Review of Indian Paintbrush (Carson Chronicles #3) by John A. Heldt

My reviews for the first two book in the series:
Review of River Rising (Carson Chronicles Book 1) by John A. Heldt
Review of The Memory Tree (Carson Chronicles Book 2) by John A. Heldt

indianpaintbrushDescription: Arizona, December 1943. After surviving perilous six-month journeys to 1889 and 1918, the Carsons, five siblings from the present day, seek a respite in their home state. While Adam and Greg settle down with their Progressive Era brides, Natalie and Caitlin start romances with wartime aviators and Cody befriends a Japanese family in an internment camp. The time travelers regroup, bury old ghosts, and continue their search for their missing parents. Then old problems return, new ones emerge, and a peaceful hiatus becomes a race for survival. In INDIAN PAINTBRUSH, the sequel to RIVER RISING and THE MEMORY TREE, seven young adults find love and adventure as they navigate the home front during the height of World War II.

 

Having read and reviewed John Heldt’s previous two books in the Carson Chronicles series, I was looking forward to reading this one for a couple of reasons. One, I very much enjoyed the first two books, and two, I love reading stories that take place during World War II.

The Carson siblings embark on their third time-travel journey in Indian Paintbrush while they continue their search for their time-traveling parents, Tim and Caroline. In the first two books, they traveled to 1889 and 1918, following an itinerary left behind by their father, which was to be used to find the parents in case something happened to them. While the Carson siblings have almost crossed paths with their parents, they haven’t yet been successful in finding them.

The search for the elder Carsons is just the setup, however. Much of the meat of the story revolves around the time period. Heldt doesn’t disappoint with rich historic detail about what life was like during World War II. Cody Carson, the youngest brother, is a medical supply driver, and one of his stops is a Japanese-American internment camp (Gila River Relocation Center). Another example of the time period is the aircraft-training facility, Thunderbird Field, where three of the Carson siblings find employment, and the sisters, Natalie and Caitlin, date airmen. These were real locations in Arizona. I particularly enjoyed the meeting of celebrities Bob Hope, Rita Hayworth, and Orson Welles at a nightclub table and the dancing to Big Band music and the Glenn Miller Orchestra.

Not only does Heldt have a firm handle on writing historical fiction, but his characters are deep, invigorating, and realistic. The interactions between the siblings and their in-laws (Adam and Greg, the two oldest brothers, are married to women they met in 1889 and 1918) are portrayed with believable dialogue, some humor, and just the right amount of emotion.

The Carsons don’t go looking for trouble, but it seems that trouble is determined to follow them no matter what era they’re visiting. They endured a flood in 1889 and forest fires in 1918, and now, with the war going on, national security is high. The draft is in full force, and there are three Carson brothers who are the right age to serve their country. Also, in a time where knowledge of future events could be especially dangerous if spilled, the Carsons must be careful who they trust.

One of my favorite parts of the story involved the romances between Natalie Carson and airman Nick Mays and the romance between Caitlin Carson and Casey McCoy. Natalie, the older sister who has had a bad or tragic past with boyfriends, falls in love with a 30-year-old airman who is training pilots in the States. Nick is a man who is troubled by the loss of his wife at Pearl Harbor to the Japanese and wishes to enlist to get his revenge. Casey is a cadet who is in training to fly for the Army Air Force and hopes to serve, which would mean leaving Caitlin stateside. He’s got Southern charm and is Caitlin’s first true boyfriend. Both sisters fall deeply in love with these men, and the men return the affections. The task of telling their men about the future and asking them to come with them and give up everything they’ve ever known mounts as the story unfolds.

While Cody is helping at the internment camp, he befriends young, beautiful Naoko Watanabe. When he finds out her mother is dying from ovarian cancer and knows that she could be treated in 2017, the conflict of bringing a whole family to the future surfaces.

As the story unfolds, the stakes get higher. We meet some old friends from the first two books, which is a real delight, but more than anything, the way Heldt handles the reader’s investment in the characters is a balancing act of precision. I stand in awe at his ability to grip my emotions. I cried my eyes out at times. I was wooed and swayed in the sweet and steamy romance scenes. I was on the edge of my seat during a chase down. I didn’t want the story to end because I was a part of it and loved being there with the Carsons, yet I needed to know what happens next.

I’m happy to know there are at least two more books to look forward to in the series, so I don’t have to say goodbye to this family yet.

