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February 2019

Book Review: Mission Critical

The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar.

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Mission Critical by Mark Greaney is a suspenseful, action-packed thriller. Readers will be delighted with the return of Zoya Zakharova, a female Gray Manand a kindred spirit. Greaney has the knack of intertwining geopolitics with first-rate characters and non-stop action.

Greaney noted, “I went to a three-day stunt driving school at the Atlanta Motor Speedway. I wanted to write the car chase scene as realistic as possible.  I did the J-turns, the 180s, and the drifting.  I did almost everything Court did in the book except crawling in the back seat and shooting out of the back window.  I actually went into reverse at a pretty high speed. I looked over my shoulder and took my right hand to the 9 O’clock position.  Then I moved the steering wheel as hard to the right as possible, did a 180-degree turn and floored it.  I had to be careful because instinctively my foot always wanted to hit the brake as I was spinning out of control.  I literally had to kick my heels back so it touched the seat.  I had Court do something similar.”

This novel combines two plots in one. The CIA mustuncover a mole within their midst, while a special ops group, code named Poison Apple, must uncover who is behind a bioweapon attack and where will it take place. One of the CIA’s most important contractors is Court Gentry, known as The Gray Man, with the code name Violator.  He does off the books ops for Matt Hanley, Deputy Director of Operations, and Gentry's handler, the ambitious Suzanne Brewer.

The plot begins when he is asked to return to Langley on a CIA transport plane that first must make a stopover in London to drop off a prisoner. Unfortunately, they are comprised and many are killed, with the prisoner kidnapped.  Court assists in finding out what happened, which reunites him with his former lover, Zoya.

Zoya, the female lead in a previous book, Gunmetal Gray, is Gentry’s equal.  Now a CIA asset, part of the Poison Apple program, code named Anthem, this former SVR Russian intelligence agent, escapes from the safe house to find her father who she thought had been dead.  Both her mother and father were valuable Russian spies. Dad was the GRU director, General Feodor Zakharov, while mom trained Russian operatives’ in language and proper dialect skills, grooming them to live in England or the United States as natives. After finding out her father’s mission she and Gentry, now joined by the third asset in Poison Apple, Zach Hightower, code named Romantic, must stop the terrorists at any cost.

“I wrote her as a type of chameleon.  Raised in different countries she was taught to blend in, to melt into the different fabrics.  I see her as a force for good.  Yet, I think she sees herself as a little less than that, which allows me to be able to move in different directions with her.  I do not think she is as moralistic as Court and is more out for herself. She is not as altruistic as he is.”

This book shows why Mark Greaney has a legitimate claim to be one of the top, if not the top thriller writers today. There are so many twists and turns readers will be kept on their toes throughout the story of betrayal between Brewer and her team, as well as with Zoya and her father.

 


Book Review: Never Tell

The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar.

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Never Tell by Lisa Gardner brings back some of her well-known characters. Detective D. D. Warren and CI Flora Dane must work together to find the truth behind a murder. It powerfully examines how someone’s past can come back to haunt them, especially when the police appear to have tunnel vision.

The book opens with a pregnant wife, Evelyn “Evie” Carter, returning home to find her husband murdered.  What she does next becomes very puzzling to the police:  She empties the gun bullets into the computer.  As the police rush in she is caught with the gun, leading the detectives, including, Warren, to think it is an open and shut case. Reinforced by the knowledge that Evie previously confessed to accidentally killing her father, the detective sees a pattern.

Once the news of the husband Conrad’s murder goes public, kidnapping survivor-turned-vigilante and D.D.’s unofficial informant, Flora Dane, asserts that she recognizes Conrad as a man who was acquainted with her kidnapper, Jacob Ness. Flora has survived the emotional and physical abuse Ness inflicted on her and is now determined to find the truth behind different crime scenes. Feeling the police are jumping to conclusions, Flora goes rogue, and hooks up with computer crime analyst Keith Edgar and FBI Agent Kimberly Quincy, who previously tracked down Ness and freed Flora. Believing Conrad is tied to the serial killer Ness, she convinces the FBI and police to recognize that with this case nothing is as it seems to be.  The many lies and secrets need to be deciphered before justice can be found.

