Hi, I just wanted to make a quick update to let everyone know that my latest book, a New Adult Christmas romance novel called A Dogwood Christmas has been released on Amazon in Kindle, Paperback, and Kindle Unlimited here and here, just in time for the holidays.
Here’s a little about it…
A Dogwood Christmas– We’ve all heard the stories of corny romance where the boy meets the girl and falls in love, but strap-in for a tail with a slight twist. Dogwood the Cat guides us through the story of his owner, Aoife, as she meets and quickly falls for the new veterinarian in Crossville, Tennessee, Dr. Cillian O’Doherty, but as the holiday season fast approaches, a surprise visit from Cillian’s family will test the limits and sanity of both our young couple as well as Dogwood. Can the lovers and their faithful furry companions make it through a chaotic Christmas, or will Aoife once again don the infamous title of the town’s crazy cat lady? Find out in A Dogwood Christmas…
Warning: Some General Spoilers Ahead For backstory, I saught out Mischling at the suggestion of an agent as a possible comparative title for a WWII/Holocaust historical romance novel I’ve been querying with agents. Prior to researching and writing my novel, I did not know about the term “Mischling”, and if you’re like me, it’s actually really surprising to learn the history of its influence in Nazi Germany. So, let me enlighten those who were like me. “Mischling” was the label placed on mix-blooded citizens in Germany due to the Nuremberg Laws of 1935, with two forms: Mischling ersten Grades (meaning 1/2 Jewish) and Mischling zweiten Grades (meaning 1/4 Jewish). Those with this label retained partial citizenship, and while still ostracized and viewed as inferior to German-blooded citizens, they were typically not the immediate targets sent to concentration camps.
Okay, history lesson over, back to Mischling by Affinity Konar.
The premise is a sad but interesting one, identical twins, Pearl and Stasha are selected by Auschwitz’s mad doctor, the “Angel of Death”, Josef Mengele for his infamous “Zoo” of unique genetic subjects. This man was known for doing vile experiments on twins/multiples, albinos, people with dwarfism, people with heterochromatic eyes (two different colored eyes) and more. Often with identical twins, he’d use one as control subject and experimented on the other to see the resistance and differences before killing both off.
Pearl and Stasha start their journey in the middle of this with different methods of keeping each other alive and hopeful. Pearl is put in charge of recalling “the sad, the good, the past” memories, while Stasha is in charge of “the funny, the future, the bad”. They also play games with categorizing animals and guess which animal the other is charading as. As for where the title’s meaning comes into place, it starts with a reference to their lighter hair color (a so-called Mischling trait, though their mother explains to Mengele that they aren’t half-blooded, just had a fair father), but it also plays a metaphorical meaning later as Stasha begins to feel less connected to her twin as if she is half-blooded as a Mischling.
So, what’s my opinion on this book? It is a beautifully written book in that we see the contrasting perspectives and personalities of both girls through their point of view changes in chapters. Stasha is very creative-minded and imaginative, while Pearl is much more straightforward and even-toned. Stasha’s parts are written like poetry across the board, while Pearl’s is much more like a standard retelling. In some ways, this is very creative, but in other ways, it was jarring for me because Stasha makes up most of the perspective in this book. Also, keep in mind that the twins are supposed to be 12 years old.
Now, I know WWII children were probably versed differently than teens today, and Stasha could very well be a bit prodigious (she gets close to Mengele, known to her as “Uncle” by claiming she wants to learn medicine and be a doctor someday), but at the same time, it made it harder to relate to her. I’m not against poetic, imaginative characters, mind you. Anne of Green Gables is one of my favorite books, and she is similarly poetic and imaginative. However, it makes it hard to tell what is factual in the accounts versus highly-creative examples of a daydreaming girl in a horrific set of circumstances. I almost wish there had been more balance between Stasha’s POV chapters and Pearl’s because sometimes it made the book feel confusing and longer than intended. Also, this book is split into two parts, which was a bit jarring for me when I reached that point a good 150-200 pages into it.
