Friday, November 15, 2019

Guest Post: When They Made Us Leave by Annette Oppenlander

Please join me in welcoming Annette Oppenlander to Let Them Read Books! Annette is celebrating the release of her new historical novel, When They Made Us Leave, and I'm thrilled to have her here today with a guest post about the subject of the novel, Nazi Germany's KLV child evacuation program.

When They Made Us Leave tells the touching love story of Hilda and Peter, whose budding relationship ends abruptly when they are forced to attend separate evacuation camps during WWII. Each confronted with terror and cruelty as well as unexpected kindness, they must rise above to survive the war and find each other once more. 

Solingen, 1943: As bombs carpet Germany and fourteen-year old Hilda is falling in love with her childhood friend and next-door neighbor, Peter, he excitedly takes off to an evacuation camp in Pomerania, six hundred miles from home. Though Peter soon finds that his expectations are far from reality, he is ordered to write happy letters home, even when things take a turn for the worse and a new Hitler youth leader attempts to convert camp into a military battalion.

Meanwhile, Hilda must unwillingly accompany her classmates to a cloister in Bavaria run by a draconian Abbess. There Hilda struggles to overcome her homesickness and yearning for Peter while helping a classmate hide her bedwetting accidents.

As Germany is buried under rubble and supplies shorten, Peter lands at an inn near Gdansk. By now, all he wants is to go home. But his new teacher, a staunch national socialist, deems their place safe despite the refugees from the east whispering of German defeat by an advancing Russian Army.

When the cloister is converted into a German field hospital, enemy planes destroy Hilda’s homebound train and kill her teacher. Weeks later, tired and hungry, she arrives home to find her mother safe. But Peter has not returned, nor is there any news of him. Refusing to believe the worst, she must survive in a barely recognizable world.

Few people outside Germany realize that during World War II Hitler created a wide-sweeping evacuation program, the Kinderlandverschickung or KLV, for its German children and youths. This supposedly voluntary program intended to send children and especially teens aged 11 to 16 to camps. Not just for a few weeks, but for months, and as of 1943 for years. Since exact statistics are missing, it is estimated that two million children participated.

The word evacuation or Evakuierung was not to be used because it carried the wrong connotation not suitable for the propaganda of the Third Reich. Instead, the KLV was sold to parents as a vacation during which children could study, exercise and play in healthy environments, eat well and enjoy themselves tremendously. Posters showed happy children going on adventure, newspapers ran beautiful stories of summer trips and joyous parents sending off their kids. That was the official version.

The unofficial true intent was to raise Germany’s children and youth as national socialists far from the influence of families, friends and churches. To do this effectively, many camps assumed militaristic programs with strict all-day schedules, inspections, reports and training.  Boys were supposed to be tough and heroic and become soldiers. Girls were supposed to be strong and brave, but also beautiful and healthy to grow into mothers to produce more children to become more soldiers and mothers.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Spotlight: The Thief's Heart by Kathleen Shoop

The Thief's Heart
by Kathleen Shoop

On Sale January 14, 2020
Historical Fiction
Paperback, eBook

Des Moines, 1892. After losing their promised inheritance, the Arthur family’s luck finally changes. An extraordinary woman, Violet Pendergrass, provides refuge for them to rebuild their broken lives. Or has she?

Handsome fifteen-year-old Tommy Arthur has one foot in manhood and the other dragging up the rear of his boyhood years. He strives to protect and provide for his family, but turning to booze when scared or worried creates as many problems as solutions. Unsure of who he can trust, fiery redhead Pearl Riverside challenges and excites him at every turn, softening his heart toward the idea that goodness exists in the world. 

Tension builds between Tommy and his mother as her affection for a generous man increases. At the same time, distance grows between Tommy and his twin sister, Katherine, as each chooses secrets over family. Violet Pendergrass demands more from Tommy and he begins to question her motives. 

When disaster strikes for Tommy’s little sister, Yale, the actions of a sinister judge, a crooked minister, and the infamous charlatan, Dreama, are revealed. Facing more jail time as vigilante mobs form, the clock runs down on Tommy’s chance to take responsibility for his own choices. Is it too late for him to save his family, to open his heart and fully love those who need him as much as he needs them? 

Bestselling author’s historical novel steals hearts
Kathleen Shoop’s newest title in award-winning series based on family letters

Bestselling author Kathleen Shoop has won numerous awards, been a Kindle Top 100 seller, and been lauded by major media like USA Today, Buzzfeed, and Bustle. Now she’s releasing the newest book in her award-winning historical fiction The Letter series, The Thief’s Heart (Jan. 14, 2020).

Shoop’s newest historical novel transports readers to 1892 Des Moines where, after losing their promised inheritance, the Arthur family’s luck finally changes. An extraordinary woman, Violet Pendergrass, provides refuge for them to rebuild their broken lives. Or has she? Fifteen-year-old Tommy Arthur strives to uncover Violet’s true motives while struggling to provide for his family – and develop a relationship with the fiery Pearl Riverside.  When disaster strikes and the family is threatened by an angry mob, the clock runs down on Tommy’s chance to take responsibility for his own choices. Is it too late for him to save his family, to open his heart and fully love those who need him as much as he needs them?

