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review 2016-10-18 10:30
The Witnesses by Robert Whitlow
The Witnesses - Robert Whitlow

Young lawyer Parker House is on the rise—until his grandfather’s mysterious past puts both of their lives in danger. Parker House’s secret inheritance is either his greatest blessing . . . or his deadliest curse. The fresh-faced North Carolina attorney shares his German grandfather’s uncanny ability to see future events in his mind’s eye—a gift that has haunted 82-year-old Frank House through decades of trying to erase a murderous wartime past. While Parker navigates the intrigue and politics of small-town courtroom law, Frank is forced to face his darkest regrets. Then, a big career break for Parker collides with a new love he longs to nurture and the nightmares his grandfather can no longer escape. Sudden peril threatens to shatter not only Parker’s legal prospects but also his life and the lives of those dearest to him. Two witnesses, two paths, an uncertain future.







Parker House is a North Carolina lawyer whose career seems to be on a steady climb to the top. Living nearby is Parker's German grandfather, 82 year old Frank House, previously Franz Haus.  Frank served as an officer with the German Army during World War 2. During those years, Frank's superiors discover he has quite the talent for having accurate visions of the future. So accurate that he earns the nickname "The Aryan Eagle".  The general Frank answers to keeps him nearby, adjusting the army's battle strategies accordingly. When Frank gets word that his parents and sibling have all been killed in a random bombing in Dresden, he makes the choice to desert his position and flee to Switzerland, spending some months there before making his way to the United States to settle in North Carolina's Outer Banks area. 


Decades pass, Frank is married and widowed, watches his children and grandchildren grow up, thinking all these years that maybe just maybe he's managed to live a life of relative peace. But as life sometimes goes, just as he lets a little bit of that guard down, in walks in that blast from the past. A man by the name of Mr. Mueller appears at the office of Parker, looking for a "Hauptmann Haus". Reluctantly, Frank agrees to a meeting with Mueller who comes to tell Frank a story about how "Hauptmann Haus" gave him some advice that ended up saving his life. Pretty early on, it's made clear that Frank struggles with a mountain of guilt regarding his involvement in war crimes. After hearing Mueller's story, Frank gives a terse kind of "well, you're welcome" to try to wrap up the topic and send the guy on his way but the reader will soon see the business between Mueller and Haus / House is far from done.  


Along with Frank's struggle with guilt, the reader also gets the sense that he may cling to some sense of comfort or familiarity in that pain, for years choosing to nurse the guilt rather than pursue any sort of forgiveness. Given time though, and with a little helpful nudge from his best friend Lenny, Frank does gradually find his way to a path of emotional peace & salvation. Meanwhile, grandson Parker also has his own experiences with the past revisiting him. As a child, Parker lost both his parents in a car crash when their car was struck by a drunk driver. Now, adult Parker finds himself brought in on two DUI / wrongful death cases that lead him to revisit those buried emotions. To complicate matters, in one case he is asked to defend a woman, a friend of one of the firm's partners, who was charged with a DUI with her 8 year old daughter in the backseat; in another case, Parker finds himself drawn to an attractive blonde woman who turns out to be none other than the daughter of a local bigwig trial lawyer that happens to be super protective of his girl.


Frank's portion of the novel is largely made up of pretty grim historical fiction (we're talking about WW2 after all). In his elderly years, when he begins to look into the idea of allowing self-forgiveness, his story turns much more heavily biblically influenced. Parker's portion does have some religious themes as well but to a much lesser degree. 


I felt myself most drawn to Frank's parts of the story. While Parker and his lady friend Layla were entertaining enough, Frank's tale kept me the most engaged throughout the novel. Though his part gets a bit heavy, I couldn't help but be pulled into that World War 2 timeframe. As for being a courtroom drama though, I didn't find this novel terribly exciting. If you're hoping to go into this story for high intensity courtroom brawls, I found this one lacking on that front. Most of the "action" is made up of pre-trial interviews and discussions about filing paperwork. I don't work in law but I suspect that in reality much of a day's work is made up of the mundane, but when it comes to fictionalizing it, a reader tends to want the nitty gritty heated courtroom battles.  


