Book Review: Chasing Shadows by Lynn Austin

Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (June 8, 2021)

You can always count on Lynn Austin to provide interesting and intriguing historical details in her stories. Chasing Shadows is about the Dutch people’s resistance when occupied by the Nazis in WWII. Three basic storylines are presented: Lena, a farm mother who learns to trust God with the lives of her family; Ans, her young adult daughter who leaves home to find her way and ends up entering the dangerous world of the resistance fighters; and Miriam, a young Jewish girl escaping the worst and getting separated from her baby and husband. These are hard things to read about but Austin paints her stories with hope and bravery in the face of very real terror and despair.

While most of us cannot begin to understand how these people survived and rebuilt their lives and their country, novel like this one help take us there and make us appreciate their actions. We may never face what they did but we can learn about strength and faith and how those things can carry us through what we deal with in our lives.

And that cover? Gorgeous!

There is quite a lot of Christianity in this book: characters including “sharing faith” and remembering Bible verses. Knowing that some readers look for that and others avoid it, it should be mentioned. It’s written by a strong Christian believer and published by a Christian evangelical publisher, so that should come as no surprise. Even so, in real life these people did depend on their faith to see them through. As my late father used to say, “There are no atheists in foxholes.” I for one cannot imagine emerging from such oppression, brutality, and starvation without depending on God.

I enjoyed this book. It took me a little longer to read, perhaps because of its intensity, which is not a bad thing. But because I put it down so much I had a little trouble remembering which character was which. A chapter title would have helped. But that’s a small complaint. Historical novel lovers will like this one!

Read the character interview here.

A Candid Talk with Lena de Vries, Ans de Vries, and Miriam Jacobs from Lynn Austin’s Chasing Shadows

Welcome, ladies. Tell us a little about yourself and your life before the war. 

Lena: I was forty years old when the war began, a wife and mother of three children. I worked with my husband, Pieter, on our farm in the Dutch countryside. I loved my life and my work—it was all I ever wanted or dreamed of doing.

Ans: I’m Ans de Vries, Lena’s older daughter, and unlike my mother, I was restless with the country life. I found it boring. When I turned nineteen, I moved to the city of Leiden and took a job as a companion and assistant to Eloise Huizenga, who suffers from depression. City life suited me, and I was very happy living there.

Miriam: I’m Jewish, and I lived in Cologne, Germany, with my parents before the war. I’m a violinist, and I had hoped to study at the music conservatory like my mother, but Jews were forbidden to attend. As the persecution became increasingly worse in my homeland, my father and I escaped to the Netherlands, where we lived in a refugee camp at first. 

How about romance? Is there someone special in your life?

Lena: My husband, Pieter, is the love of my life. We married young, and I love him more and more each year, if that’s possible. All that we’ve gone through has drawn us closer. I would be lost without him.

Ans: I never had a real date before moving to Leiden because the rural boys seemed boring to me. I wasn’t interested in marrying one of them and becoming a farmer’s wife. I met Erik Brouwer shortly after moving to the city and we hit it off right away. He’s a policeman—a very handsome one! The more time we spent together, the easier it was to fall in love.

Miriam: I met Avi Leopold in the refugee camp. He heard me practicing my violin and asked if he could sit nearby and listen. He said my music consoled him, and in return, he read verses to me from the Psalms. Avi is sweet and gentle and kind. It felt so natural and right to imagine we would spend the rest of our lives together. 

Tell us about your experiences on May 10, 1940, when the Nazis staged their surprise attack on the Netherlands.

Lena: My husband, Pieter, and I learned the news when the telephone awakened us in the night. Pieter was in the army reserves, and he had to leave immediately to help our Dutch army fight off the invaders—a seemingly impossible task. I was left home alone with our two youngest children, Wim and Maaike, and I had to keep the farm going by myself. Naturally, I was worried sick for Pieter’s safety, but I had to remain calm and in control for my children’s sake, in spite of all the unknowns in our future.

Ans: I was living in Leiden with Eloise Huizenga when the invasion began. The horrifying sound of droning airplanes and exploding bombs woke both of us up. We were alone because Professor Huizenga was away traveling at the time. We went up to the rooftop in the dead of night and could hear and see the distant warfare, along with Nazi paratroopers dropping from airplanes. I was never so scared in my life! I was terrified for my own safety and for my boyfriend, Erik, who was serving in the Dutch army. But most of all, I feared for Eloise, because I was responsible for her. She is very fragile, and her emotional state that night was very precarious. 

