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.