Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Cover Cliché: Parallel Ribbons

Sometimes, while browsing the virtual shelves on Amazon and Goodreads, I see jacket art that gives me a disconcerting sense of deja vu. I know I've not read the book, but I am equally certain I've seen its image somewhere before.

This phenomenon is what inspired Cover Clichés. Image recycling is fairly common as cover artists are often forced to work from a limited pool of stock images and copyright free material. The details vary cover to cover, but each boasts a certain similarity and I find comparing the finished designs quite interesting. 

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1915. Two brothers. One woman. A nation at war.

A compelling story of war, brotherly love, passion and betrayal.

Vast in scope and intimate in the portrayal of three lives swept along by circumstances, This Time Tomorrow moves from the drawing rooms of Edwardian London to the trenches of the Western Front and to the uncertainty of post-war Britain.

When Guy Searight volunteers to fight with the British army in the early days of the Great War, he leaves behind his girlfriend, Mary. While away fighting, Guy’s younger brother, Jack, seizes an opportunity to woo Mary for himself.

Forthright and self assured, Guy has always looked out for his confident but frail brother and blithely promises his fretting mother that he’ll look out for him when Jack’s turn comes to join up. But embittered by Jack’s betrayal, Guy vows that when Jack has to face the horrors of war for himself, he won’t be there to look after him.

When the brothers are reunited in the trenches of the Western Front, their thoughts are both with Mary. As Jack buckles under the strain of war, can Guy sustain his anger and allow his brother to suffer alone?

A shocking event, catastrophic in its intensity and barbaric in its conclusion, forces Guy to re-evaluate his relationship with his brother, with Mary and ultimately himself.

This Time Tomorrow is a tale of love, loss and longing.




Sir George, Baronet of Bancroft Hall, has run his family and their fortunes into the ground. All seems hopeless, until they are visited by their cousin, Gregory Rogers. He promises to return the family to their former glory, but is he all he seems?

Driven by jealousy, greed and desire, nothing will stop Gregory Rogers from taking that which he believes is his. He'll do anything to gain money, Bancroft Hall and the power that comes with the title of Baronet.

Even murder.

Until his eyes fall upon the beautiful Jane. Clever, intelligent, and beautiful, she finds herself the unknowing victim of a vicious plan to dispose of her parents and brothers. With no one standing in the way of Gregory’s plans, can she rescue him from himself?

Will she be the one thing that he cannot ruin, in order to have?




Anything but a typical aristocrat, young Baroness Marie-Louise is not afraid to roll up her sleeves and get to work, especially when it comes to saving her ancestral estate. Determined to shake loose the shackles of propriety and gain the warm family life her upbringing denied her, she has vowed to marry a man of lower rank. Blue-bloods need not apply.

But when she is forced to turn to a childhood friend for assistance, the handsome, debonair count may prove a temptation impossible to resist. Marie-Louise soon finds herself caught between the comfort of a middle-class doctor and the passion of a nobleman, with the future of her childhood home at stake.


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Which cover strikes your fancy and why? What colors draw your eye? Do you think the image appropriate next to the jacket description? Leave your comments below!

Have you seen this image elsewhere? Shoot me an email or leave a comment and let me know. 


Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Cover Cliché: Emerald Evening Wear

Sometimes, while browsing the virtual shelves on Amazon and Goodreads, I see jacket art that gives me a disconcerting sense of deja vu. I know I've not read the book, but I am equally certain I've seen its image somewhere before.

This phenomenon is what inspired Cover Clichés. Image recycling is fairly common as cover artists are often forced to work from a limited pool of stock images and copyright free material. The details vary cover to cover, but each boasts a certain similarity and I find comparing the finished designs quite interesting. 

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Picking up after the shattering end of Gustave Flaubert’s classic, Madame Bovary, this beguiling novel imagines an answer to the question Whatever happened to Emma Bovary’s orphaned daughter?

One year after her mother’s suicide and just one day after her father’s brokenhearted demise, twelve-year-old Berthe Bovary is sent to live on her grandmother’s impoverished farm. Amid the beauty of the French countryside, Berthe models for the painter Jean-François Millet, but fate has more in store for her than a quiet life of simple pleasures. Berthe’s determination to rise above her mother’s scandalous past will take her from the dangerous cotton mills of Lille to a convent in Rouen to the wealth and glamour of nineteenth-century Paris. There, as an apprentice to famed fashion designer Charles Frederick Worth, Berthe is ushered into the high society of which she once only dreamed. But even as the praise for her couture gowns steadily rises, she still yearns for the one thing her mother never had: the love of someone she loves in return.

Brilliantly integrating one of classic literature’s fictional creations with real historical figures, Madame Bovary’s Daughter is an uncommon coming-of-age tale, a splendid excursion through the rags and the riches of French fashion, and a sweeping novel of poverty and wealth, passion and revenge.





Read happily ever after with this magical repackage that includes three enchanting, retold fairy tales.

In this value-priced bind-up of three beloved retellings, readers will journey to faraway fairy tale lands. Before Midnight revisits Cinderella's story in France, Golden puts a new spin on Rapunzel's romance, and Wild Orchid reimagines the Chinese tale of Mulan. With so much real-life drama in today's busy world, Once allows readers to escape into whimsical realms where every story has a happily ever after.



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Which cover strikes your fancy and why? What colors draw your eye? Do you think the image appropriate next to the jacket description? Leave your comments below!

Have you seen this image elsewhere? Shoot me an email or leave a comment and let me know. 


Friday, January 20, 2017

Wishlist Reads: January 2017

Like many readers, my TBR grows faster than it shrinks. I find a subject that interests me and titles start piling up one right after the other. With so many bookmarked, I thought it'd be fun to sort through and feature five titles a month here at Flashlight Commentary. 

It's 2017! Can you believe it? Time is flying and like so many others I am starting fresh. Out with the old and in with the new. In keeping with the spirit of the season I've dedicated my January 2017 Wishlist to new release fiction. All of the below are books I'm eyeing this year. They different eras, different topics, and different locations, but I eager to read and every one before Dec 31st!

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From debut historical novelist Jenni L. Walsh, Becoming Bonnie is the untold story of how wholesome Bonnelyn Parker became half of the infamous Bonnie and Clyde duo!

