Thursday, August 27, 2015

Review; Secrets She Kept


Cathy Gohlke
Secrets She Kept
By Cathy Gohlke
Tyndale House, August, 2015

About the Book

All her life, Hannah Sterling longed for a close relationship with her estranged mother. Following Lieselotte’s death, Hannah determines to unlock the secrets of her mother’s mysterious past and is shocked to discover a grandfather living in Germany.

Thirty years earlier, Lieselotte’s father is quickly ascending the ranks of the Nazi party, and a proper marriage for his daughter could help advance his career. Lieselotte is in love―but her beloved Lukas is far from an ideal match, as he secretly works against the Reich. Yet Lieselotte never imagined how far her father would go to ensure her cooperation.

Both Hannah’s and Lieselotte’s stories unfold as Hannah travels to Germany to meet her grandfather, who is hiding wartimes secrets of his own. Longing for connection, yet shaken by all she uncovers, Hannah must decide if she can atone for her family’s tragic past and how their legacy will shape her future.

My Review

The Holocaust is a tough subject for an inspirational novel, and before reading this book I had thought I’d had enough of WWII novels. So many are either too graphic and depressing or too sugar coated. Cathy Gohlke’s Secrets She Kept stands above all the rest for me. It’s an intriguing read. I could not put it down because I had to know, along with Hannah Sterling, the protagonist, what happened. If you liked All the Light We Cannot See by Andrew Doerr, you’ll probably enjoy this book as well.

I thought how the author portrayed the survivors was particularly well-crafted. No sugar-coating. I could imagine actual survivors saying these things exactly. The message that no matter how much we want to make up for things, no matter how sincere and well-meaning we might be, we cannot. How can these evil things be forgiven? How can we possibly understand the choices people made both during and after the Holocaust? The truth, although sometimes hard to accept, is that we cannot. We just can’t. Gohlke’s message, echoing that of Corrie Ten Boom’s, is that there is only One who can.

Well-written, intriguing, the best book I’ve read this year!

Thanks to Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., and the author for providing me a complimentary advanced copy for review. This is my honest review with no obligations.

Cindy Thomson is the author of seven books, including the upcoming release of Sofia’s Tune, the third book in her Ellis Island series. She also writes genealogy articles for Internet Genealogy and Your Genealogy Today magazines, and short stories for Clubhouse Magazine. Visit her at www.cindyswriting.com, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/cindyswriting and on Twitter: @cindyswriting.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Day 2 with Johnnie Alexander


Johnnie Alexander’s debut novel, Where Treasure Hides, won the ACFW Genesis Contest (Historical category, 2011). Her first contemporary romance, Where She Belongs (Misty Willow Series; Revell), and her first novella, “The Healing Promise” (Courageous Bride Collection; Barbour), release in 2016. Johnnie treasures family memories, classic movies, road trips, and stacks of books. She lives in the Memphis area with a small herd of alpacas and Rugby, the princely papillon who trees raccoons.

Johnnie is giving away a copy of her new novel Where Treasure Hides. To enter the drawing for her novel, click on the contest link at the bottom of this interview and follow the instructions.


Welcome back, Johnnie. What are you working on now?

I’m putting the finishing touches on a contemporary romance, the as yet untitled Book #2 in the Misty Willow Series. Then I’m taking a trip to the 1870s to write a novella set in Nebraska before coming back to the present for my third Misty Willow novel.

The first book in the series, Where She Belongs, releases in January.

A reader once asked me this question, and I thought it was a good one. Is there ever a time when you feel like your work is truly finished and complete? 

I think we can always find improvements to make, even if it’s just little touches. For example, Where Treasure Hides first released as an ebook in January 2013. When the print edition came out just a few weeks ago, I re-read the story—for the first time in almost three years. I spotted a few little things I’d like to change.

Describe your workspace.

Picture a kitchen nook with two long windows, one at the end of the rectangular table and the other at the side. I sit where I can see out of both because you never know what’s going to walk by. It’s not so unusual to see the semi-feral cats or the neighbor’s dogs. The alpaca stroll by, too. But I’m always amazed when I see a raccoon and even more so when I see a fox. Yep. That’s happened twice and I don’t think it was the same one.
 
Describe your dream workspace.
 
Lots of windows, lots of light. Lots of shelves for lots of books. Organized files and organized supplies. A desk and chair for working on my computer but also a comfy chair for curling up in and imagining. And Rugby, my little papillon, nearby.
 
If you could be a character from your favorite historical novel, who would you be?
 
This is a toughie. My favorite historical novel is Les Miserables but I don’t want to be anyone from that story. Eek!
 
So let’s leave Victor Hugo’s France and visit Jane Austen’s England. Though Pride and Prejudice is my favorite of her stories, I’ll choose to be Anne Elliot from Persuasion. She was steadfast, loyal, and must have lived an adventurous life with her seafaring hubby. 

What is the biggest misconception the general public has about authors?

Not too long ago, my vet asked me why I wasn’t on a beach somewhere. “Isn’t that what writers do?” he asked. He was teasing, but that may be a general misconception.

What is the biggest misconception beginning writers have about being published?

The dream of publication is one that many writers have for a very long time before it comes true. We may think that one book contract means “we’ve arrived.” But I’m learning that each story has its own challenges, and so does each milestone in the journey. For example, I spent a couple of years writing Where Treasure Hides, and I spent almost ten years (off and on) writing my upcoming novel. But I wrote my last story in less than nine months. Deadlines are scary!
 
What would you like readers to gain from reading your books?

Both my historical and contemporary novels explore the importance of family heritage and entrusting God with our future. I’d like readers to discover and create their own treasured moments and consider the memories they’re giving to their loved ones. Also, the promise of Proverbs 31:25 is an important one: to clothe ourselves in strength and dignity so we can rejoice in the days to come. (That’s a paraphrased combo of the KJV and NIV versions.)
 
Thanks for joining us here on Favorite PASTimes. Any final words for readers or writers? 

For readers: Thank you for entering our imaginary worlds and falling in love with the characters who inhabit them. We might still be driven to write our stories even if nobody read them, but it’s much more fun to share our creations with you.

For writers: If you’re just starting out, I urge you to persevere. Learn and grow and most of all—write! If you’re an established author, thank you for encouraging those of us who walk behind you on the journey. We appreciate your wisdom.
 


For information about how to enter the drawing for Johnnie's novel, Where Treasure Hides, click the link below.


 
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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Johnnie Alexander Talks about Her Fascination with WW2 History Day 1


 
Johnnie Alexander’s debut novel, Where Treasure Hides, won the ACFW Genesis Contest (Historical category, 2011). Her first contemporary romance, Where She Belongs (Misty Willow Series; Revell), and her first novella, “The Healing Promise” (Courageous Bride Collection; Barbour), release in 2016. Johnnie treasures family memories, classic movies, road trips, and stacks of books. She lives in the Memphis area with a small herd of alpacas and Rugby, the princely papillon who trees raccoons.

Johnnie is giving away a copy of her new novel Where Treasure Hides. To enter the drawing for her novel, click on the contest link at the bottom of this interview and follow the instructions.


 
Welcome to PASTimes, Johnnie. Tell us a little about what you write. 

I became intrigued with WWII history when I found a book called Hitler’s Soldiers in the Sunshine State. That fascinating book, and several others I read, eventually led to my first novel set during that era. It’s unpublished, but my research inspired the storyline for my debut novel Where Treasure Hides.

As a bonus, I sold a short story to Guideposts about a young Florida boy who encounters a German POW escapee on Christmas Eve.

Are you a full-time writer or do you hold a day job? What is the biggest challenge/obstacle you face in protecting your writing time?

First thing in the morning, I feed and water an alpaca herd plus fill the food bowls for the dogs and the cats. So most days, I have time to write. Perhaps my biggest challenge is the balance between writing and marketing.

What historical time periods interest you the most and how have you immersed yourself in a particular time period?

