Just One Life

Just One Life

Just One Life by Pat Abercromby

This was a difficult book to read, not because of the writing, but because of the subject matter. We follow Fran through roughly sixty years of her life, over half of it married to a man she never truly loves, a man for whom she settles because of his physical appeal but who lacks a sense of humor as well as a moral compass, is a poor communicator, and never provides the quality of companionship she craves. We watch her give up more than one satisfying career to live in places she doesn’t enjoy in order to accommodate her husband’s career, and we learn about the men she sleeps with and the ones she loves but cannot have. We know early on that she will become her husband’s reluctant caregiver after he has a debilitating stroke, and we experience her resentment about giving up all personal ambitions to take care of him in her old age. In short, we’re reading about the life of a woman who comes to regret how it all plays out. It’s not a very jolly topic.

We also follow, on the periphery, the story of her lifelong friend, Iona, who has issues of her own with the men in her life. We see Fran’s and Iona’s daughters grow up, and we learn about the difficulties and joys they bring and how the two women’s lives continue to intertwine. Because of the timespan to be covered, multiple years often pass in a single sentence, which can leave the reader feeling left in the dust. We know Fran well in some ways, but mostly we’re just voyeurs peeking through her windows, watching someone whose days and life are whizzing by without much detail, and we don’t feel particularly involved.

Without involvement, there’s little investment. Add to that the lack of any type of story arc, mystery, or real tension, and you have what is basically a human interest story. Upon reading the author’s guest post, I am guessing that this book is more autobiographical than not (emphasis on “guessing”), which would explain a lack of riveting plot points.

The writing is fine. The story has its interesting aspects. Would I have finished the book if I hadn’t promised to participate in this blog tour? I’m not sure.

Grandma gives Just One Life three stars. 3 stars

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

For our Guest Post from author Pat Abercromby, go here.

The Frog Theory

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The Frog Theory by Fiona Mordaunt (General Fiction)

The title of this book refers to the theory that a frog put into boiling water will jump out, but if put into cold water slowly heated to a boil, will stay and be cooked to death. It is a metaphor for the inability to perceive danger and to react appropriately when a situation is getting worse little by little.

In this case, the frog is Clea, a girl from the wealthy side of London, who is being abused by her stepfather. The boy who makes her aware of what’s slowly happening is Kim, who lives in a housing project on the wrong side of town. Kim and his buddy Flow deal drugs, drink beer, and go to parties. We also follow The Principal, a woman who runs a school for problem teenagers. Kim becomes a student at her school, and the four main characters come together.

Eventually we realize that they are all frogs. Kim lives a pointless life and keeps making the same mistakes. Flow’s fiancé, Jackie, cheats on him, coming on to Kim and everybody else, but he defends her in spite of the evidence. The Principal was wronged by her former husband, but rather than telling her children the truth about their father, she told them he died and continuously feels guilty about it.

The book description calls this a laugh-out-loud story, but I found only the occasional snicker, usually provided by Flow. The one and only character whose fate I actually cared about was Clea. I found it hard to root for Kim, and The Principal was annoying. The “miracle” that happens to her felt completely out of context, a true WHAT THE HECK WAS THAT? moment for me. An epilogue does its best to wrap it all up into a neat package and provide a final surprise, but for me it fell flat.

Four-letter words aside, the use of the vernacular was interesting, as was the look at life on a different side of London.

Bella gives The Frog Theory three stars. 3 stars

Potty-mouth Index: HIGH   If you, the reader, are at all offended by use of the “f” word, the “c” word, and a few others of the same persuasion, this book will definitely offend.

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review and participation in the blog tour. For Fiona Mordaunt’s guest post go here.

No Place Like Home: Guest Post by Fiona Mordaunt, author of “The Frog Theory”

Reading Armadillo by William Boyd as a teenager excited me in large part because he mentioned Fulham, where I grew up – a tangible connection to my own experiences. It made sense to set The Frog Theory there, too, where the characters were born, and where I started writing their stories at the age of fifteen.

‘When I see those mountains I feel a little leap of excitement and I know I’m nearly home!’ said a woman in a pub in Scotland. I looked out of the window with her at the stunning view and wished I felt like that about somewhere.

Not long afterwards, I spent a stint living in Australia and when I came back, I felt that leap for the first time. Oh, that’s what she meant. But I don’t get it with mountains, I get it when I know I’m approaching London – London is my home! I thought. There was something alluring about the idea of roots and connection.

I am now conscious of that same excitement every time I go to London. Memories pop up like forgotten photographs – remember this, remember that, myriad emotions jostling for space. I enjoy seeing cranes pecking like robotic dinosaurs at some new building project; art galleries; theatre. I walk through More London for our pilgrimage to Dim T (sharing platter, dim sum, other delicious things) and stop halfway when Tower Bridge is perfectly framed. I turn around on the spot and look at The Shard; I do it again. Old. New. Old. New. Just once more in the imaginary time machine.

Sometimes there are small children making their way diligently up and down the moat. My daughter has been one of them, incongruous amongst the business people striding up and down on their mobile phones, smart in their slick office clothes. I wonder whether the architects knew how much children would enjoy the area too and how they would slot in so happily?

