The Springthorpe Agenda

Springthorpe Agenda

The Springthorpe Agenda by Dale Ripley (Thriller)

Creepy stories, to me, are ones that could actually happen and are, therefore, frightening to contemplate. They employ scary situations that just might be possible if one is unfortunate enough to encounter them. If they’re too far out, it can be hard to feel that necessary sense of dread.

The opening chapter of The Springthorpe Agenda makes it clear that something awful is going on in an old age home. In a hidden room below the facility, writhing bodies and crying forms in crumpled heaps huddle inside steel cages, begging to “go back.” A gray-haired woman is strapped to an exam table surrounded by “sharp instruments, needles and serums.” Meanwhile, upstairs, beaming elderly patients with glazed eyes and big, toothless smiles crowd around the nurse, eager to get their pills. Hmmm…

When Mark Hogarth gets a text from his sister that their dad has died unexpectedly, he’s surprised and filled with guilt. Dad was a patient at Springthorpe Manor, the same nursing home where their mother died of Alzheimer’s disease not that long ago. Dad seemed healthy, and Mark didn’t visit often enough. Now, when he calls the facility, a nurse tells him they’ve already cremated his dad’s body, and he needs to come pick up the ashes. Odd, but then, Springthorpe Manor also has its own sprawling cemetery right next door, so it’s apparently some sort of a full-service facility.

It doesn’t take long for Mark to suspect that not all is well at Springthorpe, which sets him on a quest to find out what really happened to his parents. Things move along quickly, there are some suitably sinister characters, an amazing coincidence involving a child, and a weird twist that creates a surprise ending – not quite a deus ex machina, but close. Whether you find any of it creepy — or just unusual — is up to you.

Mechanically speaking, Ripley is a good writer with an interesting style and a flair for descriptive phrasing. The line editing is flawless, but the book has some distractions common to first novels that have not had strong content editing. Head-hopping occurs often enough to be noticeable – the character whose head you’re in can’t know what someone else is remembering at that moment. It’s also disconcerting when a character is acutely aware of her own eye or hair color, so that she watches someone through her own emerald green eyes or flips her own blond hair over her shoulder. It’s not like she has more than one option. Still, the how-will-this-all-end question is strong enough to keep one reading.

Grandma gives The Springthorpe Agenda three and a half stars. 3.5 stars

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

Lies

Lies

Lies by T.M. Logan (Suspense)

Lies starts out strong. Joe Lynch suspects his wife is having an affair with Ben, a married friend with whom they socialize as couples. He confronts Ben in a hotel parking lot, they get into a fight, and he knocks Ben unconscious, possibly worse. Meanwhile, his own little boy is having an asthma attack in Joe’s car, and Joe must leave the scene if he’s going to save his son’s life. When he returns, Ben is gone and so is Joe’s phone, which he dropped during the scuffle. Things go downhill from there.

Unfortunately, the strong beginning and initial tension were not sustained. Plenty of unexplained things happen, the plot moves right along, but I still found myself putting the book down, sometimes for days at a time, without any longing to get back to the story. Although I was curious as to what was going on, I was never gripped with a need to keep reading in order to find out. Perhaps it was because I had no sympathy for any of the characters except Joe’s little boy.

If there were clues to what was going on, I missed them. Instead, I felt totally sideswiped by the ending. It seemed contrived to me, highly unlikely. On the other hand, I couldn’t really identify with any of the adults, and so it’s possible that their behaviors in this case were plausible; I just don’t think I know anyone who would go so over the top for the reasons given.

Grandma gives Lies three stars. 3 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy from the publisher via NetGalley with a request for an honest review.

 

Jar of Hearts

Jar of Hearts

Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier (Thriller)

Thirty-year-old corporate executive Georgina Shaw is going to prison. Fourteen years ago, her best friend, Angela Wong, disappeared. But Angela’s remains have been found in a shallow grave, and while Georgina didn’t kill Angela, she knew what happened to her high school friend and never told anyone. Now she has plea-bargained a five year sentence in return for testifying against the killer.

But there are additional, gruesome details that Georgina continues to hide, and when she’s about to be released from prison, copy-cat murders — albeit with a twist — begin to occur. Somebody knows Georgina’s secrets, and that person is coming for her.

I read this book in a single day. Everything about it held my interest — the characters, the fast-paced storytelling, the suspense, the writing style. The arresting officer’s unrequited high school crush on Georgina and his current involvement in investigating the new homicides add depth and intrigue to the story, while the author deftly reveals just enough clues to let the reader have the satisfaction of starting to figure it all out.

Grandma gives Jar of Hearts five stars. 5 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley with a request for an honest review.

