Playing with Fire
By Tess Gerritsen
Grave is an Italian musical term used to describe a piece of music that is played solemnly or very slowly. In Playing with Fire, Tess Gerritsen gradually and painstakingly reveals the horrors and secrets from which main characters Julie and Lorenzo suffer.
Julie Ansdell, a violinist from present day Boston, discovers a rare score of a waltz titled "Incendio" in an antique shop in Venice, Italy. With just a glance of the notes in Incendio, Julie can sense the urgency and beauty of the music and decides she must own it. Yet, Incendio is not just any piece of music; from the moment Julie purchases it, Julie is plagued with unsettling feelings, such as noticing the distinctly chilling temperature inside the antique shop, and the disturbing behavior of her once angelic three year-old daughter that seem to be stirred up whenever Julie plays the piece. Soon, Julie can trust no one, and those she loves become a danger to both her physical and mental state.
As Julie sets out to unearth the possible malignant powers of Incendio, the reader is plunged into a new story that takes place several years before the Holocaust in Venice, Italy. Gerritsen, inspired by true historical events, introduces the reader to a violinist named Lorenzo who is born to generations of Jewish Italians who live and breathe music. Lorenzo and his family are celebrated for their talent and contributions to their community, and although their fellow Jews are being hunted and terrorized in other parts of Europe, they do not believe that they could experience these same horrors in their beloved Venice. However, Venice, like the rest of Europe during the late 1930s, is not immune to the infestation of hatred and cruelty against the Jews.
In spite of the gravity of subject matter in this part of the book, Gerritsen steadfastly reminds her readers about the power of Incendio and all the ways in which humans are connected to each other. Towards the end of the book, Playing with Fire explodes into a feverish pace as Gerritsen unravels how Julie and Lorenzo’s stories connect. The knots of tension continue to tighten leaving the reader grasping for the book’s initial tempo and a moment to process all that has been revealed.
Grave (pronounced gra-veh): Music played in a slow and solemn manner.
Grave (pronounced grave): Serious, severe, momentous, somber, grim, dire, fateful, weighty.
Art imitates life in Playing with Fire.
December 15, 2015
Life After Life
By Kate Atkinson
As one would suspect, as a librarian, I am surrounded by avid readers. Periodically, a certain gotta-read title seems to grab everyone’s attention at once and you start to see and hear about it everywhere: the book magically migrates from desk to desk, you walk into conversations about it…For a while, it was The Martian by Andy Weir; then it was The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. For the past year or so, the book Life After Life by Kate Atkinson has been meandering into my mindscape, ever more so lately since its sequel A God in Ruins was just published.
So I gave in, checked it out, and found myself turning the pages, trying to understand why I was reading and rereading the birth and sometimes simultaneous death of a perfectly-formed child named Ursula during a snowstorm on February 11, 1910. Then I realized, that’s the magic of this novel: simply read each section as it unfolds and don’t overthink it, you don’t need to work that hard! Atkinson’s gift is seamlessly conjuring up one believable, captivating tale after another, each one chronicling a different version of Ursula’s life depending on the tiniest shift in circumstances. In so doing, she not only examines the age-old argument of fate versus free will, she also takes the reader on a tour of World Wars I and II, as experienced by members of an upper-middle class British family. (I have hardly read a more compelling account of what living with and dealing with the aftermath of daily bombings was like for civilians).
The author wanted to call this book “Lunch Date with Hitler,” but the publishers wouldn't have it. Based on that alone, you might not be surprised to find this book is both entertaining and profound. Highly recommended for fiction readers interested in world events of the first half of the twentieth century.
December 9, 2015
By Judy Blume
In a fit of nostalgia I recently decided to read a Judy Blume novel. As an adolescent, the only one of her novels I ever read was the inimitable Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. (If you’ve never read it, it is the quintessential puberty book for young girls). I decided I’d read one of Blume’s less well- known titles, Tiger Eyes, which was semi-recently made into an underwhelming film.