The summer of 1927 might be the height of the Roaring Twenties, but Bonnelyn Parker is more likely to belt out a church hymn than sling drinks at an illicit juice joint. She’s a sharp girl with plans to overcome her family's poverty, provide for herself, and maybe someday marry her boyfriend, Roy Thornton. But when Roy springs a proposal on her and financial woes jeopardize her ambitions, Bonnelyn finds salvation in an unlikely place: Dallas's newest speakeasy, Doc’s.

Living the life of a moll at night, Bonnie remains a wholesome girl by day, engaged to Roy, attending school and working toward a steady future. When Roy discovers her secret life, and embraces it—perhaps too much, especially when it comes to booze and gambling—Bonnie tries to make the pieces fit. Maybe she can have it all: the American Dream, the husband, and the intoxicating allure of jazz music. What she doesn't know is that her life—like her country—is headed for a crash.

She’s about to meet Clyde Barrow.

Few details are known about Bonnie's life prior to meeting her infamous partner. In Becoming Bonnie, Jenni L. Walsh shows a young woman promised the American dream and given the Great Depression, and offers a compelling account of why she fell so hard for a convicted felon—and turned to crime herself.




A powerful and evocative debut novel about two American military nurses during World War II that illuminates the unsung heroism of women who risked their lives in the fight—a riveting saga of friendship, valor, sacrifice, and survival combining the grit and selflessness of Band of Brothers with the emotional resonance of The Nightingale.

In war-torn France, Jo McMahon, an Italian-Irish girl from the tenements of Brooklyn, tends to six seriously wounded soldiers in a makeshift medical unit. Enemy bombs have destroyed her hospital convoy, and now Jo singlehandedly struggles to keep her patients and herself alive in a cramped and freezing tent close to German troops. There is a growing tenderness between her and one of her patients, a Scottish officer, but Jo’s heart is seared by the pain of all she has lost and seen. Nearing her breaking point, she fights to hold on to joyful memories of the past, to the times she shared with her best friend, Kay, whom she met in nursing school.

Half a world away in the Pacific, Kay is trapped in a squalid Japanese POW camp in Manila, one of thousands of Allied men, women, and children whose fates rest in the hands of a sadistic enemy. Far from the familiar safety of the small Pennsylvania coal town of her childhood, Kay clings to memories of her happy days posted in Hawaii, and the handsome flyer who swept her off her feet in the weeks before Pearl Harbor. Surrounded by cruelty and death, Kay battles to maintain her sanity and save lives as best she can . . . and live to see her beloved friend Jo once more.

When the conflict at last comes to an end, Jo and Kay discover that to achieve their own peace, they must find their place—and the hope of love—in a world that’s forever changed. With rich, superbly researched detail, Teresa Messineo’s thrilling novel brings to life the pain and uncertainty of war and the sustaining power of love and friendship, and illuminates the lives of the women who risked everything to save others during a horrifying time.




I closed my eyes as I tried to pick apart every flavour, because nothing had ever tasted so good before. It was like tasting for the first time. Like discovering colour . . .

It is 1919 and the war is over, but for Emeline Vane the cold Norfolk fens only are haunted by memories of those she has lost. In a moment of grief, she recklessly boards a train and runs from it all.

Her journey leads her far away, to a tiny seaside village in the South of France. Taken in by cafe owner Maman and her twenty-year-old son, Emeline discovers a world completely new to her: of oranges, olives and wild herbs, the raw, rich tastes of the land.

But when a love affair develops, as passionate as the flavours of the village, secrets from home begin blowing in on the sea wides. Fifty years later, a young solictor on his first case finds Emeline's diary, and begins to trace a story of betrayal, love and bittersweet secrets that will send him on a journey to discover the truth...




For fans of All the Light We Cannot See and Orphan Train, the author of the “thought-provoking” (Library Journal, starred review) and “must-read” (PopSugar) novel The Gilded Years crafts a moving historical tale following three young people trying to survive the atrocities of World War II in Texas, Japan, and China, and—miraculously—find love.

During the turbulent months following the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor, twenty-one-year-old Emi Kato, the daughter of a Japanese diplomat, is locked behind barbed wire in a Texas interment camp, the victim of misfortune and America’s new policies of fear. Plagued by fence sickness, her world changes when she meets Christian Lange, whose German-born parents were wrongfully arrested for un-American activities. Together, they live as prisoners with thousands of other German and Japanese families, but discover that young love can triumph over even the most unjust circumstances.

When Emi and her mother are abruptly sent bank to Japan, Christian enlists in the US Army, with his sights set on the Pacific front—and reuniting with Emi. Sent away for her safety, Emi lives out the war in a Japanese resort town where many in the foreign community have fled, including both Jaws and Nazis. When she overhears a German officer boasting of the men he has murdered in Asia, fate brings Emi back to Leo Hartmann, the son of prominent Austrian Jews, now a refugee in Shanghai—her oldest friend and her first love. Fearing for his life, Emi sets her sights on finding Leo. But will Christian’s devotion be strong enough to stop her?

Hurtled together by war, passion, and extraordinary acts of selflessness, the paths of these three remarkable young people collide as the fighting on the Pacific front crescendos. With her “elegant and extremely gratifying” (USA TODAY) storytelling, Tanabe paints a stunning portrait of a turning point in history.




Anna Buttterfield moves from her Suffolk country home to her uncle's house in London, to be introduced to society. A chance encounter with a local silk weaver, French immigrant Henri, throws her from her privileged upbringing to the darker, dangerous world of London's silk trade. Henri is working on his 'master piece' to make his name as a master silk weaver; Anna meanwhile is struggling against the constraints of her family and longing to become an artist. Henri realizes that Anna's designs could lift his work above the ordinary, and give them both an opportunity for freedom . . .

This is a charming story of illicit romance, set against the world of the burgeoning silk trade in 18th century Spitalfields - a time of religious persecution, mass migration, racial tension and wage riots, and ideas of what was considered 'proper' for women.