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Blog Tour Excerpt: The Bride of Northanger by Diana Birchall

The Bride of Northanger: A Jane Austen Variation
by Diana Birchall

Genre: Austenesque, Historical Fiction, Gothic Mystery
September 19, 2019
White Soup Press
ebook, paperback; 230 pages

A happier heroine than Catherine Morland does not exist in England, for she is about to marry her beloved, the handsome, witty Henry Tilney. The night before the wedding, Henry reluctantly tells Catherine and her horrified parents a secret he has dreaded to share - that there is a terrible curse on his family and their home, Northanger Abbey. Henry is a clergyman, educated and rational, and after her year’s engagement Catherine is no longer the silly young girl who delighted in reading “horrid novels”; she has improved in both reading and rationality. This sensible young couple cannot believe curses are real...until a murder at the Abbey triggers events as horrid and Gothic as Jane Austen ever parodied - events that shake the young Tilneys’ certainties, but never their love for each other...

Praise for The Bride of Northanger:

“Diana Birchall once again proves herself the worthiest of Austenesque fiction writers, with keen powers of observation, discernment, judgment, fire, genius, and wit on every page.” — Devoney Looser, author of The Making of Jane Austen

“No one captures Jane Austen's vibrant style, sense of humor, intelligence, and voice better than Diana Birchall. I flew through this charming novel, which makes a delightfully spooky and most welcome sequel to Northanger Abbey.” — Syrie James, author of The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen

“One of the most enjoyable returns to Austen to be found. Not to be missed.” — Susan Franzblau, author and film director

Excerpt from The Bride of Northanger:

Curiosity she still had, however, about the family she had married into, especially now that she knew that it did have a secret history, and a mysterious curse. The family legends did not alarm her – much, but she felt she would like to know more about them, whatever they were. Henry and Eleanor had made light of them, yet there was the way Henry, the night before their wedding, admitted that however spurious were the tales, it was an undoubted fact that the oldest son’s wife in every generation, had actually met with a terrible fate. This sounded straight out of a horrid novel, and despite being cured of reading such works, how curious, how ironic it was that she should find herself in a situation that almost seemed like living in one.

Catherine hastily reminded herself, for the dozenth time, that she need have no fears, in trying to find out the meaning of the family curse, for she was not the wife of an eldest son. Even if she were, she reminded herself for the dozenth time, there was no reason for fear, for curses and legends were imaginary, the stuff of superstition. It must be only a chain of coincidental circumstances after all that had killed all the first wives of the family. Any one who read history knew that the most dreadful things, murders and burnings, accidents and torture, had happened with appalling frequency back in the olden days; and the more ancient, the worse they were. It was the events of an uncivilized, ignorant past age, that were reflected and stirred up for sensation in the kind of fiction known as horrid. Any modern, rational, educated person knew that.

Turning from the desk, Catherine wondered where the General would have kept papers dealing with his ancient family history, for certainly such papers there were, and they must be somewhere. The desk was plainly for his daily concerns; family papers must be safely stored somewhere else.

There was a heavy ornate chest in the alcove under a window, with some curios and glassware on top; exactly the sort of chest where old papers might be kept safe and dry. She had a reflexive dislike for old chests now, ever since the mortifying moment on her first visit to Northanger, when a promisingly forbidding manuscript concealed in such a chest proved to be nothing but a gentleman’s laundry list. Still, she would not let any former foolishness stop her from the type of sensible explorations that she intended to make now.

It was the work of only a few moments to remove the glassware and figurines, which were rather ugly, she thought – one was a nasty little metal satyr, another a grinning monkey’s face carved in old wood. For a man of taste, she did not know why the General would keep such things, but perhaps they were family heirlooms.

The chest was locked, with a large old-fashioned clasp, but Catherine had seen a key-ring inside the desk, and when she retrieved it she instantly noticed a key that looked just the sort of age and shape to fit into the lock of the chest. And fit it did. Delighted with her own perseverance and deductive powers, Catherine had no trouble in opening the lock, and then lifting the top of the chest, which took some strength. Holding her breath, she looked within.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Blog Tour Guest Post + Giveaway: Royal Beauty Bright by Ryan Byrnes

Please join me in welcoming Ryan Byrnes to Let Them Read Books! Ryan is touring the blogosphere with his debut historical novel, Royal Beauty Bright. Ryan wrote this book in high school (!!!), and he's here today with a guest post about the inspiration for his novel, the Christmas truce of 1914. Read on and enter to win a copy of Royal Beauty Bright! And if you'd like to buy a copy, Ryan is donating all proceeds to the Immigrant and Refugee Women’s Program. How cool is that?

After an autistic man ends up in the trenches of World War I, a nun-turned-journalist dances with treason to care for him, and a candy store clerk posing as Santa Claus risks everything to bring him home.