Tiger Eyes is about a young teenage girl, Davey, whose father is killed in a robbery at his store. Davey, her mother and her younger brother are all traumatized by the violent tragedy. Her mother decides to move them away to New Mexico to stay with family while they learn how to deal. Rather than dealing with their problems, though, the family falls into a rut. Davey’s mother develops a drug problem and allows her sister and brother-in-law to take care of her children while she shuts out the real world. Davey is scared and angry and, on top of that, is forced to try to act normal at a new school. She worries that her younger brother is already forgetting their father. Davey finds healing through friendship with an older boy named Wolf whom she meets while hiking a canyon. Wolf’s father is dying and it’s this loss that helps Davey to confront her own.
In the end, everything wraps up in a neat little package giving the book a very “afterschool special” vibe. Davey and her mother talk out their issues over a pitcher of sangria (because in the 80s I guess it was considered okay for a fifteen year-old to drink alcohol in a restaurant) and they move back to their home in Atlantic City. As corny as this book was (and it was, oh, so corny), I think it has an enduring value for young adults. If you have a teen or tween in your life who is struggling with a family tragedy, this story might help them to heal. Reading about Davey’s reaction to her loss—the emptiness, the numbness, the anger—might help young readers to understand that whatever they’re feeling is okay.
December 2, 2015
The Lunar Chronicles
By Marissa Meyer
Love fairy tales? What about dystopian fiction? If you answered “yes” to either of these questions, then this series is definitely for you! It takes the stories of Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Snow White to a whole new universe.
Now that you know the characters, here's the when and where: The story takes place after World War V, as there was a III and a IV preceding the action. With the planet in pieces after these two world wars, the stories are set in a New Asia, specifically in the Commonwealth of New Beijing.
In New Beijing, we meet Cinder, who of course has an evil stepmother who belittles her, an evil stepsister who despises her, but also another stepsister who tries to keep the peace with Cinder. Through her distant relationship with the only family she has ever known, Cinder struggles to stay out of trouble, avoid the Prince of New Beijing who she obviously likes after one brief encounter, and attempt to piece together her past in order to help save not only her future but the future of the world and her community, Lunar. Did I mention that she is part cyborg? Cinder can only remember pieces of her past since she is part human and part cyborg, meaning that in order to uncover her past she needs to figure out who or what made her the way she is.
In Book Two, we meet Red Riding Hood, or in this case, Scarlet. Scarlet is from France and when her grandmother suddenly goes missing, it is up to Scarlet and a mysterious stranger to figure out where she went and how to save her. Scarlet is forced to join forces with one of the creatures that took her grandmother, Wolf. Wolf is a Lunar soldier whose DNA has been modified and enhanced with that of a wolf, a.k.a. the ultimate killing machine. After convincing Scarlet that he is not the enemy and simply an outcast, the two set off on an adventure through the cities of France in order to track down Scarlet’s grandmother who it appears has some type of connection with Cinder.
In the third installment of this series, we board a spaceship that houses a small girl who has never seen anything beyond the walls of said spaceship. Meet Cress (Rapunzel): a highly intelligent and gifted child who can hack and infiltrate any system from her captor's spaceship. Being held prosoner by a Lunar official, Cress is forced to follow the instructions of Lunar's Evil Queen, Levana. Being overqualified for the job and realizing that freedom is never going to be an option for her, she devises an escape plan that will help her and Cinder and her gang of outlaws as well.
In the final installment of the Lunar chronicles, we are introduced to just one more character before all characters unite to face Levana and win the war that the started in Book One. Winter (Snow White) is the princess of Lunar, the Evil Queen’s stepdaughter, who is as pretty as ever, despite scars that deform her. Winter is idolized by the people of Lunar and with the power of popularity on her side she can help Cinder and friends to once and for all take down the Queen. Will everyone live happily ever after?