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.

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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.

Evelyn, After

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Evelyn, After by Victoria Helen Stone (Women’s Contemporary Fiction)

As one of its Kindle First choices for the month of October, Amazon describes this book as psychological suspense involving a scorned wife’s obsession with the other woman, but I disagree. Although the initial chapters provide a promising introduction to the possibilities of how Evelyn, the wife, might seek revenge on her husband and his lover, Juliette, the book is not a thriller. Presented with a complex dilemma involving right and wrong, Evelyn’s primary concern is how the community will view her and her family if the truth comes out. While that might trigger evil, vengeful behavior in a more mean-spirited woman, Evelyn has become complacent over the years. She chooses, instead, to spy on Juliette and falls for Juliette’s husband. At that point things just get messy rather than suspenseful.

Victoria Helen Stone is the pen-name of Victoria Dahl, a popular romance writer, and this is her first book outside the romance genre. Elements of romance and explicit sex scenes exist in this book, but she also does a good job of capturing the fears, confusion, pain, and disillusionment experienced by a woman who is the victim of an unfaithful husband. Evelyn’s self-esteem is non-existent, and she’s extremely vulnerable. Her obsession with Juliette is believable; she needs to know what about this woman could make her psychiatrist husband risk his career, their marriage, their home, and the welfare of their teen-aged son.

The book is written in the third person from Evelyn’s point of view, and the chapters alternate between “Before” and “After” the pivotal event of meeting Juliette’s husband. The backstory told in “Before” chapters slowly illuminates how and why she goes to his art gallery, while the “After” chapters show the consequences of that fateful visit. Unfortunately, the final chapter, called “Now,” is an info-dump that quickly summarizes everything that happens in the weeks after the close of the previous chapter, as though the author just tired of the whole thing, and rather than continue telling the story, she wrapped it up with a “Where is Evelyn Now and How Did She Get There?” conclusion.

Grandma gives Evelyn, After four stars. 4 stars

 

The Coincidence of Coconut Cake

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The Coincidence of Coconut Cake by Amy E. Reichert (Women’s Contemporary Fiction)

I chose to purchase this novel because it’s set in Milwaukee, a city not often featured in fiction. Since I was born and raised in Milwaukee, I wanted to know how the city was portrayed. I’m also a retired food writer, and this is a book involving a chef and her restaurant. Not to mention the appealing cover and interesting title.

I enjoyed the food, the recipes, and the wonderful descriptions that took me “home” to the city of my childhood, the place I still love to visit because it truly can be as much fun as this book suggests. I could taste the calamari at Festa Italiana and hear the squeak of a good cheese curd.

But I can’t say the same about the love story that this book tells. For one thing, I never learned to care about Lou, the female protagonist who makes a mean coconut cake and owns a struggling French restaurant. She is a perpetual victim with no backbone who panders to her scumbag fiance, Devlin. I did finally warm to Al, the British guy who hates Milwaukee but stays to write mean-spirited restaurant reviews for a local paper, including a scathing review of Lou’s place. However, I never did figure out what’s keeping this bitter Eton graduate in Brew City before he meets Lou.

The love story itself was predictable and sometimes tedious, with a bit of unbelievable thrown in. Maybe some people swoon at first sight, but Al was enough of a cynic, I found it hard to accept that he could be that obsessed with Lou from moment one. Considering their mutual — albeit unspoken — attraction, the passage of sometimes multiple weeks between their “non-dates” was also difficult to comprehend, as was their mutual ability to never mention what they did for a living. In short, it wasn’t really a question of reading to find out what would happen between them, but rather how long it would take.

The writing is okay, and the book isn’t terrible. On the contrary, a lot of folks seem to love it. I just wanted a little more substance and a little less coincidence, I guess.

Grandma gives The Coincidence of Coconut Cake three stars. 3 stars