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Friday, November 22, 2013

Update: No Post This Weekend

This is just an update to let my readers know that I will not be able to post a review this week since I am going out of town. The review for next week will probably be a day or two late also. I hope too many of you are not disappointed.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Rockin' Chair

Review of The Rockin' Chair by Stephen Manchester

Overview from Memories are the ultimate contradiction. They can warm us on our coldest days – or they can freeze a loved one out of our lives forever. The McCarthy family has a trove of warm memories. Of innocent first kisses. Of sumptuous family meals. Of wondrous lessons learned at the foot of a rocking chair. But they also have had their share of icy ones. Of words that can never be unsaid. Of choices that can never be unmade. Of actions that can never be undone.

Following the death of his beloved wife, John McCarthy – Grandpa John – calls his family back home. It is time for them to face the memories they have made, both warm and cold. Only then can they move beyond them and into the future.

My Review:

I am heading back to the present with this week’s review of The Rockin’ Chair. This is really the story of four generations of one family but we are introduced first to John, Alice and Elle.

John and Alice are an older married couple though at this stage Alice mostly forgets that’s she’s even an adult, let alone that she’s married. She is in final stage of Alzheimer’s and though the local doctor has advised John to have her institutionalized, he will have none of it. He made her a promise that she could die at home and he intends to keep it.

After she’s gone, John doesn’t want to live anymore. He asks God why he shouldn’t go too and at her funeral the answer comes to him—he is still alive so that he can repair the broken relationships in his family and that is what he sets out to do.

But it won’t be easy. The hardest bridge to cross might be the one leading to his son Hank’s house. The way John sees it; Hank left the farm driven by his own pride and is the main culprit for their bad blood. Hank sees it in the reverse; he never felt loved by his father and he carried that same bitterness into his relationship with his own three children. And those three children are about to come home though none of them will make it home in time to say goodbye to their beloved grandmother.

At the funeral John finally faces up to his own stubbornness as well as his destiny to try to bring the family back together again. He will pull out all the stops to get them to rid the family of its demons.

However, I didn’t find any demons in this story, other than the ones that the characters were facing. John’s story could be anyone’s, though it takes place mostly on his Montana farm, it could be anywhere. John’s family are everything to him but he has trouble telling him that.

Both the children and grandchildren and even the little great-granddaughter seek his approval but aren’t sure if they can live up to his high standards. He tries to show them that as long as you live up to the values they were raised with and do your best, you can hold your head up high when you go to meet God. His simple, folksy wisdom might be his family’s undoing. And if you’re like me, you just might shed a tear or two in the process. I liked this one a lot and am recommending it highly.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Forgotten Legion

Review of The Forgotten Legion by Ben Kane
Overview from An epic Roman novel which follows three men and one woman bound in servitude to the Republic.

Romulus and Fabiola are twins, born into slavery after their mother is raped by a drunken nobleman. At thirteen-years-old, they are sold — Romulus to gladiator school, Fabiola into prostitution where she will catch the eye of one of the most powerful men in Rome.

Tarquinius is an Etruscan warrior and soothsayer, and an enemy of Rome, but doomed to fight for the Republic in the Forgotten Legion. Brennus is a Gaul; the Romans killed his entire family. He rises to become one of the most famous and feared gladiators of his day — and mentor to the boy slave, Romulus, who dreams night and day of escape and revenge.

The lives of the four are bound together into a marvellous story which begins in a Rome riven by corruption, violence and politics, and ends far away at the very border of the known world.

My Review:

The story for this week takes place during the Roman Era, B.C. The story is told from four different viewpoints, all of them slaves serving in Rome’s vast empire.
We start with Tarquinius, one of the last pure blood Etruscans still alive after Rome practically wiped them out. He is trying to hold onto his people’s heritage and their art of predicting the future as the protégé of the last Etruscan haruspex or soothsayer. His mentor is predicting a long journey for him after his death (the mentor’s, that is) while Tarquinius just wants to survive long enough to exact his revenge on his teacher’s killer and carry on his mission of passing on their ways.
Then we have Fabiola and Romulus who exist because their mother was raped many years ago by a Roman patrician (or an upper-class person). They are separately sold to a brothel and a gladiator school. Both vow revenge for the rape of their mother.
And last, but not least, we have Brennus, a Gaul whose homeland was also conquered by the Romans. While he tried to retaliate, he was taken as a captive slave and forced to fight in the arena.
The story tells the tale of how all of these lives intersect, though unlike her brother Romulus, Fabiola never actually meets Tarquinius or Brennus. She is, however, known to them even though they are not known to her. Even without her brother she proves that she can hold her own as she catches the eyes of Rome’s leading citizens as a favorite prostitute all the while hoping to find her brother and the name of the patrician who raped her mother.
The characters are each compelling in their own ways even if some of the things they are forced to do to survive breaks our hearts. Before reading this story I had always been under the erroneous assumption that the slaves in the Roman Empire were better treated than those in the United States but that was not the case.
They were forced to fight to death, many times, in the arena, as entertainment for the fickle masses. Others, like Romulus and Fabiola’s mother, could be raped, knowing that their assailants would never be punished. And of course, they could also be forced into prostitution. No wonder Spartacus and others tried to revolt.
During this time, Spartacus’ failed uprising is still fresh in many minds as he and his cohorts were brutally crushed by Marcus Licinius Crassus in his quest for domination of the Roman Empire.
It is Crassus in fact who eventually leads three of our four main characters on failed campaign to conquer Parthia that sends them to the far ends of the world. To say that his military leadership is lacking would be a gross understatement as his soldiers are forced to pay for his stubbornness.
The stories here were compelling. The Etruscan aspect had me hooked from the beginning since I have always found them fascinating. Their culture was different in many ways not only from the Romans but also from most of the ancient peoples. I am not sure if they were really that accurate in their predictions but that aspect of their culture manifested in the person of Tarquinius is an incredible way to tell the story.
The downsides were only the excessive use of the f-bomb and some of the graphic sexual descriptions of what Fabiola is forced to resort to. It broke my heart at the same time as it disgusted me.
In summary, I liked this one but didn’t love it. Well I only loved the Etruscan parts. Still I learned a lot and was entertained at the same time. For this reason alone, I am recommending it.