A big 5 out of 5 stars!

Purchase Indian Paintbrush on Amazon

Blogmas 2018 – Day 1 #christmas #blogmas #blogmas2018 #christmas2018

bingIncorporating history into historical fiction is fun. With Christmas on the verge, I am loving writing Christmas scenes right now. In my current work in progress novel, Rocks and Flowers in a Box, there is a scene in 1944 at Christmas where the two main characters put on Bing Crosby’s “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and dance, while hoping the protagonist’s brother will return from the war by next Christmas.

The song was originally recorded in October 1943 for soldiers to hear, as I can imagine many of them longed to be with their loved ones at Christmas. Every time I hear Crosby’s voice crooning this song, I think about that time period.

Here is an excerpt from my story featuring the scene I’m referring to:

“Do you think Chucky will come home soon?”


“The tide has been turning in the Allies’ favor for several months now. I believe you will see your brother next year.”

I stepped back enough to gaze into Tristan’s face. “It’s too bad Chucky can’t be home for Christmas.”

Something shifted in Tristan’s eyes. He released me abruptly and stepped away. “That reminds me.”

I furrowed my brow. “What are you up to?”

“Trust me.” He cast a smile back at me as he went to the record cabinet and retrieved a record. “I thought this would be the perfect touch for your sentiment.”

I approached him and looked at the album in his hands. The 78-RPM single of Bing Crosby’s “I’ll Be Home for Christmas (If Only in My Dreams)” rested in his grip. Tears formed and fell freely. “Yes, put it on.”

Tristan removed the record from the sleeve and placed it on the turntable. He set the needle on the record and turned the player on. Crosby’s gentle, crooning voice filled the room a moment later, accompanied by the John Trotter Scott Orchestra. My husband and I wore twin smiles, the sadness and the happiness mixed, the hope and the grief of the lyrics tugging on our emotions. He took me in his arms, and we danced to the music. I leaned into his sturdy chest and allowed the words to take me somewhere else and nowhere at all. 

When the song ended, my eyes slid open. Snow continued falling beyond the windows, but in our little living room with its old-lady furniture and my messy paintings, hope and love blossomed that one day soon, Chucky would be home for good. I meant to tell him as much when I wrote him a letter later that day.

 

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 The Austrian: A War Criminal’s Story (Book 1) by Ellie Midwood

theautrianThe title of this book alone is a hook, at least for me.  World War II is, after all, one of the most important events in recent history, filled with some of the greatest atrocities ever committed against our fellow humans.

It’s easy to root for those who were persecuted and the Allies who ended the war, but what about the Axis powers?  They were people, too.

After the fall of the Nazi Reich, many of the former leaders were brought to trial and convicted of war crimes.  What would be going through a war criminal’s head?  Regret for what he’d done to others, regret for getting caught?  Anger and hatred toward those judging him?  Fear that the end of his own life was coming?  Or something more?

The Austrian: A War Criminal’s Story explores such questions with vivid, often heartbreaking detail, so much so that I sympathized with the man who this story is about.  In the end, he is still just a man who has known love and hate, happiness and sadness, good times and bad times.

Ellie Midwood’s well researched, well crafted World War II novel follows the life of Ernst Kaltenbrunner, a high-ranking SS official from Austria. While based on a real historical figure of this name, the character of Ernst is fictionalized. The story swaps effortlessly back and forth between the novel’s current day of 1946 of his imprisonment while he awaits trial for his war crimes and his past–from his boyhood and first love with a Jewish girl to how he would up serving in the Nazi party.

The novel opens with Ernst in Nuremburg Prison on the day of his execution.  We know his life is at the end, so this might seem like a strange place to start, but how did this man wind up in the gallows?  

Ernst comes from a family where he’s the oldest son, so the expectation is that he will follow in his father’s footsteps of becoming a lawyer, marrying, and having a family of his own.  Ernst is also a big, strong boy for his age, and his father encourages him to beat up those who deserve it.  As a young man, Ernst stands up for those who the bullies pick on at school, including Dalia, who is a little older than him and Jewish.

He even has to act as the head of his household when his father is drafted during World War I.  He seems to grow up before his time, even proposing to Dalia when he’s not old enough to marry.  Dalia, however, knows they could never be together because of their backgrounds.  The young Ernst doesn’t understand this, as both of their fathers are lawyers, and if Dalia and he love each other, what’s the problem?