Gardner noted, “The relevance of Jacob is that he is the single most powerful relationship Flora ever had.  DD says in the book that any investigation of Jacob will have Flora forever follow. Wherever Flora goes so goes the ghost of Jacob.  There is not one without the other. He is a monster who never repented, but feels victimized because of it.  Jacob is whiny, lonely, not empathetic, downright cruel, and obsessed with being all powerful.  He sees himself victimized by society.  Flora learned to survive by recognizing a loneliness in Jacob and becoming his confidant, his friend. Conversely, this is what she has a hard time reconciling and coming to terms with.  The appeal of her story is her determination to find the light and not see herself always as a victim, but as a survivor.”

The three female protagonists are nothing alike.  According to Gardner, “Evie is sleep-walking through life, and refers to herself as a “dead woman walking.” She has not dealt with her father’s death, her marriage problems, and her poor relationship with her mother.  She has avoided and hidden from real life since her adulthood is built on a pretty big lie. By definition she cannot trust.  But now, because of what happened to her husband, she has to stop running.”

“Flora is a character I wrote and am very fond of.  She is a survivor who struggles with guilt.  Having PTSD has manifested itself in her by making her more hypervigilant. I think she is a manic who has anxiety and copes by going to extremes.  Flora is obsessed with self-defense.  I think she realizes she has not healed and that she is in active recovery mode.”

“Then there is D.D.  She is a workaholic, possibly to the point of obsession.  She doesn’t care if she is liked.  I think having a child has softened her edges.  Now she questions if she works too much.  I think many readers like that she is unapologetically brash, abrupt, and often rude, with a take no prisoners attitude.”

This is a story that will resonate with readers because of all the exciting elements. It also has a unique storyline that will force readers to change their minds about the likeability of the three female protagonists.

 


Book Review: What Doesn't Kill Her

The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar.

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What Doesn’t Kill Her by Christina Dodd brings back the fabulous characters of Cape Charade.  Dodd has outdone herself by creating this character driven story.  The previous book presented the heroine Kellen Adams as a victim, survivor, and warrior.  But in this novel, readers also see another aspect of her, as a mom.  People will take a journey with Kellen as she grows emotionally, while overcoming the trials and tribulations of having a seven-year-old daughter.

In the last book readers learn that Kellen escaped an abusive husband. Unfortunately, she could not escape his family and was shot in the head where she lied in a coma for thirteen months. Running away, she took her cousin’s identity, and joined the military, rising to the ranks of Captain. After getting a medical discharge she found a job at a Di Luca resort.  While there she was reunited with Max Di Luca, her former boyfriend and unbeknownst to her, the father of her child, Rae.

Kellen undergoes a transition from being frail to being tough. Dodd noted, “I wanted to write her as someone strong, determined, and brave. The year of unconsciousness had her go from Cecilia who needed someone to protect her to Kellen, a self-sufficient person.  In future books this character will have to come to grips with the split personality. In the beginning she was weak, but now she is able to take control over her life.”

Realistically, Dodd shows that not all women are suited to motherhood and the bond does not necessarily happen instantaneously. Wanting time to deal with all the new reality Kellen takes a side job to deliver an archeological piece to a recluse in the wilderness. Things do not go as planned because two teams of men are out to kill, one wanting revenge, and the other wanting the antique head.  While being ambushed Kellen realizes that her daughter Rae has been hiding, wanting to bond with her mother. To escape the killers, both are running for their lives through the wilderness. During these scenes, it becomes obvious the two are becoming close.

“I based Rae on my two daughters.  They had an extraordinary vocabulary, possibly because they are the children of an author. Rae is antsy, a typical seven-year-old. She is a chatterbox, very literal, curious, has a good imagination, and like her mother is a fighter. In the next book, she will be ten years old and a handful as she undergoes personality changes.”

