Engadine Aerie

Engadine Aerie

Engadine Aerie by Bluette Mathey (Mystery/Suspense)

This is Book Five in the Hardy Durkin Travel Series, Durkin being one of those likeable everyday guys outside of law enforcement who just happens to keep stumbling upon, and solving, crimes and mysteries. In this case, there’s a murder, attempted murder, an attempted terrorist bombing, and a terrorist arms deal.

The author provides lots of characters to keep track of. Durkin is an outfitter/trekker who has joined a friend guiding her first ski tour group through a trip to the Engadine Valley of the Swiss Alps. We know every member of the group by name and follow their stories. We also follow wealthy royalty from Abu Dhabi and a set of sinister fraternal twins who live in the Engadine, plus a middleman or two in the arms deal. And because this is a stand-alone novel based on a series, we are brought up to date on Durkin’s past and his relationships with additional characters who appeared in previous books and are back again. For some of the aforementioned, we learn detailed family histories – in one case dating back to the Crusades, with theories about the Templars thrown in for good measure.

Mathey personally visits the off-the-beaten-track locations she writes about, a strong point in this series. She also does a lot of research. We get details about various parts of the Alps with histories of hotels and other significant sites, brand names for what the rich are wearing, and descriptions of the expensive cars they’re driving. Falconry plays a part in the story, and the author does a good job of bringing that to life.

The plot is complicated, as tales of international intrigue often are, and I admit to sometimes losing track of it all, but not enough to miss out on the main points. Overall, this is a very ambitious book that is generally successful but could use a trimming of the minutiae.

Grandma gives Engadine Aerie four stars. 4 stars

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

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Right Handed Lefty

Right-Handed Lefty

Right Handed Lefty by Ryan Coughlin (Coming of Age, Young Adult)

This book has a strong sense of place, that place being southwestern Wisconsin in 1983. Locals talk like someone out of the movie Fargo, and small town life makes it hard to be different. Characters include a twelve-year-old Native American boy adopted by white parents; his two misfit friends, one of whom is Hmong; and adults haunted by the loss of a child, infidelity, and memories of combat in World War II. There is also a sexually abused girl and an elderly Native American man with his own history of persecution.

The story centers on the three boys but also delves into the minds and backstories of the adults, making this a multi-layered work that eventually all comes together. The one superfluous character is the girl, who has no real influence on the plot except to be a first love for Ellis, the Native American boy. It takes a while for the action to get going, but once it does, things move along pretty well. I admit to sliding over some of the description, and I really don’t like dream sequences since they don’t show what’s really happening and just bog things down.

The writing style is clunky at times, and the book needs a good editor. It has misspelled, extra, or missing words, and words that are just plain wrong, like “illicit” where the author meant “elicit.” I think the author has promise and his characters were interesting, but this book needs refining to be as good as it could be.

Bella gives Right-Handed Lefty three stars. 3 stars

POTTY-MOUTH INDEX: MINOR

Bella Reads and Reviews Books received a free copy of the book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Sleep, Savannah, Sleep

Sleep Savannah Sleep

Sleep, Savannah, Sleep by Alistair Cross (Paranormal Mystery)

Sleep, Savannah, Sleep is a real treat: well-written, engaging, with a smart, appealing main character who has experiences that are just creepy enough to be on the edge of possible. Jason Crandall, mid-thirties and newly widowed, moves his two children – a belligerent teen and a sweet little seven-year-old – to a new town. He meets seemingly well-meaning people as well as a troubled young woman, a scary neighbor, and some sinister townsfolk. When the young woman goes missing, Jason starts experiencing night terrors, hallucinations, and visions. Before long, the reader isn’t sure which of his new acquaintances Jason should be trusting.