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INTERESTED IN MORE WISHLISTS?
CHECK OUT WHAT MY FRIENDS HAVE BOOKMARKED:

Stephanie at Layered Pages
Colleen at A Literary Vacation (coming soon)
Holly at 2 Kids and Tired (coming soon)
Magdalena at A Bookaholic Swede (coming soon)
Heather at The Maiden's Court (coming soon)


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Fates and Traitors by Jennifer Chiaverini

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Edelweiss 
Read: January 10, 2017

The New York Times bestselling author of Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker returns with a riveting work of historical fiction following the notorious John Wilkes Booth and the four women who kept his perilous confidence. John Wilkes Booth, the mercurial son of an acclaimed British stage actor and a Covent Garden flower girl, committed one of the most notorious acts in American history—the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. The subject of more than a century of scholarship, speculation, and even obsession, Booth is often portrayed as a shadowy figure, a violent loner whose single murderous act made him the most hated man in America. Lost to history until now is the story of the four women whom he loved and who loved him in return: Mary Ann, the steadfast matriarch of the Booth family; Asia, his loyal sister and confidante; Lucy Lambert Hale, the senator’s daughter who adored Booth yet tragically misunderstood the intensity of his wrath; and Mary Surratt, the Confederate widow entrusted with the secrets of his vengeful plot. Fates and Traitors brings to life pivotal actors—some willing, others unwitting—who made an indelible mark on the history of our nation. Chiaverini portrays not just a soul in turmoil but a country at the precipice of immense change.

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Clockwise: Mary Ann Holmes, Asia Booth,
Lucy Lambert Hale and Mary Surratt
I’ve grown rather wary of dedicating my time and energy to novels by Jennifer Chiaverini. I mean no offense to either the author or her fan base, but I found both The Spymistress and Mrs. Lincoln Rival one-sided and unintuitive. I believe that looking at history from a number of angles has value regardless of who was right and who was wrong and my experience with Chiaverini’s style and tone left me in doubt of her ability to scrutinize the Union and Confederate causes in equal measure. I respect that there are readers out there who appreciate Chiaverini’s brand of storytelling and I am genuinely thrilled that they enjoy her work, but as a matter of personal taste, I resolved to steer clear. That is, until I stumbled over a copy of Fates and Traitors.

I’ve studied John Wilkes Booth in the past and there is no shortage of fiction dedicated to his heinous crime, but this volume was different. From the description, I knew the novel was actually about Mary Ann Holmes, Asia Booth, Lucy Lambert Hale, and Mary Surratt, but Booth was the obvious center of the novel and I couldn’t help wondering if this was the volume that would change my opinion of Chiaverini. I’m not above admitting that authors have surprised me in the past and I actually love seeing writers grow and develop so after some serious consideration, I determined to break my rule and set out to discover if needed to order myself a heaping helping of humble pie.

At two stars, there should be no question as to how I ultimately felt about the narrative, but I think it important to note that despite my general disappointment, there were elements of the story that I actually liked. The prologue was written from John’s perspective and I actually felt it the strongest chapter of the entire novel. Chiaverini’s exploration of Booth and his emotions in his final hours left me in absolute awe. I was blown away and honestly wish she’d dropped the woman entirely and spent the whole of the narrative following Booth’s relationships from Booth’s point of view. I also grew a certain appreciation for Lucy. Her relationship with John was the most authentic and relevant of the novel and I enjoyed the ideas and themes that Chiaverini presented in her chapters of the narrative.

That said, I was intensely disappointed with Chiaverini’s representation of both Mary Ann and Asia. Neither are shown to have had a particularly deep relationship with John and I couldn’t help feeling their stories superfluous. Most of their interactions with Booth take place at a distance and I honestly wish Chiaverini had left well enough alone and cut them entirely. Mary Surratt served as another weak point in the narrative thanks to her stereotypic and superficial characterization, but my feelings about both Asia and Mary were compounded by how Dutton Publishing marketed their inclusion in the narrative. Contrary to what the cover purports, Chiaverini’s subjects are not lost to history. I’ll grant that Booth’s Sister by Jane Singer was a disappointment and is virtually unknown, but Susan Higgenbotham’s Hanging Mary was well-publicized at the Historical Novel Society Conference in Denver in 2015 and released to the wider market a full six months ahead of Fates and Traitors. Robert Redford also directed a film about Mary in 2010 that starred Robin Wright and James McAvoy, but I suppose those names don’t ring any bells for whoever penned the lie memorialized in this jacket description.

When all is said and done, I felt Fates and Traitors unbalanced. The fact that that women were not equal influences in John’s life made it difficult for me to appreciate their inclusion in the narrative and I maintain the book would have been much stronger if it was written from Booth’s point of view. Despite my appreciation for Lucy, I thought the strongest conflict of the novel was the rivalry that existed between Edwin and John and unfortunately, that relationship was not one that could explored with any degree of depth by the women who existed in its shadow. The women themselves live largely independent lives and without Booth have no real connection or historic importance which left me questioning what the author was trying to get at when drafting this manuscript.

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Let history decide what to make of the misguided, vengeful man who had killed a great and noble president. That was not the man she had known and loved. She had already said all she ever intended to say about the assassin John Wilkes Booth.
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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Cover Cliché: Medicine Woman

Sometimes, while browsing the virtual shelves on Amazon and Goodreads, I see jacket art that gives me a disconcerting sense of deja vu. I know I've not read the book, but I am equally certain I've seen its image somewhere before.

This phenomenon is what inspired Cover Clichés. Image recycling is fairly common as cover artists are often forced to work from a limited pool of stock images and copyright free material. The details vary cover to cover, but each boasts a certain similarity and I find comparing the finished designs quite interesting. 

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In 1907 New York, a psychiatrist must prove her patient's innocence...or risk being implicated in a shocking murder

As one of the first women practicing in an advanced new field of psychology, Dr. Genevieve Summerford is used to forging her own path. But when one of her patients is arrested for murder-a murder Genevieve fears she may have unwittingly provoked-she is forced to seek help from an old acquaintance.

Desperate to clear her patient's name and relieve her own guilty conscience, Genevieve finds herself breaking all the rules she's tried so hard to live by. In her search for answers, Genevieve uncovers an astonishing secret that, should she reveal it, could spell disaster for those she cares about most. But if she lets her discovery remain hidden, she will almost certainly condemn her patient to the electric chair




Outlander meets post-Civil War unrest in this fast-paced historical debut.