Miriam: When the Nazi bombs began to fall on the Netherlands that night, it felt like the end of the world to me. We had experienced Nazi persecution in Germany and knew what they would do to us if they occupied the Netherlands. We had narrowly escaped from them once before, finding refuge in Leiden, where Abba taught at the university. We were finally making a new life for ourselves after enduring so many losses, and the invasion meant we were about to lose everything for a second time. 

How did the Nazi occupation change your daily life?

Lena: I found it hard to escape the daily anxiety and fear for my family. My daughter Ans lived in the city, and my two younger children had to travel to school every day with soldiers everywhere. Then the Nazis came out to our farm and took an inventory of everything we had. The food we worked so hard to produce would no longer go to support our family, but to feed the enemy. That was a very bitter truth to accept.

Ans: I hated the sight of Nazi soldiers and swastikas in the city I had come to love. And my concern for Eloise multiplied as she experienced the effects of war and enemy occupation for a second time in her life. She had been a young woman in Belgium during the Great War and had lost her entire family. I was on edge every day as Eloise slipped into depression and I searched for ways to help her.

Miriam: I felt trapped all over again and desperate for a way to escape. My father and I knew it was only a matter of time before the persecution we’d experienced in Germany would begin all over again. The Nazis had surrounded the Netherlands on all sides, making escape impossible.

What kept you going through such difficult times?

Lena: I relied a lot on prayer. And on taking each day one at a time. Just doing the task I was given for that day with God’s help.

Ans: I had turned away from my parents’ faith before leaving home, but God suddenly became very real to me during this crisis. I found the courage to resist the Nazi occupation in big and small ways, and fighting back kept Eloise—and me—from despair.

Miriam: I found hope in our faith and in our friends. We knew we didn’t have to suffer alone this time because our friends were standing beside us, helping and protecting us.


About Chasing Shadows

For fans of bestselling WWII fiction comes a powerful novel from Lynn Austin about three women whose lives are instantly changed when the Nazis invade the neutral Netherlands, forcing each into a complicated dance of choice and consequence.


Lena is a wife and mother who farms alongside her husband in the tranquil countryside. Her faith has always been her compass, but can she remain steadfast when the questions grow increasingly complex and the answers could mean the difference between life and death?

Lena’s daughter Ans has recently moved to the bustling city of Leiden, filled with romantic notions of a new job and a young Dutch police officer. But when she is drawn into Resistance work, her idealism collides with the dangerous reality that comes with fighting the enemy.

Miriam is a young Jewish violinist who immigrated for the safety she thought Holland would offer. She finds love in her new country, but as her family settles in Leiden, the events that follow will test them in ways she could never have imagined.

The Nazi invasion propels these women onto paths that cross in unexpected, sometimes-heartbreaking ways. Yet the story that unfolds illuminates the surprising endurance of the human spirit and the power of faith and love to carry us through.


Lynn Austin has sold more than one and a half million copies of her books worldwide. A former teacher who now writes and speaks full-time, she has won eight Christy Awards for her historical fiction and was one of the first inductees into the Christy Award Hall of Fame. One of her novels, Hidden Places, was made into a Hallmark Channel Original Movie. Lynn and her husband have three grown children and make their home in western Michigan. Visit her online at lynnaustin.org.

Introducing Marian Creighton from Jody Hedlund’s Come Back to Me

Welcome to Novel PASTimes! We are pleased you stopped by today.

Tell us something about where you live.

My name is Marian Creighton. I work in Connecticut, but since my dad unexpectedly fell into a coma, I’m visiting Canterbury England to be with him. He’s left me a mess of a mystery to solve. Not only that, but he seems to be in some kind of danger, and it’s putting me in danger now too. 

Do you have an occupation? What do you like or dislike about your work?

I’m a research scientist who works in the pharmacokinetics department of Mercer Pharmaceutical’s research. I’m completely devoted to finding a cure for the rare genetic disease VHL, Von Hippel-Lindau syndrome, which killed my mother and is now slowly killing my younger sister. My dad has also been searching for a cure. But he’s also been obsessed with his research into what he calls “the ultimate cure” which he believes is related to the original Tree of Life and is found in ancient holy water.

Who are the special people in your life?

As I arrive in Canterbury to be with my dad, I know I have the support and help from one of my dad’s colleagues, Harrison Burlington. I also have a good friend in Jasper Boyle, one of my co-workers in Connecticut. And finally, my sister Ellen is one of my closest friends.

Interestingly enough, since ingesting a slight amount of residue of ancient holy water, I’ve been seeing a fiercely handsome man who lives in the past. Our paths seem to overlap, and I have a real connection with him.

What is your heart’s deepest desire?

My heart’s deepest desire is to find a remedy that can help cure my sister Ellen. However, I’m skeptical of my dad’s methods. I feel his long-time fixation with ancient holy water and its healing properties are both crazy and a waste of time, especially when I learn that he believes the holy water can make people cross time.