Furthermore, because of how she describes everything, I hate to say it but it made it very hard for me to connect with the emotional parts of the book. Don’t get me wrong. I love creatively crafted scenes, but I personally favor dialogue over description so this was a harder book for me to latch onto. It’s hard to cry over a scene when absentmindedly you are wondering if it actually happened or it’s Stasha’s imagination. Then, there are the side characters in the story. Only one of them I really wanted to know more about, and the sad truth is that it isn’t due to how the character is presented in this since she gets so little focus. I won’t spoil her impact too much, but she is an assistant of Mengele who is based on a real person during this timeframe who made very, very tough decisions in order to keep women (especially ones in the brothel at Auschwitz) alive. We see her guilt in this story, but again, it’s so limited that you don’t really have enough time to connect with her emotionally. So, that leaves us to the main characters, Stasha, Pearl, and Felick. I wanted so badly to feel for them empathically like I have with other Holocaust accounts (non-fiction and fiction), but of them all, I connect the most with Pearl since I can see things more easily through her eyes.
Overall: I give Mischling by Affinity Konar the book a 3.5/5. The premise is interesting, and if you like a very imaginative, Anne of Green Gables sort of heroine as a sense of hope in such a dark circumstances as the Holocaust, then this will probably be a good book for learning about Mengele’s Zoo without the transparent depravity of all that he did being shoved down your throat. It is well-written and tackles a lot of interesting aspects of its historical counterpart. However, it felt lengthy at times for me, left me confused on some details, and just didn’t connect to me emotionally for such an emotional concept. It’s in no way a bad book, it just wasn’t quite what I was expecting. Where to Buy It: Amazon
I saw this book advertised on some sites like Goodreads as well as my library’s website, so in looking for comparative titles for my own WWII/Holocaust Historical Romance novel for agency querying, I sought out the book, The Tattooist of Auschwitz. Written by Heather Morris, it is based on a true story of a real Holocaust survivor named Lale (born Ludwig Eisenberg) from Slovakia.
Spoiler Alert: There will be some of the plot discussed in this review, though I’ll try to keep it brief and unspecific.
The concept behind the book with as little spoilers as possible is the story of Lale’s journey as he voluntarily surrenders himself to the Germans for work at Auschwitz concentration camp under the guise that in doing so, he can protect the rest of his family from a similar fate. Once there, he fights to survive, trying to find the best method of getting the least taxing job. Thanks to his multilingual capabilities, he befriends a French political prisoner who works as the Tattooist for new camp prisoners and brings him alongside him as an assistant. Before long, though, the original tattooist is taken without Lale knowing his fate, and Lale replaces him as the new tattooist of Auschwitz and Birkenau.
One day, a transport of women posted in the Canada room (the area where raided wealth and belongings from prisoners and murdered Jews is stored) are brought to be re-tattooed when their previous stamped on numbers start to fade off. Lale is apprehensive to do so, but as he begins, he matches gaze with one of the women and has a love at first sight moment. Before long, his goal is to find out more about this woman and survive the camp so that they can, in his own words, “make a life where [they] are free to kiss when [they] want to, make love when [they] want to” (Morris, 2018, p.131).
From this concept, the story blooms. Is it a cheery story filled with first love and passion? No, not really. It’s partially that, but one cannot forget the setting even within this romance. There is passion and first love between Lale and Gita (her name, which she is apprehensive to tell him at first), but there are also marks of tragedy, fear, survivors’-guilt, and violence. This story doesn’t sugarcoat the dark reality of what happened in the death camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau, but it paints a tale of the human spirit mixed in all that to show how much is capable past such bleak, evil circumstances.
The writing style is easy to read, and it holds a very true to life air to it in which you can place yourself in Lale’s and/or Gita’s shoes. We can see both people’s motivations and sympathize with them. They even handle the dynamic of Lale’s relationship with his guard, Baretski, in a interesting way. Baretski is a young Romanian who joined the Hitler Youth and SS from a young age, and while he views Lale’s as evidently beneath him, he also forms a weird, be it twisted, friendship with Lale, asking the Tattooist advice about women, having Lale organize a prisoner team for a game of football against the SS guards, and even doing Lale a few favors in regards to Gita.
It helps to show how some of the SS guards, while still fundamentally backwards-minded and cruel, weren’t all the stereotypical monsters some media likes to portray Nazis to be. This doesn’t in anyway downsize the evil actions they did, but it helps to show how scores of people can be manipulated through misinformed information, propaganda, and lies of riches/lands of milk and honey. Schindler’s List(1994) follows a similar idea with how it portrayed the camp Commandant, Amon Goeth, a twisted-minded person who shows instances of humanity but ultimately, cannot get past his prejudices and sick loyalty to Hitler’s ideals. I appreciate this because while one still can’t sympathize with them, it makes them a much more real, compelling, and terrifying villain. Additionally, seeing as it’s based in the reality of a real SS guard, I thought it added an interesting dynamic to the story.
