Review of Final Mission: Zion – A World War 2 Thriller by Chuck Driskell

Final Mission: Zion - A World War 2 ThrillerFinal Mission: Zion – A World War 2 Thriller by Chuck Driskell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a powerful story of the resilience of the human spirit during times of atrocity and how ultimately our choices define us. Neil Reuter is an American who fought during the Great War and has since been employed by the War Department to carry out assassinations of enemies of the state. He has recently lost his wife, Emilee, and his unborn child to murder. Grieving and wondering what the point is of his wayward life, he receives a letter from his best friend and war buddy, Jakey. To make matters worse, Jakey has been killed overseas. Jakey entrusts Neil with an important mission: of transporting dozens of Jewish childish and their caretakers to Palestine and safety from Europe.

It’s 1938, and the Nazis are gaining power by the day, and war looms on the horizon. Neil accepts the mission, believing it will give him a purpose and something worthwhile to do, but getting to the children will prove a huge challenge. What plays out is a masterfully crafted story of survival, espionage, battle of wills, and a race against the powers that wish to stop Neil, including crazed and corrupt War Department leader Preston Lord and SS leader Anton Aying, two men who are guilty of horrific crimes.

In the midst of Neil’s journey, he encounters more death, more hatred, but also romance and hope. The further I got into the story, to more the thrill of the tale swept me into its pages. I couldn’t stop reading. But it wasn’t only needing to know what happens next that got to me. Many of the characters came alive. I wept with them. I cheered with them. Also for them. This story may be fiction, but its basis is on fact. Not so long ago in our history, events like this occurred, and those who endured those days are to be remembered, honored, and admired…and never forgotten.

It’s clear that the author has a clear grasp of history and military knowledge. What’s clearer is that often during the most harrowing of circumstances, such of World War II, some of the best stories of courage and dignity shine. Chuck Driskell knows how to weave such a tale.

View all my reviews

A Year in Review…and Looking Forward

In 2018, I…

  • finished two manuscripts (fifth and sixth)
  • completed about half of my seventh manuscript
  • edited my third manuscript with the help of my writers group
  • published my third book
  • attended a writers conference at my local library for the second time
  • attended the Algonkian Pitch Conference in New York City
  • got feedback from an agents and editors on my writing
  • wrote my second short story in the horror genre
  • won third place with that short story in a short story contest on A Writer’s Path
  • watched several videos through Allison Lindstrom’s Blogging Business Club
  • posted a poem and an excerpt weekly on my blog
  • posted regularly on my author Facebook page and occasionally on other social media
  • promoted my books with Freebooksy and Rachel’s Random Resources
  • gathered new readers
  • read and reviewed several indie author books
  • used buffer.com for active posting on my social media sites
  • continued attending my local library’s writer group (now for 2 years)
  • deepened my friendship with several people from my writers group
  • began attending a second writers group of women
  • participated in NaNoWriMo for the first time and wrote 52k words
  • am working on a book in a new genre for me: psychological thriller
  • read 48 books

In 2019, I plan to…

  • finish my seventh manuscript in February
  • focus on marketing and branding for a while
  • promote my published books
  • edit my fourth and fifth manuscripts
  • publish my fourth and fifth books
  • begin writing my eighth book
  • work on more short stories
  • enter more online contests
  • continue to actively engage on social media
  • continue to find new bloggers to follows
  • enrich my friendship with fellow writers and authors
  • keep reading

 

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Blogmas 2018 – Day 22 #christmas #blogmas #blogmas2018 #christmas2018

As Christmas approaches, may you see it through the eyes of a child, with the same innocent wonder as the shepherds gazing upon the Baby Jesus that first Christmas morning…

childswonder

Blogmas 2018 – Day 12 #christmas #blogmas #blogmas2018 #christmas2018

 
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Merry Christmas!! As a gift to you, I’m sharing with you a part of a Christmas chapter from my story, Hannah’s Rainbow, which is based on my late grandma’s life. I recreated what a typical Christmas morning was like at my house when growing up and Grandma would spend the night. While what’s below is fiction, it’s based in fact. I’ve also posted a short video of Grandma’s last Christmas with us, and you will see some parallels between the story and the real thing.