Also, those two storylines -- the present mixed with the WW2 flashbacks -- for me, until I got to the closing chapters of the novel I felt like the ties between Parker's past and struggles and Frank's were pretty tenuous. I was also a bit confused with the premonition "gift", as it was often referred to... I didn't see it in Parker as much. The back cover synopsis says that Parker seems to have gotten his gift passed down from Frank but with both of them I felt like Whitlow didn't quite go far enough with the idea. Rather than something mystical, magical, etc. ... to me, it really just felt like people working off of a basic gut instinct. Umm, pretty much everyone has that "gift" if they're just even remotely in tune with their mind / body connection. No big mystery, really. So I thought that aspect could've been played up a lot more. 


Final verdict -- courtroom / legal drama just so-so for me. What kept me reading was Frank's history as well as the friendship and banter between him and his fishing buddy, Lenny. I thought Lenny seemed like a pretty cool guy. The front cover of this book claims this is great for fans of John Grisham novels. Fair enough. I can back that, but I still find this one secondary to any Grisham I've delved into ... so maybe check it out when you've gone through all of Grisham's catalogue and need something more of the genre. 



FTC Disclaimer: TNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book with a request that I might check it out and share my thoughts. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

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review 2016-05-06 04:39
When The Night Comes by Favel Parrett
When the Night Comes - Favel Parrett

Isla is a lonely girl who moves to Hobart with her mother and brother to try to better their lives. It’s not really working until they meet Bo, a crewman on an Antarctic supply ship, the Nella Dan, who shares stories about his adventures with them—his travels, bird watching, his home in Denmark, and life on board the ship. Isla is struggling to learn what truly matters and who to trust, while this modern Viking is searching to understand his past and to find a place in this world for himself. Though their time together is short, it is enough to change the course of both their lives.






It's the late 1980s. Isla and her younger brother, Peter, are with their mother traveling to Hobart, a major city within the Australian state of Tasmania. It's there that they hope to start a new life, one that might help the mother overcome her crippling depression. Also coming into port is the eye-catching red scientific research ship Nella Dan. On board is Bo, the ship's cook. The ship's crew is on temporary leave, taking a break from their researching trip around Antarctica. Bo befriends Isla's mother, who quickly offers to take him on as a house guest while he's in town. In the weeks he stays with them all, Bo quietly becomes a sort of solid father figure to the lonely Isla, He tells stories of his adventures on the ship and of his childhood in his native Denmark and phrases them in such a way that they subtlety help to soothe Isla's constant anxiety about life's persistent uncertainties and upheavals. 


When not talking of the relationship Bo has with this family in Tasmania, the story continues to follow him whenever he returns to the Nella Dan. On one winter trip, the ship gets stuck in ice and the crew is forced to wait it out for 2 months before a Japanese ice breaker ship is able to come by and dig them out. In the meantime, the reader gets an intimate look at life on a ship and the comraderie that builds from the close quarters. Once freed, looking back on the hardships of those months ends up making the crew deeply, eternally grateful and humbled for all of life's "little things" from then on. As Bo repeatedly finds himself thinking, "Never thought I'd be so happy for an apple!" Later on, the story also illustrates how a crew can get so attached to a ship as to actually feel / attach an almost human spirit to the metal. Pavett does this so well that I felt myself getting a little choked up over the fate of the ship! 


above: the real-life Nella Dan, prior to the Australian govt. making

the controversial decision to scuttle it. 


