Review of A Motherland’s Daughter, A Fatherland’s Son by Ellie Midwood

motherlandDescription: Poland, 1939. 

A country, torn by the occupation of two unlikely allies – Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. 
On the border of this newly divided territory, a young Wehrmacht Unteroffizier, Werner and a Soviet Military Interpreter, Kira meet and fall in love against all odds. 
Both forced into the military against their will, they wish for one thing only – a peaceful life together. Everything is set for Kira to defect and marry Werner… 

But the German army invades the Soviet Union, and now the two lovers are forced to fight against each other on the opposite sides of the frontline; trying to keep their humanity as more and more atrocities are committed by both armies. They have to decide if their love is stronger than the devastation surrounding them or succumb to the hate as sworn enemies should.

Partially based on true events, this novel will take you on the unforgettable journey through war-torn countries, where hope can be lost in no-man’s-land, and one will have to go to great lengths not to lose sight of it.

I have had the pleasure of reading two of Ellie Midwood’s books previously and enjoyed them thoroughly, and A Motherland’s Daughter, A Fatherland’s Son is no different. Reading one of her books is a total-immersion experience into life during World War II. Midwood’s vast knowledge of that time period is remarkable and is a big part of what gives her stories depth: the intensity of the backdrop of a horrific war. She doesn’t skimp on the details of the brutality of war, either. What she writes is gut-wrenchingly real.

The second element that gives her stories amazing depth is her characters. She develops them to such a degree that I cannot help but laugh, cry, and scream with them. In this story, we follow the lives of lovers Kira and Werner, a Russian woman and a German man who fall in love in 1939 right before Germany declares war on Russia.

The story is told in an alternating point-of-view style, where one chapter is told from Kira’s point of view and the next chapter from Werner’s. From this first-person perspective, I get into the head of the characters even more. They start out as idealistic young people, who believe in love and that they have their whole lives ahead of them to do what they wish. They will marry and be happy. The war devastates their lives, throwing them into the pile with millions of others whose lives are also being ruined by the horror of war.

Can they still come out of all this after the war is through as the same people? After seeing and performing awful deeds? After experiencing some of the worst moments of humanity and their own lives? Lovers whose countries dictate they are enemies?

Kira is enlisted as a sniper in the Red Army. Werner serves as a lieutenant in the Wehrmacht. The story follows the events of the war through its end in 1945 on the eastern front. It’s easy to look back at history and want to blame the Germans, to mark them at the bad guys, but when you realize that many of these soldiers were just young man, pretty much boys, it breaks my heart. So much loss of life for both sides, which is clearly shown in this story. So much senseless death. It’s no wonder both Kira and Werner question if they are who they were when they met, if love and hope still hold any meaning in a world shattered by such darkness.

The stakes are high, ridiculously, impossibly high. I kept turning the pages because I needed to believe that the inherent goodness in people, especially Kira and Werner, would win, that victory of the Allies during the war is one thing, but getting down to the level of person-to-person, victory of the heart matters, too. Love wins, right?

I happily give this book five stars!

Favorite quotes:

“You’re somebody’s son too. Under those uniforms, you’re all the same.” That simple Russian peasant knows more about life than the most enlightened of our philosophers…

A truly strange phenomenon war is, which always starts due to a lack of understanding. Yet, once former enemies find each other in such close proximity and strike a conversation for the first time, when the first bread is broken to feed yesterday’s foe, all animosity suddenly loses its power over the men who used to tear into each other’s throats, and humanity renews its hope in itself once again.

Purchase a copy of this book on Amazon.

Review of Happy Couples by Rick Monddarrell

happycouplesDescription (from Amazon): When you hear the words HAPPY COUPLES you naturally think of two people in LOVE. Part of this book is about that kind of couple. But, it’s also about the fact that on this planet there are a COUPLE OF GENDERS, not just one. And it’s about the fact that if all members of this couple enjoyed true equality it would make for a Happier couple – all over the world. Because this would make a better world for all of us.