————-

When Hannah woke early on Christmas morning, she crossed the hallway to the bathroom and smiled at how Haley had lined up all of her personal items on the counter, completely unpacking her travel bag. After she finished her morning ablutions, Hannah made her way downstairs in her brightly-colored floral robe and fuzzy red and green slippers.
She entered the kitchen to find it empty, and hearing voices down in the finished basement, Hannah made to join the rest of the family. Haley came running up the steps, followed by Abbi.
“There are you, Grandma. We were waiting for you.”
“Did I hold you up?” Hannah asked, surprised. “It’s only 7:30.”
Abbi smirked, shaking her dark head. “You know my daughter, Mom. She was the first one up, counting the presents to see if she or her brother got more.”
“Grandma, come on downstairs,” Haley insisted.
“Wait, Haley,” Abbi said firmly. “Mom, do you want to grab a cup of tea before heading down?”
“Tea would be wonderful, thank you.”
The teapot was already on the stove. Hannah took a seat at the kitchen table to wait.
“How long is this gonna take?” the girl complained.
Just then, the kettle whistled.
“Hold your horses,” Abbi said, removing the teapot from the flame and pouring two cups, each with their own bag.
Hannah graciously accepted the cup, cradling the warm beverage between her hands. She kept from commenting on her daughter’s waste of good tea bags. Hannah had been using a single bag in the kettle for an entire week for decades now, and it had served her just fine.
“Are you ready now?” Haley asked. She looked out the window into the backyard and smiled. “Hey, it snowed!”
“What?” Abbi asked, frowning. She glanced briefly out the window. “That’s not snow, Haley. It’s just a thick frost.”
“Grandma, come here and look. What do you think?”
Amused, Hannah stood and ambled over to the window. Abbi was right about the frost, but not wishing to ruin her granddaughter’s spirit, she said, “What do you think?”
“Maybe it is frost, but it’s white, so it still counts as a white Christmas. Wouldn’t you say, Grandma?”
Hannah smiled warmly. “Yes, I think it does.”
Haley laughed. “See? I told you, Mom.”
“Yes, yes, let’s go downstairs now.”
Haley ran ahead of her mom and grandma. “She’s up, Dad! She’s finally coming, Randy!” she called down.
Hannah carefully followed Abbi down the carpeted stairs, remembering the youthful enthusiasm she once had on Christmas mornings.
By the time Hannah joined the rest of the family, Haley was already clutching a gift. For a moment, Hannah thought the girl was about to rip it open, but then Haley handed it to her.
“This is for you, Grandma. I made it.”
“Is it something you drink tea out of?” Randy asked.
“Oh, shut up.”
“Hey, can I help it if your hints are dead giveaways?” Randy teased.
Hannah smiled and said, “I wonder what it could be?”
She used her long thumbnail to undo the tape and the wrapping, careful not to rip it.
“Hurry up, Grandma. Who cares if you rip the paper?” Haley asked.
“Why waste good paper? It can be reused.”
“Mom, they don’t make wrapping paper like they used to. You don’t have to save it and iron it. It’s cheap enough to just buy new,” Abbi said.
In front of Hannah, Alan stood with his video camera. She didn’t comment on the younger generations’ lack of recycling, their tendency to rush through things, or their need to capture every minute of every special occasion on film. Wrapping removed, Hannah gazed down at the gift: a calendar.
