Interview with Perla Divko from The Devil’s Breath by Tom Hogan

Perla Divko, along with her husband Shimon, is an Auschwitz prisoner forced by Kommandant Rudolf Höss to solve a murder (of Höss’s accountant) and the theft of millions in gold extracted from the teeth of gas chamber victims. The Divkos are a formidable team: Shimon was Chief Detective in Warsaw, while Perla was an investigative reporter. In The Devil’s Breath, the pair approaches their assignment with two goals:  to solve the murder and theft, and thus stay alive; and to get word and evidence about Auschwitz and its industrial murder to the outside world.

Q:  You and your husband are forced to help your captors and torturers. How difficult was that for you?

A:  The Kommandant tortured my husband, but he didn’t break. Then they told us that they would execute 100 of each of our barracks-mate if we wouldn’t help. I believe we were still willing to die for our beliefs, but then Divko suggested that we had a unique opportunity to get inside the workings of Auschwitz and document the mass murder happening there. That was what made working with the Nazis palatable.

Q:  You and your husband are a team of equals, a rare commodity in Europe, especially Poland.

A:  We were fortunate in that we both had established ourselves in our professions before we met. And when we first met, I had more sources and inside information than Shimon. So we met as equals, became partners, and only then got married.

Q:  Your alliance with your Nazi overseer, Graf, is again something unique in the stories we hear about the Holocaust, especially the camps. How did that come about?

A:  It began as an adversarial relationship, with Herr Graf charged with overseeing every phase of the investigation and reporting it back to his Nazi overlords. But Graf was also a human being, and once he saw the workings of Auschwitz up close, his human side trumped his Nazi loyalties. And that opened the doors to each of us being to talk to the other as equals, rather than prisoner/captor.

Q:  You had a fiery relationship with Gisela Brandt, the female SS officer in charge of camp labor. Were you ever worried that she might send you to the gas chambers for what she called your ‘insubordination’?

A:  Not really, but only because I was far more useful to her alive than dead. And while she pretended that we were allies, she was a Nazi through and through, and I knew that the moment my value to her and the Kommandant lessened, I’d be in the next transport to the gas chambers.

About the Book:

The Devil’s Breath is a fascinating new suspense novel set in Auschwitz. This murder/theft mystery takes a unique approach to Holocaust literature. Instead of the events of camp and ghetto life being the primary narrative, The Devil’s Breath uses the Holocaust as the setting for a gripping murder and heist mystery, educating the reader as it entertains.
Auschwitz prisoners Perla and Shimon Divko—she an investigative reporter, he a former lead detective in the Warsaw ghetto—are forced by Kommandant Rudolf Höss to solve the murder of his chief accountant and find millions in missing gold taken from the bodies of Jewish corpses. With Reichsführer Himmler due for his annual audit, they have a week to solve the crime or watch hundreds of their peers executed as the penalty for their failure. The investigators dive deep inside Auschwitz—the Kanada harvesting operation, the killing process and the perils of daily life, hindered at every step by multiple red herrings, the murder of prime suspects and witnesses, and the complicated relationship between Höss and his mistress, Gisela Brandt, an SS officer.
The Divkos have two agendas in accepting the case: 1) to solve the crime and keep themselves and the hostage prisoners alive; and 2) find a way to alert the world about the scope and purpose of Auschwitz. In a thrilling conclusion, they solve the crime but are sentenced to death in the gas chamber for their efforts, where in a triumphant but heartbreaking finale, they pull off one act of resistance.