As I write in the book, in my opinion, the greatest tragedy that we never talk about, is the almost complete suppression of female ability since the beginning of time. When half the human race is suppressed and kept from being all it could be,the entire human race is suppressed and prevented from being all it should be – all over the world. When everyone has equality, and are allowed to be all they can, the result is a better world for all of us. So no, this book isn’t anti my Father’s gender. It’s pro My Mother’s gender. But please remember that because equality makes a better world for all of us, this book is actually pro both my parents gender – all over the world.

THANK YOU

Note: I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Gender inequality still exists today, as hard as that may be for some to believe in 2018, especially in a country like the United States. Just start talking to women, however, and you will quickly discover that women are still paid less than men to do the same types of jobs. Certain kinds of work, especially related to raising children and managing the home, are often referred to as “women’s work.” There are men who still exhibit inappropriate behavior toward women in the workplace and on the street.

Happy Couples is filled with poetry and short stories about gender equality and also about appreciating women. The fact that this book was written by a man is touching to me, a woman, reviewing it. I appreciate a man taking the time to write a book on this important topic. Although the principles behind the stories should be obvious, sadly, there are still many in the world who would disagree or who are ignorant.

The stories are simple and direct, sometimes a bit too direct, as the author explains in clear prose the message he is conveying. I appreciate him working these messages into stories, however.

There are some punctuation and grammatical issues with the book, which could easily be fixed if the book is read by an editor, but they don’t detract from the central message of the book.

Happy Couples is a short, easy read and is food for thought.

4 out of 5 stars

Purchase Happy Couples on Amazon.

Excerpt from A Laughing Matter of Pain (Chapter 25)

 

harrykathy“Can you believe it? We’re married.” Her eyes dance in the low light from the bedside lamp.
I lean in and kiss her. “I’m the luckiest guy alive.”
The smile falters on her lips. Her eyes go glassy. A tear slips past, trailing down her left cheek.
“What’s wrong, doll?” I cup that cheek and kiss her again.
“I-I never thought this day would come.”
“What? Why not?” My heart hammers, afraid she’s having doubts.
A tiny, nervous laugh escapes. “Not because of you. You misunderstand. I mean, I didn’t think I’d ever get married, period. I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting me.” Her gaze shifts to the mattress.
I wipe another tear away with my thumb, kiss the spot where it fled from her eye. “You remember what I said all those months ago? That you’re the most beautiful person I know?”
She lifts her gaze and tries to smile. “Yeah.”
“I meant that, Kath. Every word. I ain’t romantic. I mess up a lot. But you’re the one thing I know I got right. You deserve to be treated like a queen. To never hurt again.”
“I don’t deserve you, Harry.”
“Hush, now. None of that.” I pull her to me.
Our kisses deepen. Her hands caress the length of my exposed back. Our breathing heavy, we pull apart, resting our foreheads on each other’s.
“We don’t hafta do anything you ain’t ready for,” I whisper.
“No, Harry. I…I’m ready.” Her smile seems uncertain.
“You sure?” I run my hand through her curls.
“It’s you. It’s time we made our own memories.”
I kiss her again, then ease her down onto the mattress, with the deliberate care of handling something sacred. I close my eyes and let my heart and body show her my love.

A Laughing Matter of Pain
by Cynthia Hilston
(coming fall 2018)

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Review of The Other Half of Me by Jennifer Sivec

theotherhalfSummary: Maggie and Sam’s love was forever, until it wasn’t.

Is it ever too late to go back home?

Maggie Whitaker had always dreamed about the same boy even though she’d never met him.

A loner, with an overly critical mother and a head full of self-doubt, she has spent most of her life isolated. That is, until she meets Trip. He becomes her only friend until he cruelly betrays her, making her feel even more alone.