Saturday, November 2, 2013

No Less Than Victory

Review of No Less Than Victory by Jeff Shaara
Overview from After the success of the Normandy invasion, the Allied commanders are buoyantly confident that the war in Europe will be over in a matter of weeks, that Hitler and his battered army have no other option than surrender. But despite the advice of his best military minds, Hitler will hear no talk of defeat. In mid-December 1944, the Germans launch a desperate and ruthless counteroffensive in the Ardennes forest, utterly surprising the unprepared Americans who stand in their way. Through the frigid snows of the mountainous terrain, German tanks and infantry struggle to realize Hitler’s goal: divide the Allied armies and capture the vital port at Antwerp. The attack succeeds in opening up a wide gap in the American lines, and for days chaos reigns in the Allied command. Thus begins the Battle of the Bulge, the last gasp by Hitler’s forces that becomes a horrific slugging match, some of the most brutal fighting of the war. As American commanders respond to the stunning challenge, the German spear is finally blunted.

Though some in the Nazi inner circle continue the fight to secure Germany’s postwar future, the Führer makes it clear that he is fighting to the end. He will spare nothing–not even German lives–to preserve his twisted vision of a “Thousand Year Reich.” But in May 1945, the German army collapses, and with Russian troops closing in, Hitler commits suicide. As the Americans sweep through the German countryside, they unexpectedly encounter the worst of Hitler’s crimes, the concentration camps, and young GIs find themselves absorbing firsthand the horrors of the Holocaust.

My Review:

This is the last of the novels featured in the Three Novels of World War II set. I think the author does have one more but it is not part of this set.
This book does not bring us to end of World War II though it does take us pretty much all the way through the end of European theater. The Allies still have some unfinished business in the Pacific.
Also we get to see more of Hitler’s inner circle in this one. Now the majority of those who are left are yes men, or are they? Von Rundstedt, the only one who sometimes dared to tell his Fuhrer what he didn’t want to hear, is sent on a forced retirement. But he is ready. He is tired of fighting with the man, hoping to convince him to do what is right for Germany.
Model is still around but is becoming less and less convinced that Hitler knows what he is doing though he dares not say anything. Speer begins to have his doubts as well after he encounters a small boy during an air raid.
“The boy said, ‘Do you know the Fuhrer?’
‘Yes, I do. I will see him…’
‘Tell him we want this to stop.’
Speer looked at the mother, saw the first tears, and she stepped forward, took the boy’s hand, said, ‘Very sorry. Please, I beg you not to report us. He doesn’t understand.’”
Only Goebbles seems to be under the impression that everything is still going along smoothly yet meanwhile he reveals to Speer that he has plans to commit suicide with his wife should things go awry. He will later have his chance to act on that.
Of course the American side of the story is just as fascinating. We are introduced to a man named Benson, a strange private who chooses to go back out to the front lines while his unit is reassigned to guard German POW’s. He does this to show his support a fellow soldier named Mitchell who seems to take more joy than most in killing Germans but is supported by Benson nonetheless.
While I liked Benson, I had a hard time liking Mitchell. He seemed far too mean to his fellow soldiers at times. He struck me as one of those people who probably would have ended up in prison if he hadn’t joined the army.
Their story eventually leads them to the concentration camps, making Benson loose his lunch though this time it is not related to his motion sickness. After this he and others make it their mission in life to end the war and make the Nazi’s pay for their inhumanity. He tries his best to move on with his life after the war, but I get the feeling that the images he saw that day at the camp will be with him always.
The bittersweet ending is a good wrap up to the story. Hitler gets his just desserts while the Russians get a piece of Germany and the Allied soldiers head for home, or maybe the Pacific.
Contains: war images and violence, foul language