Title: The Devil’s Breath ISBN: 978-1-7369436-1-8 274 pgs., Format: Paperback Price: $17.95, Kindle: $2.99 ISBN: 978-1-7369436-0-1 Pub. date: Aug. 30, 2021


About the Author
Tom Hogan grew up in post-war Germany, living in a German village with his US military family. When Tom was 8, the family visited Dachau, the original Nazi concentration camp, which prompted Tom to wonder how many of his neighbors had known about or participated in the campaign against the Jews and the resulting Holocaust. It was a question that would stay with Tom his entire life.
After graduating from Harvard with an MA in Biblical Archaeology, Tom was recruited by a human rights agency to bring Holocaust Studies into high school and college curricula. For four years he taught at Santa Clara University and traveled with Holocaust survivors to school districts and universities, bringing the lessons of the Holocaust home to new audiences.
In the late 80s, Tom left teaching to join a growing company, Oracle, as its first creative director. Leveraging his success at Oracle, he joined the VC (Venture Capital) world, where his agency, Crowded Ocean, positioned and launched over 50 startups, many of them market leaders today. He is the co-author of The Ultimate Startup Guide, which is used in graduate and MBA programs. 
He recently left the tech world to return to teaching. For five years he taught Holocaust and Genocide Studies at UC Santa Cruz. He then retired to Austin, where he now writes full-time. His first novel, Left for Alive, was described by Kirkus as “gritty and observant, particularly his descriptions of the various outlaws who populate his pages… an impressive tale about criminals that will hold readers hostage.” The Devil’s Breath is his second novel. In addition to his fiction, Hogan is a screenwriter and has written for Newsweek as well as numerous political and travel publications.

MEET JANE LINDER FROM SUSAN ANNE MASON’S “TO FIND HER PLACE”

Tell us a little about yourself, Jane.

I’m Canadian, born and bred in Toronto, Ontario. Right now, I’m living with my widowed mother while my brother is away fighting in the war. I work at the Toronto Children’s Aid Society, where I’ve been a social worker for several years. Currently I’m the acting directress, filling in for my boss and mentor who is planning to retire after suffering a heart attack.

That’s quite an important job for a woman. Do you feel pressured to perform as well as a man?

Absolutely. Especially since I hope to impress the board of management and be awarded the position permanently. I’ve devoted my life to helping orphaned children find loving parents, and in this position, I hope to make policy changes that will allow more children, especially those who are deemed ‘unadoptable’, to find permanent homes.

That’s an admirable goal. What obstacles do you foresee in achieving this?

Other than proving my skills to the board, I have to contend with Garrett Wilder, an outsider they’ve brought in to study the agency’s procedures and overhaul the system. Apparently, there is a discrepancy with the finances, and I’m worried the board thinks I might have something to do with it. Also, I’m fairly certain Garrett is hoping to be awarded the director’s position himself.

Have you always wanted to be a career woman? What made you so focused on social work?

I’ve always loved children and longed for a family of my own. But after two miscarriages and the breakdown of my marriage, it seemed that particular path was not meant for me. Instead, I threw myself into my career in the hopes that ministering to less fortunate children might bring me the fulfilment denied me through motherhood. There’s one little boy in particular who has captured my heart, and if I could adopt him myself, I’d do it in a heartbeat. I won’t rest until Martin has found his forever family.

Has the war had an effect on the Children’s Aid Society?

Very much so. There are more children in need of our services than ever before. With the pressure on women raising children alone while their husbands are overseas, more cases of neglect and abuse have been reported. At the same time, we have fewer and fewer foster families willing to take in children since they are struggling to manage their own families. And fewer families thinking about adoption in this time of uncertainty.

That does sound difficult. What will happen if Garrett Wilder is awarded the director’s position?

I don’t know. I’m not sure I could continue working there, now that I’ve started to develop feelings for Garrett. But he seems determined to keep me at arm’s length for some reason. Perhaps it’s due to the war injuries he’s hinted at. And then there’s my former husband, Donald, who has returned from the war with a tempting proposition of his own. I will have to pray very hard to determine where my true place lies. 

Well, thank you Jane for talking with us and giving us a glimpse into the Toronto Children’s Aid Society during WWII.

Thank you for having me. I’m certain that God will direct my steps toward my ultimate happiness, no matter which path I choose.


