Playing with Fire-Tess Gerritsen

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In Playing with Fire by Tess Gerritsen, musician Julia Ansdell visits an antiques shop in Rome where she finds and buys an unusual piece of music, the Incendio waltz.  This music seems to adversely affect Julia’s young daughter, Lily, and Julia discovers the music is connected to a Jewish family in Italy that suffered the horrors of World War II.  Julia also faces some pretty challenging personal issues.

This is the story about how a musical piece connects the Ansdell, Todesco, and Balboni families, and the part a prominent family in Italy played in the Holocaust. The characters are well-developed, the settings (Massachusetts and Italy) are wonderful, and the historical setting is interesting.    The author moves between the present and World War II smoothly, and it can be tricky to move between different time periods.  The characters are fictional, but the historical events are accurate.  Most of the information about World War II involves Germany or Poland, so it is interesting to have a story set in Italy during World War II.  One doesn’t hear a lot about what happened in Italy during World War II, and part of the reason for that could be that the Jews had been in Italy for centuries by this time and were well integrated into Italian society.  However, the anti-Jewish propaganda eventually spread to Italy and the same horrible events that occurred in Germany, Poland and elsewhere took place in Italy also.

I love the Rizzoli and Isles books by Ms. Gerritsen, but this is an excellent stand-alone story that isn’t part of the Rizzoli and Isles series.  I would recommend Playing with Fire.  The historical setting alone makes this book worth reading.

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A Monster Calls

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In A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, with the help of a tree-shaped monster, young Conor O’Malley deals with his mother’s terminal illness, an uptight, overbearing grandmother, a father who has remarried and moved far away, and being bullied at school.  This book is inspired by an idea by author Siobhan Dowd, who passed away from cancer at a young age.

A Monster Calls is sad, inspiring and redeeming.  Sad because of Conor’s circumstances, but inspiring because of the good messages concerning dealing with grief honestly and that action is more important than thoughts, and redeeming because Conor accepts the truth and begins to move past his grief.

The writing is imaginative and the author deals with the subject matter in a sensitive way.  Conor is a character with lot of challenges, and understandably a lot of anger about what is happening to him.  The author does a good job communicating his conflicting feelings, such as how he doesn’t want to lose his mom but wants it to be over too.  His grandmother is not likable, although I did understand her better by the end of the book.  The father is a jerk in a lot of ways. I wanted to smack the school bullies but there are consequences for their behavior.  Conor still has a lot to deal with at the end of the book, but he is on the right path.  A Monster Calls gives the reader something to think about, and there is underlying hope in spite of the sad circumstances.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kora by Marina Epley

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Young servant Kora lives in a society with only upper and lower classes, where you are either a Master or servant.  Kora wants a better life than being a trash picker and requests to be sold to a Master in Central City.  A man named Gabriel buys her, and Kora’s plans to improve her circumstances are complicated by what she has to deal with in Central City.

Pros:  The writing itself is good, and the plot and setting are interesting.  This is a dystopian story along the lines of The Hunger Games, although The Hunger Games is superior.  In fairness, though, The Hunger Games is at the top of the dystopian fiction list.  It’s not likely other books in that genre will surpass The Hunger Games series, although there are probably some that are as good or nearly as good.  I like the concern Kora has for the other servants, particularly Tanya.

Cons:  Kora spends a lot of time complaining about her circumstances.  I understand that her situation is not good and get why she would respond that way, but I think in this case show and not tell applies.  There is nothing wrong with wanting a better life or wanting to get away from a bad environment, but I think it works better when the character makes a definite plan about what to do and then follows through with it.  It doesn’t make sense for Kora to run off to a place she has never been and isn’t familiar with, and there are consequences for that.  She ends up in a worse situation than before.  Also, Kora is too unsure of what she wants.  Stories are better when the characters learn something through what they experience and become better for it.  Wreck is really a strange character too; one minute he’s kind and helpful and the next he’s this psycho.  The relationship between Trent and Kora is one-sided and therefore frustrating.  She likes him so much and he turns out to be a jerk.  There is a lot of violence too.

Overall I like this book; there is a lot of potential.  However, it’s not something I’ll go out of my way to read again.

I received a free eBook copy of this book in exchange for an honest review and appreciate the opportunity to read and review Kora. I am interested in checking out some of the author’s other work.

Frankly Speaking

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In Frankly Speaking, the first book in the Frank Rozzani series, private detective and former police officer Frank Rozzani investigates the disappearance of 16-year-old Maggie Bullock.  He receives help in the investigation from his friends and associates Clifford “Jonesy” Jones and Anita Velasquez.  In the process, they discover a baby selling and human trafficking ring.

Frankly Speaking is engaging and well-written.  The writing style is a tribute to pulp fiction from the 30s, 40s and 50s.  The setting is great (Florida is beautiful) and the plot keeps the reader’s attention.  The author does a good job of conveying the garbage that has been known to occur in megachurches.  However, he balances this with the idea that people are imperfect and make bad choices when dealing with life challenges-especially when large amounts of money and power are an issue.  The author has a good understanding of how detectives operate; the storyline is realistic.

