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

Meet Richard Stevens from Kathleen Denly’s Sing in the Sunlight

After hearing several interesting rumors about Richard Stevens, I decided to track him down for a few answers. I found him on Montgomery Street.

Good afternoon, Mr. Stevens. I was wondering if I might have a moment of your time to ask a few questions on behalf of our Novel PASTimes readers. 

I was just about to dine at this restaurant. If you don’t mind joining me, I’m happy to answer your questions. Although, I can’t imagine why your readers would be interested in me.

I followed Mr. Stevens into the restaurant and we were seated at a long table beside several other hungry men. It was a bit noisy, but I managed to speak above the din as we waited for our food.

Well, to begin, someone informed me that you have a connection to one of our previous interviewees—a Miss Eliza Brooks. Is that so?

She’s Mrs. Clarke now, but my connection isn’t so much with her as with her husband. We grew up together in Roxbury, Massachusetts.

Did the two of you come to California together? 

No, he came years before I did. Do you mind if I pray before we eat?

Of course not. Go right ahead. 

Richard bowed his head to silently pray before nodding that I could continue.  

I’ve heard rumors of scandals involving your family back east. Something about your father’s drunken temper and your mother falling down a flight of stairs. 

Who told you that? 

It’s true then? Did you come west to get away from your father?

Listen, I agreed to answer your questions about me. Leave my family out of it or this interview is through.

Of course, my apologies. I was just trying to establish your reason for coming to California.

I escorted my sister here, but before you ask, I’m not going to talk about why she came. I stayed because of the opportunities available to me here that I couldn’t find back east. The people here, the life…it’s very different from the parlor visits and society dinners I grew up with. I know I can make a difference here, but…

Stevens’s words trailed off as our food arrived. Once the waiter had gone, I encouraged him to continue.

But what?

Forget it. What’s your next question?

I understand you’re now the owner of the Prosperity Mine in Nevada City. Can you tell me how that came to be?

There was an accident last year that took the previous owner’s son. Mr. Pollack and his wife decided to move back east and sold me the mine. 

Why you? Certainly there were others able to offer a better price for such a valuable enterprise. If you’d been working for them you couldn’t have saved up that much money. Unless you have family money…?

That wasn’t it. Mr. Pollack didn’t trust another investor not to cut corners. He was a good man who cared about the men that worked for him. He knew that, having worked there for two years, I knew what changes were needed to see that another accident didn’t happen. He trusted me to get it done.

That says a lot about you. Tell me, is it true you’ve hired a female as your secretary?

Yes. I encountered Miss Bennetti on a trip to San Francisco a few months ago. She was in need of a job and I was in need of a secretary. She has proven herself to be an excellent employee. I couldn’t be more pleased with her work. 

There are several who think you hired her with ulterior motives. Your miners claim they aren’t allowed to even speak to her because you’re planning to propose marriage to her.

When did you speak with my men? Forget it. Wherever you heard that nonsense, it simply isn’t true. My relationship with Miss Bennetti is strictly professional. In fact, I’ve recently learned she’s formed an attachment with…well, I’d better not say. I’m not sure they’ve made their announcement yet. 

Hmm. If not your secretary, perhaps you’re romantic interests lay with this Miss Johnson you’ve been searching for? I hear you’ve been knocking on doors all over the city. 

I’m afraid you’ve been misinformed again. I’m looking for Fletcher Johnson—a man. 

Hmm. Just a moment while I check my notes. Ah, yes, my apologies. It’s a Mr. Johnson and a Miss Humphrey whom you’ve been asking about. Is she the one—?

I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be rude, but I thought you were going to ask questions about me, maybe about the mine or…I don’t know, what. But so far you’ve insulted my family and continued to poke your nose into topics that are none of your business. I think this interview is through. 

But you didn’t answer—

My food’s getting cold. 

I tried several more times to get Mr. Stevens talking again, but he just kept eating in silence. When he was through, he smiled politely, thanked me for my company, and took his leave.


Kathleen Denly writes historical romance stories to entertain, encourage, and inspire readers toward a better understanding of our amazing God and how He sees us. Award winning author of the Chaparral Hearts series, she also shares history tidbits, thoughts on writing, books reviews and more at KathleenDenly.com.

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A Conversation with Dorothy Clark from Amanda Cabot’s Dreams Rekindled

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

DOROTHY: Thanks for inviting me. Others, including my sister-in-law Evelyn, have told me how much fun it is to chat with you.

NOVEL PASTIMES: She had quite a story. When I talked to her, she and Polly were living in the apartment you now call home. I was surprised when I learned that you’re living there alone. 

DOROTHY: You’re not the only one who was surprised. My mother wasn’t thrilled by the idea of my leaving the ranch and moving into the apartment, but with Evelyn and Wyatt gone, someone had to keep the restaurant running. Oh, I see the questions in your eyes. You know that Evelyn’s the owner of the restaurant, but you may not know that she recently married my brother Wyatt and that they’re in East Texas taking care of some business.

NOVEL PASTIMES: I hadn’t heard that congratulations were in order, but I’m not too surprised. When Evelyn and I talked, I thought there was a special man in her life. But back to you. You must be a wonderful cook if Evelyn left you in charge of her restaurant. 

DOROTHY: You’ve obviously never tasted my cooking. Fortunately, my best friend Laura is an accomplished chef. I just help her. 

NOVEL PASTIMES: If cooking isn’t your passion, what is? 

DOROTHY: Writing. I don’t know whether you’ve read Uncle Tom’s Cabin – after all, it’s banned here in the South – but more than anything, I want to write something that will change people’s lives the way Mrs. Stowe’s book did.

NOVEL PASTIMES: That’s certainly a worthy goal. Why haven’t you done it?

DOROTHY: I could say it’s because I’ve been too busy, but the truth is, I haven’t had a single idea that’s important enough to be turned into a book. The only writing I’ve done was an article to help my brother publicize his first horse sale.

NOVEL PASTIMES: That sounds interesting. Did it bring more people to Mesquite Springs?

DOROTHY: It did.

NOVEL PASTIMES: Then maybe you should write more articles.

DOROTHY: Are you a mind reader? I’ve been thinking about that ever since Brandon Holloway came to town. Laura’s convinced he’s the man she’s going to marry, but what attracts me is the fact that he’s starting a newspaper here.

NOVEL PASTIMES: So you don’t find him attractive?

DOROTHY: I didn’t say that. Brandon’s handsome, but more than that, he’s kind and thoughtful and doing something important. Mesquite Springs needed a newspaper, and he’s giving us one.

NOVEL PASTIMES: That makes him sound like the perfect man for you. Would you consider marrying him if Laura weren’t interested in him?

DOROTHY: No! I won’t ever marry.

NOVEL PASTIMES: Oh, Dorothy. You surprised me before, but now you’ve shocked me. I can see you believe it, but I don’t understand. Why won’t you marry?

DOROTHY: I can’t.

NOVEL PASTIMES: You can’t? Why would you believe you can’t marry?

DOROTHY: It’s more than believing. I know I can’t. Please don’t ask me to say anything more, because it’s not something I talk about to anyone, not even my family. 

NOVEL PASTIMES: And nothing would change your mind?

DOROTHY: No. It’s too great a risk.

Amanda Cabot is the bestselling author of Out of the Embers, as well as the Cimarron
Creek Trilogy and the Texas Crossroads, Texas Dreams, and Westward Winds series.
Her books have been finalists for the ACFW Carol Awards, the HOLT Medallion, and
the Booksellers’ Best. She lives in Wyoming. Learn more at www.amandacabot.com.

Interview with Johanna Suhre from Heidi Chiavaroli’s The Orchard House

Novel PASTimes: Welcome to Novel PASTimes, Johanna. I see you are acquainted with great literary genius Louisa May Alcott. That sounds fascinating!