Susan Anne Mason’s debut historical novel, Irish Meadows,won the Fiction from the Heartland contest from the Mid-American Romance Authors Chapter of RWA. She is the author of the Courage to Dream Series and the Canadian Crossings series. A member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Susan lives outside of Toronto, Ontario, with her husband and two adult children. She loves wine and chocolate and isn’t partial to snow even though she’s Canadian.Learn more about Susan and her books at www.susanannemason.net.

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.

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

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.

Meet Addie Bledsoe from In Times Like These a Women of the Heartland story by Gail Kittleson

Addie, do you ever feel you need help? 

Oh my goodness. How did you know? If I could just stop causing my husband Harold’s outbursts and violent behavior…if I could only understand what it is about me that makes him so angry…

Ah, so your marriage is troubling you? 

Definitely. Besides that, since the Pearl Harbor bombing, when Harold lost his best friend Joe on the Arizona, it’s been…rough. I know he’s grieving and wants to go fight the enemy, but the county draft board has deferred him for farm work. That has to be so hard, and I feel for him. We’ve only been married three years, so surely things will get better.

Hmm. I can understand. What kinds of support to do find out here on the farm? It’s a bit isolated, isn’t it? 

Yes, but my down-the-road neighbor Jane is a wealth of wisdom. She’s gone through so much, and I’m learning a lot from her about gardening. Her gruff exterior hides a heart of gold, and I’m so glad we got  to know each other. 

Your garden is important to you? 

Yes, I feel a special peace when I have my hands in the soil. And it’s important to our nation, too. It’s a Victory Garden, you know. 

Wonderful—do you have any other friends?

Oh yes! My dear friend Kate is clear across the Atlantic in London, searching for her downed RAF pilot husband. She’s sort of an amateur psychologist, and is always encouraging me about Harold. And there’s my mother-in-law—she’s been changing, and for the better! I never dreamed she would become a confidant, but  that seems to be gradually happening. 

And then there’s our mailman, George Miller. I know I can trust him to keep quite about my correspondence with Kate—Harold would be furious about this. 

He doesn’t like Kate?

Not at all—maybe it’s because Kate and I are so different. She says what she thinks, for one thing. And she’s a real risk taker, doesn’t care what anybody thinks. That would absolutely not be me. I wish I were more like her, to be honest. 

Are you saying you have some inner fears? 

I sure do. What people think bothers me a lot, and I’m afraid to speak up most of the time. Harold is very sensitive, you know, so I watch my P’s and Q’s—I wouldn’t want to disturb him. 

You have to tiptoe around him?

That’s it exactly. But don’t get me wrong, I’m certain that through faith and perseverance, our marriage will get better. He really is such a strong, intelligent person—it’s just that…well, I need to learn how to communicate with him…need to understand what I can change to make him happy. 

I see. Well, good luck with that, Addie. Thank you so much for your thoughtful answers. 


Writing has always been Gail’s passion. Her Women of the Heartland series honors make-do Greatest Generation women who sacrificed so much for the cause of freedom. 

Gail and her husband live in northern Iowa and retreat to Arizona’s Mogollon Rim Country in winter. They also enjoy grandchildren and gardening. It’s no secret why this  late-bloomer calls her website DARE TO BLOOM, and she loves to encourage other writers through facilitating workshops. 

Meet Kate Isaacs from Gail Kittleson’s A Purpose True

Good morning, Miss Isaacs.

Just call me Kate. Actually I’m Mrs., but my husband … he was a pilot in the Royal Air Force…

Is that a tear glinting?

Oh dear. Did you lose him in the war?

         Yes, and long story short, that’s why I’m here. 

A familiar tale these days—so many widows want to do their bit for the war effort. 

         Absolutely.

I’ve been told a little about you, that you and your husband eloped, and you searched for him throughout London…

         And found him—we had a brief Christmas together, and then …

Your superiors say you’re sharp-witted and well read. Tell me about your background…your formative years and education. 

My Aunt provided so well for me. She had great aspirations for my future, but I’m afraid I disappointed her. Alexandre and I were rash to run off and marry, but I’ve always been impetuous. 