“It’s lovely,” she said, flipping through the pages at ease. Haley had drawn a picture for every month and had written in the holidays.
“Thanks.” The girl glowed at her grandma’s praise. “I even wrote some Bible verses in it.”
Hannah pulled Haley into a hug and kissed her on the cheek. “I will hang it by my phone and use it. Thank you, Haley.”
“Now can we open our gifts?” asked Randy impatiently, his voice raw from coughing the past two weeks due to a bad cold.
“Go ahead,” Hannah said, motioning toward the tree. “They should be under there somewhere. Look for two envelopes.”
Frowning, the children darted toward the tree, digging through the horde of presents until they each came away with a red envelope. Hannah had taped a candy cane to each one, and Randy was already undoing the wrapping and biting into it. Haley set the candy aside and opened the envelope.
“Fifty dollars!” she and her brother exclaimed simultaneously.
“What do you kids say to your grandma?” asked Abbi.
“Oh, thank you, Grandma!” Haley cried, half-jumping from her seated position.
“Yeah, thanks, Grandma,” Randy said, more subdued but clearly pleased.
“You’re welcome,” Hannah replied. “This way, you can get something you want.”
“Or put it into savings,” Abbi said.
“Mom,” Haley moaned, “we put our birthday money into savings.”
Hannah was happy to see her grandkids smiling, although a part of her mind wandered to Glen’s kids. Abbi caught Hannah’s brief scowl and shot a questioning look at her mother. Hannah forced a smile, her warm countenance in place. She would see the rest of her family soon enough.
The family took the next hour to open gifts, and Haley and Randy argued over who would hold the video camera while their dad opened his presents.
“Neither of you if you can’t hold it still,” Alan said. “That camcorder is my baby, and I won’t have you breaking it.”
“You and your technology, Alan,” Abbi replied. “Two years ago, it was that VCR for six hundred dollars, and now you blow a thousand on this thing.”
“I told you that you didn’t have to get me anything for Christmas, honey.”
“Yeah, if you do come up with a list, you always go to the store and buy it before the event, anyway.”
The argument continued as Abbi and Alan walked back upstairs. The kids were putting some of their gifts away in their rooms, leaving Hannah alone for a few minutes. The tea cup sat empty on the small table next to her chair. She gazed at the lights on the tree, watching them blur, and Hannah touched her cheek to find it covered in tears as her thoughts drifted to Edward.
“Oh, Eddy,” she whispered. “I wish you could’ve been here to see your grandkids grow. We shared some lovely Christmases together, didn’t we? I do wonder what you would think of how things have turned out. Glen is so distant most of the time ever since you left us.”
Hannah gasped when something landed on her lap, and she gazed down to find Haley’s cat, Calliope, nuzzling her hand. Hannah rubbed the cat’s chin, and Cally purred as she settled onto Hannah’s soft robe.
“Were you talking to someone?” came Haley’s voice from the steps.
“Oh, just Cally here. She’s keeping me company while your mom gets breakfast ready.”
Haley scampered over to her grandma’s side and sat on the floor. “Cally only likes Mom and me… and you, Grandma. She’s such a fraidy cat.”
“She seems perfectly content right now. Is breakfast ready?”
“Yeah, that’s what I came down to tell you.”
Hannah gently picked up the cat and placed her on the floor. She followed her exuberant granddaughter to the kitchen, gazing one last time at the tree.

