The Lying Game by Ruth Ware (Suspense)
This suspenseful novel was a page-turner, not only for the questions to be answered, but because I quickly learned to care about the characters, especially the narrator and her six-month-old daughter, a baby I could picture so vividly, I actually dreaded the possibility that I might have to read about her being endangered somehow.
The narrator, Isa, and her three best friends spent one year together as students at a second-rate British boarding school where telling lies became their chosen pastime. Eventually the four girls lost all credibility with peers and faculty and left the school in disgrace. Now, seventeen years later, past behaviors come back to haunt them after the discovery of human bones in a shallow grave near the school, and all of their futures are at risk.
Ruth Ware, author of In a Dark, Dark Wood and The Woman in Cabin 10, has created complex characters with believable relationships. Through backstory, we see how two relatively innocent fifteen-year-olds—Isa and Fatima—could be sucked into participating in what might have seemed like an okay game at the time. True to their natures, the two have gone on in adulthood to become professional women with families of their own. Kate and Thea, the originators of the “game,” have darker pasts and appear to be less successful as adults. All four value their mutual friendship, even though they have rarely seen one another in the past seventeen years. But once reunited in their old haunt, they find they are simultaneously reassured by each other’s presence but also less trusting of one another as individuals. The end result for me was less concern about who did what and more about how each of them would fare. That meant late nights up reading and, afterwards, an ending that I still think about.
Grandma gives The Lying Game five stars.
Bella Reads and Reviews Books received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
The Lying Game will be released on July 25, 2017, and is available for pre-order.
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.
Bella Reads and Reviews Books received a free copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.
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.
Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.
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.
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 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.
Give Me a K-I-L-L by R.L. Stine (YA Thriller)
This latest addition to R.L. Stine’s Fear Street series incorporates the usual mean girls, snotty cheerleaders, school officials with no backbone, and annoying, clueless parents. A highly talented, but troubled, cheerleader from another school moves into town, threatening the makeup of the entrenched cheerleading squad, with murder and mayhem as a result.
Young adult readers, including those reading teen horror, deserve better from R.L. Stine. Besides stunted, uninteresting sentences that seem to assume the reader is incapable of reading anything more complex, the characters in this book are hard to care about, the ending wraps up problems the reader never knew were problems, and there are very basic errors, like saying the aorta in a victim’s neck was eaten away by acid. The aorta is not in the neck.
To make things worse, we have to believe the perp is using acid that’s strong enough to eat through skin, muscle, windpipe, and esophagus to get to the aorta — which, if it were there, would most likely be against the vertebrae — but somehow the acid has no effect on the vulnerable parts of the item it coats. Not to mention that any high-schooler who has taken basic chemistry knows that concentrated sulfuric acid fumes would be a dead (pun intended) giveaway, and the victim would have to be severely distracted (think comatose) not to notice before picking up said item and putting it to her throat.
Other than a scene involving cockroaches, there’s not much here that rates as creepy. There’s nothing deep and psychological and no real build-up to a total freak-out moment. The closest we come is a fairly glossed-over minor scene with the big question: will one cheerleader catch another or let her fall on her head?
I expected a whole lot more from R.L. Stine.
Bella gives Give Me a K-I-L-L two stars (Not enthusiastic, but you may be.).
Potty-mouth Index: CLEAN
Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.