So you grew up in a small Midwestern town?

Yes, in Iowa, although I was born out on the East Coast just after the Great War. I still have a best friend there named Addie. We had great teachers, especially in literature class. Mrs. Morford did so much to instill a love of learning in us. 

Sounds idyllic, but we all have our ‘druthers, don’t we? If there were one thing about your childhood you could change, what would it be? 

I’d have a normal childhood, with my mother and father alive and well. I have only the vaguest memory of them, you know.” 

How did you lose them? 

In an airplane crash when I was very young. It’s all quite mysterious. I remember a woman taking me to my aunt in Iowa and that it all had something to do with the Great War, but doubt I’ll ever discover the truth. 

And now you are bound for service with the Secret Operations Executive? You must be very brave, indeed.

Or foolhardy—there’s only a fine line between the two. However, you know quite well that I’m unable to disclose any other specifics. 

Indeed. But I am aware that you and your comrades have learned to parachute behind enemy lines. How did you like that portion of your training?

         Oh, it was the best! What a thrill to sail through the air, even for such a short time.

My, my, but you are adventurous! Does your friend Addie like wild escapades, too?

Not at all, yet she’s still courageous in her own way. You might say we’re polar opposites, but still find so much in common. Addie’s all the family I have now.

What a wonderful friendship! Oh, I see our time is up. Godspeed and a safe return to you.

A Secret Agent’s Inner Life

On the outside, Kate Isaacs, the heroine of A Purpose True and With Each New Dawn, strikes us as an inveterate risk-taker, a woman able to do anything. She wastes no time pondering proposed actions—she’s too busy doing something! At first glance, she wastes not a moment watching life pass her by, and we applaud her “go for it” attitude.

People are drawn to this sharp-witted, well-read young woman. She eloped with her husband straight out of high school, followed him to London after his Royal Air Force plane was downed, and searched for him far and wide. Nothing can stop her. 

But I caught her in one of her quieter moments and posed a simple question. “If you could change one thing about your life, what would it be?” Her immediate response revealed a vast, yawning hunger in her soul. 

“I’d have a normal childhood, with my mother and father alive and well.” 

Ah…when I was writing Kate’s story, the old spiritual, “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child…” never entered my mind. But looking back, it’s clear that the huge hole in Kate’s emotional being helped shape her into the adult she’s become.

Her mentor back in London warned her that waiting for an assignment would trouble her, and her sojourn as a secret agent in Southern France provided plenty of solitary times. During those periods when she had little control over anything, her mother’s face appeared from photos Kate had seen, and the reader finds her carrying on a conversation with this woman who gave her birth and died during Kate’s early childhood. 

         Kelly McDaniel, LPC, writes: “Hope Edelman’s book Motherless Daughters…offers help for women who experience early maternal death… ‘at some very deep level, nobody wants to believe that motherless children exist. …in our psyches …mother represents comfort and security no matter what our age.’ Italics mine.” https://kellymcdanieltherapy.com/wp-content/uploads/MotherHungerExplanation.pdf

         Kate may seem independent and in charge, but the look in her eyes tells another story. When all is said and done, when she’s avoided the Gestapo again in a heart-pounding near-disaster, when she’s all alone in an isolated cave and the future seems so tenuous, this mother hunger rises from a place deep within. 

         But it’s World War II, and no therapist or support groups exist. Kate’s role often demands solitude. In these honest moments when her hunger envelops her, she confronts her great need. She speaks with her mother…declares her longings out loud. And sometimes, in a way she finds difficult to verbalize, she senses her mother near. 

         Each confrontation of her deepest fears increases her breathing space a tiny bit more. As she risks her life for the freedom of la France, her own freedom grows, as well. This universal premise rings true for us all—facing our fears, though it’s terrifying, strengthens us in ways we could never have imagined.

Writing has always been Gail’s passion. Her Women of the Heartland series honors make-do Greatest Generation women who sacrificed so much for the cause of freedom. 