Frank, Jonesy and Anita are likable if somewhat flawed characters the way they interact is enjoyable.  The affection Frank has for his dog, Lucy, is sweet, and so is the relationship Frank has with Lucy’s vet, Nancy Rafferty.  The reader can relate to the pain Frank deals with as a result of the tragedy that led to his move from Syracuse, New York to Jacksonville, Florida.  There aren’t a lot of details revealed in this book, but this likely changes as the series continues.  Jonesy, who is a lawyer, is portrayed as a surfer dude, and his surf shop being used as a front for a law firm is clever.  I like how Anita, a detective with the Jacksonville Police Department, resists the powers-that-be and helps Frank and Jonesy with their investigation.

The other characters add to the story.  Pastor Rick Worthington isn’t likable, but he makes an effort to turn his life around after some pretty serious mistakes as a young person.  He sincerely cares about his congregation and wants to help a young man who shares his issues with him.  Stanton Cobb, who works with the Bullocks, is despicable, but he gets his just reward.  William Robert Drake, a Jacksonville police detective and Cobb’s great nephew, isn’t likable, but he tries to make things right when he finds out about the human trafficking ring.

I recommend this book, and want to read the rest of the series when I get a chance.

Beneath a Scarlet Sky

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In Beneath a Scarlet Sky, young Italian Pino Lella helps Italian Jews by leading them through the mountains to Switzerland during the Nazi occupation of Italy. Later, he enlists in the German army and becomes a spy for the Allies.

There isn’t a lot of information about what went on in Italy during World War II. Many of the books about World War II are set in Germany or Eastern Europe, so the fact the setting is different makes this book interesting.  This is historical fiction; the dialogue and scenes are constructed by the author.  However, the historical setting and characters are real.  The author decided to write the book after meeting Pino and talking to him about his life in Italy during World War II.

Pino is an engaging, likable character.  The author does a good job of taking the reader along for Pino’s journey from carefree teenager to crusader with a cause to a person deeply affected by the tragic event that is World War II, although he  becomes a successful ski instructor and car salesman later.  Part of the reason one doesn’t hear much about Italy during World War II is because a lot of documents were destroyed, but also because the people were so devastated by the war they didn’t want to talk about it.  Pino’s suffering the loss of someone he cares about deeply and working through this is particularly touching.

I highly recommend Beneath a Scarlet Sky and give this book a 5/5 rating.  This book is a very worthwhile read for those interested in historical events.

 

 

A Beautiful Poison by Lydia Kang

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In A Beautiful Poison, long-time friends Birdie, Allene and Jasper work together to solve the murder of Florence, a woman who is disliked by a number of people.  Things become complicated when several more people with close connections to the three friends die.

Pros:  The writing itself is very good and keeps the reader’s attention.  I like historical fiction, and the setting, New York (specifically Bellevue Hospital) in 1918 is interesting.  The author does a good job communicating the emphasis on social status that occurred during this time, and the scenes at Bellevue are well done.  The murderer doesn’t turn out to be who I thought it might be, and that is an interesting twist.

Cons:  The characters are not likable, and I had a hard time connecting with them.  I did understand Birdie better and how the abuse she suffered influenced her actions as the story progressed.  However, I believe stories work better if the reader can find something to like about the characters even if they are flawed.  Andrew, Birdie, Allene and Jasper are extremely self-centered and seem incapable of thinking about anything but their own agendas.  Allene redeems herself somewhat by taking care of Holly at the book’s conclusion, but I still didn’t care for her.  Ernie is probably the least selfish character, but I had a hard time understanding what he saw in Birdie, Allene and Jasper.

Overall, A Beautiful Poison is worth reading.  I would give the book a 4/5, and I would be interested in reading more books by this author.

Mer-Charmer (World of Aluvia Book 2)

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In Mer-Charmer, Phoebe Quinn is still recovering from the aftermath of her captivity in Elder Bentwood’s dungeon.  She finds comfort in the ocean and discovers she has a connection with the merfolk, specifically her mer friends Tristan and Mira.  Phoebe loves spending time with Tristan and Mira, and they have quite a few adventures.  Together, they protect the merfolk from an ancient enemy, the evil being Baleros.

The second book in World of Aluvia series is engaging.  Phoebe is a likeable character, and the author does a good job with the topics of oppression, discrimination, coming of age and overcoming one’s fears for the greater good.  I like the interaction between Phoebe and the supporting characters, Tristan, Mira and her sister Sierra.  The descriptions of the coast and ocean are well-done, and the idea of the merfolk being an ancient civilization is intriguing.  I initially didn’t care much for the adult characters, but I could understand where they were coming from as the story progressed.  They had been through rough times and had trust issues.  Phoebe helps the merfolk in the end.

I would recommend Mer-Charmer, especially if you like stories that involve the ocean and mermaids, and I want to read the third book in the series, Dragon Redeemer, as soon as I can.