Johanna: Yes, I’ve been privileged to know Louisa for several years now. Though it was only recently she has become so well-known to so many.

Novel PASTimes: Would you mind telling us the story of how you met?

Johanna: Oh, certainly. You see Louisa nursed my brother after he was injured at Fredericksburg. God rest his soul, dear John was the light of my life and it seems, for a moment in time while Louisa nursed him, he was the light of hers too. She was the one who wrote out John’s last words to us, along with sending on his ring. I’ve read that letter over and over again, as has Mother.

Novel PASTimes: I can’t imagine your heartbreak. I’m so sorry for your loss.

Johanna: Thank you. We miss John terribly, but we are so very proud of him. Even in the depths of his suffering, his wisdom and loving spirit were evident. Louisa called him her “Prince of Patients” and wrote honestly of him in her memoir Hospital Sketches. I have no doubt she was a comfort to him in that time. 

Novel PASTimes: It sounds as if she cared for him greatly.

Johanna: Yes, she did. John lives on, though. He is a part of so many, including the characters Louisa writes.

Novel PASTimes: I understand you traveled to Concord to work for Louisa?

Johanna: Yes, I was ready for my own adventure. In Louisa’s words, “change of scene is sometimes salvation for women who outgrow the place they are born in,” and I felt change of scene was precisely what I needed, especially with both Father and John gone.

Novel PASTimes: And now that you have been in Concord for some time, are you happy with your decision?

Johanna: Oh yes! Especially since meeting Nathan. We are planning to be married very soon. If only . . . well, never mind all that.

Novel PASTimes: You are among friends here, Johanna. Feel free to share your thoughts. Do you have some hesitation about coming to Concord?

Johanna: About coming to Concord? Most certainly not. It is a beautiful place full of Revolutionary history, a birthplace of literature and art. It stirs an inspiration within me to create my own poems, which I’ve greatly enjoyed and which Louisa has encouraged me in, busy as she is with her own writing. She has become a great friend. I only wish she could see Nathan as I do.

Novel PASTimes: Miss Alcott does not care for your husband-to-be, then?

Johanna: They have some . . . history between them. But don’t we all? Nathan can be a bit passionate about his work, and when it is met with Louisa’s verve . . . well, the two don’t always see eye to eye, is all. Nathan has many a good side. He truly does. We all get angry at one time or another, but real love bears with the ugly. I firmly believe that. Louisa is strong in her ways, and I will be strong in mine by loving unconditionally the man who loves me, in spite of his faults.

Novel PASTimes: You seem determined then, Johanna. We wish you the very best. Thank you so much for spending some time with us and we look forward to reading more of your story in The Orchard House!


Heidi Chiavaroli (pronounced shev-uh-roli . . . sort of like Chevrolet and raviolimushed together) wrote her first story in third grade, titled I’d Cross the Desert for Milk. It wasn’t until years later that she revisited writing, using her two small boys’ nap times to pursue what she thought at the time was a foolish dream. Despite a long road to publication, she hasn’t stopped writing since!

Heidi writes women’s fiction, combining her love of history and literature to write split-time stories. Her debut novel, Freedom’s Ring, was a Carol Award winner and a Christy Award finalist, a Romantic Times Top Pick and a Booklist Top Ten Romance Debut. Heidi loves exploring places that whisper of historical secrets, especially with her family. She loves running, hiking, baking, and dates with her husband. Heidi makes her home in Massachusetts with her husband and two sons. Visit her online at heidichiavaroli.com.

Book Review: A Dance in Donegal by Jennifer Deibel

A Dance in Donegal by Jennifer Deibel

Feb. 2, 2021, Revell, Paperback, 352 pages.

First of all, can we just agree that this is a gorgeous cover! This historical romance takes place in 1921 when Moira Doherty moves from Boston to her deceased mother’s hometown in County Donegal to take the job of village teacher. There is a secret about her mother that Moira doesn’t figure out until the end. The story explores the theme of trusting God in the face of adversity even when you’d rather run the other way. A strong concept worth exploring.

I liked this book. What I loved most was the depiction of Ireland. The author lived there for several years and described the dialect, the people, the landscape so much more accurately and vividly than many other books set in Ireland I’ve read.

I thought the romance between Moira and Sean was sweet and genuine and the ending satisfying. Midway through the story slowed down a bit for me and there were some plot aspects that either didn’t make sense to me or seemed somewhat forced. That being said, read A Dance in Donegal if you’re eager for a pleasant trip to Ireland, a sweet romance, and an inspiring and satisfying ending.

A note if you don’t normally read Christian fiction: This story has a lot of scripture, characters reading the Bible, and inter dialogue about trusting God. I’m fine with that, but if you’re sensitive to it you should understand that it’s meant for readers of Christian fiction.

Novel PASTimes received an Advanced Copy from the publisher for the purpose of an honest, unbiased review with no obligation.

Meet Moira and her Friends from A Dance in Donegal by Jennifer Deibel

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

Moira, you recently moved to Ireland after your mother passed away. Why did you move there?

Thanks for having me! I had always dreamed of seeing my mother’s home country of Ireland. She used to tell me all about the céilí dances they would have in the town hall. I loved to hear about all the crazy people from her village, and the antics they would get into. But, I never expected to go live there.

However, when Mother died, I started to sense God leading me there. Mother, in fact, had implored me to go just before she passed. I didn’t want to go so far away all by myself, but the more I fought it, the clearer it became that I was meant to go there. 

There seems to be a theme of dance running through your story. Why is that?

I’ve always loved to dance. My favorites were the old style céilí dances our community used to do a few times a year back home in Boston. I used to imagine I was back in the halla of Mother’s village in Ireland as I swirled around the dance floor, and dream of one day visiting there. I had no idea just how much of her hometown I would end up getting to experience.

But, also, I find that a life of faith is much like a dance—with a rhythm and flow all its own. And we can fight the music so we can lead our own way…or we can listen to the One who created the dance—steps, music, and all—and let Him lead us in something more beautiful and joy-filled than we could ever do on our own.

Your mother put your name forward to replace the old school teacher. Why did you decide to go into teaching?

Oh, I just adore children. And I’m highly curious by nature, so education was a natural fit for me. Now that I think of it, Mother used to speak so highly of her childhood teacher in Ireland, Mrs. McGinley, I’m sure that influenced me as well.

You see, there’s truly nothing like that moment when everything falls into place for a student who has been struggling with a certain concept. When they’ve worked so hard, and fought for understanding, to see it all finally make sense is the most wonderful feeling in the world. There’s nothing like it!

So, you moved almost halfway around the world to a new country, a new job, a new culture. How did you combat the loneliness of being so far from home?

Oh goodness, that was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done! In truth, it was so painfully lonely at times that it almost brought physical pain! But, God, in His kindness, brought me good friends.

Bríd, who runs the Guest House where I stayed my first days in town, became one of my closest friends. Her companionship, cultural insight, and—let’s be honest, her tea—was a balm to my grieving, homesick heart. She understood the loss of my mother, and seemed to understand my cultural struggles before I did.

Then, you look at Colm and Peg, and…well…of course, Sean. With a group of friends around you like that, anyone would be hard-pressed to fail.

Yes, it seems Colm and Peg, you played a big role in the adventures Moira ends up taking. How did you meet Moira, and what possessed you to take her in the way you did?

Ah now, ‘tis easy to see Moira’s a lovely lass, so ‘twasn’t difficult to “take her in,” as ye say.

We met through Sean here, my apprentice. Our wee village was hit by a rather nasty gale, and poor Moira’s chalet took some damage. Sean brought me over to help him with the repairs. Moira had a spread o’ tea and cakes set when we arrived, and that was it. I was smitten.