Hannah’s Rainbow is available on Amazon.

Blogmas 2018 – Day 8 #christmas #blogmas #blogmas2018 #christmas2018

 

A Merry Christmas

Smiles frozen in time decorate ruddy faces1980
And stare back at me, all bundled and warm
In holiday sweaters and knitted hats.
My fingers gently grace the baby
Who was once me in the old Polaroid,
The white tree with the red bulbs
And our stockings with our names in the background.
Grandma gazes back at me with the kindest eyes,
Her knobby fingers carefully unwrapping a gift,
Her patience to save the paper for another year.
The turkey still looks fresh out of the oven,
And I can almost smell the pies on the dining room table,grandmaonxmas
As all the family is gathered ‘round,
Ready to bless each other and the food.
Pictures are our looking glasses into the past,
Along with cherished memories of loved ones.
But as I look around me now,
I see the same smiles with those rosy cheeks
And get to actually hear the laughter and tales
That come with them.
The baby is my own son,
In whose eyes I witness the magic again,
And there hangs his stocking from our fireplace.
My parents are the grandparents, so happy and proud,
Bringing with them their own traditions from times past.2016
The meal is prepared before us to enjoy,
And we are still a family, still thankful to be so blessed.
This is the present, ever-fleeting and ever-changing,
Which is what makes it so special.
Life’s circle continues to turn as I age,
But it is beautiful,
And every Christmas is another reminder
Of how precious every moment is.
But lest we forget there is Someone much bigger than all this,
Let me just remind myself and everyone here
That Jesus is the true reason for our celebration.
In Him is our past, present, and future,
And that is a merry Christmas, indeed.

–written in 2010

 

Blogmas 2018 – Day 7 #christmas #blogmas #blogmas2018 #christmas2018

In the spirit of the 12 Days of Christmas, I’m giving you 12 Acts of Kindness you can do in the season of giving!

  1. Support a friend’s or a local small business by buying gifts from them instead of big chains.
  2. Donate to a charity that’s close to heart
  3. Donate old clothes, toys, and other household objects to the Salvation Army (NOT Goodwill–do a Google search and see why)…and clean out your stuff!
  4. Donate to a stranger’s GoFundMe or something similar.
  5. Leave a note of encouragement and a $5 Starbucks gift card in a public restroom
  6. Bake cookies for your hairdresser, insurance agent, cleaning person, etc.
  7. Send a “thinking of you” card to a friend.
  8. Put a little note saying you love them in your loved one’s lunch box.
  9. Hold the door, smile and say hello to strangers, etc., even when you don’t feel like it.
  10. Put money in someone’s parking meter that’s low.
  11. Leave your shopping cart with the quarter in it at Aldi.
  12. Give a homeless person food or serve at a soup kitchen.

 

Blogmas 2018 – Day 5 #christmas #blogmas #blogmas2018 #christmas2018

‘Tis the season…

To be jolly?

To go into debt?

To give.

Because God first gave to us His son, Jesus.

In the midst of the craziness of shopping, stressing, overspending, and stressing some more, it’s easy to lose sight of what matters.  Whether you’re Christian or not, whatever reason you celebrate Christmas–whether religious, secular, or both–I believe that this season can bring out the very best in people.

Goodwill toward men, indeed.

I went into this holiday season trying to not overspend on gifts.  Having three young kids, it’s easy to fall into the trap of buying them things they just don’t need, especially when they’re inundated with commercials for the latest hot toys.  What five-year-old doesn’t tell their mom at least once an hour, “I want that, Mom?”

It’s a trap.

Seriously.

No joke.

I kid you not.

Kid.  Ha, I was talking about kids and wanting stuff.  Anyway, pardon my bad sense of humor.  I digress…

I fell into the same money pit this year by spending too much on my family, and I was torn between wanting to give, give, give and wanting to take some of the things back.  In the end, a mom’s desire to see her kids’ excitement on Christmas morning when it came time to open the gifts won out.

However, I am vowing to go about this insanity differently next year.  I want to donate or give to charity the same amount that I spend in gifts on my family.  That’s not an original idea, but I heard it somewhere, and it stuck with me.  I’m up for the challenge, and I’m not all talk. (Update: This was written in 2016. Now it’s 2018, and I am happy to say I lived up to this challenge of giving equally to charity what I spent on gifts, as well as having done so in 2017.)