Sam has endured far more than anyone has ever realized. When he meets Maggie, he feels as though he knows her immediately. They fall for each other hard and fast and Maggie feels as though she’s been waiting for him her entire life.

Their life together is beautiful as they make plans for a future together, until Sam is in a horrible accident and suddenly everything changes.

When Maggie finds herself alone with no explanation, she does her best to move on with her life. She realizes that erasing Sam from her heart is close to impossible, until Dylan.

As she’s finally about to have her chance at love, the unexpected happens and Maggie must decide if love is ever just enough, or if she needs more to be complete.

Caution: This story contains themes of sexual assault, addiction, and mild sexual situations.

Note: I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I am the first to admit that I am a sucker for a good romance and a big fan of damaged characters who are trying to rebuild their lives. Being an author myself, I write about these themes, so as I opened this book and knew that it was highly rated, I was looking forward to a great story.

What I came away with was a good story, not a great one. I didn’t feel the ground move beneath me the way I was expecting when going into this.

Maggie lacks self-confidence because of her critical mother. Her mother is passive-aggressive. I often wanted to smack her for the rude tone and underlying jabs in what she says to her own daughter, even if her words hold some good stuff. So when unpopular Maggie, at age 15, finally attracts the attention of a boy at school, she is completely taken in. Poor Maggie is ruined by Trip, a boy who wanted one thing and one thing only from her.

That type of encounter leaves a scar on a girl’s heart, making it hard to open up to another guy. I felt badly for her and wanted her to find real love.

A few years pass and she goes to college, where she meets Sam. Sam is a jock who doesn’t think he’s smart and asks her to tutor him. He is popular with the girls, so Maggie is cautious when she agrees to help him. Their relationship quickly grows deeper, and they express that they feel they have always known each other. Next thing you know, Sam and Maggie are engaged and a few more years have passed.

This is the point where I felt disappointed. I would have loved to have read more about their relationship over those years. As this is a novella and therefore not a long story, it would have benefited from being developed more and made into a novel. I just didn’t believe their feelings and claims of having always felt a connection. That was too cliche, cheapening the bond that could have been expanded through more storytelling. There was a lot of telling and not a lot of showing, making the pacing off during this part of the book.

Then Sam is in a terrible car accident and is laid up in bed, unconscious. Maggie is left wondering if he will ever wake up. This tragedy pulled at my heartstrings. Then Maggie goes through a dreamlike sequence of visiting different parts of Sam’s childhood and seeing how his father walked out on them when he was young and how is mother had drug problems. Sam never felt like he deserved Maggie.

I don’t want to spoil too much, but more years pass. Maggie loves again, but as before, the pacing was off. The author seems to rush to get to the part of the story she wants to tell the most and skips over years of Maggie’s life where she could have shown the reader how her heart healed (although not completely) and how she managed to fall in love again. I feel cheated by not being given these details.

However, the end does save a lot of my criticisms. There is some lovely dialogue between Maggie and Sam, some downright gut-wrenching, raw emotion. The story delivered in the end. This was a short, easy read, but I wanted more of a good thing. I wanted this love story to be something that tore my heart to pieces and then mended it back together again. What I got was some damage to my heart and an easy fix.

4 out of 5 stars

Purchase The Other Half of Me (The Coming Home Series Book 1) on Amazon

 

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Excerpt from Hannah’s Rainbow (Opening Scenes)

To some looking back, the world seemed a simpler place a hundred years ago.  People left their doors unlocked. Neighbors waved and said hellos and how-do-you-dos.  Children could play outside all day, no matter the season, and return home safe for dinner at night.

        Several modest, nearly identical houses lined Madison Avenue, all constructed around the turn of the century.  There were the Foleys, the Thompsons, the Gardners, the Halleys, the Bradfords. And the Rechtharts.

Augustus Rechthart had met Lucille Grosner in the summer of 1899.  Gus had been delivering some goods to the local general store when he accidentally had bumped into a young woman coming out of the shop…

“Oh, excuse me, ma’am,” he said, lowering the wooden crate.

