AUTHOR: Danette J. Hansen
(previously known as Ringmasters Media
July 7, 2015
GENRE: Fiction, mystery, historical.
FORMAT: Paperback, 270 pages
IDENTIFICATION: ISBN-10: 1942298099
As she penned the last word of her poem, her brother leaped off the bed.
“The secret bell,” he whispered, face ashen. “Hide!”
She slid open the trap door in the false bedframe and quickly crawled in.
He crouched next to the bed and handed her the warm blanket he had been lying on.
She grabbed it and scooted over the rough planks.
The box’s narrow space was like a coffin – suffocating and dark.
A floorboard squeaked.
She couldn’t see the heavy studded boots that clomped over the floor, but she knew her brother could see a shadow through the slats.
Her hands shook, so she held them close to her chest and squeezed her eyes shut. Holding her breath didn’t stop the tears from seeping out of the corner of her eyes. Would the made bed fool the officer?
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
When Annaliese discovers a hidden doily and a mysterious poem dating back to World War II she realizes they aren’t the only hidden secrets waiting in the old Dutch bed and breakfast. Unfortunately, chasing half-forgotten mysteries isn’t how she’s supposed to be spending her time in the Netherlands. Even though she’s of Dutch decent, she’s here to be involved in an international graduate program. But an unshakable yearning for the past and the timely help of a handsome stranger makes her begin to question if her studies are the real reason she’s in Holland. Unraveling the mystery of these heroic deeds done so long ago may put her at risk of being expelled from her program and losing a career she has always wanted, but could being in the Netherlands be more than a coincidence?
MY REVIEW: 4.5 Stars out of 5
REVIEW TITLE: “AN INTRIGUING INTERNATIONAL HISTORICAL MYSTERY”
Protagonist Annaliese VanLuyk is in Holland, the tulip capital of the world, to further her education through a Master’s exchange program at Wageningen University, specifically, the Plant Research International program (PRI). Having come from Colorado University, she remains in contact with her state-side mother on matters related to her acceptance into the study exchange program, and especially regarding their Dutch ancestors. Unlike her mother, Annaliese is not a previous genealogy enthusiast. However, Annaliese is soon captivated by the many intricacies of her heritage as she becomes enveloped in the culture, history, and geography of the Netherlands leading her to become drawn to her ancestors and several mysteries about her family’s history. Her efforts prove valuable in solving those mysteries. Her work at the university is challenging yet rewarding and also has a few mysteries. After a significant struggle, those mysteries are also solved, and her noteworthy accomplishments in the PRI are acknowledged.
Author Danette J. Hansen captivated my commitment to read the book even before Annaliese’s journey when she first presents a glimpse into a prior historical moment between two young members of Annaliese’s family hiding from Nazi soldiers. This moment remains a valuable thread throughout the novel holding the reader’s interest and fostering hope that these two young people will eventually find safe rescue and lasting respite.
The author skillfully transports the reader to Holland with her ability to paint a picture through words illustrating the landscape and geography, the scent in the air, aromas and taste of cultural foods, and unique architecture of landmarks with historical significance. Additionally, the author successfully and sensitively portrays the vital role of countless Dutch citizens as they provided aid in hiding Jewish refugees attempting to escape the extermination effort of the Nazi movement during World War II. The images of bravery and determination of the resistance soldiers, likewise, are ones that will surely remain in the memories of readers of this novel.
Through the journey of the protagonist, Annaliese, the reader gains some valuable symbolic lessons applicable to the human experience through her botanical study of the tulips. For example, the concept of “beauty created by imperfection” as illustrated with “the Rembrandt tulip which has a burgundy red hue and yellow streaks from a floral viral disease.” The author’s gentle presentation of this information is provided in an interesting way and gives the reader reason to pause and consider an application to their human experience. This accomplishment is the mark of a skilled writer, and Author Danette J. Hansen shows it to be a working tool in her writer’s toolkit.
This same skill is illustrated again as the author gently shares words of wisdom throughout the protagonist’s family history journey. An example of this is when stating “the strife of war teaches us that survival often depends on individuals banning together”, and “we are our brother’s keeper.” Without such commitment from so many Dutch citizens, no doubt, the survival of many Jewish refugees during World War II would not have been to the number that they were. After much effort, Annaliese’s quest to gather her ancestors’ history and solve some of its related mystery brings her face-to-face with living relatives in Holland. With the aid of a handsome new friend and a fellow university student, she embarks on a family history journey of discovery that she never imagined before coming to the Netherlands.
Additional metaphors and mottos are scattered throughout the novel and ring out with timeless truth. Some of these are “balance is the key to everything”, “human souls are what make up life”, “plants bring life”, “a family’s bond transcends far beyond the grave”, “love can heal all wounds”, and “family is everything”. Each time the author gently presented these thoughts, it caused me to pause and ponder what application it could also have in my life. Successful utilization of this literary composition technique is the mark of a skilled writer as the author extends a subtle invitation to the reader to liken the literary work to their own life’s purpose.
The author also skillfully intertwines numerous historical events into the novel and refers to other well-known literary works related to the same period in a meaningful way. Using various interpersonal conflicts, fragments of historical artifacts and locations, and a potential love interest, the author entices the reader numerous times to accompany the protagonist on her very complex yet interesting family history journey and in her university study and research. Suspense is elevated with twists and turns in the story as carefully guarded secrets of some of her university colleagues are uncovered as well as the need to come to terms with multi-generational secrets and emotional scars from WWII that have fractured her family.
Some readers may feel that the events and circumstances in the story are simply a “coincidence” to propel the journey of the protagonist. In contrast, I found the historical research to be significant and was complementary to the fictional story. The combination of historical fact and fiction served as a plausible catalyst for the evolution of the complex story spanning generations. Additionally, the story holds the reader’s interest and is a successfully composed international historical mystery. When given careful thought and consideration, the reader can come to the conclusion that what might be considered to be a “coincidence,” in fact, might not be so easily dismissed. The novel’s title, COINCIDENCE, is an invitation for the reader to come to their conclusion when reading the book, and I found that to be very satisfying.
Without reservation, I RECOMMEND THIS BOOK. I found it to be a well-written enjoyable read; it provides educational value both historically and regarding the subject of family history research. The novel is emotionally rich. But perhaps the greatest applause I could give this book is through the inspirational journal words from one of the protagonist’s relatives in hiding:
“Life is worth living. No matter how hard it gets, we have to have hope. There will always be hard times that seem unbearable to live through. Let them make you stronger. Like the tulip bulb, your strength rests in your core, and at the right time, it will blossom. Just give it time.”
At the end of reading COINCIDENCE, I had the overwhelming feeling that the ties which bind us as families are stronger than anything else. Coincidence? I think not. It is something much, much greater.
ALICE M. BATZEL
Published Playwright, Journalist, Freelance Writer
Review posted 4/4/2016 on:
Reviewer’s website (Reviews, 2016 #4)
Author notified 4/4/2016 via:
Facebook Notification of Review posted 4/4/2016 on:
Reviewer’s Facebook page
Review posted 4/6/2016 on: