Audiobook Giveaway & Review: Onions in the Stew by Betty MacDonald

Scroll to the bottom for the giveaways!

Narrator: Heather Henderson

Publisher: Post Hypnotic Press Inc. (2016)

Length: 9 hours 40 minutes

Author’s Page

Betty and her family had quite the time on Vashon Island, Washington State. With her second husband (Don MacDonald) and her two young girls (Joan and Anne), Betty experienced the joys and disappointments of living on an island. Set during WWII, this mostly autobiographical book recounts Betty’s life with wry humor and insight.

Once again, Betty has amused me. By now, after reading 4 books by her, I feel like Betty is somewhat of a friend. I really enjoyed this book from clamming to peaches to teen years to housecleaners. Living on Vashon Island, which was only connected to the mainland via ferries and personal boats, was quite a bit rougher than she and her family expected. There’s also the beauty of having an island house which is also captured well in this book.

The MacDonalds took over the house during an idyllic summer. There were plenty of clams on their personal beach, including geoduck clams. The downstairs practically-outdoor shower was perfect for rinsing off after time in the sea. The great big hearth would be quite wonderful in winter. Then the cold season sets in. The family comes to find out that having a nearly-outdoor shower is onerous to heat up in winter. The great big hearth is truly magnificent but you have to haul in the wood for it, usually driftwood from the beach. The reality settles in and yet the MacDonalds still find much to love about the island.

Betty does such a great job with the humor. She gently pokes fun at everyone and is a little more jabby when focusing the eye on herself. She praises her daughters abilities while also realistically portraying their teen-aged arguments and volatile mood swings. There are plenty of characters that appear through the several years this book covers. Some are helpful handymen, some good cooks, some terrible at child rearing, some are drunk and merry.

Onions in the Stew does a good job of showing the hardships or inconveniences (depending on your point of view) of island living. Betty doesn’t paint the entire experience as a ‘wonderful’ way of life. Nope. Using humor she gives us a slice of reality. That is the root of why I enjoy her books so much. While The Plague and I is still my favorite book by her, this one was quite good as well.

I received a free copy of this book via The Audiobookworm.

The Narration: Heather Henderson is great as the voice of Betty MacDonald. She also did a great job with the voices of Joan and Anne even as they age throughout the book. I also enjoyed her male voices, including Don’s. Her Japanese accent was also good.

What I Liked: Plenty of humor; island living in all it’s glory and inconveniences; the clamming stories; other islanders are characters; the girls growing up on the island; the peach-picking summer; everyone makes it through the teen years.

What I Disliked: Nothing – this was a great, fun read.

Check out more reviews, interviews, spotlights, and more on the blog tour.

About Heather Henderson:

NarratorHeatherHendersonHeather Henderson is a voice actress and audiobook narrator with a 20-year career in literary and performing arts.  Her narrations include the NYT bestseller (now also a feature film) Brain on Fire;  and Sharon Creech’s The Boy on the Porch, which won her an Earphones award and was named one of the Best Children’s Audiobooks for 2013 by Audiofile Magazine.   She earned her Doctor of Fine Arts degree at the Yale School of Drama, and is co-curator of AudioEloquence.com, a pronunciation research site for the audiobook industry.  In 2015, Heather was a finalist for a Voice Arts Award (Outstanding Narration, Audiobook Classics), for her narration of Betty MacDonald’s The Egg and I.

Connect with the narrator: Website ~ YouTube ~LinkedIn

Synopsis of Onions in the Stew:

The bestselling author of the American humor classic The Egg and I continues the adventure with this collection of tales about life on the fringe of the Western wilderness. Writing in the 1950s, Betty MacDonald, sophisticated and urbane, captivated readers with her observations about raising a family on an island in Puget Sound. As usual, humorist MacDonald is her own favorite target. She manages to get herself into scrapes with washing machines set adrift in rowboats, used cars, and a $25 Turkey Squasher. And then there’s the scariest aspect of island life — teenaged children.

Audible        Amazon

About the Author Betty MacDonald:

AuthorBettyMacDonaldBetty Bard MacDonald (1907–1958), the best-selling author of The Egg and I and the classic Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle children’s books, burst onto the literary scene shortly after the end of World War II. Readers embraced her memoir of her years as a young bride operating a chicken ranch on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, andThe Egg and I sold its first million copies in less than a year. The public was drawn to MacDonald’s vivacity, her offbeat humor, and her irreverent take on life. In 1947, the book was made into a movie starring Fred MacMurray and Claudette Colbert, and spawned a series of films featuring MacDonald’s Ma and Pa Kettle characters. 

MacDonald followed up the success of The Egg and I with the creation of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, a magical woman who cures children of their bad habits, and with three additional memoirs: The Plague and I (chronicling her time in a tuberculosis sanitarium just outside Seattle), Anybody Can Do Anything (recounting her madcap attempts to find work during the Great Depression), and Onions in the Stew (about her life raising two teenage daughters on Vashon Island). 

Author Paula Becker was granted full access to Betty MacDonald’s archives, including materials never before seen by any researcher. Looking for Betty MacDonald, the first official biography of this endearing Northwest storyteller, reveals the story behind the memoirs and the difference between the real Betty MacDonald and her literary persona.

Find out more on Wikipedia

Connect with the Publisher Post Hypnotic Press

Website ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ YouTube ~ LinkedIn ~ SoundCloud ~ Pinterest

GIVEWAYS!!!

Onions In the Stew Giveaway #1

Onions In the Stew Giveaway #2

Onions In the Stew Giveaway #3

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

DickTheManInTheHighCastleNarrator: Jeff Cummings

Publisher: Brilliance Audio (2015)

Length: 9 hours 58 minutes

Author’s Page

In this alternate history, the US and it’s allies lost WWII in the 1940s. The US in 1962 is divided up between Germany and Japan, with an unoccupied strip in the middle following the Rocky Mountain Range. A banned novel, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, is read by many of the main characters, influencing their choices, but perhaps not as much as the popular I Ching.

It was very interesting visiting this SF classic after having watched the first season of the TV series. Juliana is one of the few ladies to have a full name and a role in the plot. She’s Frank Frink’s ex-wife and lives in Canon City in the neutral Mountain States teaching martial arts. Meanwhile, Frank is still in San Francisco working at a metalsmith’s shop. He’s one of a shrinking number of Jewish Americans living in the Japanese occupied states. For me, it was these two characters that I initially gravitated towards the most.

A Mountain States author wrote The Grasshopper Lies Heavy some years ago and it was initially banned in all Axis occupied lands. However, Japan lifted it’s ban and this has allowed the book to spread a bit. This book depicts a world in which the Allies won; the book’s WWII outcome doesn’t reflect our historical reality but provides yet another possible scenario which I found interesting. Most of the main characters have an interaction with this book and each character’s reaction is a bit different. Juliana becomes a bit obsessed with the book after she meets a truck driver, Joe Cinnadella, who let her borrow his copy.

I didn’t particularly like Juliana after she hooked up with Joe. Her character really had this shift that I didn’t find fully believable. I also noticed the same thing happen with Robert Childan, the man who runs a San Francisco antiques store. Both characters change direction and are then used by the plot. It felt like PKD wrote a quarter of this novel, set it aside, and when he came back to it he decided he wanted to take a different path but was too lazy to rewrite these characters to fit what came next. Instead, he just has this rather swift shift in character for each of them that feels unnatural the rest of the book.

While there is not much more than a peek into Nazi-occupied US, we do hear quite a bit about the Germans. They have a huge advantage in technology, so much so that they are sending Germans to Mars and Venus to colonize them. Japan is increasingly falling behind in their tech and tensions continue to mount between these two world powers. I did get a giggle out of the apparent jump in tech and science (colonizing Mars) and yet the Germans and Japanese continue to use tape recorders. I just had to keep in mind that this book was originally published in 1962 and many authors, even the SF greats, rarely saw any tech beyond physical recordings on some sort of plastic strip.

The story winds up the reader, tightening the tension with each chapter. Some characters are just trying to get by. Others are actively assisting the German government in maintaining their current world dominance. Some few are interested in finding a way out of this Germany/Japanese controlled world for everyone. Yet even as the story reaches what I was expecting to be the final crescendo, nothing truly big happens at the end. Most of our characters are still, for the most part, stuck in their various situations trying to find a way out. Nothing is truly resolved. Since I wasn’t fully invested in the characters, I was OK with that. This novel was pretty mediocre for me.

I received a free copy of this book from eStories in exchange for a review of their audiobook services. Their service is set up much the same as other audiobook platforms. When you sign up, you get 1 audiobook for free and you have this free audiobooks trial period as well. There’s also the free audiobooks download app for iPhone or Android. Keep in mind, my experience is for this single book. Nowhere on their website does it say that you can download to a PC or laptop, so I had to clarify that with a representative before I agreed to give their services a try since 90% of my audiobook listening happens on a laptop. Once I signed up, I picked out my book, I went to my eStories library, and there is a DOWNLOAD button, which I clicked. I was expecting options to pop up – various formats, perhaps a eStories specific player for computers (or links to Windows Media Player or iTunes), etc. However, instead it just started downloading a zip file full of the MP3s for my book. Now, for me, this was fine. Once fully downloaded in my Download Folder, I wanted to move my audiobook to another folder but the move failed completely and I had to redownload. (I don’t know if the failed download was due to corrupted files or not, but considering the small difficulty with the Android player, that might well be the case.) Later on, since we were headed out on a road trip, we downloaded the same book from eStories to my man’s Android cellphone. The download went swiftly, however there was some minor corruption of each MP3 file. Each file ended with a random sentence fragment taken from that file. At first, we thought the eStories player was cutting off the last word or two of the chapter but a spot check of my laptop audiobook revealed what was happening (though not the why of it). I informed my contact of this and the info was passed on to the tech team, so hopefully that is already fixed if you go to use the Android player. Browsing their selection is pretty good – genre, length, abridged or unabridged, etc. They don’t have as big a selection as Audible.com but they do have some small publishers and indie authors/narrators as well as the big publishing houses. You can create a Wish List as well. One cool thing is that you can upload any audiobook from your computer to your eStories library and from there listen to it on your Android or iPhone. I haven’t tried this yet but I like the idea for Librivox audiobooks for my husband’s Android. Each book has a detailed description – author, narrator, publisher, length, series, etc. However, unlike other platforms, I can’t click on the series and have all the books in the series pop up. Overall, eStories has potential.

The Narration:  Jeff Cummings was OK. He did fine with regional American accents but his foreign accents were pretty rough, especially his Italian accent. He did do a good job imbuing the characters with emotions at the right times. 

What I Liked: It was an interesting look into a world where WWII had a different outcome; Frank Frink is an interesting character; Having the US divided up into 3 sections gives a view into 3 different sets of human standards; use of the I Ching; the alternate WWII ending in the fictitious book The Grasshopper Lies Heavy.

What I Disliked: Juliana is one of the few female characters; a few characters have sudden shifts in their outlooks and then their motives feel forced the rest of the book; no real look into German-occupied US; the story winds us up and then just leaves us; narration was a little rough with foreign accents.

VintageScifiBadgeVintage SciFi Month! This book was originally published in 1962, and being of the alternate history SF genre, it easily qualifies for my Vintage SF challenge. Hooray! Anyone is welcome to join the yearly Vintage SF Month!

What Others Think:

Philip K. Dick Fan Site

Conceptual Fiction

Prometheus Unbound

Infinity Plus

Rat Race Refuge

Man of la Book

A Pea Coat Goes Home by Les Rolston

RolstonAPeaCoatGoesHomeWhere I Got It: Review copy

Narrator: Gary A. Mason

Publisher: Revival Waves of Glory Books & Publishing (2015)

Length: 47 minutes

Author’s Page

This is the true story about a coat, the author (Les) and his father (Ken). Les discovered the coat in the attic when he was 6. Even then, he was drawn to it. By the 9th grade, Les was wearing it to and from school until he grew too big to fit into it. This Navy pea coat became a touchstone for Les, who delved into family history.

Ken’s father (Earl) was a dairy farmer and, Ken felt his job choices were limited since he lacked a high school education. He joined the Navy and made it through WWII. Les retells his father’s tales of his time in the military, both the good and the bad. It’s a refreshing look at WWII times without being overly dramatic or glorifying the cost of the war in body counts.

Ken met Les’s mother while on leave but they didn’t tie the knot until near the end of the war. Les grew up in a three-generation household, and his strong sense of family ties comes through clearly in this story. The women are mentioned in passing in this tale (and, of course, I would have liked to know a bit more about them) but this is, after all, primarily a tale about Les and his father and the sharing of family history.

I enjoyed this short non-fiction work. It felt like a touching story instead of dry, dusty history being told in a monotone voice. Both Les and Ken exhibit feelings through out the retelling of war tales. The pea coat is now part of a museum and that seems a very fitting end for it.

I received a copy of this book from the narrator at no cost (via the GoodReads Audiobooks Group) in exchange for an honest review.

The Narration: Gary Mason did a pretty good job. While the narrative didn’t call for many character voices, Mason used a story-teller voice to full effect. When Les or Ken exhibited emotion, Mason did a good job of getting those emotions across to the listener. My one criticism is that the production sounds a little tinny. It is consistent throughout, so after a few minutes it is easy to tune out.

What I Liked: The cover art; touching story of family; multi-generational story; WWII without being over dramatic of focusing solely on the body count; fitting end for the pea coat.

What I Disliked: Would have liked a bit more about the women in the family; narration was a little tinny.

Giveaway & Interview: Peter Golden, Author of Wherever There Is Light

GoldenWhereverThereIsLightFolks, please give a warm welcome to Peter Golden. We chat about historical works, art, Paris, and much more. Don’t forget to check out the giveaway at the end of the post! Enjoy!

Are minions/sidekicks just throwaway devices in a tale? Can they become more? Do they need to become more?

The writer Anton Chekov observed that if a gun is hanging over the fireplace in the first act of a play, it must be fired in the next act. This is true of characters. Each one must have a role that fits in the story. No such thing as a throwaway character for the careful writer.

If you could, what book/movie/TV series would you like to experience for the first time all over again and why?

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway. I’d like to re-experience my discovery of Paris in literature. It was magical. It sill is, but not like that first time.

Reality in my fiction: how important is it? Lengthy travel, cussing, and bathroom breaks happen in real life. How do you address these mundane occurrences in your writings?

Everything serves the story. Mundane events can help with pacing or reveal character, but if they don’t, then bye-bye.

It’s time for you to host the book club. Who do you invite (living, dead, fictional, real)? And what 3 books will you be discussing?

William Shakespeare, Flannery O’Connor, James Baldwin, and Ernest Hemingway. We won’t necessarily be discussing books. I’d want them to talk to me about writing, to teach me what they think is important.

GoldenComebackLoveConventions, book signings, blogging, etc.: what are some of your favorite aspects of self-promotion and what are some of the least favorite parts of self-promotion?

That’s easy. My favorite is communicating with people. My least favorite is blowing my own horn. I try to be reserved, because I find it embarrassing.

What has been your worst or most difficult job? How does it compare to writing?

I worked in a locked psychiatric ward right after college. It was heartbreaking. Writing can also be heartbreaking, but at least I’m the only one I see doing the suffering.

What nonfiction works have you found useful in building fictional worlds, cultures, and plots?

Too many to list here, since I rely heavily on books and archives for my historical novels. I will say this: I’ll read any new book about Paris, World War II, the Cold War, the 1950s, and the Holocaust.

Which ancient or historical works have you not read and periodically kick yourself for not having made time for them yet?

The six-volume set of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

If you could own a famous or historical art work, what would it be? Would you put it on public display or keep it privately?

Any painting by Picasso, Matisse, and Chagall. I’d keep it for six months and share it for months.

If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you chose to do?

I’d be a painter or photographer.

GoldenWhereverThereIsLightBook Blurb for Wherever There Is Light:

Julian Rose is only fifteen when he leaves his family and Germany for a new life in 1920s America. Lonely at first, he eventually finds his way—first by joining up with Longy Zwillman and becoming one of the preeminent bootleggers on the East Coast, and later by amassing a fortune in real estate.

Kendall Wakefield is a free-spirited college senior who longs to become a painter. Her mother, the daughter of a slave and founder of an African-American college in South Florida, is determined to find a suitable match for her only daughter.

African-American colleges rescued hundreds of German Jewish professors and their families from the Nazis, and one evening in 1938, Mrs. Wakefield hosts a dinner that reunites Julian with his mother and father, a famous philosopher. It also brings Julian and Kendall together for the first time. That encounter begins a thirty-year affair that will take the lovers from the beaches of Miami to the jazz clubs of Greenwich Village to postwar life in Paris, where they will mingle with Sartre, Picasso, and a host of other artists and intellectuals. Through his years serving in American intelligence and as an interrogator at the Nuremberg trials, what Julian wants most is to marry and find the joy that eluded his parents. Kendall craves her freedom, and after trading her oil paints for a Leica camera, becomes a celebrated photographer, and among the first American journalists to photograph the survivors of a liberated concentration camp. Yet despite distance, their competing desires, and the rapidly changing world, their longing for each other remains a constant in the ceaseless sweep of time.

Captivating and infused with historical detail, this is the epic tale of three generations, two different but intertwined families, and one unforgettable love story.

Author Bio:

Peter Golden is an award-winning journalist, historian, and novelist who, during the course of his long and varied career, has interviewed Presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush; Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger, Alexander Haig, George Shultz, and Lawrence Eagleburger; Israeli Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, and Yitzhak Shamir; and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.

Golden’s Quiet Diplomat, published in 1992, was a biography of industrialist and political- insider Max M. Fisher. It made the Detroit Free Press bestseller list and was widely reviewed. Commentary magazine declared the biography a “meticulously researched and gracefully written book” that “gives us a concrete view of the emergence of American Jews into the mainstream of national politics since World War II.” In his review of the biography, historian and political analyst J.J. Goldberg wrote that Quiet Diplomat was “a disturbing, challenging book. It suggests, without answering, a wide range of questions about the relationship between the American Jewish community and its ‘leadership,’ and between the Diaspora community and the state of Israel. . . . In the end, [Golden] leaves readers free to draw their own conclusions.” One facet of diplomacy Golden uncovered was that during a 1965 visit Fisher made to President Dwight D. Eisenhower at his Gettysburg farm, the president told him that he regretted pushing Israel to pull out of the Sinai. This fact was essentially unknown to historians until Golden wrote about it, and the claim was backed up by President Richard Nixon, who told Golden: “Eisenhower. . . told me—and I am sure he told others—that he thought the action that was taken [at Suez] was a mistake.”

Golden returned to journalism and won, among other kudos, the New York State Bar Association’s Media Award. Some of Golden’s work has appeared in the Detroit Free Press Magazine, The Albany Times Union, New Jersey Monthly, Microsoft’s eDirections, Beyond Computing, The Forward, and Capital Magazine.

In 2000, Golden co-wrote the memoir, I Rest My Case, chronicling the life of J. Stanley Shaw, one of the preeminent bankruptcy attorneys in the United States.
Golden’s first foray into fiction were the five interactive novels for computers he wrote as part of a joint venture between Imagic and Bantam Books that became known as the “Living Literature Series.” His interactive computer novel, Another Bow, was a Sherlock Holmes mystery set aboard the S.S. Destiny and was a Waldenbooks bestseller.
In 2012, Golden’s traditional novel, Comeback Love, which explored the changes in America during the 1960s, was published by Atria Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. Reviews were excellent—“Golden’s breakout debut fiction is a passionate story of love, loss and reconciliation. . . Grab a handful of tissues. . . then start speculating on actors best suited to bring Gordon and Glenna to the big screen.” (Kirkus) “Glenna and Gordon’s romance rises and falls with the familiar but engrossing tempo of reckless, youthful passion.” (Publishers Weekly) “Golden’s first novel resonates with the great experiences typical of a life—love, sorrow, loss, lessons, resolutions. . . . The sometimes subtle, sometimes dramatic emotional dancing Gordon and Glenna engage in reads as honestly and accurately as any love story between two people who come together, come apart, then reconnect decades later.” (Booklist) “In this extraordinary debut, Golden unfolds the shimmering story of Gordon and Glenna, two joined-at-the-hip lovers, who meet and meld in the swinging sixties, only to be torn apart by the Vietnam War and Gordon’s draft lottery number. But Gordon never forgets Glenna, and years later, he tracks her down, fighting against the secrets of the past to struggle to rekindle their bond. A tumultuously wonderful novel about lost love, passion and regret.” (Caroline Leavitt, author of Pictures of You.)

That same year, Golden’s history of the Cold War and its relationship to the Soviet Jewry movement, O Powerful Western Star! was published by Gefen Books. Of the history, Professor Henry L. Feingold, the dean of American Jewish historians, wrote: “The rescue of Soviet Jewry was an enormously complex happening. Now Peter Golden has woven the entire story in a broad-ranging tapestry of historical incidents and processes. A talented novelist has been let loose to make sense of this crucial exodus with the result that a dense history has been magically transformed. O Powerful Western Star! reads like a good novel.” Publishers Weekly deemed the book “an extensively researched history” and observed that “given its politically-charged subject matter, Golden is remarkably even-handed.”

On November 3, 2015, Atria Books will publish Golden’s Wherever There Is Light, a sweeping, panoramic, historical novel that covers three generations in the intertwined lives of two families—the Roses, who are Jewish, and the Wakefields, who are African American. The novel delves into the little known history of the rescue of German Jews from the Nazis by traditionally African-American colleges. Julian Rose, a former bootlegger, and his love interest, Kendall Ann Wakefield, whose family founded the college and becomes a world-renowned photographer, are the main protagonists of the story. The novel looks at the problems of interracial love affairs starting in 1938 and takes place in New Jersey, South Florida, Greenwich Village and Paris. It concludes in 1966 by tracing the fate of all the characters, both major and minor, as they struggle to come to grips with the fact they were all as haunted by the times they lived in as they were by their own private battles.

Places to Find Peter Golden

Website

GoodReads

Twitter

Facebook

GIVEAWAY!!!

This giveaway is courtesy of Mr. Golden and JKS Communications. It is a blog tour wide giveaway. The prize is a VISA gift card equal to the number of entrants, up to $1000. To enter, do the Rafflecopter thing below!

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Interview: John A. Connell, Author of Ruins of War

ConnellRuinsOfWarFolks, please welcome author John Connell to the blog today. We chat about Ernest Hemingway, WWII historical resources, the importance of high school history teachers, and plenty more.

Reality in fiction: how important is it? Lengthy travel, cussing, and bathroom breaks happen in real life. How do you address these mundane occurrences in your writing?

I’m like most readers; mundanities might reflect reality in our lives, but they’re generally boring in a story. I believe in the rule that unless some action is integral to establishing character or advancing the plot, it doesn’t belong. Now, if a mundane act adds dimension or give insight into a character—he or she might have a very unique way of addressing bathroom breaks—then that’s different. And if that’s the case in one of my stories (no bathroom-break scenes… yet), I keep it short and to the point. Perhaps, during lengthy travel, a plot is hatched, or a character reflects, revealing character, then great. I’ll use it.

Cussing I put in the dialogue box, and this is a tough one for me, particularly since I’m writing crime fiction with soldiers and really bad guys. The reality is, most soldiers cuss at the drop of a hat, and I feel obliged to reflect a sense of reality with their dialogue. It wouldn’t ring true without it. On the other hand, I find cussing—especially the most vulgar—more jarring on the page than when I’m, say, watching a Tarantino movie. It should be in there, but I avoid using it repetitively or gratuitously. For my protagonist in particular, I find other ways for him to express himself, except when he’s enraged or his frustration is too great to say it any other way. I mean, he’s only human… and a soldier to boot!

What now-dead authors would you like to interview?

I can think of a whole host of them! H. G. Wells, Graham Greene, Victor Hugo, Sir Author Conan Doyle, Ian Fleming

But one who came to mind immediately was Ernest Hemingway. I’d ask him about his time in Italy during World War One, his visits and impressions of Spain and Africa, and his initial struggles at writing and his incredible life in Paris. And, of course, about his writing process.

ConnellSpoilsOfVictoryWhat has been your worst or most difficult job? How does it compare to writing?

To make ends meet after college and into my mid-twenties, I worked as a printing press operator. During that time, I knew I wanted to pursue a creative path—this was after abandoning music and before launching into a film career and writing—but I still needed to work. It was monotonous and mindless, but I insisted on sticking with it until I discovered my “path with a heart.” I had some pretty crazy jobs while working my way through college, but I saw them as a means to end, laboring for my future. But the printing symbolized the doldrums of my twenties, directionless and feeling trapped.

Nothing compares to my writing life. Nothing. It is my greatest passion, and though it can be hard work with no certainty for the future, it is truly a joyous undertaking.

What nonfiction works have you found useful in building your book?

There are too many sources—books, articles, memoirs, archives, and websites—to list here, so here are the sources I turned to time and again: Ian Sayer and Douglas Botting, Nazi Gold (1984); Douglas Botting, In The Ruins of the Reich (1985); Wilford Byford-Jones, Berlin Twilight (1947); Edward N. Peterson, The American Occupation of Germany: Retreat to Victory (1977); Robert Jay Lifton, The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide (1986); Giles MacDonogh, After the Reich: From the Libertaion of Vienna to the Berlin Airlift (1985); Vivian Spitz, Doctors From Hell (2005).

Who are your non-writer influences?

This is a harder question than it seems, since there are multitudes of people who influence who you are. Certainly my parents and some teachers fall into that category. In fact, it was a high-school history teacher who is responsible for me falling in love with history and historical fiction. He taught history by not simply reciting dates and facts, but by portraying history through the eyes of those who lived it. He explained moments in history by way of the people, what their lives were like, how they thought, how the world around them impacted their decisions—good and bad. Historical events became more immediate and understandable. I could relive the lives of those who made it, as if history were like a vast, timeless play. The truth of Shakespeare’s line, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players,” hit me like a bolt. I was hooked. Anything, books and film, that allowed me to peer into this magical looking glass of the past, I devoured, especially stories involving the common man and woman caught up in tumultuous events of their time and called upon to do extraordinary things.

What are the top 3 historical time periods and locations you would like to visit?

Ah, a question I’ve played with every time the notion of time travel has come up. Alexandria in ancient Egypt (especially to visit the legendary library), Ancient Rome in Julius Caesar’s reign, and Florence during the renaissance. Of course, I’d have to carry along Harry Potter’s invisible cloak, or I wouldn’t last long…

ConnellRuinsOfWarRuins of War Book Blurb:

Berkley Publishing Group is thrilled to announce the publication of John A. Connell’s RUINS OF WAR (Berkley Hardcover; May 5, 2015; 978-0-425-27895-6; $26.95), an exciting debut thriller featuring a fascinating new character in Chief Warrant Officer Mason Collins—former Chicago homicide detective, U.S. soldier, prisoner of war, and now U.S. Army criminal investigator in the American Zone of Occupation in Munich. At a time when the worst horrors of the war are coming to light, there is another horror that is running rampant in the street.

In the winter of 1945, seven months after the Nazi defeat, Munich is in ruins. The winter is brutal, the citizens are starving, and end of the war does not mean the end of the chaos in the city. Quite the contrary. It’s Mason’s job to enforce the law in a place where order has been obliterated. It’s a dangerous job, though it is a job he requested. And his job just became much more dangerous: a killer is stalking the devastated city. However, these are more than just murders; they are horrifying brutalities that begin to wreak terror on the already beleaguered citizens of Munich. This killer has knowledge of human anatomy, enacts mysterious rituals with his prey, and seems to pick victims at random.

Relying on his wits and instincts while trying to work around the military-political blockades and hard-nosed commander, and trying to keep the memory of his past where it needs to stay, Mason must venture places where his own life is put at risk. From interrogation rooms with unrepentant Nazi war criminals to penetrating the U.S. Army’s own black market and working with an overeager American journalist, Mason must solve this heinous case before the killer strikes again.

Lee Child's Says You Should Read...
Lee Child’s Says You Should Read…

About the Author

John A. Connell has worked as a cameraman on films such as Jurassic Park and Thelma & Louise and on TV shows including The Practice and NYPD Blue. He now lives with his wife in Paris, France, where he is at work on his second Mason Collins novel.

Places to Find John A. Connell

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Liverpool Connection by Elisabeth Marrion

MarrionLiverpoolConnectionWhere I Got It: Review copy via the author Audiobook Monthly (thanks!).

Publisher: Self-published (2015)

Narrators: Nancy Peterson

Length: 6 hours 35 minutes

Series: Book 2

Author’s Page

Note: This is Book 2 in a trilogy, The Night I Danced with Rommel being Book 1. This book can be read as a stand alone.

The story starts in 1926 in Ireland. Annie and her friends feel they need to emigrate to England to find work and a better life. At age 16, she arrives in Liverpool and starts off with relatives. Pretty soon she has found a sweet beau. Marriage and children follow. As WWII erupts through Europe, Annie and her family and friends are tested in ways none of them had anticipated. This story is based on the actual lives of the author’s ancestors, which makes it that much more poignant.

I really enjoyed Book 1 in this series, but I think I enjoyed this one just a smidge more. Maybe that is because this book references Hilde’s life from Book 1 from time to time and I can clearly see the parallels between Annie and Hilde. For both of these books, I really appreciate how the author simply tells the tales of the ladies during WWII without relying on drama. Life was a handful to start with and it doesn’t need extra drama to validate the characters.

One of the things I learned from this book was that the Irish did not have to participate in WWII. However, several of Annie’s family and friends (Irish) living in England decide to join up with the English forces. This caused a lot of grief for Annie’s family and some felt this was betraying their heritage. And those that joined the service weren’t limited to just the men. In England during WWII, women were also drafted into war service. The author does a great job of showing how suddenly one’s life can change during this time period. One moment you’re getting dressed, making tea, planning to go to work at the clinic or local grocery and the next your answering the mail and realizing that you have to report to the military for uniforms and training.

I highly recommend this book, and series, to folks who want a realistic view of noncombatants during WWII. Everyone was affected and it’s great to have books like these to show more than just the great battles and espionage.

Narration: Nancy Peterson did another excellent job, putting on the perfect Irish lilt for Annie and her family. I was really impressed with her range of character voices and I loved how much of the book was performed in an Irish accent.

What I Liked:  Such a realistic fiction; shows how severely lives of noncombatants were affected; educational while being entertaining; poignant; the cover art. 

What I Disliked: Nothing – I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

What Others Think:

Historical Novel Society

Mary Ann Bernal

The Statement of Andrew Doran by Matthew Davenport

DavenportTheStatementOfAndrewDoranWhere I Got It: Review copy from the author (thanks!).

Narrator: Shaun Toole

Publisher: Self-published (2015)

Length: 6 hours 38 minutes

Series: Book 1 Andrew Doran

Author’s Page

Dr. Andrew Doran is an anthropologist and a trouble shooter. The Nazis have stolen a powerful book, the Necronomicon, from the Miskatonic University and they are almost certainly planning wreckage and mayhem with it. His mission is to recapture the book. Along the way, there will be creatures of Void, temptations, the undead, and the French Resistance. Which will be his undoing?

Andrew Doran was an intriguing character to follow around. At first he comes off as a little stuffy and scholarly but then we see what he sees: creatures from the Void. I loved all the Lovecraftian stuff going on in this book, much of it centered around our main character. The Fishmen were particularly creepy. Obviously the fact that Andrew has been exposed to these types of things for sometime has made his outlook on life a little jaded. I really like that about him because he is about to get tossed from the relatively safe USA to the heart of Germany in search of a super evil book.

There is only 1 female character, Olivia, and if there was another female, she was in passing and I can’t recall if she had a name. Obviously, I would have liked more female characters since the ladies make up ~50% of the population. Olivia herself is OK. She’s a total sexkitten – scrumptious to look at, and the sexual object for a good chunk of her time on the page. Yet she isn’t totally useless. She doesn’t scream or faint too often and she gets to fire a gun and successfully run away. Still, more could have been done with her character.

The action scenes are well balanced with quieter moments where Andrew is reflecting on circumstances. Of course he has to worry about the Nazis, but then there are also the plans of the Traum Cult that stole the Necronomicon. Toss is concerns about being sold out by one of his boon companions, and Andrew has quite a lot on his mind. Overall, it is a solid start to the series. the mix of Lovecraftian creepy, action, and bigger picture save my soul stuff is great.

The Narration: Shaun Toole had absolutely awesome voices for the creepy Fishmen. I was really impressed with how he got that underwater gurgly voice and still be understandable. His German and French accents felt forced. While I could appreciate his effort, they didn’t work for me and definitely could use some improvement. That said, he was the perfect voice for Andrew Doran, being a mix of scholarly skepticism and decisive action.

What I Liked: Dark Lovecraftian creatures; a bit of WWII history; the hunt for the Necronomicon; the cover art; mysterious cult; the narrator’s voices for the Fishmen.

What I Disliked: Only 1 female; some of the narrator’s accents sounded forced.

The Night I Danced with Rommel by Elisabeth Marrion

PetersonTheNightIDancedWithRommelWhere I Got It: Review copy via Audiobook Monthly (thanks!).

Publisher: Self-published (2014)

Narrators: Nancy Peterson, Bennett Allen

Length: 6 hours 34 minutes

Author’s Page

This story is about Hilde and her life growing up in Germany (after WWI) and becoming a wife and mother during WWII. As a girl in East Prussia, she has a dream to become a singer one day. However, her father sends her to work as a housemaid in Berlin at the age of 14 and from there on, she doesn’t have time for dreams. Eventually, she meets a young man, Karl, who will become her husband and who will also spend much of their married life serving in the military away from his growing family. Karl ends up serving under Rommel in Germany and then Africa.

I found this to be a very interesting book. It was based on the life of the author’s mother (if I understood the description correctly) so much of the book is factual. Seeing Germany gearing up for another war through the eyes of a house cleaner and mother showed how surreal the politics and resulting war to many of the average people of Germany at the time. Hilde grew up with Jewish friends and maintained those friendships until they were abruptly ended (usually by the sudden disappearance of her Jewish friends) or because the association was becoming too dangerous for Hilde and her young children. An anti-Semitic attitude was not part of Hilde’s personality, and many of her family and friends also lacked this unappealing trait.

Then there are the every day things. As Germany starts building up their armies, young men must go off for training and certain resources start to become hard to come by, just a few at first. Once the war is in full swing, it is a much different scene, but through Hilde’s eyes we get to see how things changed gradually, bit by bit. Germany’s streets weren’t covered in city militia enforcing curfew overnight. Food supplies didn’t become scarce in a month’s time.

One of Hilde’s children develops a chronic medical condition about half way through the book. It is one of those conditions that needs continuous treatment throughout the war and I thought it interesting to see how that was dealt with. Also, Hilde and Karl see each other infrequently, so their children are spaced out throughout the war. Can you picture yourself expecting a child in war-torn Germany during the time of the night aerial raids? Over all, this was an intriguing read providing a glimpse into an average woman’s life during one of humanity’s most destructive episodes.

Narration: Nancy Peterson did an excellent job, being the perfect voice for Hilde. She performed the entire book in a German accent and this added so much to the ambiance of the book. She had a good range of voices for all the supporting characters as well. Bennett Allen had a very short piece, playing the role of Karl, at the end of the book. It was a very nice touch, adding to the poignancy of the ending.

What I Liked:  The reality of the book; the book shows how things changed gradually; Hilde’s perseverance despite losing friends and family, having several small children, and her husband gone much of the time; the ending was touching. 

What I Disliked: The cover is rather severe.

What Others Think:

Historical Novel Society

Christoph Fischer

Mary Ann Bernal

All Clear by Connie Willis

WillisAllClearWhy I Read It: I loved the first book in this duology, Blackout.

Where I Got It: The library.

Who I Recommend This To: WWII historical fiction fans who don’t mind a bit of time travel.

Narrator: Katherine Kellgren

Publisher: Audible Frontiers (2010)

Length: 23 hours 46 minutes

Series: Book 2 All Clear

Author’s Page

If you haven’t read Blackout, you need to do so before reading this book because the All Clear definitely needs it in order to understand the characters and setting.