When Dr. Catherine Bennett is wrongfully accused of murder, she knows her fate likely lies with a noose unless she can disappear. Fleeing with a bounty on her head, she escapes with her maid to the uncharted territories of Colorado to build a new life with a new name. Although the story of the murderess in New York is common gossip, Catherine's false identity serves her well as she fills in as a temporary army doctor. But in a land unknown, so large and yet so small, a female doctor can only hide for so long.


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Which cover strikes your fancy and why? What colors draw your eye? Do you think the image appropriate next to the jacket description? Leave your comments below!

Have you seen this image elsewhere? Shoot me an email or leave a comment and let me know. 


Monday, January 16, 2017

Mr. Rochester by Sarah Shoemaker

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: January 13, 2017

A gorgeous, deft literary retelling of Charlotte Bronte's beloved Jane Eyre--through the eyes of the dashing, mysterious Mr. Rochester himself.

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Illustration of Edward and Jane by F. H. Townsend
I’ve nothing against Charlotte Bronte, but Jane Eyre is not my favorite classic. Jane’s marital struggles hit too close to home and I find that I am more inclined to reference the novel in jest than I am to recommend its contents. All things considered, I probably should have avoided Sarah Shoemaker’s Mr. Rochester, but the novel’s premise proved too intriguing to ignore. I was curious and there was simply no end to the questions that taunted my imagination. How would a woman write Jane’s iconic lover? How exactly did he fall prey to his father and elder brother? How would a woman validate his deceit toward Jane?  

Unfortunately, many of the questions that drew me to the novel remain unanswered even after finishing the narrative. I enjoyed the masculine perspective and historical depth of the story, but can’t deny that the reality of the novel left me wanting. Mr. Rochester is an ambitious project and much like Mr. Darcy’s Diary and Rhett Butler’s People, there will be fans who adore it and others who find it flawed. I can’t and don’t pretend to speak for everyone, but I fall into the latter demographic in this instance as I felt the narrative failed to capitalize on the spirit Bronte hinted her hero was meant to possess.

In Jane Eyre, Rochester states, “When I was as old as you, I was a feeling fellow enough, partial to the unfledged, unfostered, and unlucky; but Fortune has knocked me about since: she has even kneaded me with her knuckles, and now I flatter myself I am hard and tough as an India-rubber ball; pervious, though, through a chink or two still, and with one sentient point in the middle of the lump. Yes: does that leave hope for me?... Of my final re-transformation from India-rubber back to flesh?" This essence of character is referenced once again in the final chapter when Jane relays that “When his first-born was put into his arms, he could see that the boy had inherited his own eyes, as they once were — large, brilliant, and black. On that occasion, he again, with a full heart, acknowledged that God had tempered judgment with mercy.” I may be alone in my assessment, but I feel these lines imply that Jane restored to Edward the generous, optimistic, and grateful nature that was stolen by the betrayal of those closest to him. This understanding manifested itself in an expectation that any story based on Rochester should naturally feature the growth of that personality and the circumstances that crushed it, but that view was not it seems, shared by Shoemaker. Her version of Rochester’s life is stark, muted, and often mimics the experiences of his beloved Jane. In her eyes, Edward is a lonely and neglected child who turns into a lost and rather insecure young man. I respect that interpretations differ, but I personally felt Shoemaker’s approach weakened Rochester’s overall character and that it lessened import and influence that Jane’s affections are shown to afford in the original novel.

Jane herself doesn’t appear until the final third of narrative and their love affair is expanded very little by that which Shoemaker illustrates in the closing chapters. I will say that I appreciated Shoemaker’s treatment of Mrs. Fairfax, but like Bronte, I feel Shoemaker shortchanged Grace Poole and while I liked what she attempted to do with Richard, I felt both illustrations could have been more intuitive and enlightening. I felt Edward’s relationship with his father and elder brother equally disappointing and was frustrated that the tension between them was so often muted by physical distance. The additional supporting cast left virtually no impression on me, but I will note a particular frustration with Gerald. Short of feeling superfluous to the narrative, I felt his scenes forced and unnatural. His existence was enough to serve Shoemaker’s purpose and I couldn’t help feeling his adult presence upstaged that of Richard in the latter chapters of the narrative.

When all is said and done, I don’t feel Mr. Rochester allows any new understanding of Edward as it does not elaborate on his life, personality, or emotions beyond that of his original incarnation. The same can be said of the supporting cast and while I feel there is merit in the historical scope of the novel, I’m not sure that I could recommend it on other grounds. 

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In her goodness, Jane did not yet understand that good intentions and moral truth might inflict as dangerous, as painful—indeed as fatal—a wound as malicious intent.
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Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Trigger: Hunting the Assassin Who Brought the World to War by Tim Butcher

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: December 27, 2016

On a summer morning in Sarajevo a hundred years ago, a teenage assassin named Gavrilo Princip fired not just the opening shots of the First World War but the starting gun for modern history, when he killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Yet the events Princip triggered were so monumental that his own story has been largely overlooked, his role garbled and motivations misrepresented. The Trigger puts this right, filling out as never before a figure who changed our world and whose legacy still has an impact on all of us today. Born a penniless backwoodsman, Princip’s life changed when he trekked through Bosnia and Serbia to attend school. As he ventured across fault lines of faith, nationalism and empire, so tightly clustered in the Balkans, radicalisation slowly transformed him from a frail farm boy into history’s most influential assassin. By retracing Princip’s journey from his highland birthplace, through the mythical valleys of Bosnia to the fortress city of Belgrade and ultimately Sarajevo, Tim Butcher illuminates our understanding both of Princip and the places that shaped him. Tim uncovers details about Princip that have eluded historians for a century and draws on his own experience, as a war reporter in the Balkans in the 1990s, to face down ghosts of conflicts past and present. The Trigger is a rich and timely work that brings to life both the moment the world first went to war and an extraordinary region with a potent hold over history.