After having visions of the man from the past, I can’t deny that my dad’s theories have some merit and my determination grows to test his theories further. However, I soon realize I’m not the only one interested in his research. A break-in and a kidnapping convince me that I must take the plunge and follow my dad back to the Middle Ages in order to save both him and my sister. 

What are you most afraid of?

As I prepare to leave for the past, I’m afraid I might not succeed in finding the holy water that might be able to heal my sister Ellen. I don’t want her to die, and need to take over my dad’s mission and locate more holy water for her in the past.

On the other hand, I’m interested in learning more about the man I’ve been seeing in my brief overlaps to the past. I’d like to learn more about him and the pain that haunts him.

Do you have a cherished possession?

My mother’s teardrop pearl necklace is very special to me. I put it on with me as I prepare to go into the past. 

What do you expect the future will hold for you?

My “future” is really what will happen to me as I travel into the year 1381. I pray that I’ll be able to complete my mission to save my dad and sister. But I know I’ll face many challenges as I awaken in a new era that is unfamiliar to me. I can only hope that as I experience the past, I’ll be safe and be able to complete my mission quickly.

Thanks for allowing us to get know you a little better!


Jody Hedlund is the bestselling author of over 30 historical novels for both
adults and teens and is the winner of numerous awards, including the
Christy, Carol, and Christian Book Awards. Jody lives in Michigan with her
husband, busy family, and five spoiled cats. She loves to imagine that she
really can visit the past, although she’s yet to accomplish the feat, except via
the many books she reads. Visit her at jodyhedlund.com.

Meet Tansy Calhoun from Ann Gabhart’s Along a Storied Trail

Welcome to Novel PASTimes! We are pleased you stopped by today.

I’m very glad to be here. Mrs. Weston, our head librarian, said you were interested in learning more about our packhorse library. So what would you like to know? 

We do want to know more about the packhorse library, but first tell us something about yourself so we can get to know you. 

All right. My name is Tansy Faith Calhoun. I live up in the hills in Owsley County, Kentucky. I’m one of six children. One sister is older than me and one sister, much younger. The others are boys, all younger than me. Sadly, one of my little brothers died of a fever a few years ago. 

I’m already twenty years old with no suitors knocking on my door. Most of the people around think I might end up a crotchety old spinster like Aunt Perdie who lives a couple of hills over from us. Girls get married young up here in the hills, but I figure I still have a few years to go before I have to admit to being an old maid. Meanwhile, I can enjoy being a book woman.     

Book woman? Is that what people call the packhorse librarians? 

They do, and I love it. I’ve loved books forever, but books are a luxury for most families like mine up here in the Eastern Kentucky Appalachian Mountains. Of course, we have the Bible, but books just for reading pleasure were few and far between before the packhorse library project. I did read every book I could get my hands on, sometimes three or four times. Pa says reading those stories turned my head and has me thinking above myself. He might have a different opinion about my love of books if he could see me now as one of the book women. 

Doesn’t your father know you’re a packhorse librarian?

No, I got the job after the mine where Pa worked closed down and he took off for the flatlands to find work. We haven’t heard from him since. Things got hard around our farm what with no money coming in and how last summer’s hot, dry months parched our cornfield and sass patch or garden. We didn’t have enough corn and beans to last through the winter. We thought we’d have to go on the dole but then I got hired on as a packhorse librarian. President Roosevelt–or some say it was Mrs. Roosevelt’s idea–came up with a way to put some of us women in the mountains to work and get books to folks up here that never had a way to have books before. I love my job of carrying books out to people on my book routes.

This program, the packhorse library, sounds fabulous. Tell us more about it.

I’m sure you already know about all President Roosevelt has been doing to put people back to work during this depression time in our country when so many can’t find jobs. The government came up with all sorts of programs. Men work at constructing schools, bridges, roads and more. Women do sewing projects. Young men joined up with the Civilian Conservation Corps. The government even started programs for out of work artists, writers and other creative people. 

But one of the best ideas for us around here is the packhorse libraries. We’d never had a library like some of the bigger towns and even if we did, most of the people wouldn’t have much way of getting to it. That’s why the program came up with a way to take the books to the people instead of making them come get them. A truck to deliver the books might sound better than packhorses, but here in Eastern Kentucky our roads are often creek beds running up the side of a mountain. Most people go by horse, mule or shankmare. That’s mountain talk for on foot. So we take the library to the people by loading our saddlebags of books on our horses or mules and riding miles along some rough trails up into the hills. The government pays the packhorse librarians, but doesn’t supply any books. We had to come up with a central location and the books to circulate.

You can’t have a library without books. So how did you fill your shelves? 

People in the community donated some books but most of our books come from a central location in London, Kentucky that oversees women’s work programs. Once the news got out that we needed books for our packhorse libraries, donations started coming in from all over the country. Those who head up the program divvy them up and send them out to the different packhorse libraries here in Eastern Kentucky. Some of the books and magazines we get are throwaways from city libraries. We don’t care if what they send is in bad shape. We work to piece them back together and tape up the binding. If the magazines are too tattered and torn to circulate, we cut out pictures from them to paste on thick paper. Then we print out something about the pictures or maybe poems to make books to loan out to our people. We even make book from recipes or quilt patterns our readers share with us. Those are popular loaners. 

You sound very creative. Have you written any stories yourself?

I don’t know if a mountain girl like me could know enough to write a book, but it is an idea that pokes at me sometimes. I did come up with some stories for kids that I made into books to share with our young readers. And I wrote down a Jack story that Aunt Perdie told us. A Jack story is a story passed down through families here in the mountains. As Aunt Perdie says, there’s no right or wrong way to tell a Jack story.    

That’s twice you’ve mentioned this Aunt Perdie. Is she your favorite aunt?

She’s not really my aunt, but she is a relative. My father’s second cousin. That’s still family and in the mountains we take care of family. So, when she needed help, we had to be the ones to give that help. But I can’t say she’s a favorite of any of us. Well, except Coralee, but that’s another whole story. Aunt Perdie is as contrary as sore-footed mule and seems especially prone to pointing out ways I could do better. Could be sometimes she’s right, but that doesn’t make her any easier to get along with.   

What do you expect the future will hold for you?

More rough trails to ride as a book woman. More books to read myself. More family to love. More mountain air to breathe, and maybe someday, love to grab hold of. 

That sounds good, Tansy. But before you have to go, tell us what you’ve learned while riding those rough trails as a packhorse librarian?

Oh, so many things. I’ve had the chance to have many more books in my hands and time to read more than a few of them. I’ve gotten to know my neighbors better and found out that even those who aren’t good at reading still like getting those magazines and books. Sometimes they simply enjoy the pictures in the magazines or they get their children or grandchildren to read to them. I do some reading aloud to people on my route when time permits. I never let weather stop me no matter how bad it is, because I know people are waiting to get those books to bring some light into their hard lives. But I’ve also learned books don’t hold all the answers. Some things you have to figure out on your own such as how the people nearest you can be the dearest. While books and stories are fine, the people you love are what make life blessed. 

Thanks for allowing us to get know you a little better and about the packhorse libraries!

Thank you for inviting me over. Now I’d better go pack up my saddlebags and get ready to head out on the trial to share some storiesThe people will be watching for their book woman to show up.


Ann H. Gabhart is the bestselling author of several Shaker novels—The Refuge,
The Outsider, The Believer, The Seeker, The Blessed, and The Gifted—as well as
other historical novels, including Angel Sister, These Healing Hills, River to
Redemption, and An Appalachian Summer. She and her husband live on a farm a
mile from where she was born in rural Kentucky. Ann enjoys discovering the
everyday wonders of nature while hiking in her farm’s fields and woods with her
grandchildren and her dogs, Frankie and Marley. Learn more at www.annhgabhart.com

Meet Hazel from Rachel Fordham’s A Lady in Attendance

Welcome to Novel PASTimes! We are pleased you stopped by today.

After spending the last five years in a New York state reformatory, Hazel is
desperate to begin life anew, but she knows that a tarnished name could ruin her
chances. She accepts a job as Doctor Gilbert Watts’ lady in attendance but does
so under an alias so she can hide her shameful past.
Dr. Watts has come to enjoy the pleasant chatter of his new dental assistant, but
he senses her sadness and wonders if there is more to her story than she’s shared with him. As their friendship deepens, Hazel must grapple with her desire to trust him.
Can Dr. Watts and Hazel’s friends help expunge her record? And can Hazel possibly find hope and love
along the way?

Thank you for having me. 

Tell us something about where you live.

Currently, I am living just outside of Buffalo, New York in the much smaller village of Amherst. I moved into a boarding house and have already made a friend here. Not so long ago, I lived in a reformatory (like a prison, but with the goal of rehabilitation). While living there I learned to make friends quickly due to its ever changing dynamic. 

I am getting off subject. You asked about where I live and now, I’m talking about my time behind iron gates. I don’t normally talk about those five years. When I do everyone judges me. My five-year sentence feels like a lifetime one. Even now I have taken to using a false name so that I can get a job without anyone knowing my past. I would love to leave all that’s happened before behind me but it follows me. I no longer dream of romance or family, but I do hope that here in Amherst I will be able to put bread on my own table. 

You say you’ve taken a job. Can you tell us about that?

I was only just hired by the quiet dentist, Dr. Watts three weeks ago. He does not know my real name and for that I feel immense guilt. I do work hard and he seems satisfied with my efforts. When I was first hired, I believed him a very shy man, and he is, but he is also kind and has wit that many would miss but I find it delightful. 

I do not find the teeth or saliva particularly appealing but I enjoy the patients. You never know who will come in each day. Some make me laugh and others are very afraid. It’s hard to explain but I find it all rewarding and Gilbert (he allows me to call him that when there are no patients there) is always kind. I fear he is my superior in piousness. He is good to a fault but that is far better than working for someone who does not believe in the virtues.

Despite my looming past, I enjoy my days and find them rewarding. It is also a blessing that I can afford my rent at the boarding house. I fear desperation would have pushed me to taking any job, but Providence has led me to a job I actually enjoy.  

It sounds like you’ve had a very rough life. What of your family? Can they help you with your troubles?

My family raised me well. I can not blame them for anything that has happened. If I had listened to my mother when I was younger, I would have been able to avoid many of the hardships that have befallen me. 

It’s difficult to talk of them. I ache for them so badly, but I can’t turn to them, not now and perhaps never. I have already brought enough shame to them. 

Can you tell us about your past? What is it that brought you from high society to a reformatory and now to separation from your family?

That is a very long story. But I will say that I am innocent of the burglary charges that were brought against me, but my past is far from innocent. 

I would rather not dwell on it. 

I understand. Thank you for spending time with us today. After listening to you talk, I find that I am now hoping you will find a future that is hopeful and happy. 

Thanks for allowing us to get know you a little better!


Rachel Fordham is the author of The Hope of Azure Springs, Yours Truly, Thomas,
and A Life Once Dreamed. Fans expect stories with heart, and she delivers, diving
deep into the human experience and tugging at reader emotions. She loves
connecting with people, traveling to new places, and daydreaming about future
projects that will have sigh-worthy endings and memorable characters. She is a busy
mom, raising both biological and foster children (a cause she feels passionate
about). She lives with her husband and children on an island in the state of
Washington.

Book Review: The Irish Healer by Nancy Herriman

Paperback, 320 pages
Published April 3rd 2012 by Worthy Books, Audio by Oasis Audio

An affiliate link is used in this post. If you choose to sign up for Chirp, please use this link as Novel PASTimes will get a small kickback. Thank you.

I’ve been meaning to read this book ever since I met the author several years ago at the Ohioana Book Festival in Columbus, OH. But you know, so many books, so little time. When it showed up on Chirp, I grabbed the opportunity. I’m so glad I did. I really enjoyed this story. As a bonus, there was an interview with the author at the end of the audiobook!

Irish Rachel Dunne is a wounded character who flees Ireland for London after someone she cared for dies. She tries to deny her skills as a healer but that is difficult when she ends up working for a doctor (referred by her cousin who lives in London) who also wants to flee from his profession because of guilt over his wife’s death and all the suffering he sees daily. Rachel and the doctor develop feelings for each other but their painful pasts makes them both want to run away from that attraction. However, when the Cholera epidemic affects the doctor’s young daughter, they both must reexamine their callings.

The strength of this novel is in the historical descriptions (something I love!) and the way the author weaves together the characters’ journeys. It’s a story of redemption and of following God’s calling on your life. If this is a book you also put off reading, I urge you to bring it to the top of your pile. The audio narration was very good (some aren’t so much) and I can highly recommend that edition.

Visit Nancy online

Book Review: Miss Wetherham’s Wedding: The Brides of Mayfair, Book Three by Linore Rose Burkard

Lettie Wetherham lost her husband Steven to searching for more diamonds in a previously productive mine. Her resulting reduced circumstances and the promises she made to him hang like a pall over her future. She resorts to becoming a “hobby” matchmaker, relying on the generosity of those families for whom she has helped find mates for their loved ones. But her services are never advertised as that would be beneath her station in life and those whom she hopes to influence. 

Nick Dellacourt, a spoiled gentleman who is used to having his own way, can’t stand the thought of the subject of his recent affections so easily becoming engaged to an earl without any thought to his sentiments. He’s sure that she doesn’t love the other man and it galls him to have her out of reach. Nick may have the reputation of being a rogue and he may not intend to marry the young lady but being out of control of the situation is unthinkable!

When he observes the attractive young widow, Miss Wetherham, as they call her, at a gathering at Almack’s, he hatches a scheme. Soon he approaches her with his devious plan. Would she be willing to help him lure his former love interest away from her current intended and perhaps ensnare a loveless, but very rich match for herself—for hire?