World War II history definitely remains a favorite. I’ve read numerous biographies, nonfiction books, and a few novels, plus watched documentaries and movies on various aspects of that eras—espionage, art looting, hiding Jewish people, prisoner-of-war camps, escape routes. There are so many fascinating events and heroic people to discover. A few months ago I visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC. I wish I’d had the time to read every display.
 
Introduce us briefly to the main characters in your most recent book. 

Alison Schuyler is a Dutch-American artist whose family has owned an art gallery in Rotterdam, Holland for generations. Though several Dutch Masters adorn the gallery’s walls, Alison’s most treasured painting is her father’s portrait of her deceased mother.

Alison first sees British officer Ian Devlin at Waterloo Station in London where he has come to the aid of a young Kindertransport boy. A station official wants to confiscate the child’s violin, but Ian isn’t about to let that happen. He is smitten by the lovely artist who draws a sketch of him and the child.

But Ian isn’t the only man with his eyes on Alison. Theodor Scheidemann, an ambitious Prussian count, is intrigued by her artistic legacy and takes desperate steps to keep her and Ian apart.
 
Don't miss day 2 of Johnnie's interview tomorrow. For information about how to enter the drawing for Johnnie's novel, Where Treasure Hides, click the link below.




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Monday, August 24, 2015

Horrible Histories, Humor and Kids


by Michelle Ule

Our family first met the Horrible Histories books while touring a museum in New Zealand.
My daughter had read all her books on the plane by the time we arrived and needed something for the rest of the trip!

Down in the basement bookstore, we found British books we’d never heard of before: Horrible Histories.

That day we purchased The Rotten Romans and Awful Egyptians. Eventually we Groovy Greeks, and The Blitzed Brits.
acquired

On that trip, the fifth grader was enthralled, but so was the high school sophomore and both college kids. We parents eventually chuckled our way through them.

Our family loves history and these whimsical, but true, books provide intriguing facts, simple drawings and a slightly askew way of looking at historical events. A painless way to learn cultural and historical insights.

For example, these quotes:
“Marcellinus said “a whole troop of foreigners would not be able to withstand a aul if he called for his wife to help him. Swelling her neck, gnashing her teeth and

swinging her white arms of enormous size she begins to strike blows mixed with kicks as if they were missiles sent from the string of a catapult.” (Rotten Romans)

“Helpful hints for the blackout:
1. In the countryside some dark-coloured cows had white lines painted on them in case they wandered in the road.
2.Men were advised to let their white shirt tails hang out as they walked along the blacked-out roads.” (The Blitzed Brits)

“Small children were often sent into toilet pits because they could fit down the narrow pipes. They were expected to clean them . . . and you complain when your parents ask you to clean their car?” (Gruesome Guides: London)
Conceived and written by actor and children’s playwright Terry Deary, the books brought a fresh approach when the first was published in 1993:

History can be horrible. Horribly hard to learn. The trouble is it keeps on changing ... In history a 'fact' is sometimes not a fact at all. Really it's just someone's 'opinion'. And opinions can be different for different people ... Teachers will try to tell you there are 'right' and 'wrong' answers even if there aren't.”
The books have a tinge of the subversive about them, with barbed humor and cartoonish drawings. Aimed at the “reluctant reader,” they’ve sold 25 million copies in 30 languages!

According to Wikipedia, 
while the books pass their information off as facts, much “is debatably, exciting myths and legends. The books, for example, claim that Shakespeare invented the evil actions he attributed to Richard III and present Caligula as being insane.”

Starting with Angry Aztecs and wending through history to Woeful Second World War, Horrible Histories provides an opportunity for kids of all ages to learn and appreciate the interesting, ironic and horrifying ways that life has been lived on the continents and during dramatic eras of the world.

Horrible, yes, but really fun.

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Michelle Ule writes the fourth Monday of the month at NovelPastimes and twice a week on her website: www.michelleule.com. Her latest book is a rerelease of A Pioneer Christmas Collection out on September 1.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Review: The Devil's Arithmetic


The Devil’s Arithmetic
By Jane Yolen
Puffin Books, April, 2004

About the Book

Twelve-year-old Hannah is transported back to a 1940s Polish village where she experiences the very horrors that had embarrassed and annoyed her when her elders related their Holocaust experiences.