Gail and her husband live in northern Iowa and retreat to Arizona’s Mogollon Rim Country in winter. They also enjoy grandchildren and gardening. It’s no secret why this  late-bloomer calls her website DARE TO BLOOM, and she loves to encourage other writers through facilitating workshops. 

Book Review: If I Were You by Lynn Austin

Publisher: Tyndale Fiction (June 2020)
416 pages

War changes people. We may be more aware of that today than in the past when many people tried to act as though it didn’t. WWII was one of the times when Americans returned home and vowed to leave it all in the past. However, as Lynn Austin says in her author’s note, that was not so easy for those living in England after WWII where war and devastation had landed on their doorstep. Reminders remained for years due to so many bombed areas.

This story is about the lives of two women who met as girls and became friends. It was a friendship that could not be in those days because they came from very different social classes. Eve Dawson’s mother was a lady’s maid and Audrey Clarkson was that lady’s daughter. But WWII changed British society, not to mention individual lives. Eve and Audrey became friends again during the war through the various ways they served their country and the losses and hardships they endured. No one was spared no matter how wealthy they might have been. In the process they learned just how strong they were. And then after the war events altered their lives once again and threatened to destroy their newfound faith in God.

I really liked how this novel was structured. It opens in 1950 with Audrey discovering Eve had impersonated her and taken over her life with the family of her deceased American husband. The mystery of how that could have happened and what they will do about it now that they are together again drives the story because going back in time we see Eve and Audrey as very tight friends.

I also loved the historical background and events, which is something you can always count on Lynn Austin to provide. If you liked the television series Land Girls, you will love this book. And I will say the book is better because it’s inspirational. We get to follow each girl on her spiritual journey during a time when no doubt everyone involved had his/her faith tested. Eve and Audrey are flawed characters, as we all are. They make mistakes, huge ones that affect not only themselves but many others. We can see how a web of lies can entrap someone, and what’s more compelling, when it seems as though the scenario cannot end well we learn with the character that there is always a new beginning for those who repent.

Historical novels that slip back and forth in time can be tricky to read. I’ve struggled with several. Sometimes the cast of characters is difficult to keep track of. Sometimes the motivations are confusing. Sometimes how the character changes because of the challenges he/she faces in each time period becomes disjointed due to flipping back and forth. Not so in this novel. It flowed so well and kept me turning pages.

I highly recommend this novel to those who enjoy historical fiction, and that’s everyone who reads Novel PASTimes.

I received an advanced copy free of charge from the publisher with no requirements for a review. All opinions are mine alone.

Known for the inspirational Celtic theme employed in most of her books, Cindy Thomson is the author of six novels and four non-fiction books, including her newest, Finding Your Irish Roots. A genealogy enthusiast, she writes from her home in Ohio where she lives with her husband Tom near their three grown sons and their families. Visit her online at CindysWriting.com, on Facebook: Facebook.com/Cindyswriting, Twitter: @cindyswriting, Pinterest: @cindyswriting and Book Bub: @cindyswriting.


Meet Emily Hodge from David Armstrong’s new novel, The Rising Place.

NPT: Welcome to Novel PASTimes, Emily. We’re so happy you could join us today.

EH: Thank you. It’s a true pleasure to be here.

NPT: Before we get started, I just have to say that you are such a strong, spiritual woman. Where did your deep faith in God come from?

EH: I was always blessed with a strong faith in God—particularly in His love for us. It’s something I’ve never questioned.

NPT: Was this faith instilled in you from your parents, growing up?

EH: No, not really. I was raised Catholic because my father was Catholic. My mother was Methodist, though, so they never went to church together. In later life I became a Methodist.

NPT: Why was that?

EH: That’s something I’d rather not talk about. I don’t think it matters which religion you identify with. All that really matters is our faith in God and our love for and forgiveness of other people.

NPT: Fair enough. Okay, then, let’s change subjects. You just mentioned “love for other people.” You had such an amazing and abiding love for Harry Devening, but he never loved you back. This is such an enigma to me. How could you—

EH: Sorry, I don’t mean to cut you off, but I believe Harry did love me. He just never knew how to show it, or maybe how to even feel it.