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Archduke Prince Franz Ferdinand and his wife
Sophie on June 28 1914 in Sarajevo.
My addiction to the final chapters of Hapsburg rule in Austria is well-known and thoroughly documented so it should come as no surprise that I jumped when my father gifted me a copy of The Trigger: Hunting the Assassin Who Brought the World to War by Tim Butcher. The assassination of Franz Ferdinand is easily the most recognizable moment of the era I study, but until now my understanding of that story has been entirely one-sided and I relished to opportunity to look at the events of June 28, 1914 from a new and largely enigmatic angle.

Historically speaking, the nature of Princip’s crime and its effect on European politics has long overshadowed his personal history and due to the turbulent politics of the region, there are now remarkably few resources available to those who wish to understand both his person and the movement he represented. Recognizing the gaps in the historic record, journalist Tim Butcher set out to discover what he could by following Princip’s footsteps from the remote village of Obljaj to his prison at Terezin. The Trigger is the end result of that journey and stands as chronicle of the author’s experiences and the insight they afforded.

The heart of the text is of course Princip and the details of his life, but Butcher’s reflections on the contemporary politics and culture of the Balkans brings a rare degree of relevancy to the history he documents. Most authors simply relay facts, but Butcher’s approach brings context to the assassination and challenges his audience to reconsider their understanding of it while drawing unmistakable parallels between past and present. Butcher's work shatters stereotypes about the early twentieth century, but it also illustrates how a single event can ripple across decades and resonate on various levels according to time, place, and perception.

To make a long story short, I greatly enjoyed the time I spent reading The Trigger. It's an illuminating volume in and of itself, but I want to note that it also makes a fascinating companion to The Assassination of the Archduke: Sarajevo 1914 and the Romance that Changed the World by Greg King and Sue Woolmans. The books are not affiliated in any way, but when paired the two titles humanize both sides of a key moment in twentieth century history and in many ways redefine the spark that lit the Powder keg of Europe. 

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The statesmen leaving the Berlin Congress smugly convinced themselves that the people of Bosnia would benefit from the diplomatic finesse of having the Western Austro-Hungarians replace the Eastern Ottomans. What they had actually done, however, was quite the opposite, sowing seeds of resentment that would eventually destroy the status quo of the entire Western world.
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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Cover Cliché: Symmetrical Seams

Sometimes, while browsing the virtual shelves on Amazon and Goodreads, I see jacket art that gives me a disconcerting sense of deja vu. I know I've not read the book, but I am equally certain I've seen its image somewhere before.

This phenomenon is what inspired Cover Clichés. Image recycling is fairly common as cover artists are often forced to work from a limited pool of stock images and copyright free material. The details vary cover to cover, but each boasts a certain similarity and I find comparing the finished designs quite interesting. 

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'Times change, and sometimes for the better...'

As the twentieth century draws to a close, Esme Reddaway knows that she must uncover the truth. A truth that began during the First World War when Devlin Reddaway fell passionately in love with Esme's elder sister, Camilla, and promised to rebuild his ancestral home, Rosindell, for her.

But the war changes everything and Devlin returns to England to find that Camilla is engaged to someone else. Angry and vengeful, he marries Esme, who has been secretly in love with him for years. Esme tries to win Devlin's heart by reviving the annual summer dance. But as the years pass she fears that Rosindell has a malign influence on those who live there, and the revelation of a shocking secret on the night of the dance at Rosindell tears her life apart. Decades later, it is she who must lay the ghosts of Rosindell to rest.

Spanning the last century, Esme's story of sibling rivalry, heartbreak, betrayal and forgiveness is sure to appeal to fans of Kate Morton, Rachel Hore and Downton Abbey.




Lady Elizabeth Neville-Ashford wants to travel the world, pursue a career, and marry for love. But in 1914, the stifling restrictions of aristocratic British society and her mother’s rigid expectations forbid Lily from following her heart. When war breaks out, the spirited young woman seizes her chance for independence. Defying her parents, she moves to London and eventually becomes an ambulance driver in the newly formed Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps—an exciting and treacherous job that takes her close to the Western Front.

Assigned to a field hospital in France, Lily is reunited with Robert Fraser, her dear brother Edward’s best friend. The handsome Scottish surgeon has always encouraged Lily’s dreams. She doesn’t care that Robbie grew up in poverty—she yearns for their friendly affection to become something more. Lily is the most beautiful—and forbidden—woman Robbie has ever known. Fearful for her life, he’s determined to keep her safe, even if it means breaking her heart.

In a world divided by class, filled with uncertainty and death, can their hope for love survive. . . or will it become another casualty of this tragic war?




In 1916, the people are settling down to the business of war. As conscription reaches into every household, Britain turns out men and shells in industrial numbers from army camps and munitions factories up and down the land. Bobby Hunter gains his wings and joins his brother in France. Ethel, the under housemaid, embarks on a quest and Laura sets out on her biggest adventure yet. Diana finds a second chance at happiness in the last place she'd think of looking, and Beattie's past comes back to haunt her. But as the Battle of the Somme grinds into action, the shadow of death falls over every part of the country, and the Hunter household cannot remain untouched.

This is the third book in the War at Home series by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles, author of the much-loved Morland Dynasty novels. Set against the real events of 1916, this is a richly researched and a wonderfully authentic family drama featuring the Hunter family and their servants.


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Which cover strikes your fancy and why? What colors draw your eye? Do you think the image appropriate next to the jacket description? Leave your comments below!

Have you seen this image elsewhere? Shoot me an email or leave a comment and let me know. 


Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Austrian: A War Criminal's Story by Ellie Midwood

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: December 23, 2016

What is going through the mind of a war criminal, tried by the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg? Regret for his atrocious actions? Frantic desire to defend himself to the end? Desperate longing to be forgiven by his former enemies or craving of human kindness, even though he knows that he doesn’t deserve any... And the strongest of all, the fear to never again see the one, who he risked everything for, the only woman that he still continues to live for. All this is only the tip of the iceberg in the myriad of emotions for Ernst, former leader of the Austrian SS incarcerated in Nuremberg prison, who already knows what fate awaits him. Day after day he recollects his life, trying to understand where he made that wrong turn that changed his whole life and brought him into service of his new masters, who soon dragged his whole country into the most blood-shedding war in history. With agonizing sincerity he analyzes his past, which made him, a former promising lawyer, into a weapon of mass murder in the hands of his new leaders. Self-loathing and torturous doubts are plaguing Ernst’s mind, which together with unwanted hopes for salvation, terrifying visions of the nearing end, and ghosts from the past turn his incarceration into a never-ending nightmare. And yet, at the very edge of the abyss, he’s still clinging to life, because a woman is waiting for him, a woman, whose secret he’s still carefully guarding, and the one who he still hopes to see...