Pavett was inspired to craft this novel after hearing the story of the real-life ship Nella Dan, built in Denmark but used by the Australian government from 1953-1987. It sailed longer and farther than any other Antarctic expedition ship in history. Pavett's tale is poetically, quietly told in a pace that I found similar to Annie Proulx's The Shipping News. If you were a fan of that book, I personally found this story even better. I really liked the character of Bo, the quiet solidness he had about him, and the sort of surrogate father-daughter relationship that grew between him and Isla. I also liked the descriptions of life on the ship and the friendships that developed between the crew. I found myself picking out my favorites in the crew and being bummed when one of the guys didn't make it to the end of the story :-( Parrett's writing felt pretty cinematic itself, but I could definitely see this, with the right cinematographer brought on, being made into a pretty stunning movie!

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review 2016-03-26 23:01
Review | Address Unknown by Kathrine Kressman Taylor
Address Unknown - Kathrine Kressmann Taylor

A rediscovered classic, originally published in 1938 -- and now an international bestseller. When it first appeared in Story magazine in 1938, Address Unknown became an immediate social phenomenon and literary sensation. Published in book form a year later and banned in Nazi Germany, it garnered high praise in the United States and much of Europe. A series of fictional letters between a Jewish art dealer living in San Francisco and his former business partner, who has returned to Germany, Address Unknown is a haunting tale of enormous and enduring impact.






This quick little epistolary novel (only 68 pages!) uses a series of letters between two men to show the progression of Adolf Hitler's rise to power in Germany in the months leading up to World War 2, and how his overall influence over the Germany people came to break up this one particular friendship. Max and Martin start out as friends and business partners of an art gallery in San Francisco, California. Martin, of German heritage, decides to move his family back to Germany. He keeps up social and business contact with Max, a Jew, for a time. Martin's letters speak of the desperation of Germany's impoverished, their frustrations and dissatisfaction with the government prior to Hitler coming in. Of Hitler Martin speaks glowingly, referring to him as "Gentle Leader".


It's after Martin writes of his decision to get involved in local politics that the friendship experiences a shift. Martin's letters increasingly express discomfort with his continued association with Jewish Max, until one letter finally says all further contact must be cut off. Max is confused and heartbroken, writing that he considered Martin to be like a brother all these years they've known each other.... Martin's response letter accuses Max of being sentimental, knocks the entire Jewish race and then essentially ends with"Well, sucks for you, now seriously -- stop writing me."


Max is ready to accept Martin's request, until he gets word that his sister, who is a stage actress traveling across Europe (and who, the letters hint, had a more than platonic acquaintance with married Martin at one point...), her current production taking her to Berlin. He gets a few letters from his sister but then correspondence mysteriously stops. When one of his letters to her comes back marked "Address Unknown", Max writes once again contacts Martin, pleading with him to find her and make sure she's safe. I won't say more than that because it's after this point that the drama amps up pretty quick. 


There's a surprisingly intense story in these few letters! Much is merely hinted at, leaving the reader to make their own connections, which is where I think the intensity of the story lies. This felt especially true with the last 2-3 letters and then the image of the envelope at the very end that again hinted at what might have transpired, given what the reader had learned up to that point. 


Originally published in 1938 in Story Magazine, publisher house Simon and Schuster came around a year later and decided they wanted to publish the letters in book form. Katherine Taylor's husband thought the letters, even as fiction, were "too strong" to be published under a woman's name so they were simply published under Kressman Taylor, a pen name she continued to use for the rest of her writing career. While the story was pretty much an instant success across America and much of Europe, it was actually banned in Nazi Germany (no surprise there, considering...)


If you enjoy World War 2 novels or history in general, this is a great supplemental read that can easily be read in under an hour and gives a sad but thought-provoking aspect to what we know of the era. Highly recommend at least giving it one read! 

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review 2015-12-28 04:26
Review | The Golden Braid by Melanie Dickerson
The Golden Braid - Melanie Dickerson

The one who needs rescuing isn’t always the one in the tower.