See, when I put my mind and heart to something, I can accomplish it.  Case in point: Almost two years ago, I sat down and said I was serious about writing an original story.  I would write at least fifteen minutes a day.  If I missed a day, okay, but I wouldn’t let more than two days pass without writing.  Ten months later, I had my first draft completed.  That was almost a year ago.  Now, I have the first draft of a second novel completed that’s currently being read and edited by a writers group at the library.  I have self-published my first novel after going through the arduous process of querying a hundred literary agents and getting many rejections, but I kept at it.  I am well into writing my third novel.  I have the first chapter written of my fourth and have an idea for a fifth. (2017 update: I have finished drafts of novels three and four.  I am well into my fifth.  I self-published novel number two.  I have ideas for six and seven.) (2018 update: I published my third novel, have finished drafts of novels four, five, and six, and am well underway in seven.)

pablo (13)So, if I can write and be dedicated to it, I can be more generous next Christmas.  I can give more to those who really are in need and give less to my own family, who already has plenty of things.  We don’t need more stuff.

You might think, “Okay, that’s all well and good to make plans about what you’re going to do next year, but what are you doing about it right now?”

I do regularly give to charity.  I sponsor two children through Children International, but for me, that wasn’t enough this Christmas.  I became aware of a family in need.  The father had just lost his job, and having a kid to support, you can understand why I wanted to help out.  Also, this family is close to heart, so if there was something I could do to help them, it would be all the more important to me.

I didn’t have the means to personally give them much as far as money goes, so I organized a Go Fund Me campaign and rallied my friends and family for several days to give to this family.  It was a beautiful thing to see the response.  Many gave, and it’s not a matter of how much you give, but giving what you can.  In the end, I was so happy to be able to give them a sizable amount of money to help them pay their bills and put food on the table, and while I was a part of that, I cannot and do not take full credit.  So many people stepped up, and I love that.

Another friend told me about the local Elk’s Club wanting to give a large box of food and gifts to local families in need, and she thought of the family I was supporting.  Needless to say, I got in touch with the Elk’s Club, and they were so generous and kind to deliver such a box to this family. (2017 update: This family is doing well this Christmas, although her sister lost a child and doesn’t have the money to pay for much of a Christmas for her other kids because of funeral costs. Not only did the family I helped last year help this devastated family, but I was also moved to send them some gifts. There is always someone in need who you can bless.)

In the midst of all this, I have my own troubles, but to help others lifts the burden of my problems.  I firmly believe that reaching out and helping others is one of the best ways to help yourself.  Everyone benefits.  There is nothing lost, for, you see, love has no end.  It’s funny how the more love you give, the more love grows.  The more love you receive.

So, I did my little part in paying it forward.  I had no expectation of getting anything in return from those I helped, so you can imagine how moved I was to be on the receiving end of the generosity of others who felt they wished to help my family.  I never asked for it, nor expected it.

A Christmas card arrived from my church a couple of weeks ago with a hundred dollars in gift cards to a grocery store!  The card was simply signed “From your friends at church.”  I have recently expressed my heartache to some friends at church about the struggles my autistic son and my family are going through, so I can only guess that someone did this kind deed because of that.  I cannot be sure.

As if that weren’t enough, on Christmas Eve, my husband and I dressed to play Mary and Joseph and were waiting in a classroom for our entrance into the sanctuary when a friend approached me and handed me an envelope.  “It’s not really a Christmas gift,” she said, “but a couple of us from our ChristCare group (a Bible study group of sorts) wanted to help you out.”  I smiled, thanked her, and tucked the envelope in my purse.  Hours later, after the service was over, the kids were in bed, and the presents were under the tree, I opened the envelope to find three hundred dollars inside and a note that said, “For your son’s therapies.”  Tears streamed down my face for the second time this Christmas season because of the kindness of others.

So, as another year winds down, I am thankful.  It started around Thanksgiving with the extra intention of choosing kindness.  As Christmas came upon us, I made the extra effort to pay it forward in terms of generosity, just one form of kindness.  And it certainly came back around to touch me.

If you don’t believe that what goes around comes around, maybe you’ll think my story is just that–a nice little story.  To me and many others, it’s more.  Much more.  May we all go into the New Year with a sense of wanting to reach outside ourselves, and you’ll see.  It will come back to you.

Merry Christmas!

(I felt it was worth reposting this, even though it was written two years ago. The message is still the same: pay it forward.)