To be fair, though, once the missus and me got to know Moira, we could see she was special. The Laird gave her some mighty tricky tasks, and we wanted to be there to help and support her in any way we could.

Well, she seems very lucky to have friends like you. Sean, you introduced the Colm and Peg to Moira. How did the two of you meet?

Me and Moira? Ah, well…we, ah, bumped into each other a few times afore we were properly introduced. But, I used to help auld Mrs. McGinley at the school, so I wanted to make sure the new teacher was up to the task.

The moment I clapped eyes on Moira in that schoolroom, I could tell she was where she was meant to be. She looked at that space as if ‘twas her own sanctuary. I was drawn to her respect for the profession, and her compassion for the wee ones. But that doesna mean I wasn’t goin’ to give her a bit o’ jest along the way.

Well, thank you all very much for joining us today! Moira, is there anything else you’d like us to know?

Just that Donegal is truly an enchanting place, boasting some of the most rugged and beautiful terrain in all of Ireland—and home to the most boisterous, beautiful, artistic, warm and loving people on earth.

There truly is nothing and no place like Donegal.

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

Jennifer Deibel is a middle school teacher whose work has appeared on
(in)courage, on The Better Mom, in Missions Mosaic magazine, and others. With
firsthand immersive experience abroad, Jennifer writes stories that help redefine
home through the lens of culture, history, and family. After nearly a decade of
living in Ireland and Austria, she now lives in Arizona with her husband and their
three children. You can find her online at www.thisgalsjourney.com.

Book Review: The Nature of Fragile Things by Susan Meissner

Hardcover | $26.00
Published by Berkley
Feb 02, 2021 | 384 Pages | 6 x 9 | ISBN 9780451492180

Set in 1906 during the great San Fransisco earthquake, this new novel by Susan Meissner follows Irish immigrant Sophie Whalen who chose to leave poverty in New York City to become a mail order bride for widower Martin Hocking and his young daughter. But make no mistake. This is not your traditional mail order bride story. This is a mystery to be solved with characters to sort out. Nothing is as it first seems.

Before the earthquake Sophie learns about Martin’s secrets and is forced to make a decision to save the daughter Kat she’s become so fond of. The daughter doesn’t belong to her, however, and the events that unfold deliver twists and turns that made this book extremely hard to put down. The ending wasn’t predictable but like Meissner’s other stories, was satisfying and redemptive. Perhaps more so than in her previous stories, this main character pushes the fringes of good moral behavior, but her motivations gradually become clear, making Sophie a real, raw, character readers will root for.

The historical details are so vivid and detailed that readers will be swept into the story much like watching a film unfold on a big screen. When I read the ending all I could say was, “Wow!” Highly recommended.

I received an advance copy from the publisher for the purpose of review. The opinions in this review are mine alone.

Cindy Thomson, http://www.cindyswriting.com

Introducing Evelyn Brand from Sarah Sundin’s When Twilight Breaks

Welcome to Novel PASTimes! The job of a foreign correspondent is to report the news, not create it, but girl reporter Evelyn Brand is known for not following the rules. Today, Miss Brand is here to tell us about her shocking adventures in Hitler’s Germany, to be revealed in her much-anticipated book, coming in early 1939. Miss Brand, please tell the curious readers of Novel PASTimes how you came to be a correspondent in Germany.

Thank you for this interview. After I graduated from college, I did my stint at a copy desk at a major newspaper in New York City. Since I’ve always loved travel and adventure, I leapt at an opportunity to report in Paris with the American News Service. After two years, I was transferred to Germany.

There’s a story floating around among the correspondents about an incident in Paris. Would you care to elaborate?

That story will follow me forever. One of the French government ministers had banned female reporters from his press conferences. To say this inhibited my work is an understatement. How was I to write my assigned stories if I was banned from the main source of information? Never afraid to break the rules, I dressed up as a man, wearing a man’s suit with my hair pinned under a fedora. However, I failed to use enough pomade and pins. Early in the press conference, my curls began to spring out from under the fedora. I was expelled from the room, and I’ve been teased about the incident ever since. But would I do it again? In a heartbeat!