Lettie is aware of Dellacourt’s reputation but finds herself and close relatives in a pickle because of the loss of funds in the diamond mine. If she’s willing to do the unthinkable and work for him it may bring the security she lacks. Yet, it goes against her Christian ethics, and her promise to Steven that if she marries again, it would be to a good man she loves. If only Dellacourt wasn’t so persuasive and… handsome! 

Linore Rose Burkard again weaves a wonderful Regency romance with historic detail and believable characters which draw you into their world. While it may seem to start a little slow, it sets up the characters’ conflicts, plot, and pace nicely. The author also takes on a little-used point of view: omniscient. This takes you outside of the heads of the characters to that of a narrator or observer. Omniscient POV seems very appropriate for a Regency novel and is reminiscent of Jane Austen’s writing and that of other 18th century authors. 

Lettie is a bit of a different heroine, though she is young and beautiful, she is also a widow, still bound by her love for her dead husband. Ms. Burkard delivers depth of character and Lettie is someone the reader will want to see have the best outcome. With Nick Dellacourt’s character, the author hints beyond the hero’s seeming impenetrable surface to the depth of his pride and surprising care for others which becomes evident as the story moves along.

As always, the detail of her Regency world is impeccable. It there’s an unfamiliar word or a term cannot be deciphered via context, there is a helpful glossary at the end of the book.

Miss Wetherham’s Wedding delivers the expected conundrums of marrying for love or money, misunderstood intentions, and evasive social interactions that fans of Regency romance have come to expect. There is a hint of a faith basis which fits with the time. It is a fun, sweet, and clean read I truly enjoyed. Brava, Ms. Burkard! 

Interview with Albine de Montholon from Margaret Rodenberg’s Finding Napoleon: A Novel

Welcome! Tell us something about where you live.

Well, that’s half my story, isn’t it? I’m stranded 5,000 miles from Paris on the miserable British island of St. Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean. Charles de Montholon—my (third) husband, a marquis and general, but poor as a beggar’s brat—and I followed Napoleon Bonaparte here into exile after his loss at Waterloo. 

Are you envisioning white sand beaches? Think again, dear friend. This desolate volcanic island’s all hills and valleys, except for the rain-soaked, windswept plateau at its top. There, the British confine us in dilapidated Longwood House. Napoleon, naturally, has the best chambers, but between the dust and rats, those hardly befit an ex-emperor. Charles and I bunk on cots in the paltry library room. Oh, I shouldn’t complain. I pleaded to accompany Napoleon here.

Is there anything special about your name? Why do you think you were given that name?

Merci for asking. No one ever does. Albine means “white,” which is amusing when you consider the—shall we say?—enterprising life I’ve led. No, do not judge me. During the French Revolution, an aristocrat’s daughter couldn’t afford morals, not if she wanted to survive. Yet for all my sins, now that I’ve turned forty, a part of me yearns for the purity my name implies.

Do you have an occupation? 

An occupation? Goodness, no. It’s 1818, and I’m married to a marquis, however impoverished. That’s not to say that I don’t pick up some coin here and there. Plus, I admit to a bit of harmless spying for the British. Payment for that comes as letters from my beloved son who’s in school in Switzerland. Can you blame a mother? Wouldn’t you do the same?

And then there’s my relationship with my long-time hero Napoleon. Don’t be shocked: Charles and I have a practical marriage. He encourages me to “keep company” with Napoleon. For Charles, it’s about ambition and greed. Maybe that’s how it started out for me, but now I love the lonely emperor for himself.

To pass the time, I help Napoleon with the romantic novel he’s writing. (Yes, Napoleon writing fiction!) It’s an old manuscript he started when he was young and idealistic. Now he wants to finish it. You see, Napoleon, like me, has a son, one who was taken from him. The book’s a gift for his “Eaglet,” a way to teach the boy about love, betrayal, and ambition. Perhaps you could call me a writing coach?

Who are the special people in your life?

My son Tristan comes first, of course, but due to our separation, he’s more in my heart than my life.

For years, Napoleon was my idol. I thought if I could get close to him that his glory, power, and wealth would rub off on me. I never knew him—understood him—until now. By hearing my story, you, too, have a chance to know him as I wager you do not.

To complicate matters, I have a new admirer: an almost-handsome British lieutenant, Basil Jackson, who would like to make an honest middle-class woman of me. Can you imagine? And yet . . .


On a different level, there’s Napoleon’s page, little Tobyson. He’s the only person on this island who notices when I’m sad. His father’s an enslaved man whom Napoleon befriended and tried to free. Some scheme’s going on between those two.

