The Girl from Berlin: A Novel by Ronald H. Balson


Dear Fellow Reader,

In general, my writing of these reviews is a lot slower than my reading. This makes some sense because I read a lot. And I just got back from vacation which means that I am behind because, well, I read even more when I am on vacation. How much more, you ask? Generally, I read a book a day. Yes, you read that right, a book a day. To be perfectly honest, many of those books are not exactly War and Peace. You may have heard me talk about “popcorn” books before. I sometimes even read books that are “popcorn light”. For example, when I got on the plane, I had not started a book. I find it hard to start a book when on a plane. There are too many distractions. In this situation, I need popcorn light. A book so light that getting into the characters and plot is mindless. Enter Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Brash Blonde. I will not pretend that this is great literature. It was fine for what I wanted. I wanted to read on the plane to make the time go fast. Popcorn light.

BUT, I do read more serious books. And sometimes I find a book that I must sit down and write about immediately because I think you might like it. I finished a book this morning and I think it is worth reading. It is part mystery and part history. And, unbelievably enough, it seems it is part of a series. And this book comes with the disclaimer that I was given this book to read in exchange for my unbiased review.

The Girl from Berlin opens with Catherine and Liam going to meet with their friend, Tony. Tony owns a restaurant in Chicago and needs help. It seems that a corporation is trying to evict Tony’s aunt back in Tuscany from her home. Tony wants Catherine, who is a lawyer, to go to Italy and help prove that his aunt owns the property. He offers to pay all of Catherine and Liam’s expenses to go and check out the situation. While they aren’t sure they can help, they decide to go.

As they are leaving for Italy, a package arrives. It is a manuscript that has been translated from German to English. The manuscript was sent by Tony’s Aunt, Gabriella Vincenzo, so that Catherine and Liam can learn of her history. She can not talk of it – they must read the book.

The manuscript is the story of Ada Baumgarten, who was born in Berlin in 1918. Her father is the first-chair violinist with the Berlin Philharmonic. Born between the wars, Ada’s life is rich with culture and the society of Berlin. But there are clouds brewing. Ada begins violin lessons with her father and is a prodigy. She begins with the Youth Symphony, a year before she should be eligible, because of her talent. While with the Youth Symphony, she meets Kurt, who is also a violinist. They become friends. But then Hitler starts rising to power and the Baumgartens, who are Jewish, become vulnerable. The manuscript goes on to tell what happens to Ada and her family through WWII.

In the book, the reading of the manuscript is interspersed with Catherine and Liam’s efforts to save Gabriella’s property in the current day. As they finish reading the manuscript, they find out who is really behind the effort to seize Gabriella’s property.

I found the story very interesting and absorbing. While I feared for what would happen to Ada, I was carried through the history of the times. I highly recommend this book. The book does seem to be the fifth in a series of Catherine and Liam books. I didn’t know this until I looked up the title on Amazon. You do not need to have read the other books in the series to understand this book. It stands on its own.

Thanks for reading!

 

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Night of Miracles by Elizabeth Berg

Dear Fellow Reader,

You know how I am supposed to tell you when I get a book given to me to review (as in I didn’t pay for the book or borrow it from the library)? Well, this is one of those books but bigger than that, this is a new Elizabeth Berg book.  In case you missed it in the past, I am a fan.  I like her books and I like her Facebook page.  (You should check it out and then follow it!) I truly think she and I could be friends. (Remember Honey Thacker  in the movie Notting Hill that tells Anna Scott (Julia Robert’s character) that they could be friends?)

I am going to see Ms. Berg in person this week. One of my friends thinks she would like to come just to watch me get kicked out when I tell Ms. Berg that we should be friends.  I am not going to tell her but I do think we would get along.

So, between the freebie thing and my “fangirlness”, you might not think this will be a fair review. Well, you are wrong.  Although I have liked most of Elizabeth Berg’s books there is one that I didn’t like. I’m saying that so you don’t think that I will ALWAYS give her books a good review.