Rapunzel can throw a knife better than any man. She paints beautiful flowering vines on the walls of her plaster houses. She sings so sweetly she can coax even a beast to sleep. But there are two things she is afraid her mother might never allow her to do: learn to read and marry. Fiercely devoted to Rapunzel, her mother is suspicious of every man who so much as looks at her daughter and warns her that no man can be trusted. After a young village farmer asks for Rapunzel’s hand in marriage, Mother decides to move them once again—this time, to the large city of Hagenheim. The journey proves treacherous, and after being rescued by a knight—Sir Gerek—Rapunzel in turn rescues him farther down the road. As a result, Sir Gerek agrees to repay his debt to Rapunzel by teaching her to read. Could there be more to this knight than his arrogance and desire to marry for riches and position? As Rapunzel acclimates to life in a new city, she uncovers a mystery that will forever change her life. In this Rapunzel story unlike any other, a world of secrets and treachery is about to be revealed after seventeen years of lies. How will Rapunzel finally take control of her own destiny? And who will prove faithful to a lowly peasant girl with no one to turn to?






Melanie Dickerson offers up a retelling of the classic Rapunzel tale, with threads of feminism woven throughout. Opening in Germany in the year 1413, the reader is introduced to a much different Rapunzel than the traditional mopey maiden in the tower we are introduced to as children. Dickerson's Rapunzel is a skilled artist and knife-thrower who wants nothing more than to be literate, wishing to rise above the peasant status which society uses to label her as generally inferior. She would also like to marry (for love) but is unsure if her mother Gothel would ever allow it. Gothel, embittered by her own soured romance years earlier, has raised Rapunzel to never trust any man. In fact, whenever any male shows any sort of romantic inclination towards Rapunzel, Gothel is quick to pack up all their stuff and shuffle her daughter off to the next town to start over. It is during their latest move, en route to the town of Hagenheim, that they are accosted by bandits, but soon saved by Sir Garek, a knight of the duke of Hagenheim. Unfortunately, for his troubles Sir Garek receives some broken bones which force him to hole up at a nearby monastery for a few weeks to recover. Needing something to occupy his mind while on bedrest, Garek offers to teach Rapunzel how to read in her native German. She quickly agrees but knows she must keep the meetings secret from Gothel. 


When Gothel does discover the meet-ups between Garek & Rapunzel, she once again instantly tries to usher Rapunzel off to a new town. By this time, however, Rapunzel is starting to embrace having a mind of her own, so with the help of a letter of recommendation from Sir Garek she finds a way to break free from her mother's clutches and discover a new life of relative independence as a maidservant / personal assistant to the Duchess of Hagenheim. While trying to establish her new identity behind castle walls, Rapunzel also discovers some deep, dark secrets about Gothel, secrets that shatter everything she thought she knew about herself. 


While reading this story, anytime Gothel came in, I could not stop picturing

the Gothel from the animated movie Tangled! X-D



Dickerson does an admirable job weaving together elements from the classic tale with ideas of her own. As for the story itself, it took me a bit to really get into it. The writing is good and this is a solid retelling, but it lacked a bit of the magical fairytale feel I was hoping for. It wasn't really until Rapunzel starts up life at the castle that I felt myself becoming more invested in her story. In fact, until her arrival at the castle, I was feeling like Rapunzel, as far as her characterization went, was a bit flat. But once secrets and plots start coming out everywhere, Rapunzel impressively steps up and becomes a pivotal part of the bad guy takedown. Gotta say though, I wish more of the knife-throwing had been worked into the storyline. The synopsis had her sounding like a tough, scrappy tomboyish kind of girl but really the knife-throwing is only mentioned a few times. Otherwise, she could have been any average girl stuck into the story. At least until her time to shine at the castle comes up, that is. 


What did really impress me were the underlying themes that get addressed throughout the story. One being that your past doesn't have to define you. There are characters here who are haunted by past tragedies and transgressions, who have to learn to forgive not only others but themselves and accept their natural human faultiness. A lesson I think any reader can benefit from. Also touched upon is what a healthy relationship should look like -- whether that relationship be romantic, platonic, or familial. The characters learn how hard it can be, realizing that people you thought you had an important bond with are not treating you with respect / basic human decency. Along with that comes the need to find courage to break away from those people, cutting ties even though at first it feels unnatural and tragic. 