While in France, Luther meets Ethyl, an aspiring journalist who tries to expose his plight. As Christmas approaches, Luther sinks into despair and Ethyl is threatened with punishment.

Back home, Luther’s brother Jim enlists with the British Army Postal Service. His job, delivering sacks of Christmas gifts to the frontline soldiers, is a cover for his plan to rescue Luther. The plan is made even more difficult by three refugee girls convinced that Jim, with his bag of gifts, is Santa Claus.

Jim and Ethyl finally cross paths with Luther on Christmas Day, 1914, when they witness one of the most uplifting spectacles of nonviolence in history, when thousands of soldiers broke orders and refused to fire on each other during the Christmas Truce of 1914.


Peace on Earth (at least for the Holidays)
By Ryan Byrnes

105 Christmases ago, during one of the most destructive wars in history, the most dangerous thing a person could say was, “Sorry, General, we just don’t feel like fighting anymore.”

I find it ironic that hundreds of novels describe the fighting of WWI, yet only a few show us the ever-hopeful non-violence of WWI. It was a war where a soldier once sprinted into an enemy trench just to gift them a chocolate cake; it was a war where enemy soldiers disobeyed direct orders just to play soccer together; it was a war where opposing armies dropped their weapons for a month-long Christmas party.

So how come nobody tells these stories?

Non-violence is even more subversive, and yes, more dangerous, than the comforting narrative of good versus bad. Given the state of our world, we need these hopeful stories more than ever.
Hi. I’m the author, Ryan Byrnes, and I wrote this novel in high school. That’s me doing some research.

I was deeply moved to pick up a pen when I researched the hidden stories of WWI, realizing how much they apply to us in the 21st century. I read about the uncomfortably familiar refugee crisis of 1914, where thousands of families in Belgium fled the German soldiers, walking across entire countries while trying to create a sense of normalcy for their children, celebrating Christmas in tents in the French countryside. I read about candy-makers all over England banding together to send chocolates as holiday gifts to the troops because candy was the only trade they knew. I read about children who sold their Christmas tree ornaments as scrap metal to help the family. I read about a princess who sent two million brass boxes as Christmas presents to the troops. Luckily, I was able to obtain one of those brass boxes during my research. The 105-year-old artifact is pictured below.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Blog Tour Review: This Earl of Mine by Kate Bateman

From the Back Cover:

Introducing the Bow Street Bachelors—men who work undercover for London’s first official police force—and the women they serve to protect. . .and wed?

Shipping heiress Georgiana Caversteed is done with men who covet her purse more than her person. Even worse than the ton’s lecherous fortune hunters, however, is the cruel cousin determined to force Georgie into marriage. If only she could find a way to be . . . widowed? Georgie hatches a madcap scheme to wed a condemned criminal before he’s set to be executed. All she has to do is find an eligible bachelor in prison to marry her, and she’ll be free. What could possibly go wrong?

Benedict William Henry Wylde, scapegrace second son of the late Earl of Morcott and well-known rake, is in Newgate prison undercover, working for Bow Street. Georgie doesn’t realize who he is when she marries him—and she most certainly never expects to bump into her very-much-alive, and very handsome, husband of convenience at a society gathering weeks later. Soon Wylde finds himself courting his own wife, hoping to win her heart since he already has her hand. But how can this seductive rogue convince brazen, beautiful Georgie that he wants to be together…until actual death do they part?

My Thoughts:

This was my first time reading Kate Bateman, but it won't be my last. The inciting incident is rather far-fetched, as are a few other elements of the plot, particularly at the climax, but the characters are so fun, so well-developed, the chemistry and romance between them so well-depicted, that I didn't care. I was happy to go along for the sake of a good story. And I love a good opposites-attract romance. Georgie is a sheltered, wealthy society girl, jaded because no suitor has ever seen past her money to the woman beneath, and Benedict is a street-wise second son who's had to fight for everything he has, and he doesn't care a fig for Georgie's money. It was a joy to watch these two slowly come to realize they were perfect for each other.

It was very refreshing to read about an independent businesswoman during this age, and one that actually knows about business. This is not just an aspect of the story that is glossed over. As heiress to her father's shipping company, Georgie has spent her life learning the ropes, and she knows her stuff. She's earned respect from the men in her field, and her knowledge comes in handy in Benedict's investigation. They make a good team. I was also pleased that Benedict's time as a soldier in the war was not glossed over or depicted as something resolved by the presence of a good woman. Though he does not let it take over his life, the reader gets the sense that his experience will always be with him, and I think that's very realistic.

Despite a few outrageous moments and the subplot involving Georgie's rather ridiculous younger sister, I loved the main characters and their witty banter and steamy sexual tension set against the backdrop of a high-stakes investigation. I'm looking forward to reading from Kate Bateman's backlist while waiting for the next book in this series.

My Rating:  4 Stars out of 5

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This Earl of Mine is on a blog tour!