While I am in town, there is always time for Borough Market and for Jose on Bermondsey Street; the food and the wine calls so sweetly – tapas fit for gods. I may even pay a visit to House of Fraser, just over London Bridge, fondly known as ‘Hoff’! So re-named by my great friend, Moira.

At this point I feel the urge to mention Balham. ‘Places connect us,’ I said to someone here in Gaborone when they first arrived,

‘I used to live in Balham, too! For eight years. I had a little workshop there with a garden… and frogs, in the conservation area.’

‘No way, which street?’

‘Bushnell Road, do you know it?’

‘Know it? I was just around the corner!’ And so we went on for a happy hour or more. It is our way of establishing connections, of finding things in common.

I am well used to coincidences of this sort, they happen all the time, but here’s one that amazed even me: I was in London and I hailed a black taxi from Waterloo to Wandsworth. The driver asked me where I lived and I said, ‘You might not have heard of it, but we live in Gaborone right now.’

‘Funnily enough, I have! My best mate from school days moved there with his wife, you might know him.’

There are 231,592 people in Gaborone, 8.6 million in London, but it’s always worth a try, isn’t it? They are my next door neighbours! His wife is actually in my book club. Out of 22,000 black taxis I got into his. He even had photos of them together at their leaving do on his phone.

As for Fulham, I do return. It is precious for me but I would not want to live there. Too much history and too many memories which make me feel sad; my mum is not there anymore and I miss her.

Why should we have roots like a tree, deep in the earth, calling us back to one place, anyway? I think of orchids with their floating roots above the ground, closer to the sun, settling high in mystical forests, full of birds and animals, the babbling of water never far away. That image is so much more versatile; it suits. I edit out anything that bites. Or stings. And I add a treetop pub or two. There! Perfect! There’s no place like home.

fiona-morduant

After attending school for model-making, Fiona Mordaunt started Image Casting in 1998, specializing in customized body castings. Over the course of 13 years, she worked on such films as Atonement and The Wildest Dream, as well as for personal clients like Lionel Richie. In 2012, she relocated to Botswana with her husband and daughter where she currently resides.

http://www.fionamordaunt.com/

 

 

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Tragedy and comedy in perfect proportion.

Kim and Flow are the best of friends, living on a council estate, making money selling drugs.

Just around the corner in a smarter part of Fulham is Clea, a well-heeled young woman coping with a violent home life at the hands of her twisted step-father.

The Principal runs a famous college for problem teens. Fostering guilty secrets which distance her from her own children, she resists the advances of a man she sees on the train every day.

When Kim and Clea meet by chance, Kim is smitten but worried about her. Using the anecdote of the frog theory — that it will jump straight out of boiling water and live, but stay in and die if heated slowly from cold — he wakes her up to the dangerous situation she’s in at home.

Serendipity and a cake-fueled food fight that goes viral will bring Kim, Clea, Flow and The Principal together in weird and wonderful ways in this frenetic, laugh-out-loud story about love, conscience and lion-hearted nerve.

For our review of The Frog Theory go here.

The Brazilian Husband

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The Brazilian Husband by Rebecca Powell (Women’s Fiction)

The Brazilian Husband is classified as a “Romance” on Amazon, but to me this incredible book was everything but. It is a fascinating story full of secrets, suspense, and surprising revelations set against the backdrop of heartbreaking shantytowns, terrifying urban crime, natural beauty, and the resilient, exuberant people of Brazil. It kept me reading from page one, and I never wanted to put it down.

Judith is a Londoner whose husband of fifteen years has committed suicide. Together with their daughter, Rosa, she is fulfilling his request to take his ashes home to his native Brazil, a place they never managed to visit together.

Judith knew Edson was gay when she married him; it was an arranged marriage paid for by his lover, Gavin, in order to hide the men’s relationship while keeping Edson in Great Britain. What she hadn’t bargained for was the baby girl he brought with him, whom she would raise as their daughter, nor did she expect to fall in love with Edson himself.

Rosa, about to turn sixteen, blames Judith for Edson’s suicide; she doesn’t know her father was gay, nor does she know that Judith is not her natural mother. All of that changes in Brazil as they search for Edson’s family. Nothing is as he said it was, including the circumstances of Rosa’s birth.

While I don’t normally review Romance novels, I was willing to accept this book from the author because she lived and worked in a woman’s shelter in Brazil, which promised authenticity for the setting. I am so glad I did. Rebecca Powell is an extremely talented writer who knows how to keep a story moving while creating a strong sense of place and vibrant characters whose lives and fates I cared about. There is romance, but nothing formulaic about it. Rather, it’s a stirring story with believable people seeking to understand, accept, and love one another under extreme circumstances.

Grandma gives The Brazilian Husband a rousing five stars.   5 stars

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

Between Dreams

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Between Dreams by Cynthia Austin (Paranormal fantasy)

We do not normally publish a review that is less than three stars. Instead, we connect with the author and let him or her know why we cannot give the book a better review. However, this book is getting some high star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, meaning that it appeals to a certain group of readers, if not to us. Because our two stars mean “We are not enthusiastic, but you may be,” we are taking this opportunity to explain our rating and to let readers decide for themselves if they find our concerns relevant to them.