My Review

The Devil’s Arithmetic is a captivating book. It is a story within a story. I’m not sure why it works so brilliantly, I just know it does.

The outside frame of the story is set in modern times. Hannah, the heroine, is, along with her family, preparing to celebrate the Passover Seder at another family member’s home. To Hannah, this “celebration” or “observance” is a waste of time and energy. She just does not get it at all or understand why it’s so important to other members of her family. It’s something she has to do that she can’t talk her way out of. But something happens to Hannah when she opens the front door to welcome “Elijah.”

She opens the door to the past and walks right through. She finds herself in a Polish village in 1942. It’s not Passover in 1942, but there is a celebration going on just the same. A wedding in the village! Tragically this wedding never occurs. The Nazis take everyone away; everyone is relocated.

Hannah (Chaya) makes new friends, and fights to survive. It won’t be easy. This new life, this 1942 life, becomes oh-so-painfully real to her. She knows what’s coming. She knows about the death camps. She knows about how many Jews were killed, how many never came out of the camps, how many families were torn apart. She knows and can do nothing to prevent it from happening. She’s powerless, but, her words still have power. Her words can shape stories that give hope and courage and strength to her fellow sufferers.

The story ends beautifully in my opinion. It may be an intense read, but it’s worth it.

Becky Laney
http://blbooks.blogspot.com/
http://operationreadbible.blogspot.com/



Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Susan Anne Mason - The Writing Habit

Susan Anne Mason describes her writing style as “romance sprinkled with faith.” She enjoys exploring the themes of forgiveness and redemption in her stories. Irish Meadows is her first historical novel and won the Fiction from the Heartland contest, sponsored by the Mid-American Romance Author chapter of RWA.


Susan lives outside of Toronto, Ontario, with her husband, two children, and two cats. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and Romance Writers of America (RWA).

Welcome back to Novel PASTimes today, Susan! 


What do you consider the best resources for historical research?

I call myself a Google-aholic! I Google everything, which leads me to all kinds of interesting websites. Overall I’d have to say Wikipedia is my favorite for just about anything I need to learn. I’ve also had good luck with YouTube. For instance, I found a great video demonstrating how old fashioned fire alarms worked, which was really helpful for Book 2 in the series!

What or who inspired you to write inspirational fiction? How does that keep you plodding ahead with your writing each day?

I didn’t start out writing inspirational romances. In fact I hadn’t read much Christian fiction at all because we don’t have many places to buy such books in my area of Ontario (Canada). The US has far more independent Christian bookstores, and even your Wal-Mart stores have a Christian fiction section. My first introduction to such stories was through Harlequin’s Love Inspired line. I loved the sweet romances mixed with messages of God’s hope and love. And so I decided to try one myself — one which Harlequin published this past February!
I don’t really think of my writing as plodding ahead. I love writing — but when I occasionally hit a roadblock, I use prayer to get me through it.

What helps you maintain productivity as a writer? And what do you find most challenging about the business of being an author?

I try to do some writing every day. Since I work part-time in the mornings, I have time in the afternoon to do this. The most challenging thing is writing every day! Because, face it, life gets in the way! Between two adult-children living at home, a husband, two cats, a house to run, and an elderly parent to help, things can get very hectic. But I find if I don’t spend some time each day on my writing, I get very cranky!

Do you feel you are more of a character driven or plot driven writer? How do you think it comes across in your writing?

I’m definitely a character driven writer. I always have my characters in mind first and have to come up with a plot to fit them. Plotting has always been something I’ve struggled with, and some books are definitely easier to plot than others.

Would you like to share about what you are working on now?

I am working on Book 3 in the "Courage to Dream" series—working title “Love Healing’s Grace”. It’s the story of Deirdre O’Leary and her brother Connor and their journeys to love. Of course, the journeys always take a detour!

Do you have any last words of wisdom to share with aspiring authors?