This is a paranormal murder mystery with a number of twists and an unexpected murderer. The paranormal aspects build tension without being unnecessarily horrifying, a feature I appreciated. The book’s main appeal, however, was a likeable protagonist I quickly came to care about. Jason has a sense of humor. He makes mistakes. He misses his deceased wife, but he doesn’t dwell on it. He finds himself attracted to women he meets and is conflicted by it. He struggles with fathering a rebellious son and a little girl who needs mothering, and all the while he’s seeing disturbing things that are scaring the crap out of him.

I enjoyed the author’s similes – “Brent’s jaw dropped open like a glove box” – except for his repeated references to a leathery voice. Try as I might, I could not make the connection between a voice and something tactile, visual, and possibly olfactory, but, in my experience at least, basically soundless. Nit-picky, I know, but each time it came up, it took me out of the story. That and one of my pet peeves: one does not “try and” do something, one “tries to” do it. This book was too well edited and proofread to allow that. That said, I plan to read Alistair Cross’s other novels. I’m hooked.

Grandma gives Sleep, Savannah, Sleep five stars. 5 stars

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

Sleep, Savannah, Sleep will be released on September 25, 2017, and is available for pre-order.

The Blackbird Season

The Blackbird Season

The Blackbird Season by Kate Moretti (Suspense)

In The Blackbird Season, Kate Moretti gives us front-row seats to a drama about marriage, fidelity, teacher-student relationships, and the complicated interactions among peers in a small town, be they teenagers or adults. In typical Moretti fashion, she provides complex, nuanced characters whom we get to know well and whose flaws make them all the more real and relatable.

Alecia and Nate already have a stressful marriage. Her days are totally consumed by her obsession with their  autistic five-year-old, while Nate is closely – some might say excessively – involved with the high school students he teaches and coaches. When one of the students claims that she and Nate are having an affair, things begin to fall apart, and when the girl disappears altogether, it gets worse.

The story is told from the points of view of four different characters, and the timeline jumps back and forth, providing backstory at some points and current story at others, which I found potentially confusing at first. I thoroughly enjoy Moretti’s writing style, however. Her descriptions bring people and places alive, immersing the reader in each character’s experience, and her pacing keeps one engaged.

While this book is categorized as suspense based on the girl’s disappearance and the question of who is responsible, it’s really more of a study of the complexities, expectations, and disappointments of personal relationships. It also does a good job of exploring the tragic outcomes that can result from the loss of a small town’s main source of employment – in this case the local paper mill that once meant prosperity but now sits in ruin, abandoned and dangerous. The whodunit aspect takes a back seat to finding out how the main characters will fare when all is said and done.

Grandma gives The Blackbird Season five stars. 5 stars

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

The Blackbird Season will be released on September 26, 2017, and is available for pre-order.

The Sweet Oil of Vitriol

The Sweet Oil of Vitriol

The Sweet Oil of Vitriol by Daniel Eagleton (Suspense)

If you need a protagonist you will like and empathize with, this book is not for you. Tom Glaze is a failed Mossad agent who drinks too much, uses cocaine, fantasizes about every attractive woman he meets, and makes some poor decisions on the job and in his personal life. He is definitely not your usual hero type, and that made him interesting to me, although a sense of humor or some other endearing characteristic would have made him more palatable. I didn’t like him, but I still wanted to know if and how he was going to pull off a planned hit on a crooked international politician.

Eagleton’s writing style takes some getting used to. At first I thought the lack of the pronoun “he” was a typo, but I soon learned that the author prefers to write in sentence fragments, describing the action in a series of phrases minus a stated subject. I am not opposed to an attempt at originality as long as the endeavor works, and once I came to accept the absence of pronouns, it did. Overall, I found the book well-written and well-edited, with a rare proofreading oversight like “she put his hand on his.”

This is the first book in “The Tom Glaze Series,” and it did a good job of wrapping up the current story while leaving plenty of room for more action to come. Perhaps, as Tom Glaze makes more of a name for himself in his chosen trade, he’ll rely less on booze and drugs and keep his distractions under control. At least one could hope so, and this reader would be willing to find out.

Grandma gives The Sweet Oil of Vitriol four stars. 4 stars

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

The Miseries of Mr. Sparrows

The Miseries of Mr. Sparrows

The Miseries of Mr. Sparrows by Matthew A. J. Timmins (Humor/Mystery)

This is probably the most unique work I’ve reviewed in a very long time. It reads like a historical novel set in Victorian London, with a strong sense of place and gritty, Dickensian characters with lots of quirks and warts. At the same time, it’s very funny.

The setting is not exactly London but the very similar city of Claudon, capital of Albion, on the banks of the River Plew. Our anti-hero, Mr. Robin Sparrows, is a lowly legal clerk who is paid a pittance to do menial tasks for a disreputable law firm. He’s a timid, self-effacing fellow who falls prey to all sorts of dilemmas, most often due to the nefarious behavior of others. Still, his sense of duty propels him forward and keeps him going as he seeks to deliver a package to the Empire’s most notorious criminal, a man responsible for starting the Crocodile War with the nation of Crocodon.

I loved many things about this book. The writing is superb. The eccentric characters are entertaining, and the names of places — Upper-Hem-On-The-Edge, St. Audley’s Home for Limbless Soldiers — and the names of people — Lord Ernest Arenblast, the diminutive Warden Webert Stillbee — have the sparkling creativity of J.K. Rowling. I found myself chuckling at clever similes and plays on words as well as the outlandish situations in which the hapless Robin finds himself — attempting to hide on a windowsill while being attacked by a territorial pigeon was just one of many.

Readers with an appreciation for the mildly absurd and those who enjoy clever narrative and strong writing skills will find this refreshing novel most entertaining. If Mr. Sparrows were to return with new adventures, I would be happy to meet up with him again.

Grandma gives The Miseries of Mr. Sparrows five stars. 5 stars

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

Forbidden

Forbidden

Forbidden by F. Stone (Suspense/Thriller)

This is a complex and fast-paced thriller with strong main characters — a female Canadian paramedic with a tragic past who suffers from severe bouts of PTSD and a devout Muslim police captain working in a Middle Eastern city where corruption makes it hard to know whom to trust. The massacre of fifteen American aid workers brings the paramedic and the captain together as reluctant allies when both become targets of a local governmental cover-up of the massacre. The arrival of an American CIA Agent bent on finding out who killed the American volunteers adds another layer of risk, as he believes the captain may have masterminded the whole thing. Despite their differences in background and outlook on life, the paramedic and the captain must work together to find the true perpetrator. Along the way they also (no surprise) find each other.

The author did a lot of research to ensure authenticity in her portrayal of the region and Islam, and her respect for her subject matter is evident. She also consulted with weapons experts, police officers, and cultural experts, and uses her own experience as a paramedic to bring authenticity to her characters’ actions. She does a good job of getting inside the heads of both a woman with heavy emotional issues and a disillusioned and unhappy man struggling with violating Sharia law while protecting that woman.

The story is set in the year 2047 — most likely to allow for creation of a new Middle Eastern entity known as the Republic of Islamic Provinces and Territories — but this is not a futuristic tale. Transportation, technology, medicine, etc. remain unchanged from 2017. Also somewhat incongruous is the fact that the paramedic is a “seer,” which pops up now and then, but has very little bearing on the story and, for me at least, compromised a character to whom I could otherwise easily relate.

My major complaint, however, is the book’s need for a good proofreader. While it did not detract from my overall enjoyment of the story, I did find many sentences that were missing articles (the, a, an) or prepositions. Punctuation was funky in places. More distracting were the occasional inappropriate or misused words, including “shoulder” where it should have said “soldier.” I had to read that one sentence more than once to make sure I wasn’t imagining it.

Normally, the issues named above would take an average story down to three stars, but I enjoyed the story itself a great deal and appreciate the author’s careful and extensive preparation to tell it.

Grandma gives Forbidden four stars. 4 stars

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