Lone Star by Paullina Simons

9780062098153_2230bLone Star will be published on November 24, 2015. I was drawn to this book at first because I absolutely loved The Bronze Horseman series by Paullina Simons. I hoped this story would be as beautiful, and it certainly is.

Lone Star is the story of four teenagers, getting ready to graduate from high school and start “real life.” Chloe and her best friend, Hannah, have always dreamed of visiting Barcelona, and they have been saving money to go before they start college in the Fall. When their boyfriends, brothers Mason and Blake, decide to go with them; the girls have no idea what kind of a trip it’s going to be. It is the story of friendships, and the relationships between each of the four teens, best friends since childhood. Their relationships change drastically once they are in the new & unfamiliar environments of Europe, where they can try to be themselves or continue to keep hold of the secrets and lies which bind them together. Then, Johnny, a traveling musician with a star of Texas tattoo on his chest, joins their group in Latvia. Johnny both confuses and charms Chloe at the same time, never even revealing his real name to her, even during a very passionate few weeks.

Though the book is rather long and the story unfolds over the span of 3 years, the writing is fluid and seamless. Simons writes beautiful, flowing descriptions and vivid scenes, much like in The Bronze Horseman. She blends a bit of historical fiction, regarding the Holocaust, concentration camps, and death camps, in with modern day coming-of-age story. The book includes quite a bit of romance, including some steamy scenes, mystery surrounding Johnny’s true identity, his past, and his future, and much drama between family & friends. The descriptions of Latvia, Riga, Italy, & Poland are wonderful, causing the reader to feel as if they are thrown into the story, regardless of where the characters end up.

I started off reading this a little on the slow side, but once the group of 4 made it to Europe, I couldn’t put the book down. I read the entire second half of the story in one sitting. In a scene at the end, after Chloe takes an extremely long journey (to discover something, she hopes,) I got goosebumps because I could feel her elation and hope, quickly followed by her extreme sense of loss and grief.

I loved reading how Chloe’s character developed, the way she learned by trial and error, by making mistakes, proving that she is human and its ok. Once she opened her eyes to what was in front of her all along, she finally begins to live…and to love.

I would highly recommend this romantic saga, as well as The Bronze Horseman series, which is also excellent!

 

 

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The Secrets of Lake Road by Karen Katchur

I really enjoyed this story, especially because of the rich atmospheric scenes. As a reader, I really felt transported to the little lake community with its local legends and secrets. The story has a little bit of everything: mystery, suspense, coming-of-age, guilt, and regret. The story takes place in a mostly secluded lake community, where 12 year old Caroline’s family has been coming each summer for years. Caroline, as well as her 16 year old brother Johnny love the lake, but their mother, Jo, doesn’t stick around because the memories from her troubled past at the lake are too vivid. When Jo was 16, her boyfriend Billy drowned, and his death was deemed an accidental drowning. Only Jo, and her husband Kevin, who was Billy’s best friend, know the truth.

Caroline tries to ignore her mother’s aversion to the lake, and enjoy a summer of relaxation and stealing glances at her brother’s cute best friend, Chris. Her brother Johnny spends his days hanging at the beach Pavilion, chatting up young girls who fall all over themselves for him. When a seven year old girl, Sara Starr, goes missing from the beach, all the old lies & secrets threaten to surface, while rescue workers search the lake for Sara’s body. When a human bone is brought up from the bottom of the lake and is found to belong to Billy, the investigation surrounding his death starts up again, with help from Billy’s older sister Dee-Dee, who will not rest until she finds out the truth. Now that the investigation is opened up again, the tension between Jo and Kevin builds as well. Does Kevin know more than he is letting on about what really happened to Billy? As it turns out, Sara’s mother, Patricia, spent her summers growing up at the lake. She claims to have been there the night Billy drowned. What does Patricia know; and will she come forward with information while her own daughter is missing?

The author does a fine job of creating tension lines between the characters so that at any second, one could break. Caroline feels estranged from her mother, and she knows Jo is running from something. She is determined to figure out what, but also determined to find Sara, as she was one of the last ones to see Sara alive that day on the beach. The family drama of three generations of women is an interesting dynamic of this novel. Caroline, her mother Jo, and Jo’s mother, “Gram,” each have unique personalities and attitudes toward the lake. When those personalities and attitudes clash, doors slam and more cracks in their already unstable relationships form. What will it take to bring the family back to a sort of peace again? You’ll want to read this one. The plot twists keep coming until the very end, and the story will stick with you long after you finish reading.

I received a signed copy of this book in a contest. I was in no way compensated, or asked to provide this review.

Playing With Fire by Tess Gerritsen

I’ve read all of Tess Gerritsen’s novels and have loved each and every one. Her background in the medical profession is evident by her ease of writing medical suspense with both clarity and interest. Her books are very difficult to put down, as they captivate the reader from the very start.

Her newest novel, Playing with Fire, is a stand-alone and is rather different from any of her previous works. She combines suspense, mystery, family drama, and historical fiction, and she does it beautifully. One of the coolest things about this book is that Tess actually composed a piece, a waltz titled Incendio, which is the theme music for the story. Not only is she a very talented writer, but it turns out that she is just as talented musically. A sample of Incendio can be found at http://www.tessgerritsen.com/. Listening to the music after reading the story made it even more powerful. What a nice treat to have a musical score to go along with such a wonderful story.

The story switches back and forth between present day and 1940’s Italy during WWII. Modern day, Julia Ansdell, a violinist, happens to find some very old music in an antique store in Rome. The music, which has never been published, captivates her and she begins to learn the complicated waltz, titled Incendio. The music starts to affect her three year old daughter in horrifying ways, which in turn causes Julia’s husband to worry that her mental health is unstable. Julia is scared, because her own mother was deemed criminally insane and she died while at an institution. Could the mental illness be passed down to her, or worse, to her 3 year old daughter? Determined to find the source of the waltz and its composer, Julia takes off for Venice while her family thinks she is elsewhere. What and who she finds there will shock the reader, as well as Julia herself.

During 1940’s war torn Europe, young Lorenzo, a talented violinist, and also a Jew, begins practicing music with Laura, a beautiful Italian cellist. Lorenzo finds himself falling for Laura, despite the odds against them. Soon, Lorenzo and his family are rounded up by German soldiers, ripped from their homes, and sent by train to the concentration camps in Poland. Lorenzo is torn from his family by an officer charged with finding musicians to play at the concentration camp. While there, he composes the waltz, Incendio. I won’t give away any more of Lorenzo’s story, because I don’t want to spoil the ending. Let’s just say you’ll want to read it for yourself.

This is a beautiful story, and I wish the novel was longer, because I read through it and found myself wishing for more at the end. Playing with Fire is a wonderful example of the powerful, lasting affect which music has on a person’s life, memory, and attitude. Well done, Tess. This is one of the best pieces you’ve written!