That leads us to your assignment to Munich. From what we’ve heard, you were less than pleased. Why is that?

Berlin is where everything happens in Germany. It’s where Hitler governs, where Goebbels gives his press conferences, where the generals and officials and everyone of importance works. Although Munich is beautiful and rich in culture, it seemed like a dead-end assignment for a correspondent.

Of course, that’s why my bureau chief wanted me there—to keep me out of trouble. He hoped to keep this “girl reporter” quiet covering “feminine” topics like concerts, Mother’s Day festivities, and interviewing American students at the University of Munich. Little did he know—

Before we proceed, that article on the American exchange students was my introduction to your writing. I was surprised to hear our “junior year abroad” students were having such an enjoyable experience in Nazi Germany.

That’s a common experience among American and British tourists and students in Germany. As much as it pains me to admit, Hitler’s harsh policies have brought security at home and low unemployment, even in the middle of the Great Depression. Clean streets, new roads, and new museums cause many to overlook the brutal oppression of the Nazi regime.

From what I understand, that particular assignment at the university led to an interesting personal development for you.

Yes, it introduced me to Peter Lang, an American graduate student teaching at the University of Munich, a man who became entwined in the adventure and danger of the past year. And—although I dread sounding coy—the rest of that story will be told in my book.

At least something interesting came out of your assignment to Munich.

Many interesting things. Little did my bureau chief know that being in Munich would give me a front-row seat for the most important events of 1938.

It has been a momentous year. Germany’s annexation of Austria, the Munich Conference, and Kristallnacht—and you were able to report on all of these. Which event was most important for your career?

That’s a hard question to answer. The annexation of Austria was the first solid news story I was able to write in Germany, the Munich Conference was definitely my break-out story, and Kristallnacht—well, I wasn’t able to report on it, but—

But you dread sounding coy, and it’ll be in your book. Yes, we understand. Are there any particular challenges you face as a girl reporter?

As a woman, I do face greater challenges in my job. My mentor, Mitch O’Hara, told me, “Your dues are twice as high as a man’s, and the penalties are twice as high as a man’s. It isn’t right, but that’s how it is.” If a man hunts down a lead, he’s called bold. I’m called pushy. If a man finds an unconventional way to get a story, he’s called clever. I’m scolded for breaking the rules.

However, I’ve found some advantages too. I’m forced to be more creative in seeking angles and sources, which has led to some interesting opportunities. Also, women are more likely to open up to me, and I’ve found some juicy story leads that way, like my scoop for the Munich Conference.

What other challenges did you find reporting in Nazi Germany?

When you’re raised in a nation with freedom of speech and freedom of the press, it can be difficult to learn how to report in a police state. Although the German government doesn’t directly censor our articles, they effectively do so. They read our outgoing mail and telegrams, and they confiscate any they don’t like. Most of us phone our articles in, but the Germans listen in on our calls. In addition, their embassy staff in the US reads our newspapers and reports back on unflattering articles. The German government has the right to expel foreign correspondents from the country, which can damage a reporter’s career.

Also, on occasion the Gestapo has tried to frame correspondents for espionage. Plus, we have to consider the safety of our informants, who risk their lives to bring us information. We walk a thin line between reporting the truth and endangering our own lives and the lives of brave men and women.

Thank you, Miss Brand. We’re all looking forward to your new book. After the tumult of 1938, here’s hoping your book is the most—and only—memorable event in 1939!

Sarah Sundin’s novels have received starred reviews from Booklist, Library
Journal, and Publishers Weekly. The Sky Above Us received the Carol Award, her
bestselling The Sea Before Us received the FHL Reader’s Choice Award, and both
Through Waters Deep and When Tides Turn were named on Booklist’s “101 Best
Romance Novels of the Last 10 Years.” Sarah lives in Northern California. Visit
www.sarahsundin.com for more information.