Repetitive and predictable mind/body battles weigh down what is otherwise a quick and entertaining spy romp.

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THE OFFERING

A CIA operative must fight magic and her own feelings in Frieden’s (Dialysis: A Memoir, 2014) tale of romance and suspense.

CIA agent Carla deVille has tried hard to leave her past, and her family’s dabbling in the supernatural, behind. However, when Carla is captured by a group called the Illuminati and almost used as an offering to a dark force, she must return to her roots in Santa Barbara and go undercover as a civilian in order to investigate the mysterious group. Her journey home is complicated by the reappearance of an old flame (and old rival) Mark Lyons. Despite Mark’s wealth, he is working for the same private eye firm that Carla is using as her cover, putting them in persistent contact and putting Carla’s emotions in constant turmoil. Yet he also seems to be involved with a shadowy firm that has connections to the Illuminati. Carla’s case becomes even more worrisome when her sister Gwen, who is being initiated into a coven their mother once led, is kidnapped and ritualistic markings are left in her store. In her search to find her sister, Carla must also reconnect with her mother, who has been confined to a mental hospital since Carla’s seventeenth birthday. More coven members are abducted and more ties between Mark’s family and the Illuminati are revealed, yet Carla’s associates and Mark himself claim to be on her side. Carla struggles to find out who she can trust, and to work with the more fantastic elements of her case. The case Carla pursues is an intriguing one, carefully straddling the edge between fantasy and reality so that even the reader isn’t sure who to believe. However, the characters are frequently unbelievable themselves. The character of Carla is a heavily clichéd stereotype of a tough-but-beautiful female CIA agent being brought down to a fallible level by her sexual desires. Despite trying to avoid emotion and instincts in favor of logic and martial arts training, all it takes is a few moments pressed up against a handsome man or a whiff of his cologne to leave her lost in a hormonal daze, momentarily unable to fight as her body and mind are subdued by her urges.

Repetitive and predictable mind/body battles weigh down what is otherwise a quick and entertaining spy romp.

Pub Date: Dec. 11, 2013

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 294

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 26, 2015

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The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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A heartwarming portrait of a broken heart finding a little healing magic.

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IN FIVE YEARS

After acing a job interview and accepting a marriage proposal, Dannie Kohan has had the perfect day. That is, until she awakens to find herself five years in the future with a completely different man.

Just one hour in that alternate reality shakes Dannie to her core. After all, highly ambitious Dannie and her boyfriend, David, have plotted out their lives in minute detail, and the sexy man in her dream—was it a dream?—is most certainly not in the script. Serle (The Dinner List, 2018) deftly spins these magical threads into Dannie’s perfectly structured life, leaving not only Dannie, but also the reader wondering whether Dannie time traveled or hallucinated. Her best friend, Bella, would delight in the story given that she thinks Dannie is much too straight-laced, and some spicy dreaming might push Dannie to find someone more passionate than David. Unfortunately, glamorous Bella is in Europe with her latest lover. Ever pragmatic, Dannie consults her therapist, who almost concurs that it was likely a dream, and throws herself into her work. Pleased to have landed the job at a prestigious law firm, Dannie easily loses her worries in litigation. Soon four and a half years have passed with no wedding date set, and Bella is back in the U.S. with a new man in her life. A man who turns out to be literally the man of Dannie’s dream. The sheer fact of Aaron Gregory’s existence forces Dannie to reevaluate her trust in the laws of physics as well as her decision to marry David, a decision that seems less believable with each passing day. And as the architecture of Dannie’s overplanned life disintegrates, Serle twists and twines the remnants of her dream into a surprising future.

A heartwarming portrait of a broken heart finding a little healing magic.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3744-1

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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