Getting to the new book…

Night of Miracles is the continuation of the story started in The Story of Arthur Truluv.  (my review of that book can be found here – https://cecooney.com/2017/12/06/who-knew-old-man-could-be-a-theme/)  In Night of Miracles, we are re-introduced to Lucille, Maddy, and Nola several years after the conclusion of The Story of Arthur Truluv.  Lucille is still living in the house that had belonged to Arthur Truluv. She is teaching baking classes but she is starting to feel her age. Maddy, who inherited the house from Arthur is away at school with her daughter, Nola. A new family has moved in next door; a young couple with a 10-year-old son.  When an unexpected crisis hits the family, Lucille helps by taking care of their son, Lincoln.  But there are other new characters that enter the world of Mason, Missouri.  Iris moves to Mason to start over and finds a friend in Tiny, the cab driver. When Iris decides she needs a part-time job, she applies to help Lucile with the marketing of her business. In the meantime, Tiny is in love and wants to ask Monica out on a date.  The two of them have problems connecting and it leads to some misunderstandings.

I think my favorite part of reading Elizabeth Berg is that, with her writing, you are quickly drawn into the characters and the story. She can develop characters that you understand and want to know more about. She puts you in the heart of the character and you live there during the story.  It is a wonderful talent and I appreciate her stories for that quality.

If you haven’t read The Story of Arthur Truluv yet, please read it and then you can move on to Night of Miracles.  I think you will enjoy the characters and their story.

 

Thanks for reading.

 

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The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce

 

Dear Fellow Reader,

Do you belong to a book club? I had belonged to one many years ago but it broke up and I didn’t do much about it. I was busy and didn’t miss it. When we moved two years ago, I decided that a book club would be a good place to go and meet other people. I also liked that I would have to read books that might be different from what I would choose. I think that is the best/worst part. I have read several books that were meaningful and I never would have picked them on my own. While I have not tried a virtual book club, that might be an option for you if you don’t know of any by you. At least you can see what they are reading and expand your TBR (to be read) pile. (For a list of online book clubs, you can google “virtual book clubs”. Here is an article with a list of 6 clubs that you can check out. https://www.bookbub.com/blog/2017/01/30/online-book-clubs-2017  The article is from 2017 but I checked and the clubs listed still seem to be operating.)

Last month’s library book club book is The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce. Rachel Joyce also wrote The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, which was a best seller, and four other books. I had read Harold Fry several years ago. (I thought I would have reviewed but I don’t see it on the list.)

The Music Shop is a love story set to music. It tells the story of Frank and Ilse. Frank was brought up by a rich but unconventional mother. She has left an imprint on his life that he has not been able to overcome. Frank has a particular talent. He can listen to the internal beat of a person and tell them exactly what song they need. It will often not be what they want but it will be exactly what they need. Frank owns a record store in a rundown neighborhood in London. The year is 1988 and Frank will only sell vinyl records. Not cassette tapes and no CDs. He has his own filing system of records in the store which means that he is the only one who can find things. His assistant, Kit, is well-meaning and rather incompetent. Father Anthony owns the religious goods store down the block and Maud owns the tattoo shop. Together they form a family of choice with some others in the neighborhood.

Then one day Ilsa in her green coat faints in front of the store. Frank goes out to help her and their hesitant love story starts.

Overall, I liked the book. This book, more than any other book I have read, has a musical score. Elsa hires Frank to teach her about music and he does so in his own way by giving her songs that one would not think go together but in his mind and then hers, they do. I wish the book came with a playlist. I should have stopped to play the music that went with the discussion but I didn’t. I did think the book was a bit slow in the middle but that might have been me. My suggestion is that when you read this book that you sit with a computer nearby so you can listen to the music while reading the description.

Thanks for reading!

 

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Dear Mrs. Bird by A J Pearce

Do you ever wonder what you read that made you pick up the book you are reading? Yes, sometimes it is because you have read other books by that author (my penchant for series…) but then there are other times that you wonder what in a description told you that you needed to read this book. Since I haven’t wandered the library shelves or been in a bookstore lately, I have no idea where I heard about this week’s book. I do receive email updates from Boswell Books in Milwaukee. I am sure that is where I heard of Dear Mrs. Bird.