The banter between mother and daughter is at times hilariously funny as they journey through this adventure together. This dialogue between Rae and Kellen stole the story.  Rae is a chatterbox, an intelligent and sassy girl. She looks on her mom as a Superhero, and she is the sidekick, naming them ThunderFlash and LightningBug.  Dodd portrays Rae as an innocent child who is still at the age where she feels her parents can do no wrong and looks up to them. Knowing her mom is a badass, she wants to emulate her and does so with the Superhero hidden identities. At the end of the book, Kellen described her daughter, “She’ll grow up to be a woman who allows no man to hurt her, to abuse her, verbally or physically.  She’s going to be strong. She’s got my back and I’ve got hers.”

Readers will have a smile on their face throughout this story.  Although there are intense scenes, the humor makes for a wonderful release.


Book Review: The Forgotten Hours

The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar.

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The Forgotten Hours by Katrin Schumann delves into a timely subject. It is a thought-provoking story about a woman’s search for the haunting truth regarding her best friend and father. The main character Katie wanted to believe that her father was perfect, that he was the same person she knew and loved.  But once he was accused of statutory rape she had to reconcile if her father was being honest with her. As she searched for facts that would give her answers, Katie wondered does she forgive, ignore, or cut off ties.

Schumann noted, “A few years ago I had two friends, almost at the same time, involved in a really nasty and complicated law case about consent.  The cases were not related.  I had this front row seat about the experiences of the accused and accuser.  I felt pulled along in the emotional tide, and realized that people who love them are also victims. I did not want to commit to one side or the other or jump to conclusions.  There are so many grey areas.  At the time of writing this there was the Jerry Sandusky case. I saw on television, the harrowing look of his wife and a comment she made struck me, “This is not the man I know.”  It is disorienting to think we do not know who people really are.”

Ten years ago, when Katie was fifteen her teenage best friend Lulu accused her dad of rape.  Because there was an age difference of about thirty years he was sent off to prison for nine years. Katie was loyal to her father and never questioned his innocence.  Now, with her dad’s release date approaching she must come to grips with what really happened, after being hounded by reporters and knowing she could no longer keep her boyfriend in the dark. To make matters worse she must return to the Eagle Lake cabin where the incident occurred.  While there she discovers letters about the trial that provoke in her questions about her father’s innocence and her own memory of what happened.

This story is a page-turner that also speaks to broader questions of sexual abuse, family loyalty, and the uncertainty of memory. Interestingly, throughout the novel Schumann has readers questioning who is the predator, the accused or the accuser. The plot's themes are all the more powerful in today’s current environment.

 


Book Review: The Secret Of Clouds

The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar.

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The Secret of Clouds by Alyson Richman brings to life the bond between a teacher and student.  In the current environment, it is a reminder of how precious a life is even for a fleeting moment.  It is a story of hope and the dreams of a young boy who readers will connect with immediately. 

Richman noted, “The title came from my son saying to me after my grandmother died, that he wishes there would be a family cloud.  I put a sentence in the book, “We have to hope every family has a family cloud that will unite everyone.” I tried to explain death to him. He wanted to know where she went, how is it she was here one day and gone the next.  He looked up to me and said, ‘mommy, I just have to hope there is a family cloud.’ I thought that was so beautiful. All my novels have a message of being kind to one another as the characters become knitted together.  In this book, light was brought into the household.  Within a community people could leave a lasting fingerprint on each other.”

The book opens with Sasha and Katya living in the Ukraine.  They move to America but discover their young son, Yuri, has a major heart defect caused by the exposure to nuclear radiation. Because of his condition he is not allowed to attend school with other students.  Assigned as a home school English teacher, Maggie Topper needs to find a way to connect with Yuri.  Realizing Yuri is passionate for baseball she uses it as a teaching tool, having him read the biography of Shoeless Joe.  Throughout the book are tidbits of baseball history as well as comparisons between baseball and Yuri’s life.