What is your heart’s deepest desire?

I want to see my son Tristan again. Even more important, I want to know that he is happy. With 5,000 miles separating us, a mother can only pray.

Beyond that, I crave love. I’d settle for stability. But what’s the best way to achieve either? Should I attach my star to Napoleon? Go to England with almost-handsome Basil? Reconcile with my husband Charles? I had almost decided when suddenly everything changed. I have a child growing inside of me. 

What are you most afraid of?

Hunger. Prison. Have you known them? Did you, too, survive the French Revolution? No? Have pity on those of us who cannot forget our terror. Here, slip your hand into the secret pocket in my skirt. Touch the bread crusts I can never be without. Feel my fear.

Do you have a cherished possession?

I wear a necklace with my son Tristan’s portrait inside.

What do you expect the future will hold for you?

Now that I am pregnant, the British may let me return to Europe. I am torn between conflicting loyalties as Napoleon, Charles, and Basil each urge me to turn on the others, while I only wish to protect my baby.

What have you learned about yourself in the course of your story?

I learned that when you touch greatness, you don’t change it as much as it changes you. I hope finally to be able to temper my ambition and seek a contented life. Most of all, I have learned to live with grief and to find joy in the love that preceded it.

Is there anything else you’d like people to know about you?

I am a survivor. History may forget me, but I am woven in its fabric. I was the last woman Napoleon Bonaparte loved.


About the Author:

Margaret Rodenberg’s passion for French history began when she lived in France as a young teen with her US Navy family. An avid traveler who has visited over sixty countries, she has journeyed more than 30,000 miles to conduct Napoleonic research, including to St. Helena Island in the remote South Atlantic. She’s a former businesswoman, an award-winning writer, and a director of the Napoleonic Historical Society, a non-profit that promotes knowledge of the Napoleonic era. New York Times best-selling author Allison Pataki called her debut novel, Finding Napoleon, “beautiful and poignant.”

Meet Hanna Strauss from Melanie Dobson’s The Curator’s Daughter

Novel PASTimes: Thanks for joining us, Hanna. Your work as an archaeologist is very intriguing . . .

Hanna: I’ve always enjoyed learning about the past and preserving artifacts for the future. Sadly, my career as an archaeologist was put on hold in 1940 due to the changes in my organization. Under Heinrich Himmler and the Third Reich, women are no longer allowed to work for the Ahnenerbe.

Novel PASTimes: I’ve never heard of the Ahnenerbe. 

Hanna: It’s difficult for me to talk about, as you can imagine, but it’s a research and teaching society of about fifty institutes that study the German heritage, including the Aryan people. Our group was moved under the umbrella of the powerful Schutzstaffel, otherwise known as the SS. Only men are allowed to study the German ancestry now. 

Novel PASTimes: What have you been doing since you were released from the Ahnenerbe?

Hanna: You probably read about my recent marriage to an SS officer. That was one of the lowest seasons of my life. Then I’ve been sorting through the valuable collections of those who seem to have disappeared from Nuremberg. I’ve been curating their things and preserving the stories.

Novel PASTimes: What kind of stories?

Hanna: I’m afraid I can’t tell you about the stories. I shouldn’t have even mentioned them. It’s much too dangerous in Germany to talk of such things. Speaking the truth can get you shot or transported on the next train headed east, no matter who you’ve married. 

Novel PASTimes: So your job has been taken away and you have been forced to marry an SS officer. Are you able to find any kind of happiness in your life?

Hanna: Well, it’s the strangest thing. I’ve never wanted to be a parent, but a little girl named Lilly has worked her way into my life. I’d do just about anything to protect her, especially from a monster like my husband. 

Novel PASTimes: Why can’t you leave your husband?

Hanna: Kolman travels most of the time with the SS, but I can’t leave him without severe consequences for Lilly and me. He would be shocked to find out what Lilly and I are doing, what we are hiding, while he is gone. 

Novel PASTimes: I’m very concerned about you, Hanna. 

Hanna: Don’t worry about me, but please—I beg of you, of anyone who will listen—take care of Lilly when I’m gone.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Melanie Dobson is the award-winning author of more than twenty historical romance, suspense, and time-slip novels, including The Curator’s Daughter, which releases from Tyndale House Publishers in March 2021. Melanie is the former corporate publicity manager at Focus on the Family and owner of the publicity firm Dobson Media Group. When she isn’t writing, Melanie enjoys teaching both writing and public relations classes. Melanie and her husband, Jon, have two daughters and live near Portland, Oregon.

An Interview with Naomie from Sarah C. Patten’s The Measure of Gold

So many Parisians fled Paris after the German Invasion, why did you decide to stay?

