Hello, Sunshine

Hello Sunshine

Hello, Sunshine by Laura Dave   (Women’s Fiction)

Sunshine Mackenzie is a social media lifestyle guru whose fabricated life is coming apart. She has achieved and maintained her celebrity status by pulling the wool over the eyes of her adoring fans, and she is about to lose everything at the hands of an unknown truth-teller.

The directness with which Sunshine tells this very enjoyable story is ironic, considering the lies that have brought her to this point, and I quickly became her biggest fan, not for who she claimed to be but for who she must become — herself. What I appreciated most about this telling is how real it felt. No one is transformed overnight, and wronged friends and estranged family members don’t leap to forgive. We don’t know who has outed her, and there are lots of possibilities. And we don’t know who she will become next, because neither she nor the people around her are clichés.

The story moves right along, and the characters rise up off the page. I knew and understood her sister, I loved her niece, and I wanted to meet Chef Z for myself. I recognized the fair-weather friends, the co-workers who were quick to distance themselves, and the wronged individuals from her past who were reticent to trust her again. And I came to understand how someone could get so caught up in her own lies that she no longer knew who she was. Sunshine is the biggest victim of her own lies, and Laura Dave made me want to make sure that Sunshine would be okay.

Grandma gives Hello, Sunshine five stars. 5 stars

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

Hello, Sunshine will be released by Simon & Schuster on July 11, 2017, and is available for pre-order.

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.

Exodus ’95

Exodus95.jpg

Exodus ’95 by Kfir Luzzatto (Suspense)

Two ordinary people unwittingly become pawns in a confrontation between dangerous and powerful men seeking the same valuable item. Add in the dilemma of a lead with a multiple personality disorder that’s getting out of control, and you have the action-filled premise of Exodus ‘95.

Dan is a likeable, somewhat self-effacing, everyday guy who has done things of substance but is no macho hero. He is a native-born Israeli who served in the 1973 Yom Kippur war as a very young man, and in 1995 is just your average guy trying to make a go of a small business in Tel Aviv. Claire is a somewhat enigmatic young American who, while clever and resourceful, is a graphic designer, not a covert agent. Together they must outwit a ruthless Russian and an equally ruthless Egyptian in order to save their lives.

The writing is well done; Luzzatto has several fiction and non-fiction books under his belt. He keeps the pace moving and held this reader’s attention throughout. The story is not predictable, and the characters are engaging. The multiple personality disorder made things feel surreal and disturbing to me, and I found myself wishing it wasn’t there because the people involved were more believable without it and the tale was good on its own. However, it adds a unique twist that ups the tension and the stakes and ultimately did not keep me from enjoying the book.

Grandma gives Exodus ’95 four stars. 4 stars

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

Payback

Payback

Payback by Michael FitzGerald (Alternative History Thriller)

What if the Mafia and FBI joined forces to assassinate Hitler in 1938? Could it have succeeded? Could it have prevented World War II? Could it have changed the world?

Michael FitzGerald has written a mesmerizing alternative history thriller that partners American gangster Bugsy Seigel with an FBI sharpshooter, Luigi Carmona, in a daring plot to assassinate Hitler. The volatile and unpredictable Seigel, a Jew who hates Hitler but has a hard time keeping himself under control, and Carmona, a Jewish Italian expatriate working for the U.S. government, travel to Rome together in 1938 when Hitler is meeting with Mussolini to cement their countries’ alliance in support of fascism and Germany’s quest to expand its borders. With the help of local Mafiosi, Seigel and Carmona plan to assassinate Hitler during a welcoming parade and then quickly escape the country.

FitzGerald writes well and obviously knows his stuff. He successfully combines the reality of historical characters and events with a clear vision of what might have been to produce a story that rings true with possibility. By taking us into the minds of all the characters, including Hitler, Mussolini, and their closest compatriots as well as the warring Mafia Dons and the honest Roman police lieutenant seeking to meet his commitment to uphold the law, we get a close-up look at the action from multiple points of view. That action never stops, and, because of the subject matter, at times the reader is torn over whom to root for.  The result is a book that kept this reader engaged right up to the end and one we recommend for fans of alternative history fiction.