In 1940 London, Emmeline Lake (Emmy) longs to be a Lady War Correspondent. As the book opens, she is working in a law office and volunteers at night with the Auxiliary Fire Service. But then she sees the job description of a lifetime or so she thinks. She applies, gets an interview and then gets the job. She is in seventh heaven. Only, she didn’t really listen or ask any questions at the interview. When she gets to her first day on the job, she learns that she is not working for war correspondents but she is working for the formidable Mrs. Henrietta Bird at Woman’s Friend magazine. Mrs. Bird is famous for her advice column. Emmy’s job is to read the letters that come to Mrs. Bird and give Mrs. Bird only the “acceptable” letters. The letters that are ‘unpleasant” are to be shredded. The term “unpleasant” encompasses most of the letters that are received by the office. It seems that because of Mrs. Bird’s refusal to respond to most of the letters and her harsh responses, there are not as many letters coming to the office. Emmy’s heart is pulled by the letters and she secretly starts responding to some of the writers. When she tells her best friend, Bunty, what she has been doing, Bunty tells her to stop immediately. But she doesn’t listen and there are repercussions.

The book has the backdrop of London during World War II with nightly bombing raids and tensions due to the war. Hearts are broken and friendships tested. Despite it all, Emmy keeps showing the resilience of the human spirit.

Despite the backdrop of war, this is not a heavy book. Emmy is a young woman who lets her enthusiasm overrun her common sense. She makes frequent errors but she keeps trying. While the book covers some of the heartbreak of war and its toll on people, it is done with a light touch.

I found the book enjoyable.

Thanks for reading.

 

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Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit by Amy Stewart

Dear Fellow Reader,

Another series! I had not read any of the Miss Kopp books but I had heard a lot about them because the author, Amy Stewart came to my town on her book tour for the fourth book in her series, Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit by Amy Stewart. I had received a copy of an advanced reader copy of the book in exchange for my unbiased review.

As can occasionally happen, I was able to buy a sale copy of the second book in the series, Lady Cop Makes Trouble at about the same time as I received the fourth book. I had them when I was traveling recently. As things go, I found myself with one book downloaded on my phone and the other on my kindle. (and no internet) So, I read both books at the same time. Which was interesting.

The books take place in 1915 and 1916. Having ladies working for the police or sheriff’s office was not usual. In some states, it was legal but not in all states. Constance Kopp lives on a farm with her two sisters. Her parents have died and her brother is married and lives in town. He would like the sisters to sell the farm and move into town but they don’t really want to do that. After they have a problem with some thugs, Constance comes to the attention of Sherriff Heath. Constance is tall and is not afraid to do what needs to be done to apprehend a criminal.

In the fourth book of the series, we find Constance mostly taking care of the woman’s section of the jail. She has also instituted a program to check up on women who have given indications that they could get into trouble. She makes monthly visits to the women in an effort to keep them on the right side of the law. Sheriff Heath asks her to accompany another deputy in transporting two people to the insane asylum. They have to pick up a woman at her home as a judge has ordered that she be returned to the insane asylum. When the woman talks, Constance feels there is something wrong with her story. She doesn’t feel that she can leave it alone without investigating.

But at the same time, it is election time in the town and Sherriff Heath is running for Congressman. The District Attorney is running for sheriff but he seems to be spending all his time just talking about how Sherriff Heath is unfit even though he isn’t running against him. And Constance is one of the things that the District Attorney finds fault with under Sherriff Heath’s direction. Constance has her doubts but Sherriff Heath tells her he is sure that people won’t believe the District Attorney and that he will win. What will happen if he loses?

I found the books very interesting. Probably the most interesting to me was that they are based on a real person and while it is not biographical, many of the characters and actions are based in reality. There is enough background given in the books to understand them without reading the series in order. Although, I think that it is a good idea. I was never really clear as to what happened to start the stories off. I just know there was a problem that Constance and her sisters were having with some thugs but now why they were having the problem or why the sheriff’s office was not paying much attention to it. It didn’t impact the books I read but it was mentioned.

Thanks for reading!

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