Naomie – My brother and I were raised as Roma (Gypsies). You have to understand that we spent our lives packing up and moving place to place, so for us, Paris was our first true home. I loved Paris and I loved his apartment at 52 rue Laffitte. After the invasion, we felt scared but resolute that we must stay and fight for the freedom of the city and France. Soon, members of my brother’s esoteric scientific community came to live with us, and we began to formulate elaborate plans to resist.

Why did you write to Penelope asking her to come to Paris from America?

Naomie – I wrote to her because I missed her. Before the invasion, I lived with my brother in Paris. Fulcanelli and I were alchemists, and I was learning to be a tailor. The city was vibrant then— so full of life that any dream felt possible. The art, the music, the dance, the fashion, Paris felt like the center of the world. Then, at once, the Germans invaded. At first the whole city was just frozen in shock because we didn’t want to believe it was really happening. I wrote my letter to Penelope during that time because I was so scared. She was like a sister to me and I needed her help. My brother insisted that she bring him the necklace I had given to her for safe-keeping. He believed that magical necklace could rescue us.

Do you believe in the necklace’s magic?

Naomie – Of course. Why wouldn’t I? You see life is filled with so many magical things.

Naomie remarked with a finality that seemed less like a figure of speech and more like the final diagnosis of something permanent.

Can you tell me about Penelope?

Naomie – Penelope is very brave. It is not easy to cross an ocean alone, enter occupied Paris, then become a British spy. You see, it is not just the necklace that contains magic. Penelope is rife with it, only she likes to hold her magic at bay with her quiet smile and decorum. It’s what made her such an effective spy. You see, Penelope is very brave but also subtle and modest.

Do you think it was the right decision to ask her to come to Paris?

Naomie – At the time, I was certain it was the right decision because we could finally be together. I was so young and sure of things. We were in danger, and she possessed the one thing that could save us. I thought she was journeying to France to deliver a necklace and to reunite with me. I was so naive then. My heart was invulnerable to reason. I did not realize that the war was a nearly perfect monster poised to consume us both.

What do you remember about the war?

Naomie – I could live a thousand lives and never forget what happened to me during the war. What do you want to know?

Can you tell me about the day you were abducted by the police?

Naomie – Penelope had not yet arrived and my brother had sent me to pick up our rations. I had been standing in line for nearly an hour. To distract my nerves, I brought along my sewing bag. I was embroidering a flower onto an old scarf, so I wasn’t really aware of my surroundings. Then, in a flash, I was forced into a police car and taken away. No one looked at me or even cried out in my defense. I have never felt so confused and alone.

Where did they take you?

Naomie – At first I was held in the velodrome then I was transferred to Soufriere Prison outside of Paris. It was an old, rat-infested prison. I survived because one of the guards took a liking to me, or that’s what I thought, so I offered to patch his clothes in exchange for bits of food. He started to bring me the clothes of other soldiers. It was sew or die.

Where did you go after Paris?

Naomie – To a German work camp. It was a wretched life.

She murmured something I couldn’t quite hear.

Can you tell me about it?

Naomie – I’d rather not.

Can you tell me how you survived?

Naomie – After a few weeks there, I realized the prison guard I sewed for in Paris had traveled with us to Auschwitz. He got me a job in the kitchen, so, using my alchemy skills, I faked my way as an assistant to the chief baker for the German officers. I had never baked a loaf of bread before.

How did you escape?

Naomie – Eventually I started to become too hungry and sick to work in the kitchen, then one day the prison guard smuggled a disguise to me. He gave me a backpack of food and water and told me to follow him out the gates and to keep walking for days, to never look back. He told me to trust him. I followed him out the gates of the prison, and we never stopped moving for days until we reached Slovakia then made our way to England.

She throws her hands to her face then to the sky, tears streaming down her face. Her gestures seem to speak as much as her words.

How did you move forward in life as a survivor?

Naomie – It turned out the prison guard worked for the British government. He had been paid to help me escape. When I made it across the border into Slovakia, I finally looked back over my shoulder. I promised myself that I would live my life fully to tell the story of all of the prisoners who did not make it out.

Thank you for sharing your story.


Sarah C. Patten grew up just outside of Chattanooga, Tennessee. She earned her BA in English from Cornell University. Her focus in writing at that time was primarily poetry. She earned her MALS in creative writing from Dartmouth where she completed her thesis, a collection of short stories entitled The Laying on of Hands. Over the course of her career, she spent almost fifteen years working as an English teacher, a creative writing instructor, then a school administrator before leaving those positions to pursue writing full-time. She lives in Asheville, North Carolina with her husband, three children, and four dogs. For more information, please visit: www.sarahcpatten.com