Grandma gives Payback five stars. 5 stars

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

The Switch

The Switch

The Switch by Joseph Finder (Thriller)

This political thriller puts an everyday citizen in harm’s way after a simple mix-up at the airport. Michael Tanner mistakenly picks up the wrong laptop after going through airport security and finds himself in possession of a senator’s computer full of top-secret documents. Meanwhile, powerful Senator Susan Robbins’ right-hand-man, Will Abbott, is frantically seeking the lost laptop, knowing that his boss’s career — and his — will be destroyed if this egregious breach of security is discovered.

I found this to be a refreshingly different take on political intrigue. Tanner is not your usual highly trained special ops agent or guilt-ridden former cop seeking redemption through one last dangerous mission. He’s a regular guy whose life is suddenly at risk simply because he knows too much.

Abbott is an ambitious player behind the Congressional scene willing to take desperate measures to retrieve the laptop but he’s also an amateur at this sort of thing. The two become embroiled in a mess neither one can fully control. When a national security agency becomes involved, everyone’s future is at risk, and the price to be paid goes up.

This is not a predictable tale, and the fact that Tanner is just your average nice guy plunged into a life and death situation through no fault of his own makes this timely novel even more intriguing. Considering recent revelations about mishandling of sensitive information, the situation may not be all that far-fetched.

Grandma gives The Switch five stars.  5 stars

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

This book will be released on June 13, 2017, and is available for pre-order.

The Child

The Child

The Child by Fiona Barton (Suspense)

The skeleton of an infant is unearthed at a London urban renewal site, and the lives of several women who don’t know each other are about to become intertwined. Each woman has a stake in the outcome of the ensuing investigation, albeit for different reasons, including the reporter who seeks to answer the question of who buried the newborn there and why.

We hear the story from their various points of view, which gives the reader intimate knowledge of each woman’s background and the basis for her concerns about the discovery. The tale has enough twists and unexpected turns to keep the reader involved in figuring out what’s going on, and the ending provides a satisfying conclusion that gives all aspects of the story a reasonable resolution.

My one complaint is that one character’s POV is in first person, while all of the others are in third, and I found that transition jarring at times. To me there was no good reason for singling her out that way. However, that was a minor distraction, for the author writes well and the plot and pacing kept me interested throughout. I cared about how it would all play out, and while some readers may anticipate the big reveal, I did not and was sufficiently surprised to enjoy the final twist.

Grandma gives The Child five stars. 5 stars

Bella Reads and Reveiws received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The Child will be released on June 27, 2017 and is available for pre-order.

The Fix

The Fix

The Fix by David Baldacci (Thriller)

If one reads enough thrillers, the themes become familiar: espionage, terrorism, governmental corruption, Russian mafia, special forces, stolen secrets, and so on. What differentiates these stories are the details and how the imminent threat to national security will be resolved. What also differentiates them is the main characters, the players who will solve the crime, stop the destruction, and foil the evil-doers. Character development—creating someone we feel we know and whose success we care about—becomes paramount if a story is going to keep us invested in the outcome.

In The Fix, David Baldacci gives us Amos Decker, a former football player with a tragic family history and a brain damaged by a sports injury that ended his career. As a result of the brain injury, he has a photographic memory and the ability to see auras, including colors that portend death, and he has lost his social skills. He’s great at parsing the details and seeing what others don’t see, but he’s a challenge to work with and pretty hopeless at establishing relationships. His female partner, FBI agent Alex Jamison, is a former reporter who sometimes has second thoughts about her career change and obviously has feelings for Decker, even though he frustrates the heck out of her. Together they provide the right mix of skill and vulnerability, and when we add in DIA agent Harper Brown—an amazing woman in her own right—and a cast of suspects that keep us guessing as to who did what and why, we have a book that’s hard to put down.

Baldacci is a prolific and accomplished author whose pacing, details, and storyline kept me absorbed from beginning to end. The Fix is the third book in the Amos Decker series, and having read it, I now want to go back and read the first two, Memory Man and The Guilty.

Grandma gives The Fix five stars. 5 stars