The description was promising: Sidney Sinclair was living the dream of any eighteen year-old girl… A handsome rock star boyfriend, a closet full of designer clothes, a limousine service at her beck and call, and a mansion in the hills of Los Angeles. Even with all that glamour and excitement at her fingertips, she still feels as if she’s been missing something in her life so she decides to leave. While trying her best to put her dysfunctional romantic relationship aside and tend to her beloved Granny, Sidney unexpectedly stumbles upon an intriguing emerald pendant boxed away in her grandmother’s closet. Soon she learns it once belonged to her long-lost mother who committed suicide when she was just a baby. Suddenly feeling emotionally connected to the woman who had birthed her, Sidney begins to wear the necklace. This sends her on a whirlwind journey that alternates between fantasy and reality… Almost immediately, she starts having dreams linked to the mysterious pendant. As danger begins to seep into her life, Sidney refuses to remove the necklace and instead documents each dream to help her further understand them. However, she soon begins to wonder if they are dreams meant to bond her to a mother whom she never knew? Or a subconscious warning that threatens her very life?

Unfortunately, we found the story itself to lack the promised intrigue. Instead, we found ourselves skimming the last half, hoping something would happen. The rock star boyfriend (Ray) is a cliche, and the “beloved Granny” is a device to give Sidney a reason to leave Ray, go home, and find the pendant. Granny is in a coma, and Sidney doesn’t “tend to” her at all; she hires a nurse and goes back to her old grocery clerk job and her friends. Perhaps Granny is being kept alive in the book so she can come out of her coma for a happy ending in a future installment, but so far, she has no presence whatsoever.

Ray floats in and out of Sid’s life, claiming he cares but apparently bedding other women, and she keeps taking him back because he’s her true love, for whatever reason. At the same time, she’s having dreams about a green-eyed man and then meets him at the grocery store and again at a bar, and of course, he’s unbelievably handsome and sexy and she’s torn between him and Ray. Still nothing happens, but we know she’s conflicted. She also rants about religion and the Catholic church, which does nothing to move the story along, and just feels like venting by the author.

What cinches the two-star rating for us are two things: dreams related in detail and an out-of-the-blue cliffhanger ending dropped like a bomb.

Dreams are dreams, not reality; if they are not what’s actually happening to the main characters, they can feel superfluous, even when they’re meant to  portend doom. They’re still only imagination until something actually happens, and too many of them, related in detail, hold back the action and become ho-hum reading at best, boring at worst.

Cliffhanger endings work for a TV series; in fact, they have become obligatory. They should not happen in a novel, however, as an abrupt ending that just comes out of nowhere and stops the action (or lack thereof) cold. Yes, the ending is a jaw-dropper, but that’s not a good thing when it makes you think, “Where did that come from?  Are you serious?”

If we are expected to pick up Book Two in the Pendant series, it’s going to take some build-up to a new crisis in the making, not something that blindsides us. Think of a series like The Hunger Games or Divergent or Twilight. Each book in the series stands alone, with a story arc that is complete and satisfying and makes you want to stick with the characters because you’ve seen them grow and change, and their welfare has become important to you. You care about them as people, and you want to know what comes next. That’s not happening here. At least not for us.

We give Between Dreams two stars. 2-stars

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

 

 

 

Our Song: The Wilder Books #1

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Our Song: The Wilder Books #1 by Savannah Kade (Contemporary Romance)

Although classified as Romance, Our Song is a sweet love story involving good friends who come to love one another but believe the feeling is not mutual and therefore refrain from letting the other one know. The result, of course, is continuous frustration over what is perceived as unrequited love – frustration on the part of the two main characters, Kelsey and JD, and on the part of the reader who knows the truth. Unfortunately, for this reader, the frustration went on way too long, and I found myself skimming passages in search of something new and interesting that might move this tale along.

If you want a feel-good story about two nice people who’ve been given a lousy deal but make the best of it and ultimately find true love, you will enjoy this. Both main characters are very likeable, and we get to know these two single parents well. We experience their daily lives, how they and their children interact, what they eat, where they go, and everything they say. We know their innermost thoughts, how sexy they find each other, and how they misunderstand some basic information that makes each of them think the other couldn’t possibly feel the same way. We watch each of them work up his or her courage to take the big step and then, for the umpteenth time, fail to follow through, disappointing us all once more. Finally (not exactly a spoiler, since this is a romance), we watch them consummate their love and figure it all out.

Savannah Kade writes well. I’ve even forgiven her for the use of “revert back,” which happens to be a pet peeve of mine. She has created an interesting pair: a thirty-something woman who sacrificed her own happiness to take care of her ill brother and is now raising two children alone, and a younger man who finds himself with custody of a feisty little girl he never knew about and has no idea how to handle. Their story, however, needed fewer details about the mundane and more obstacles than self-doubt to keep this reader heavily invested in the outcome.

Grandma gives Our Song three stars. 3 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy of Our Song from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.