review: Playing With Fire by Tess Gerritsen

playingwithfire{Source: GoodReads.com}

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

4.5 stars

Honestly? You had me at Tess Gerritsen.

I love Gerritsen’s writing. Her talent for crafting strong, relatable, complex female characters is outstanding for the genre, and she writes a lovely, layered mystery too.

Playing with Fire is a departure for Gerritsen, and I could really feel that she took so much pleasure in writing the tale. In the book, we meet Julia Ansdell, a professional violinist, who stumbles upon a dusty piece of music in a lonely shop in Rome. Back home, Ansdell plays the piece – the Incendio waltz, and it is shatteringly beautiful. It also appears to trigger her three-year-old daughter Lily into brutal violence.

Frightened and disassembled by the escalating madness encroaching on her life, Julia travels to Venice, Italy, in an attempt to discover the truth about the waltz and its origins.

The novel flips back and forth between Julia’s story and that of Lorenzo Todesco, a young man growing up in the horrors of the Second World War. At the beginning, I thought these transitions would annoy me, but they were extremely well done, and the differences in tone / perspective / voice were so vivid and well captured. Bravo to Gerritsen for pulling that off so well.

Another note that I feel I should mention is how well Gerritsen portrays Julia. In the beginning, I was annoyed on her behalf. Like, her daughter does these absolutely psychotic things and no one seems to bat an eyelid? But as the novel progressed, I became unraveled, wondering… what was true? Was Julia reliable? Really wonderfully done.

In the crescendo of the novel, all is revealed, and I just couldn’t put it down. It’s at times so sad that it feels heartbreaking, but there is a sweet element of hope that rivers through the piece – and that is heartbreaking too.

Loved it. Would recommend to anyone who loves a good thriller (the bits with Lily and Julia are genuinely horrifying) and anyone who enjoys their mystery with a side of history. You’ll be enthralled.

review: The Night Watch by Sarah Waters

thenightwatch {Source: GoodReads.com}

One major reason I love Sarah Waters’ books is that she paints such a rich history for women. I love how she features lesbians and lesbian life throughout history. There is much written about men and gay men (natch, why shouldn’t men take over literature too?) and yet, not a lot of quality, compelling, raw, devastating and accurate prose written about women, women who loved other women. It’s so important that we have Sarah Waters.

The Night Watch is my favourite Waters novel. It’s perfect. Everything about the way she constructed the book, everything about the editing of it, the descriptions of World War II and its aftermath (gah, I can’t get over how well she writes period dramas, without delving into cliched tropes), the characters, the relationships. It’s perfection, beginning to end.

And oh, how I adored the people we met.

Gentle, vicious, frustrating, frustrated, impulsive, silly Helen.

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Noble, complicated, intelligent, miserable Kay.

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Gorgeous, devastating, intimidating, wealthy Julia.

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Irrepressible, disappointed, beautiful, melancholy Viv.

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Interestingly, Waters chose to begin this novel at the end, and go back in time to find out how our characters came to be where and who they are. It’s a frustrating tactic (because in a way, we’ll know all we know by the first act) but an effective one, as Waters peels the onion slowly and lyrically.

She brings wartime London alive with precision and grace, and her characters stumble through their lives, never quite making the right decisions, never quite realizing where they will end up. The relationships are so skillfully woven here, and the vividness of certain scenes and images still stick in my mind.

By the end, you might feel a little cheated – I did when I first read it- but I now choose to marvel at how Waters unraveled their stories and how she showed what was truly vital for us to know – after all, hindsight is 20/20, and these characters never knew and might never have dreamt, where they’d be after the war.

Were they would be after those rash decisions, when it seemed as though the world would end – but then, it didn’t.