 

 

The Last Train

The Last Train

The Last Train by Michael Pronko (Thriller/Mystery)

Michael Pronko writes mysteries set in Tokyo, making this book not only a fast-paced thriller but a close look at a city where holy temples rub shoulders with hostess clubs and high-speed trains provide a means for homicide.

Hiroshi Shimitzu is a Tokyo police detective who normally deals with white collar crime, but because he speaks English well, he is pulled into the investigation of an American businessman’s death by train. Insider trading, high-stakes real estate deals, and a mysterious ex-hostess give Hiroshi and his fellow detectives plenty to contemplate as they race against time to capture the murderer. In a unique twist for the average mystery, we already know who the killer is. What remains to be learned is why she did it and will she get away with it?

Novels with a strong, well-drawn sense of place rate highly with me, especially when they provide insights into an unfamiliar culture (Dew Angels, Hillstation, The Brazilian Husband, Savaged Lands). This book is no exception. Pronko takes us deep into Tokyo nightlife as well as giving us glimpses of the holy shrines, religious practices, and food traditions that are an integral part of daily life. We meet everyday people, teen-aged call girls, hard-boiled corporate executives, and ex-sumo wrestlers. At the same time, he creates well-developed characters who keep the reader’s interest.

Grandma gives The Last Train four and a half stars. 4.5 stars

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

Darkest Night

Darkest Night

Darkest Night by Tara Thomas (Romantic Thriller)

One of the things that drew me to this book was its setting – Charleston, South Carolina. This is the first book in the Sons of Broad series, which implies something location-driven (think Pat Conroy). It is not.

The setting is Charleston, but we could be in Omaha. We never hear anything about the city itself, and it has absolutely no influence on the story. There is none of the lush detail that transports you to its unique beauty, not even a single mention of Spanish moss.

If this book were the work of an indie author, I would be contacting her and suggesting she employ a good content editor. But this book is being published by St. Martin’s Press, and as such, it is a major disappointment.

It feels like a first novel that’s incorporating every storyline the author ever came up with, regardless of whether or not it contributes to a cohesive plot. Keaton is the youngest of three wealthy, handsome brothers: Kipling, Knox, and Keaton Benedict. He  miraculously discovers his spunky long-lost childhood sweetheart, Tilly, working in a gentleman’s club, heroically struggling to make her own way. They reunite and immediately fall into wild, passionate love. But then a crazed, conniving female fortune hunter (Elise), willing to commit blackmail and even murder to get Keaton to marry her, enters their lives. And, a dangerous, powerful villain (The Gentleman) is sending out his minions to destroy the Benedict brothers and makes Tilly his target. There’s also a vulnerable young girl (Jade/Kaja) working for The Gentleman. But she is strangely drawn to helping the Benedict brothers in spite of the fact that doing so will endanger her own life. She’s especially good at being in the right place at the right time. Oh, and did I mention the tough, no-nonsense female detective (Alyssa)? Or the fact that the Benedicts find their deceased father had another family?

The characters are flat but we do know they’re having good sex because we’re treated to all the details since this is billed as a romantic thriller. There’s not a real build-up of tension, but there are victims – dead or grievously injured – showing up regularly. And, because this is the first of a series, a lot is left unresolved. Tilly’s life is still in danger. The identity of The Gentleman remains unknown. Jade/Kaja remains on the run, and Kipling continues to flirt inappropriately with Alyssa.

If the prose were beautiful or the descriptions creative, this review might be nudged to three stars, but neither is true. The book starts with one of the brothers receiving a single, long-stemmed rose in a box, and the author doesn’t even bother to mention what color the rose is. When I found myself picturing a gray rose, I knew this book was in trouble.

Grandma gives Darkest Night two stars. 2-stars

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

Mr. Tender’s Girl

Mr. Tender's Girl

Mr. Tender’s Girl by Carter Wilson (Thriller)

Mr. Tender is a fictitious character in a graphic novel written by the father of fourteen-year-old Alice Hill. He’s a bartender who likes to ask people, “What would you be willing to do to get what your heart desires?” Obsessed by the idea of pleasing Mr. Tender, and goaded by a supposed message from him, Alice’s friends – twin girls her age – attempted to kill Alice with a kitchen knife.

Fourteen years later we meet Alice, who has survived but at a terrible price. She experiences severely disabling anxiety attacks and mourns the loss of her family. After the knifing, her mother blamed her father and moved Alice and her brother from London to the U.S.A. Her father has met an untimely death in London, and now Alice finds she has once again become a target.