Readers can only imagine how stressed any mother would be, not knowing if they would outlive their child. Richman noted, “I could not imagine. Yuri’s mom, Katya, desperately wanted to protect her child.  Think how worrisome it is for a mother to think her child’s heart could stop beating and not to be able to see any signs.  There was this powerful scene in the book where Yuri is sleeping in his crib and she is hovering over him to make sure his chest goes up/down.  I interviewed people who had children with rare heart defects and they never wanted to leave their children for even a minute.  Another scene has Maggie staying with Yuri so Katya can get some rest. As a mother, I kept thinking Yuri was my child.”

Although Richman is known for her historical novels, she ventured into the contemporary genre.  But she makes sure to include the historical significance of the era by delving into such topics as the Chernobyl disaster, baseball, music, and a mention of the Holocaust.  Trying to show Yuri that people always need hope, Maggie has him write a letter to his future eighteen-year-old self.  She precedes it by explaining to him how children in the Terezin Concentration Camp wrote poetry and drawings even when starving and freezing.  Maggie came to realize that “a teacher’s job is to make children feel safe, to make them believe their ability is boundless…to use their minds-and their imagination-in their darkest hour.” Yuri’s letter and the drawings/poetry of the Holocaust children sparked a creative dialogue where they were able to imagine the possibility of a better life.

This is a heartening tale of the influence a teacher has on a student, but also how a student can impact a teacher. Richman makes people think about the importance of life and how a child born can make such an impression on those adults around him, even for a short time.

 


Book Review: Stroke Of Luck

The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar.

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Stroke of Luck by B.J. Daniels is the first of three in this new series.  Known for mixing romance and danger this one concentrates more on the relationship than the danger, a slight change from her past novels. 

“I wrote it as more of a romance than a mystery.  My editor suggested I do this.  I tried it but feel it is not what I really want to do.  I think people read me for the suspense.  If people want a true romance they can find it elsewhere.  In this novel, it worked well to have the relationship more up front and the hero/heroine not personally involved in the mystery.  For the other books in the series I went back to having the main focus on the danger that is intertwined with the relationship. The next book will focus on another brother of the dude ranch who rescues a woman physically threatened by a man.”

Also different is the personality of the heroine.  Daniels noted that Poppy Carmichael “is strong, but not an in-your-face person who argues with the hero.  I tried to make her more poised with a quiet confidence.  On the other hand, my protagonist, Will Sterling, is typical of my heroes. He is laid back, cocky, sensitive, and caring.  He regrets how the friendship with Poppy ended.”

The setting is a dude ranch in Glacier Park Montana. A large corporation has rented it during the winter for a retreat. After the cook breaks his leg, the ranch owner, Will, is forced to call upon a childhood friend Poppy, now a caterer.  The problem is that twenty years ago, as a teenager, he broke her heart.

“The reason I wrote them on a dude ranch in Whitefish Montana was to have them isolated.  It is surrounded by mountains, pine trees, and lakes.  There is no television and no cell phone service.  The only way to communicate is with the one land line in the lodge. Everyone was back to nature.”

Set on revenge Poppy hopes to seduce him with food, using the old saying, “a way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” She wanted to get him to want her, then she would walk away, and break his heart, as he did to her. Unfortunately, a major snowstorm turns the retreat into a cold atmosphere. Someone is killing people there without any escape. 

“I love to cook and wanted to write one of my characters as a great chef. The way I show love, which I passed on to Poppy, is through my cooking and baking.  At our house. we have a lot of guests come and go so my husband, who is also a great cook, and I make sure no one leaves hungry. The three recipes in the back of the book are ones I personally cook.”

Readers are left guessing who is the culprit and will Poppy and Will renew their relationship in this western-style romance-thriller.


Book review: Say You're Sorry

The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar.

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Say You’re Sorry by Karen Rose will keep readers guessing and thinking.  It has thrills, suspense, psychological analyses, and a bit of romance.  People are kept at the edge of their seats by a story that delves into intense subjects such as cults, pedophiles, torture, abuse, alcohol dependency, anxiety attacks, and PTSD.

“I enjoyed writing the scenes with the dogs.  Brutus is a therapy dog.  I got a lot of the ideas from one of my editors that trains therapy dogs. I wrote the scenes with Brutus because I want readers to understand what a true service dog does. Daisy has her dog to help her with anxiety and keep it under control so it doesn’t become a threat to her sobriety. We are even giving away some stuffed Brutus’ at the conferences. I am losing my hearing so I am looking for a service dog of my own.  Hopefully, one like Brutus. My younger daughter is deaf and her anxiety comes from her disability. Recently, she was followed, which scared her and me.  It is nerve racking that as a deaf person anyone can sneak up to her at any time.  We have been talking about getting her a service dog as well.”

Although the first novel in a new series, it draws on characters from the Baltimore series.  The heroine, Daisy Dawson, should be recognizable to those readers who have read Rose in the past.  She is a cross-over character whose story is told front and center in this debut. Having moved to Sacramento she is confronted by a disguised gunman who pulls her into an alley.  Instead of fleeing she uses the skills taught by her dad.  As the attacker bolts, Daisy pulls a locket off his neck. A good friend, Sacramento PD Detective Rafe Sokolov, comes to her rescue and brings his old friend, FBI Special Agent Gideon Reynolds. After doing some investigating it becomes clear this attacker is actually a serial killer who preys on young women.  Knowing she needs a defender, Reynolds is asked to be a part of her protection detail. For him it is personal, since he recognized the locket’s significance.  The cult forces teenage women to wear these lockets after marrying them young. Together Daisy and Gabriel are determined to stop this vicious killer and find the cult he escaped from.

“This is a serial killer who has been hanging around in my head for about five years. He is a person that is capable of monstrous deeds.  To make a villain believable they must not be cardboard cutouts like Snidely Whiplash who just twirls his mustache and goes wah-ha-ha. They have to have a vulnerability, something they care about.  This killer had a messed-up childhood.  I wanted to explore why others like the hero Gideon who has a horrific childhood do not become killers.  I am fascinated why some do and some do not. I have to tell you a funny story.  I met a man on an airplane who is a private pilot that combined charter services and corporation time shares.  As he talked about all these places he visited in such a short period of time I looked at him and said, ‘you would make a perfect serial killer because there is no pattern.’ He looked at me and became very upset.  I told him I write thriller novels, but he still did not speak with me the rest of the flight.”

Both the hero and heroine are mending from emotional problems.  She is a recovering alcoholic that has anxiety, while he wrestles with his memories of the cult’s abuse. Daisy was forced to live a sheltered and isolated life by her father who believed her sister, Taylor was being hunted. Daisy must come to grips with her father for uprooting their lives.  She gravitates towards Gideon because he too is trying to come to grips with his past. When he was a young child, his mother got involved with a cult that advocated forced marriages as soon as a young girl turned twelve and welded a locket around her neck which claimed ownership of her. Boys at thirteen were considered men and began apprenticeships which also included pedophilia. Gideon was nearly beaten to death after he objected and killed the man who was trying to rape him. He barely escaped with his life.

Although this book is 600+ pages, there are a lot of moving parts from start to finish. Yet, it's an amazingly fast read given the size of the book, since these pages are jam-packed with wall-to-wall action and heart-stopping, page-turning suspense. Say You’re Sorryis something Karen Rose will not have to do with this debut novel of her new series, because she has written a riveting and thrilling novel.

 


Book Review: The Sky Above Us

The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar.

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The Sky Above Usby Sarah Sundin is a historical romance novel focusing more on the history than the romance.  Throughout this series she intertwines World War II military history with a developing relationship.

The series follows three brothers who are all fighting in Normandy. The first book highlighted Wyatt Paxton, the oldest, who joined the navy. This one is about Adler Paxton, the middle brother, who enlisted in the Air Force, and the next book will emphasize the youngest Paxton brother, Clay, who is an army Ranger.