NPT: I’m confused here. Harry never answered any of your love letters to him. In the end, he even returned all of them to you, unopened. Don’t you consider that “unrequited love?”

EH: I can certainly understand why you would think that, but don’t you recall that precious letter Harry wrote to our little boy, shortly before his birth? Surely, you could see the love Harry expressed for both our child and me in the words he wrote?

NPT: I don’t mean to offend you by this, “Miss Emily,” if I may call you that, but….

EH: Sure, that’s what I was called in later life.

NPT: Author Stephen Chbosky wrote: “We accept the love we think we deserve.” Do you think, perhaps, this applies to Harry?

EH: Possibly. Yes, possibly so. Actually, I’ve thought that before, several times. I never met Harry’s parents or his two older sisters, but from what Harry told me about his childhood, I don’t think there was a great deal of love in their home.

NTP: When was that? When did Harry tell you this?

EH: When I boarded a train from Hamilton, Mississippi to go visit Harry in Gary, Indiana, toward the end of the book. We spent four, wonderful days together.

NPT: And…?

EH: And then I took another train back to Hamilton.

NPT: So, why didn’t you stay up in Indiana with Harry?

EH: Harry begged me to stay with him, to start all over, try to make it work between us. He claimed he always loved me; he was just afraid to show it, even admit it. He also said it was the greatest mistake of his life—not returning my love. By then, though, my love for Harry was gone—only a memory—sort of like a distant dream I had had, once when I was young. Plus, my friend Wilma Watson was engaged in a great struggle for justice and civil rights, down in Hamilton. Wilma was my best friend. I had to go home to help her.

NPT: Miss Emily Hodge, you are such an intriguing and enigmatic character. I wish I had more time to visit with you. I’m just glad your lawyer found your letters and shared them with the world. Otherwise, we would have never known your beautiful story.

EH: Thanks. I’m glad David did, too.

NPT: Before we close, I do have one more question, though: Who was that “gray-haired stranger” in the Prologue who attended your service and placed a yellow rose on the top of your child’s grave? Was it Harry Devening or Streete Wilder?

EH: How do you know it wasn’t Will Bacon? After all, he loved me, too.

NPT: Point well made. I guess readers will just have to decide for themselves who that was. Speaking of readers, is there any thought or message you’d like to leave with them?

EH: Yes. Always live in the rhapsody of your own music. I did, and that’s what I’m most proud of.

NPT: Thank you so much for visiting with us, today, Emily Hodge.

EH: You’re welcome. And thank you.

About the Book:

The Rising Place is based on an interesting premise: What if you found a box of love letters, written during World War II by an old maid who had just died—would you read them? And what if you did and discovered an incredible story about unrequited love, betrayal, and murder that happened in a small, Southern town over seventy years ago? After a young attorney moves to Hamilton, Mississippi to practice law, one of his first cases is to draft a will for Emily Hodge. “Miss Emily” is a 75-year-old recluse who is shunned by Hamilton society, but the lawyer is intrigued by her and doesn’t understand why this charming lady lives such a solitary and seemingly forgotten life. When Emily later dies, the lawyer goes to her hospital room to retrieve her few possessions and bequeath them as she directed, and he finds an old sewing box full of letters in the back of one of her nightstand drawers. He takes the letters back to his law office and reads them, and he soon discovers why Emily Hodge lived and died alone, though definitely not forgotten by those whose lives she touched.

About the Author:

David Armstrong was born and raised in Natchez, Mississippi. He is an attorney, former mayor, and former candidate for the U.S. Congress. The Rising Place is David’s second novel. His third novel, The Third Gift, will be released this summer. David has also written four screenplays. He is the father of two grown sons and lives in Columbus, Mississippi, where he is the COO for the city of Columbus. His website iswww.therisingplace.com, and his novel is available on Amazon, as is the DVD of the film that was based on his book.