“No need for your excuses,” the young lady returned, her eyes challenging him.

Gus detected the slightest grin on her face.  He hastily set aside the load.

“Might I buy you a drink to make up for my carelessness, Miss-?”

“Grosner.  Lucille Grosner.  And yes, I suppose so, although if you’re thinking of getting me drunk-”

“No, not that kind of drink, Lucille,” Gus replied, laughing, a little embarrassed.  He was testing his luck by using her given name.

“Very well, then.  And my friends call me Lucy.  And you are?”

“Oh, right.”  Gus smiled easily, relieved.  “Augustus Rechthart, although no one in their right mind ever calls me that.  Plain, old Gus is just fine, Lucy. Are you Lucy to me?”

“Well, that depends on rather a lot of things, Gus.  Since I am in my right mind, I’ll call you Gus, and since I think we might well become better acquainted, yes, you may call me Lucy.”

After that initial conversation, the two had struck up a courtship that led to an engagement at Christmas.

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Review of Dante’s Garden: Mystery and Magic in Bomarzo by Teresa Culter-Broyles

dantesgardenSummary: Dante’s Garden is the story of what happens when Frank Farnese, a book collector from 2017, falls through Hell’s Mouth, a strange sculpture in Bomarzo, Italy.

In 1570, Lucrezia Romano and famed antiquarian Pyrrho Ligorio welcome him when he awakens in a garden, from what he thinks is a dream but isn’t. Together they must figure out how to put the world right again.

The Inquisition, an extraordinary visit to Venice, and the dreams of Duke Francesco Orsini entwine to pull them all deeper into adventure, danger, love, and the hardest decisions of their lives.

Dante’s Garden weaves fact and fiction, history and imagination, to tell the story of Frank and Lucrezia, and the connection that, finally, may not be strong enough to hold them safe as time splits apart.

Note: I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

As a lover of Italy and history, I was looking forward to reading this book. The moment I began reading, the author’s imagination and intense knowledge of Italian culture and heritage mingled to form a beautiful tapestry of a tale.

In current-day, book collector Frank Farnese boards a plane in New York and travels to Italy to meet Pasquale and Sandra Ciacionne, who have a 16th century Aldine Press copy of Dante’s La Commedia. The book is old but defective, due to two upside-down pages at the back, a burn mark, and a note left in the front…a note that seems like it was written to Frank.

In 16th century Italy, a young and beautiful, well-read lady named Lucrezia Romano has dreams of adventure. She meets the antiquarian Pyrrho Ligorio (based on the real Ligorio), and they become instant friends. He travels to the Duke Vicino Orsini’s palazzo to work on his garden of grotesques and stone monsters and invites Lucrezia and her parents along. Lucrezia will be Ligorio’s model for a statue of Ceres.

Meanwhile, in current-day Italy, Frank visits the Garden of Monsters (the Duke’s garden from the 16th century and a real place). He has the copy of Dante with him as he tours the garden alone and it grows dark. A thunderstorm ensues, and he takes cover in one of the sculptures, the Mouth of Hell, but not before seeing the statue of Ceres. He is drawn to the statue’s face in particular.

In the 16th century, the Duke has a ball. The party guests are in costume and are mingling in the gardens. Lucrezia is among them. A thunderstorm breaks out.

After the storm ends, Frank emerges from the Mouth of Hell, only to find himself surrounded by what he thinks are reenactors. He is imprisoned by the Duke for questioning, as it’s strange that a man just seemed to appear out of nowhere during the storm, while all the guests were taking cover.

Frank is confused and grows angry, as he thinks these reenactors are having him on. In time, however, he understands that he has traveled through time. Vicino, Ligorio, and Lucrezia are among the small group who believe that Frank (Francesco as they call him) is from the future.