This was an amazing conclusion to the party started by my favorite characters in Blackout. Eileen, Polly, and Mike are still trapped in WWII England during the Blitz with none of their drops opening. They come up with several creative ways to let Oxford of 2060 know where and when they are all the while trying to affect the timeline of WWII as little as possible. But despite their best of intentions, they are each thrown into situations where they simply can’t stand back and do nothing. Which of course causes them to doubt that age old rule about time travel: Historians can’t affect the timeline. Polly and Mike, our experienced travelers, try to keep their concerns about having affected the timeline from Eileen (because it is her first assignment). Lots of action in this meticulously researched book.

I am going to go all gushy on this book and try very very hard not to spoil any plot points. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and had a hard time putting it down. If I ever have to do high school History Class again, please let them assign any of Connie Willis’s time travel novels! If I had had this book in high school, I might have gone on to major in History instead of Environmental Science. WWII had so much happening in it that I was totally oblivious to. For England, everyone was affected by the War, and nearly everyone had a role to play in it – young, old, woman, man, chorus girls, rectors, fire fighters, puzzle solvers, shop girls, and nurses. That is something that I really didn’t understand until I read this duology. All the wars I have been alive for have been fought on foreign soil and my daily life has not been affected by them. I feel a little uncomfortable saying that, now that I know how much WWII affected the world.

The characters were so much fun. Of course we have our main characters (Eileen, Polly, and Mike) but even the side characters all have these little ticks and notches that make them very real and personable. I especially loved the Hodbin children (Vinny and Alf) in book 1 and they have an appearance in book 2. Mr. Humphreys and Sir Godfrey, the chorus girls, and the ambulance drivers, even the characters from 2060 – they all make an excellent backdrop for our main characters. At first, I was a little frustrated that Mike and Polly wanted to keep so much from Eileen (to keep her from worrying) even though they are all stuck in the same barrel of sharks. But by the end, Eileen proves to be very resilient. So my initial frustration turned into deep satisfaction when Eileen is proven to be made of stern stuff.

This book has more than one plot line. We have Mike, Polly, and Eileen in the Blitz and then skip forward a few more years and we have Ernest towards the end of the war working with the puzzle solvers and Intelligence team that gave out false info in order to fool the Germans. We also have Mary, an ambulance driver, during the V1 and V2 rocket bombardment. Then we also have little snippets of 2060 Oxford. Towards the end of the book, we get one or two more short timelines. Despite all that, I felt it wasn’t too hard to follow. Perhaps this is because each chapter starts with a time and location.

The ending wrapped up questions about time travel, and required sacrifice. It was a beautiful ending that really spoke to the underlying theme of the ‘unsung hero’, those who served the country simply by holding it together. If you are one of those folks who have found WWII to be a dull topic, I ask you to give these books a chance – they could very well change your mind.

The Narration: Katherin Kellgren did a great job with this large cast of characters, nearly all of them with English accents. I loved how patient Eileen sounded, how the Hodbins could put curiosity and fake innocence into such simple sentences, and Mike’s American accent. The audio version of this book has a short forward by the author in which she explains some of her inspiration for a few of the characters in the books.

What I Liked: Time travel is used as a tool and it doesn’t go all mystical trying to explain the physics of how it works; I learned a lot about WWII from this duology; there’s a bit of Shakespeare; the Hodbins and Alf’s pet snake; how everyone was affected by the war and had to chip in and help out; very satisfying ending.

What I Disliked: If you aren’t paying attention, you may get a little muddled on the timelines (but you can always flip to the chapter heading to figure out when you are).

What Others Think:

The Book Smugglers

SF Reviews

SF Site

Adventures in Scifi Publishing

Medieval Bookworm

Ragnarok: The End of the Gods by A. S. Byatt

ByattRagnarokWhy I Read It: Short and full of Norse mythology.

Where I Got It: Paperbackswap.com

Who I Recommend This To: If you are new to Norse mythology, or want a refresher, this is beautifully done.

Narrator: Harriet Walter

Publisher: Brilliance Audio (2013)

Length: 3 hours 46 minutes

Series: Book 17 Canongate Myths

First, Canongate Myths is a series of novellas in which each book focuses on a different ancient myth. Each book in the series so far is written by a different author and each can be read independently of the series.

A young girl tries to escape the brittle world around her by diving into a book about Norse mythology. Her world is full of war-time deprivations and nightly bombings that light up the sky and tumble down her world. A. S. Byatt uses lyrical prose to lead us and this girl through the realms contained in Norse mythology.

Quite simply, this was a beautiful little book. Full of imagery and much-beloved characters, such as Ratatosk. I swear, while listening to this book while driving, I inadvertently missed my turn to work. Really, it was because the book was so very engaging (and not at all because work is a bit dull most of the time). Of course, then it would take me an extra 10 minutes to park and make sure I had everything to go into the office – all while listening to just a few more minutes.

This may be a children’s book, but Byatt doesn’t hold back in straightforwardly depicting the violent and sometimes precocious deities that inhabit this particular pantheon. I also loved the involvement of the mythical beasts and indeed the mythical realm the Norse Gods inhabit. This book will be living on my shelf for the occasional reread, or re-listen.

Narration: The narrator, Harriet Walter, was excellent, providing the hushed moments and bounding excitement as needed.

What I Liked: Norse mythology; beautifully written; short, so it makes a great recap or introduction to this pantheon.

What I Disliked: Occasionally, the switch to the WWII-era child we disruptive to the mythology story telling, but this was a very minor criticism of mine.

What Others Think:

In Order of Importance

Rebecca Reads

books i done read

Desperate Reader