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View of the defendants in the dock at the International Military
Tribunal trial of war criminals in Nuremberg, Bavaria, Germany.
Ellie Midwood's The Austrian is an atypical narrative that exists despite the author's complete disregard for the traditional rules and regulation preached by agents and editors across the country. According to the powers that be, controversial subject matter and lone male protagonists should be avoided at all costs, but I'm going to let you in on a little secret. The market professionals, with all their fancy credentials and inflated sense of superiority, are dead wrong. Stories like this have an audience and they do sell. I know because, quite frankly, I bought the book and greatly enjoyed some of the very aspects that make it too risky for mainstream publishing houses to invest in.

In looking at the content of the novel, I want to start by saying that I found Midwood's exploration of the rise of the Nazi party and the indoctrination of its members absolutely fascinating. I don't mean to gush, but I've never seen these concepts described with such detail outside of nonfiction. Midwood is on point with regard to the politics of the story and her mastery of the subject matter manifests itself in the depth and scope of the narrative. She doesn't excuse the actions of the Nazi party, but she does define the movement through Ernst and in so doing allows her readers to truly understand the bureaucratic climate of the day. Speaking of Ernst, I was also thoroughly impressed by the author's decision to write this book from a male perspective. The novel makes more sense as Ernst is naturally positioned to be involved with the Nazi party, but the gender of Midwood's protagonist allowed her to explore more than just the hows and whys. Midwood balances these concepts against Ernst's relationship with his father, his introduction to sex, and his marriage and I for one enjoyed the intimacy of these moments and how they shed light on the kind masculine emotion that is typically overlooked in the current market.

Having said that I want to make it perfectly clear that while I admire much about this piece, I do not feel it without flaw. First and foremost, it should be understood that The Austrian is not a complete novel. Please don't misunderstand my words as I am not arguing against a cliffhanger here, but the description led me to be believe Ernst was holding on for a woman and I am rather ticked that the story ends just as the lady in question enters his life. Two hundred plus pages and I can't claim to understand even the smallest part of the primary plot. Other readers feel differently, but I found this reality intensely disappointing and I wont deny feeling cheated as well. Forgive me for saying so, but inducing sales this way struck me as cheap and denotes a lack of respect for one's readership. I don't mean to be rude, but I'm known for calling it as I see it and when push comes to shove, I felt misled in my purchase.

Though loosely inspired by women like Edith Hahn and Ilse Stein, I also found Ernst's primary love interest, Annalise, wholly anachronistic. The flawless beauty from a wealthy Jewish family is a talented ballerina who happens to be married to Standartenführer Heinrich Friedmann. Officially her husband is part of the Reich Secret Service, but both moonlight as agents for US Counterintelligence. She's not intimated by Kaltenbrunner and ultimately falls in love with the senior SS officer which subsequently leads to an affair and the birth of an illegitimate child. All this information can be found in the descriptions of Midwood's The Girl from Berlin series, so please refrain from crucifying me over would-be spoilers and understand that I'm only sharing this information because it is impossible to explain my distaste without it. I personally found Annalise's 'Wonder Woman' persona unpalatable and mockingly inappropriate. I felt her that her talent, wealth, privilege, courage, and conviction mocked the position and circumstances of the very women on which she was based and that her exploits minimized the risks her real life counterparts took in marrying Nazi personnel to survive Hitler's brutal regime.

When all is said and done, my feelings are mixed, I loved parts of The Austrian, but feel equal annoyance with others and have to admit that while I'd certainly recommend it other readers, I'd do so with a degree of caution.

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It was so easy to decide their fate, when they were nothing more than numbers on the sheets, presented to us for a signature by our adjutants. Now they were real people, with broken lives, torn families, and memories which would haunt them for the rest of their lives.
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Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Last Casualty by Andrew Leatham

Rating: ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: December 29, 2016

Belgium, 1917. Wilf joined up at seventeen, wanting to do his bit. But now he is broken by the death and human agony surrounding him. The smell of the rotting corpses, the vermin gnawing on the corpses in No Mans Land, has all been too much. After a brief period of R and R, he knows he cannot return to the line, but off he is sent. When his courage falters, he’s charged with cowardice, court martialled, and shot at dawn. Lancashire England, 1995. Joanne Neally’s grandmother has died. While cleaning out her house, she finds the telegram that informed her family of the death of her great grandfather, simple and unpunctuated: Regret to inform you Private 792163 Isherwood Wilfred 3rd Batt Pennine Fusiliers died of gunshot wounds Ypres August 22 1917. Joanne is moved to tears by the telegram, but it is the diary she finds next that will change her life forever, for Wilf Isherwood detailed his experiences at Passchendaele, one of the fiercest and bloodiest battles of the Great War. A battle that cost the lives of half a million men, and changed the landscape of Belgium forever. Joanne, who is in an unhappy marriage, decides to clear Wilf’s name. It is obvious he was suffering from shell shock, and a pardon is in order. As she enlists help from the local legion, she discovers a man at a care home who knew her great grandfather. The more he tells her about the horrors they saw, the more determined Joanne is to clear Wilf’s name. But as her job and her marriage fall apart, everyone around her wonders about her loyalty to a man she never met, and how much she is willing to pay to clear his name. 

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Shot at Dawn, National Memorial Arboretum
by Harry Mitchell / CC-BY-4.0
I'm not known for mincing my words so if you don't appreciate critical commentary take the hint and jump ship now. I read negative reviews, I write negative reviews, and I am not ashamed of it. You're not required to agree with my stance nor my assessment of the novel in question, but I'm allowed an opinion just the same so you'll just have to deal the fact that this review actually exists. Don't like it? Don't read it. It's no skin off my nose one way or the other. 

Without further ado or disclaimer, I want to say that Andrew Leatham's The Last Casualty wasn't my cuppa tea and I would find the novel impossible to recommend. The historic subject matter boasts natural intrigue, but the fictional elements felt carelessly constructed, incomplete, and underdeveloped. Consider yourselves warned folks, there are spoilers ahead. 