Besides Frank’s sudden appearance, other strange things start happening in the garden. Statues seem to be moving. Glowing letters appear at the entrance of the Mouth of Hell at night, saying, “Abandon all thought, you who enter here,” echoing the warning in Dante’s writing.

A story of adventure and love ensues as Lucrezia, Frank, Ligorio, and Lucrezia’s father travel to Venice to visit the Aldine Press to procure another copy of the Dante, which they think is Frank’s ticket back to the future. There is also real concern that word of what’s going on in the garden will get back to the Church, and Vicino, Frank, and Ligorio will be questioned and possibility burn for it.

The relationship between Frank and Lucrezia develops as they travel together. One of my favorite parts of the story was when they were in Venice and were in love in what many consider is the most beautiful city in the world. There are some lovely descriptions of Venice, which echoes a couple torn by circumstance who is in love and just living in the moment. Having visited Venice, I can attest to the fact that you can’t take a bad picture there. I felt like I was right there with Frank and Lucrezia. While I longed for them to somehow find a way to stay together, the larger problem of the Church and the happenings in the garden tugged at my heart, knowing this would be a heart-wrenching decision.

Back at the palazzo, the Duke makes some startling discoveries about his late wife and blood magic. The Church begins to question him and others, and it’s a race to see how everything will pan out.

The more I read the book, the more the momentum grew. The climax is indeed a strong one. The ending made me cry, brought me right there with Frank and Lucrezia. More than the mystical and magical aspects of this wonderful tale is that it’s a love story at heart, and one that will stick with me for a long time to come.

5 out of 5 stars

Purchase Dante’s Garden: Magic & Mystery in Bomarzo on Amazon

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Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post book reviews, poetry, excerpts from my books, updates on my writing projects, and the occasional blog. 

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Excerpt from A Laughing Matter of Pain

December begins with a snowstorm. Business is bad for a whole week. The advantage to this? I spend more time with Kathy. In the small house, there’s not much room for privacy. Dawson and Betty are never more than a room away. The four of us play cards or listen to the evening radio programs. Betty never complains about jazz like Ma did, although Dawson usually nods off within ten minutes of the radio going on. Betty sits with a book in one of the armchairs near the window while her husband snores away in the other. Most evenings, Kathy and I sit on the couch, although sometimes we remain in the kitchen long after dinner, talking over coffee and one after another cigarette for me.

The second week of December, the weather breaks. Dawson and I work all day in the cold, my fingers numb by the time dinner comes. After another busy day, Kathy’s parents rest in their usual spots in the living room while Kathy and I sit at the kitchen table. The crackle of the fire and Dawson’s snores are the only sounds.

“Has your dad always slept like he could sleep through a war?” I ask.

Kathy giggles. “Yeah, it’s pretty bad sometimes. I don’t know how Mom sleeps in the same room as him. I don’t suppose you snore?”

I shrug. “I wouldn’t know. My brother and me shared a room growing up. He never said anything. Why? You afraid I’d keep you up?” Realizing what I’ve said, I blush.

“That would assume sleeping in the same bed as me.” Kathy half-smiles and wrinkles her nose at me.

“Well, maybe…one day? I mean, if we ever, you know, married.” My blush deepens, as I know I’m getting ahead of myself.

“Are you asking?”

“Just…dreaming. A guy can dream, can’t he?”

“Nothing wrong with dreams.” Kathy takes my hand across the table. “Dreams are what keep us going through the hard times…and hope.”

“I like the sound of that. I think so, too.” I stare into her eyes, imaging her beautiful soul. “Your eyes are the same color as mine.” If we ever had kids together, they’d be sure to have blue eyes.

“You have nice eyes, Harry. And a nice smile.”

“A crooked smile, more like. My brother, Erik, was graced with the good looks in my family.” I laugh.

“Hmm, well, I don’t know what your brother looks like, but I don’t mind looking at you.”

“I’d rather look at you if it’s all the same.” I grin.

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My novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for $4.99 here.

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