Alternate Side is a character-driven slice-of-life story, the type at which Anna Quindlen excels. You get to know her people as though they were friends. As with most of us, their lives have moments of drama among mostly no-big-deal daily stuff, but because you know these people, you’re interested. If, perchance, you can identify with them and their problems, all the better.

Nora Nolan and her husband, Charlie, live in a closely knit New York City neighborhood of comfortably rich people with housekeepers and a shared handyman. They all know each other, socialize at catered neighborhood events, but are not quite friends. In other words, they don’t bare their hearts to one another. Still, they care about each other, and when something happens to one, the others come to help.

After nearly thirty years together, Nora and Charlie have grown apart. Their twins are graduating from college and moving on with their lives, leaving an empty nest. While Nora loves New York City life, Charlie wants to move to a warm climate where he can golf year-round. She has a job she enjoys; he’s not all that happy in his. Little things he does are starting to annoy her. He’s threatened by the possibility that she will take a new position with status greater than his. When an act of violence rocks the neighborhood, she and he see the incident very differently.

Having grown up in a friendly Midwestern neighborhood where block parties were common, I could identify with the measured camaraderie among neighbors. And being of a certain age, I could understand how Nora and Charlie felt. This story also deals with race relations, class privilege, and what are often referred to as first-world problems, yet refrains from passing judgment. If you are looking for fast-paced action , mystery, or romance, this book is not for you. But if you enjoy fine writing, Alternate Side is that.

Grandma gives Alternate Side five stars. 5 stars

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

Alternate Side will be released on March 20, 2018, and is available for pre-order.

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This is Not a Love Letter

This is Not a Love Letter

This is Not a Love Letter by Kim Purcell (Young Adult)

Jessie’s boyfriend, Chris, has gone missing shortly before high school graduation, and now she is documenting everything that is happening as she waits to find out where he is. The book is written as though she is speaking to him the entire time, so she is always saying things like “you would have liked …” or “your mom said …” or “it reminded me of when we …”. As a result, it wasn’t long before I felt like I knew both of them really well. The author did  an excellent job of describing Chris’s personality and attitudes through Jessie’s eyes and her anecdotes about their relationship.

Jessie herself is somewhat crude and tough. Her dad is out of the picture and her mom is a hoarder, making Jessie ashamed of her home and frustrated with her life. She shoots from the hip and doesn’t mince words. Chris is a gentle soul who recently moved into town – a straight-A student, a gifted baseball player, and a pacifist. He’s a good influence on Jessie, giving her a sense of worth and direction that she didn’t have before he came into her life. But he’s also a black kid from Brooklyn who doesn’t really fit into this all-white paper mill town in the Pacific Northwest, and he has already dealt with bullying from some of the locals. Many possibilities exist for why he has gone missing.

The book also has several strong peripheral characters who are well drawn and add to the story – both his friends and hers. I never knew for sure what was going to happen, and I really came to care about both Chris and Jessie. Being the same age as they are, I found myself thinking I would like to know them personally, which only happens when a writer does a great job of bringing characters alive. While the plot did not wow me as much, I really enjoyed the characters and the interesting way in which the story was told.

Bella gives This is Not a Love Letter four stars. 4 stars

Potty-mouth Index: Moderate use of the “f” word; realistic for the character depicted

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

This is Not a Love Letter will be released on January 30, 2018 and is available for pre-order.

In the Shadow of the Hanging Tree

In the Shadow of the Hanging Tree

In the Shadow of the Hanging Tree by Michael A. McLellan (Historical Fiction)

This engrossing novel immerses the reader in the reality of post-Civil War America, following the intertwining stories of a freed slave, a high-minded West Point cadet, and a strong-willed young woman, each struggling to live his or her life in an era of brutality and greed.

Nothing here is sugar-coated. We experience the terror of newly freed slaves pursued by angry white men filled with hatred. We see the power wielded by wealthy men intent on controlling everyone around them, including their daughters. We witness the mindless slaughter of indigenous people as mercenaries and military seek to incite Indian uprisings in order to justify taking their land. At the same time, we know what a band of renegade Indians has done to white settlers and how their leader treats a female captive. We see the good, the bad, and everything in between as we travel with these multi-sided characters on their quests for freedom from personal oppression.

The result is a book full of believable people who take you along on a journey with no guarantees that things will go well. As in real life, predictability is not an aspect here, and the outcome will keep you thinking about their stories long after the closing has been read.

Grandma gives In the Shadow of the Hanging Tree five stars. 5 stars

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

How Speleology Restored My Sex Drive

How Speleology

How Speleology Restored My Sex Drive by Michael Bernhart (Action/Adventure)

Don’t judge this book by its title – it is a witty adventure story involving some hefty topics, including racism, kidnapping, and the aftereffects of serving in Vietnam, yet it kept me chuckling from beginning to end. The year is 1993, and the narrator, Max Brown, is the 52-year-old father of mischievous nine-year-old twins, Mary and Margaret (M&M), and husband to their “scrumptious” mom, Sally, who is much younger than he. As the title suggests, he worries about sexual performance, but that’s nowhere near what this novel is all about.

His precocious daughters disappear into the wilds of northern Georgia while visiting Sally’s crazy backwoods uncle, Skeeter. They and Skeeter hope to find Confederate gold rumored to be hidden in abandoned mines. Local Klan members don’t take well to outsiders messing around in their territory, but decide to see what the treasure hunters might discover before getting rid of them. Max and Sally don’t know which of the locals they can trust as too many negative things occur after they confide in seemingly friendly folks. They must rely on their own wiles and wits if they’re going to find their girls before it’s too late.

What makes this such an enjoyable read is the voice of Max Brown as he relates what’s going on with his kids, his wife, her wacky uncle, and the various people they run into on their quest. Max’s self-deprecating humor and his wry observations keep the narration light and funny even when the stakes are high and things are going poorly. None of it makes light of what the KKK stands for, however, nor are Klansmen portrayed as buffoons. The book depicts racism in all its ugliness and introduces us to people who must face it every day. As for the title and what it implies, think PG-13 when it comes to sex. Max is honest and funny but too much of a gentleman to go into detail.

Grandma gives How Speleology Restored My Sex Drive four stars. 4 stars

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