The Shot at Dawn campaign is remarkable in and of itself, but Leatham's protagonist has virtually nothing to do with the movement. Joanne makes contact with the member of the group, but Leatham fails to develop that relationship and takes the story in an entirely different direction. There is a footnote at the end of the narrative about the success of the campaign, but the actual push for the posthumorous pardon of war victims is otherwise absent from the telling. 

Joanne's deterioration, if that is in fact what Leatham was trying to illustrate, is ambiguous at best and I couldn't decide if she was a rational character trying to clear her grandfather's name or an irrational character that suffered the effects of battle fatigue without having actual experience of it. Wilf has moments, but his story is pretty cut and dry. Joanne's husband Frank is easily the most interesting character in the narrative, but he is never fully explored and his vacillating love/hate relationship with his wife proved both contradictory and confounding. 

The nail in the coffin, however, is how Leatham closed the story. The author's conclusion is inconclusive and leaves the reader questioning the purpose of the narrative. Joanne does not fail in her quest, but she doesn't succeed in it either. It actually feels as if she loses her damned mind before she even gets her feet on the ground, but that's just me. I wish I were joking when I say that I finished the book and checked to make sure my ARC had downloaded properly, but I'm not. The main story line doesn't go anywhere and unlike my fellow reviewers, I refuse to excuse that reality out of admiration for the history involved. 

I think the content great, but to be perfectly honest, I've seen it before and I've seen it done better. If you're that interested, save yourself the trouble and track down a copy of The Lost Soldier by Diney Costeloe or Barbed Wire and Roses by Peter Yeldham and call it a day. Leatham's idea had merit, but his execution leaves much to be desired and struck me as a total and complete disappointment.

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He took Wilf by the left elbow and guided him steadily out of the cell where two more armed men from the regiment took up station in front. The party marched quickly along a short corridor, Tubby Clayton following behind, praying loudly. But no one was listening.
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Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Cover Cliché: Fare Thee Well

Sometimes, while browsing the virtual shelves on Amazon and Goodreads, I see jacket art that gives me a disconcerting sense of deja vu. I know I've not read the book, but I am equally certain I've seen its image somewhere before.

This phenomenon is what inspired Cover Clichés. Image recycling is fairly common as cover artists are often forced to work from a limited pool of stock images and copyright free material. The details vary cover to cover, but each boasts a certain similarity and I find comparing the finished designs quite interesting. 

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The International bestselling author of Somewhere in France returns with her sweeping second novel—a tale of class, love, and freedom—in which a young woman must find her place in a world forever changed.

After four years as a military nurse, Charlotte Brown is ready to leave behind the devastation of the Great War. The daughter of a vicar, she has always been determined to dedicate her life to helping others. Moving to busy Liverpool, she throws herself into her work with those most in need, only tearing herself away for the lively dinners she enjoys with the women at her boarding house.

Just as Charlotte begins to settle into her new circumstances, two messages arrive that will change her life. One, from a radical young newspaper editor, offers her a chance to speak out for those who cannot. The other pulls her back to her past, and to a man she has tried, and failed, to forget.

Edward Neville-Ashford, her former employer and the brother of Charlotte’s dearest friend, is now the new Earl of Cumberland—and a shadow of the man he once was. Yet under his battle wounds and haunted eyes Charlotte sees glimpses of the charming boy who long ago claimed her foolish heart. She wants to help him, but dare she risk her future for a man who can never be hers?

As Britain seethes with unrest and post-war euphoria flattens into bitter disappointment, Charlotte must confront long-held insecurities to find her true voice . . . and the courage to decide if the life she has created is the one she truly wants.




Love is as uncertain and as untameable as war…

In the summer of 1940, most eyes are focused on the skies above the South of England. The battle for Britain has just begun. But young Evie Lucas has eyes for no-one but a dashing young pilot called Tony. Evie has a glittering career as an artist ahead of her but seems to be wasting her time sketching endless portraits of Tony. She wants his parents to have something to remember him by in case it all goes wrong in the war…

Seventy years later, and recently widowed art historian Lucy is trying to put the pieces of her life back together. And in order to do that, Lucy needs to uncover the mystery surrounding a painting in her home. But as she accidentally ends up stirring up a hornet’s nest of history which has been deliberately obliterated, Lucy finds herself in danger from people past and present who have no intention of letting an untold truth ever surface.



At her retirement home in Wedding Tree, Louisiana, ninety-one-year-old Amelie O’Connor is in the habit of leaving her door open for friends. One day she receives an unexpected visitor—Kat Morgan, the ex-fiancée of her late husband, Jack.

Kat and Jack were high school sweethearts who planned to marry when Jack returned from France after World War II. But in a cruel twist of fate, their plans were irrevocably derailed when a desperate French girl overheard an American GI’s confession in a Parisian church. . .

Now, Kat wants to know the truth behind a story that’s haunted her whole life. Finding out how Amelie stole Jack’s heart will—she thinks—finally bring her peace. As Amelie recalls the dark days of the Nazi occupation of Paris, The French War Bride reveals how history shapes the courses of our lives. . .for better or for worse.


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Which cover strikes your fancy and why? What colors draw your eye? Do you think the image appropriate next to the jacket description? Leave your comments below!

Have you seen this image elsewhere? Shoot me an email or leave a comment and let me know. 


Monday, January 2, 2017

A Hope at the End of the World by Sarah Lark

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: December 2, 2016

In the chaos of World War II, Polish teenagers Helena and Luzyna Grabowski have lost everything. Without parents or a home, they are shipped to a refugee camp in Persia, where the days ahead hold only darkness. When they hear that orphans are being selected for relocation to New Zealand, Helena is filled with hope—until the officials say they have a place only for her younger sister. On the morning she is to be transported, Luzyna fails to join the chosen group, and Helena takes her place. But the horrors of war—and her guilt at abandoning her sister—follow Helena on the journey across the sea, as a man from her past preys on her fear and remorse. Though the people in New Zealand embrace her, the traumas Helena has suffered threaten her peace and blind her to the devotion of James, a charming, heroic young Allied pilot. If Helena can let go and dare to hope again, she may finally step out of the long shadow of her past to find a future made whole—a new community, a new family, a new love.