My best advice is to keep writing and keep learning the craft. It only takes one person to love your work. Through a writing contest, I was lucky enough to get my work in front of an editor from Bethany House, who ended up loving my book and offering me a three book deal! It can happen for you, too!

Thank you, Susan, for joining us at Novel PASTimes. It has been a privilege to interview you.
Connect with Susan at these spots online: 
Email: sbmason@sympatico.ca
Website: www.susanannemason.com. 

Enter the give away for Susan's latest novel, Irish Meadows, through Rafflecopter below and answer Susan's question below to qualify.  

Do you think a parent has the right to dictate the path of their children’s lives?

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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Susan Anne Mason - Writing About Love on Long Island

Susan Anne Mason describes her writing style as “romance sprinkled with faith.” She enjoys exploring the themes of forgiveness and redemption in her stories. Irish Meadows is her first historical novel and won the Fiction from the Heartland contest, sponsored by the Mid-American Romance Author chapter of RWA.


Susan lives outside of Toronto, Ontario, with her husband, two children, and two cats. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and Romance Writers of America (RWA).

Susan, it’s great to have you at Novel PASTimes today. Could you share with us some of the surprises you’ve encountered along the road to publishing?

Thanks for having me! One of the surprises has been how each publisher handles things a little differently. I’ve had the good fortune of having four books published over the past year with three different publishing groups, and the revisions, galleys, covers, etc. are all handled just a little differently. I suppose it has helped me to become a more well-rounded author!


Please tell us something about your latest novel, Irish Meadows.

My story is about the O’Leary family, set in 1911 Long Island, New York. Patriarch James O’Leary is the owner of Irish Meadows, a farm that trains and breeds racehorses. He is worried about his business now that horse racing has been banned in their state. James is determined that his two oldest daughters will marry well in order to secure their financial futures, as well as their position in society. Both girls, however, have other dreams for their lives and proceed to greatly complicate their father’s life!

What drew you to  set Irish Meadows in 1911 on Long Island?

I liked the time period because certain modern conveniences, such as automobiles and telephones, were becoming more common, and women were starting to have more independence. Also I had started watching Downton Abbey and liked that era—the clothes, the manners, and the mansions. I chose New York because that’s where a lot of Irish immigrants settled, including my own ancestors. Long Island’s Gold Coast is where a lot of wealthy families built country estates and seemed like a good choice for the O’Leary’s mansion and horse farm.

Have you found that similar themes throughout your writing? Why? Or why not?

I have found several similar themes in my writing. Without consciously realizing it, the theme of worthiness kept creeping into my stories. I found great delight in having my characters come to understand that they are infinitely precious in God’s eyes and worthy of His great love. Themes of redemption and forgiveness also come up quite often. My characters struggle with guilt over some past mistake or some perceived shortcoming and their journey includes asking for and receiving forgiveness, being released from their great internal burden, and finding joy in life again.

What drew you to writing historical novels?

That’s a funny question! Although I always loved reading historical romances, I swore I would never write one. Way too much research involved. But then something totally unrelated to my writing happened. I started researching my family history on-line. I literally became addicted to the thrill of uncovering family mysteries and expanding our family tree. One love story intrigued me. My great-great grandfather was a stable boy at a grand manor called Stainsby Hall. I discovered that the girl he married was a kitchen maid at the same estate. My vivid imagination took off and I wrote my first historical romance based on their history! The moral of the story is ‘never say never’!

If you’re anything like I am, one favorite book is hard to pick! Do you have two or three top picks among the historical genre that you would care to recommend?

I loved A Passion Most Pure, Julie Lessman’s debut novel, and I went on to read all of her books. I also adored Tamera Alexander’s To Win Her Favor, a story with an Irish hero and horses, so no wonder I liked it! The third one would be Love’s Reckoning by Laura Frantz. Laura’s writing is like reading poetry—so lovely and lyrical.

What do you consider the best resources for historical research?

Come back tomorrow to learn more about Susan and her writing. Enter the give away 
for her latest novel, Irish Meadows, through Rafflecopter below and answer Susan's question below to qualify.  

Do you think a parent has the right to dictate the path of their children’s lives?