This is a thriller full of scary events and situations that make you glad you’re not Alice. At times, though, it can be hard to read about her anxiety attacks and the depths to which she has fallen and continues to fall. Drugs, alcohol, death, and more become almost routine to her as she tries to put an end to her continued persecution. Some of the dysfunctional people around her begin to tip their hands early, but not all. It’s hard to call this an enjoyable book, but it was definitely one I could not put down. A little slow in the beginning, it eventually took off and is worth wading through to get to the good parts.

Grandma gives Mr. Tender’s Girl four stars. 4 stars

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

The Accident

The Accident

The Accident by Glen Ebisch (Suspense/Thriller)

As in many suspense novels, the lead character in The Accident is a damaged former cop who is investigating a possible crime sub rosa. In doing so, she creates enemies in a small town, runs afoul of the local police, and must fight her own inner demons as well as the perp who now turns his sights on her.

Karen was involved in a terrible car wreck that left her physically and emotionally damaged. Now an old friend has asked for her help. The friend’s younger sister has disappeared from the family beach house in Maine; could Karen move into the house and do her best to find out what happened to the sister?

It’s impossible to say much without giving away who is responsible, but let’s just say I felt this story was riddled with improbabilities, including the relationship between the investigator and the perpetrator. It has peripheral characters who feel like filler material. A tight, well-written thriller contains characters who contribute to the tension — they or their circumstances make them potential suspects — or else they remain in the background. In this case, a co-worker’s personal struggles to buy a house, when those struggles had nothing to do with the story in any way, was material that should have been edited out.

That said, is this a book worth reading? Sure. It has a mystery to solve, a missing woman, some creepy guys, an annoying co-worker, a little budding romance. You may or may not figure out who did it before the reveal. The writing is easy to read. The location is oceanside in southern Maine, an area the author obviously knows. The former police officer, Karen, is a sympathetic character with a tragic backstory who, by the end of the book, is making progress toward healing.

Grandma gives The Accident three stars. 3 stars

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

The Wife Between Us

The Wife Between Us

The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen (Thriller)

The write-up for this psychological thriller warns that even when you think you have things all figured out, you’ll be wrong. This is true.

Lots of twists and unexpected turns make this a book that will keep you off-balance. What seems to be a somewhat unlikeable protagonist/narrator morphs into someone you begin to understand. Not everything she has said and done was reckless after all. She’s not as unreliable as she seems. There are good reasons why things happened the way they did. Things you don’t see coming suddenly make sense when you think back on how it all played out.

Hendricks and Pekkanen combine their respective careers as book editor and best-selling novelist to produce a work meant to make the most of what’s popular in today’s fiction. It’s full of familiar tropes: the rich, handsome, doting husband who’s too good to be true; the awestruck young wife blinded by her fairy-tale life; the vindictive former wife stalking the new wife. The authors cleverly tweak the familiar to keep it unpredictable and introduce new “aha!” moments that won’t let you put the book down until it’s finished.

A good read when you’re looking for something that holds your interest but then lets you move on without too much introspection… unless, of course, you’re married to someone who seems too good to be true.

Grandma gives The Wife Between Us four stars. 4 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley 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.

The Visitors

The Visitors

The Visitors by Catherine Burns (Literary Fiction, Thriller)

For all of her life, Marion has been the object of ridicule from her peers, her older brother, John, and her highly opinionated mother. Now a spinster in her 50s, she lives with John in the big old house where they grew up. Timid and out of touch with the world, she stays in the house and does her best not to irritate John. But John keeps “visitors” in the cellar, and while Marion manages to put them out of her mind most of the time, she can’t ignore them forever, especially when John becomes disabled and she’s the one who must take care of them.

This debut novel is less of a thriller and more of a chilling character study, with its creepiness coming from the fact that basically “invisible” people like Marion and John could be your neighbors just down the block. I was immediately drawn into Marion’s world where her dead mother’s haughty voice continues to regale her with judgmental observations, and strangers who show Marion the most basic kindness populate her daydreams of having normal relationships and a meaningful life. Then there are the occasional references to the visitors in the cellar, the backward glances at pivotal incidents in her painful childhood, and her daily ups and downs as the slovenly, not-so-bright woman living in the decrepit mansion with her creepy bachelor brother. Together they add up to a story that brings Marion to life. I came to like her and feel for her and couldn’t help but wonder how she would cope with the visitors in the cellar, when that time came.

The reader sees everything through Marion’s eyes and Marion’s way of thinking, and it’s a fascinating journey. While what’s going on in the cellar may seem potentially off-putting, it’s handled well and does not become the focus of the tale. Instead, we’re with Marion as she melds her past and present in an effort to create her own future. And, of course, to take care of the visitors.

Grandma gives The Visitors five stars. 5 stars

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

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