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The jacket description on Sarah Lark’s A Hope at the End of the World left me positively giddy. I mean, how often do you see historic fiction set in New Zealand? This isn't a base question people, I'm one hundred percent serious. You see, the unfortunate reality is that the big publishing houses have this annoying habit of vetoing everything that isn't a guaranteed sell. If it isn't trending, they ain't biting, and according to the pain-in-the-ass people who dictate the majority of the American market, New Zealand doesn't make the cut. Am I bitter? Just a bit. I want fresh fiction, but mainstream publishers think 'new' means 'risky' and throw those kinds of stories in the grey cylindrical receptacles under their desks to prevent them from ever seeing the light of day. For people like me, this is basically a 'fuck you' and I for one am tired of it.

Enter AmazonCrossing. You read that right folks, I am shamelessly giving a shout out to a publisher, but hear me out. Unlike most of the big houses, this platform is doing great things for new authors and unsung stories by bridging the gap between the old and new markets. Think I'm crazy? Take a closer look at A Hope at the End of the World. Author Sarah Lark was born in Germany and lives in Spain. Her work was translated by D. W. Lovett. Think about that. When was the last time you read a translated fiction huh? I'm willing to bet most of you can tally your total on one hand. I'll grant that WWII fiction is trending at the moment so it's entirely possible that subject matter helped grease some wheels here, but this story intrigued me for a number of reasons and while I know readers hate long winded reviews, I refuse to apologize for hick-jacking my own commentary to say thank you to Lark for writing something unique and thank you to AmazonCrossing for making it possible for a book like Lark's to find its audience.

Getting off my soapbox, I am gonna come right and say that I am not a fan of this cover. The jacket gives me too many fuzzy wuzzies, but in all fairness that vibe is entirely in keeping with the tone of Lark's narrative. A Hope at the End of the World may be set against WWII, but it is first and foremost a romance. Lark touches on some fascinating historical footnotes, but the sweetly chaste relationship between Luzyna and James takes center stage. I personally had a hard time accepting this fact, but I'm a WWII junkie who enjoys witty banter, sarcastic dialogue and intense dogfights. Should I have known what I was getting myself into? Yes. Did it stop me? No. Don't appreciate my comments? Take a number.

Because I know someone will ask, I should probably note that I loved Lark's use of POW camps and the refugee transport to New Zealand. I also thought she made great use of Maori culture and tradition. Though limited in scope, I enjoyed the unique landscape of the novel and was surprised by the appearance of small yet fascinating details such as the wartime experiences of the Neumanns. That said, I found the characterizations one dimensional, the plot twists predictable, and I was decidedly frustrated by how neatly everything was resolved. At the end of the day I don't see myself recommending A Hope at the End of the World as a war fiction, but I would put it out there to those readers who appreciate light historicals and sweet romance.

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She noticed a troop transport had arrived in Wellington that day, carrying not refugees but wounded soldiers. They, too, had escaped the war—and probably with brighter hopes for the future than hers.
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Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Unquiet Grave by David J. Oldman

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: December 20, 2016

London, 1946. The war may be over, but the it’s devastating effects are not... Captain Harry Tennant has returned from serving in Italy and North Africa, expecting to be demobbed, only to find his services are still in demand. A policeman before the war, he’s made part of the Intelligence Corps, investigating war crimes. Mostly he looks into smaller cases of army personnel who are the victims, or perpetrators of crimes. That’s how Rose Kearney’s file ends up on his desk. Her brother William, a soldier with the Hampshire Regiment, was reported missing in action after D-Day. Having heard nothing else since, she’s travelling from their home in Wicklow to find answers. As Harry starts to investigate, he learns Kearney was part of a carrier crew fighting near Caen. The bodies from Kearney’s crew are found near a French chateau, with one appearing to have been executed. But there’s was no sign of Kearney. Reports of Nazi atrocities nearby are leaking out and at first, it seems the men were victims of the ruthless Nazi machine. But things aren’t adding up for Tennant. Why was Kearney’s body never found, and why was an SS officer discovered with the missing man’s disks? Although his superior, Jekyll, wants the death blamed on the SS and quickly wrapped up, the more Harry digs, the more curious he becomes. He sets out to find answers, but only seems to dig up more questions. And it’s not long before Tennant find himself in grave danger...

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I feel like the only reviewer who didn’t fall head over heels in love with David Oldman’s The Unquiet Grave, but then I'm not really the swooning type. Most of my peers are overflowing with praise for the narrative and while I respect their opinions, I must admit that my own are decidedly modest. I like the mystery well enough, but the plot didn't take hold of my imagination and I often found that my attention wandered from Oldman’s prose.

The reader is introduced to protagonist Captain Harry Tennant as he struggles to rectify his war time experience with a post war existence. His professional career is stable enough, but his personal life is in tatters and it is clear the author meant to humanize the investigator by manufacturing a measure of sympathy for his situation. It's an admirable aim and I appreciated the effort, but the final product fell flat in my eyes. Forgive me, but Tennant himself didn't intrigue me at all and try as I might, I didn't really care if he figured himself out or not.

The supporting cast wasn't much better. Oldman attempts to create emotional conflict and depth by presenting a complex love interest, but the relationship never seems to have much going for it which probably explains why I found myself questioning the content. A red herring that fails to misdirect has no place in narrative fiction and at the end of the day I'd have been happier if the Oldman's attempt at romance had not appeared at all.

In looking at the historic content, it is clear that Oldman is well-versed in the subject matter. The narrative is chock full of details about the war and the light-hearted culture that took root in its wake. Believe it or not I actually liked those references, but the other elements of the story didn't come together the way I needed them to and I am not sure that I'll be continuing with the series.

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That first impression of seeing the city as relatively untouched soon began to fade. Each morning I became subtly aware of more damage, as if overnight the bombing raids still continued, only silently now. It was an odd sensation and one I kept to myself. In time that faded too as I began struggling like everybody else with the unreliable public transport, food and fuel rationing, and the general drabness of life that manifested itself mostly in shortages of everything you needed and surpluses only of things you didn’t want.
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