I also really liked the character of Lady Rose and how she treated everyone, regardless of their rank or status within the castle with respect and kindness, genuinely wanting to get to know everyone as people. Just one of a number of wonderful characters within the story who show truly admirable traits any reader can be proud to emulate. 


FTC Disclaimer: In the case of this particular book, both BookLookBloggers.com AND TNZ Fiction Guild kindly presented me with a copy in exchange for an honest review. As always, the opinions above are entirely my own. 


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review 2015-10-10 16:44
Page-turner ancient Rome novel
Centurion's Daughter - Justin Swanton

With his historical novel, Centurion's Daughter, author and illustrator Justin Swanton takes the reader to the decline of Rome the great, and the rise of the Frankish Empire.


Seventeen-year-old Aemelia and her Frankish mother have lived in Reims all their lives. After her mother's death, Aemelia travels to Roman Gaul searching for her Roman father, Centurion Tarunculus, a man she has never seen and only knows through family lore. As Aemelia reaches Gaul, she sees a crowd making fun of a man giving a patriotic discourse about Rome's greatness. After inquiring about the whereabouts of Tarunculus, she is shocked to discover that the town's eccentric is, indeed, her father. Their first encounter is very heartbreaking to Aemelia because she is rejected by her only living relative. Since Taranculus has no knowledge of her, he thinks she is an impostor or a beggar and dismisses her. Despite this brusque first encounter, Aemelia finds herself a home and a family with him at Gaul.


The first two chapters were slow to my liking. However, the author cleverly used conversations between Aemelia, her father, and other characters to reveal crucial information about her life in Reims. After these get-to-know-me-better chapters, the reader will be totally engaged following Aemelia and her father through their daily routine in town.



It was interesting how the author created tension in the story by means of personality conflicts between Aemelia and her father. Aemelia is shy, prudent, obedient, and a devout Catholic. By contrast, her father is egocentric, dominant, bellicose, and agnostic; his only goal is restoring Rome's greatness. Their disparity in temperament will keep the reader captivated until the story's surprising end.


As the story unfolds, Aemelia's ability to speak, read, and write in Frankish and Latin is revealed to be a double-edged sword of critical importance. On the one hand, as news spreads that the Franks are about to attack Gaul, an ambitious member of the ruling class uses Aemelia's bilingual skills to arrange a secret meeting with Chlodovech, leader of the Salian Franks. The agreement they reach will have a pivotal effect on the Battle of Soissons, where Lord Syagrius is defeated, leading to the rise of the Franks over the Romans. On the other hand, once Gaul is conquered, Aemelia's ability will secure her family a steady income.


Because I do not have much experience reviewing historical novels, I found it extremely useful that the book included a glossary with brief explanations of the historical figures in the novel. It helped me to sort out the fictional and reality-inspired characters, as well as to verify the accuracy of facts mentioned in this page-turner of a story.


Including a foreign language in a book is challenging for an author since its use has to be limited so as not disrupt the narrative's momentum. Mr. Swanton skillfully utilizes the language only in those scenes were it is crucial to keep the story's authenticity. In those days, Latin was the language of the Church and the Roman Empire. Frankish was the dialect of the West Germanic tribes. Readers with a knowledge of Dutch or German will be able to fully understand it. Readers who cannot speak those languages will identify themselves with the Romans of Gaul who did not speak Frankish. If that was the intention of the author, kudos to him.


The story has all the elements of a great novel about Rome: betrayal, intrigue, clashes of the political and social classes and even a power struggle among the aristocracy, slavery, conquest, and an amazing battle. The few illustrations in the book help the reader to understand some crucial scenes. The elements of Catholicism depicted in the story offer a glimpse at the Church's importance during those times and its influence on politics and daily affairs. The author also mentions, through his characters' conversations, key saints whose diplomacy aided in the unification of the Germanic tribes and the beginning of a new era.


I highly recommend Centurion's Daughter to readers who fancy novels about ancient Rome.

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