This story highlights how Lt. Adler Paxton has been numbed by grief and is harboring shameful secrets, while shipping off to England on the Queen Elizabeth to fight with the US 357th Fighter Group in 1943. After arriving he battles the German Luftwaffe in treacherous dogfights in the skies over France as the Allies struggle for control of the air before the D-day invasion. These scenes are authentic, intense, and capture the struggles of the allied forces as they have dog-fights over the skies of Normandy to protect the bombers.

“I wrote Adler as having joined the 357thfighter group.  I enjoyed writing the fighter pilot mentality.  I read many stories by those and was able to understand what it was like when fighting on a mission.  Chuck Yeager, the pilot who broke the sound barrier, was in this group. He along with his peers had a very lively and colorful memoir. He is rough around the edges, very driven, ambitious, and competitive.  Chivalrous when he rescued Violet from this predatory type, Riggs who had no boundaries at all.  Adler’s attitude is that no one should have a right to just grab a strange woman and force a kiss on her. I think Adler is two different personalities, one gregarious and outgoing, and the other where he just shuts down.  Because of the tragedy he experienced he tries to keep a side of himself secret, which is a protective mechanism.”

On the Queen Elizabeth, he meets Violet Lindstrom who serves in the American Red Cross. Adler and Violet will reunite at the Air Base where she is assigned the duties of entertaining the troops at the Aeroclub and setting up programs for local children. As war rages and D-Day approaches, life has a way of drawing two people together.

Sundin noted, “Receiving and giving forgiveness.  What does forgiveness mean?  Adler wants a reconciliation, but is afraid it is not possible.  He grieves for how he lost the love of his family. Many times, people forgive to avoid the bitterness in our own souls.”

This story is about friendship, love, and life choices.  It delves into how a feeling of betrayal can lead to forgiveness and the need for people to look within to find peace and happiness.

 


Book Review: The Black Ascot

The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar.

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The Black Ascotby Charles Todd ratchets up the mystery. Readers are able to get a deeper understanding of Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge, while getting a glimpse of the social and political trends of the 1920s.

Unlike many of the past plot-lines, this one focuses on a Cold Case. Ten years ago, a woman was murdered after attending the Black Ascot race, the famous 1910 royal horserace honoring the late King Edward VII.  The suspect, Alan Barrington, has eluded capture and the aggressive manhunt.  Now it appears that Barrington has returned to England, and Rutledge is chosen to conduct a quiet search under the cover of a routine review of a cold case. 

“We wanted to write as a starting off point, how a killing surrounded this event,called the killer, the Black Ascot Murderer. A woman was killed coming out of the races. After Edward VII died in 1910 there was a period of royal mourning. People thought the Ascot races should be cancelled.  Since the races were an integral part of society, it was decided to go through with it. Instead of wearing the glorious hats and gowns as in “My Fair Lady,” they decided everyone should wear black; thus, the Black Ascot.”

Determined to get into the mind of Barrington, Rutledge delves into all of his relationships and secrets, enlisting the help and advice of his alter-ego, Hamish.  But everything seems to be put on hold after the inspector is shot. Along with his supervisors and family, he questions whether it was attempted suicide, or was someone out to kill him.  The only way to save his career, and his sanity, is to find Alan Barrington and bring him to justice.

The Todds noted, “There were two societal stigmas in the story. Shell-shock was considered a moral failure that reflected on the individual and their family.  It was not only a shame on the veteran, but a shame on the family for producing a coward.  Families would disown sons who had lost their nerve. We talked with readers who came up to us and said thank you for allowing me to understand my grandfather or father now. Veterans also say thank you, which means so much to us. With suicide, at the time, people considered it a crime and would put a person in jail. If someone committed suicide they would not be allowed to be buried in consecrated Church grounds because it is considered a moral sin.  Many times, the family doctor would say the man who died was due to a gun going off while cleaning and declared it an accidental death.  This makes no sense since a man could take his gun apart in the dark during the war.  Those who did it had the feeling, ‘I have taken as much as I can take, and do not know what else to do.’  They could not talk about it, and did not know where to go to for help. They just could not cope.”