Feeling bitter and heartbroken, Ernst leaves Dalia.  He begins attending secret political meetings with his father, where people get together who oppose the current government.  He meets a young woman named Melita afterward and begins hanging out with some college students, and from there, Ernst’s connections to the “right people” grow.

As he gets older, he moves up in the ranks of the Austrian SS.  He’s a mixture of a man who stands up for the underdog and who can easily beat someone to a pulp, sensitive and aggressive.  Before he knows it, he’s the damned leader, all the while wondering how he got into this position.

The story continues in the second book, including how Ernst falls in love with a woman who is the only beckon of hope he has as he awaits his end in prison.  I look forward to reading the rest of his story.

Ellie Midwood is an expert of World War II history, and it shows in his book. The historical facts check out, yet flow flawlessly with the fictionalized story of Ernst.

Her writing is lovely and at times heart-wrenching. Ernst is a good man who got caught up in the wrong world. His one true love is what gives him hope during his last days in prison, where he is left wondering if he did right by his life.

For anyone who is a fan of historical fiction and a complicated romance, I recommend this novel. It’s top-notch!

5 of out 5 stars!

Purchase The Austrian (Book 1) here.

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post a new blog every Friday, including book reviews.

My new novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for only $2.99 here.

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Review of Emilia: The Darkest Days in History of Nazi Germany Through a Woman’s Eyes by Ellie Midwood

Warning: contains spoilers.

emiliaEvery so often, a novel feels so real that the characters seem to be breathing right off the page.  Emilia is one of those stories.

The title clearly states what this book is about, but it doesn’t give away the horrors that the protagonist, Emilia Brettenheimer, endures during World War II.  Emilia is a young Jewish woman who grew up in Germany, but her family is forced to relocate to a ghetto.  She lives with her parents and three brothers, two of whom are considered useful workers in the ghetto.

While living in the ghetto, she thinks her life has surely taken a turn for the worse.  Food is hard to come by, at least enough food to thrive.  She begins, out of desperation, to give away the family’s hidden gold and then her services, in the sexual sense, to an SS guard named Richer, in exchange for enough food to feed her family.

She becomes pregnant with his child.  Just when she is on the brink of wondering what to do, things turn even darker.  Her mother, Hannah, and she are carted off to a labor camp in Poland after the unthinkable happens.

We all know the horrors of concentration camps.  Emilia’s baby is aborted, and she is put through a harrowing procedure that renders her no longer able to have children.  I cannot imagine the physical and emotional pain that would have involved.  Being a mother, having my children is one of my greatest blessings.  To take that away from a person is to say they are somehow not worthy of being a parent, that they are subhuman and should be allowed to be neutered or spayed like an animal.

The one saving grace poor Emilia has is her new friend, Magda, a red-headed girl about her age who finds something to be grateful for in the midst of hell.  Magda explains that an attractive young woman like Emilia could use her looks to get on the good side of the SS guards and get more food.  It’s a matter of survival.  The game they’re playing has no real winners, for a young woman loses her innocence to get a piece of bread.  Some of the guards are no less than bears, the sex nothing less than pure rape.

What Emilia had with Richer was heavenly bliss in comparison.

Things continue to unravel.  Emilia’s life spirals downward, for how can she hope to survive this horror, let alone hold to the belief that there is any mercy to be had?  

The war ends, but the price of survival is too much to pay.  Embittered to the point of hatred for her tormentors, and understandably so, Emilia tries to make her way in this new world.

Yet there are people in Emilia’s life who have been the balm of healing, those who have shown her a better way.  Will Emilia, broken and battered from her experiences, choose to hold onto her shattered pieces, or will she manage to rebuild her live, one piece painstakingly at a time, to create the masterpiece of forgiveness, wholeness, and love?

Ellie Midwood’s extensive knowledge of World War II is evident throughout.  She writes Emilia’s experiences with gut-wrenching rawness.  It hurts to read, but you can’t stop.  Perhaps to experience just a small fraction of the pain a Jewish woman would have endured during those years is a testament to us all of the horrors of humanity and one of the lowest points of history for mankind.  To think there are things going on like this in the world today is an atrocity.  This fictional book raises awareness to a very real evil.

5 out of 5 stars

Buy Ellie’s book here.

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post a new blog every Friday, including book reviews.

My new novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for only $2.99 here.

My first novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful,  is available for $3.99 here.