There are many twists and turns that keep readers on their toes.  Each character has strengths and flaws that have people questioning if they are good or bad, likeable, or not.

 


Book Review: The Girl From Berlin

The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar.

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The Girl From Berlin by Ronald H. Balson has readers experiencing the emotional roller coaster ride of guilt, anger, fear, and redemption. Chapters alternate between the 1930s/1940s and 2017.  The connection between the time periods is a manuscript that Ada Baumgarten has written about her life under Nazi rule and the devastating effect it had on Jews, particularly Ada’s family.

Balson noted, “I got the idea for Gavi when visiting my son who was studying abroad in Italy.  We drove around Italy and tried to visit as many wineries in Tuscany as we could because they are so quaint and beautiful.  We found out that German corporations own some of them.  I thought about the German occupation of Italy from 1943 to 1945 where they brutally seized Jewish property." 

"Ada came about from my long-time thoughts about Jewish artists and musicians during the Nazi regime. During the Weimar Republic, Germany's government, from 1919 to 1933, the period after World War I until the rise of Nazi Germany, there was a cultural explosion of art and science.”

Not only is this book a powerful historical novel but it also has a riveting mystery of murder, deception, and greed. The questions asked throughout the present-day chapters, how does the accounting of a young Jewish girl’s life in the 1930s and 1940s relate to a deed for an Italian farm, and what became of Ada?

It is almost like taking a time machine from present-day Italy back to the 1930’s during Hitler’s regime in Germany. The story opens with the recurring characters Catherine Lockhart and Liam Taggart being asked by an old friend to travel to Tuscany Italy to save the farm and priceless wine vineyards of his aunt, Gabi Vincenzo. A powerful corporation claims they own the deeds, even though she can produce her own set of deeds to her land.

Since Catherine is an attorney and her husband Liam is a private investigator they set forth to try to help the elderly woman.  Upon their arrival in Tuscany, Gabi tells Catherine and Liam to read a memoir by a woman named Ada Baumgarten, a German violinist forced to flee Berlin and settle in Bologna Italy after the Nazis took power.

The author also transplants readers back to the Nazi era where Jews were unaware of the horrors awaiting them: first deprived of careers/businesses, then property, basic rights, and ultimately, for many of them, their lives. Even more disturbing is the knowledge that while this was happening, many of the non-Jewish German population either does nothing or actively assists. Within these devastating events the author allows readers a reprise with the classical musical scenes and the various descriptions of certain musical works.

“I wrote this book quote by Ada, “Perhaps the most hurtful and inimical result of the campaign was the pervasive acceptance of Nazi policies by German society...it became apparent that they would no longer stand up for us.  Those who uttered hateful speech were sinful, but the greater sin was committed by those who did not speak at all.”  The Nazi policies were accepted.  Remember Germany had seen a serious depression.  With the Nazis, there started to be a booming economy.  Since this population was not Jewish they turned the other way.  A good lesson to take out of this book is that we as a society should not turn our backs to those in need. I wanted to explore the Jewish options open to escape from the Nazi barbarism.  Many did leave Germany and Austria before the war.  Yet, many could not just pick up and go someplace.  Where would they go since the surrounding countries of Poland, Austria, and Czechoslovakia were not options?  Anywhere someone went there were no job, no community, and no money. These are formidable barriers. They tried to convince themselves things were not so bad, especially since events happened in increments. First Jews had to wear armbands, then Jewish stores were painted, but the atrocities started later.”

This novel puts a personal touch on the Holocaust where the six million Jews who perished do not seem like numbers.  Starting with the first pages of the book, readers will be so mesmerized there will be no turning back. Balson does a great job of intertwining the music, the rise of the Nazi party to power during its early years, its effect on Jewish lives, and the comparison between Jewish treatment in Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy.  It is a story of courage, survival, and hope.