As for how factual this story is, there have been questions on the authenticity of details from the routes taken from Auschwitz to Burkenau to the number tattooed on Gita’s arm, so keep that in mind when reading this novelization form of Lale’s story (Flood, 2018, p.6-8). Likely there are some exaggerations and/or creative licensing that were utilized, and when covering such a delicate and tragic concept as this subject matter, I definitely think readers should research more on the nonfictional accounts of the Holocaust for comparison and understanding. However, I think there is a way that fictionalized stories of the Holocaust can be thresholds for younger audiences to seek out such media. It was the Diary of Anne Frank and meeting a Holocaust survivor named David Faber myself that encouraged me to research so heavily into the subject matter, and so, I think books like The Tattooist of Auschwitz can have a similar affect on younger generations like mine.
Content-wise there are some curse-words scattered throughout, but they aren’t used abundantly for shock factor. They fit the story for what it is telling, and there is a couple implied sex scene with one holding some minor lead up, but nothing is explicitly detailed in it.
Overall, I’d give The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris a 5/5 star, because I loved the concept, Lale and Gita are so preciously beautiful together, and it presents the material in an appropriate, tactful manner without sugarcoated too much. I was tempted to take .5 of a star away from historical inaccuracies, but at the end of the day, the novel’s cover states, “based on the powerful true story of love and survival”. Thus, the room for creative licensing seemed a little more evident for me in going in. Again, for future readers, be mindful of that fact if it’s a concern of yours.
Jenny of Lebanon is an easy, single day read. I got the book in the mail today and then, proceeded to read the book in less than an hour. It’s roughly 50 pages in length, to put it in perspective (that’s not counting any acknowledgement pages or about author page). However, aside from the book being short in length, it just grabs you rather quickly and holds onto you, where you can’t help but finish it in one sitting. At first, the descriptive introduction of the characters made me worry that it was going to be too descriptive (the first chapter is complete setup), but even that was too lively to bore me. I’m a sucker for cats, so an opening with a cat trying to catch a robin is a great way to keep my attention, be it a tad biased (love you, Marvin, you adorably bratty cat). Still, the minute we see Jenny and Billy interact, it’s fast-paced throughout the rest of the story.
What can be said about Jenny of Lebanon other than the fact that it is painfully relatable even if you aren’t dealing specifically with the same themes and problems as Billy and Jenny. As a person who fell in love and married my high school sweetheart, I’m a sucker for first love romance, but this book doesn’t sugarcoat the other side of that dynamic. First love is full of first mistakes, first fights, and first shortfalls, and while we don’t get to see that firsthand in this story, we see the aftermath of it for Jenny and Billy. They’ve dealt with the realities of life, and author, Gabrielle Olexa, is smart in giving just enough subtle, implicit glimpses at that to make you not only want to know more but also, grasp some of the lives these two has faced.
I don’t per se relate to either of them specifically in their choices to play this cat-and-mouse game of kiss-and-fake-the-make-up, but I’ve also never encountered the painful pasts that are peppered throughout their dialogue and carefully described settings/memorabilia. So, I feel an empathetic heart for them as they both struggle to decide if they should actually remain together or finally end it, and the book leaves that open to the reader to decide as it ends with her leaving, but Billy clearly leaving his door open for her return.
There are a few themes that are personally hard for me, as a Christian: some vulgar language, an implied sex scene that luckily peeks away into the next chapter for the aftermath, discussion of one completed abortion, and the implication of a second one likely to follow, but in the context of the story, they all makes sense. This story isn’t some fluff piece with cutesy childhood friends who married and lived happily ever after. It’s painfully real story of heartbreak, attempts to mend a broken marriage, and a past littered with regret and consequences, and in that, it is beautifully written.
As the book blurb puts it, “Jenny… hits a lot harder than a Honda”, and I think that’s a fair representation of Jenny of Lebanon.
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Rules of the Versatile Award
1. Write a post about your nomination and display the logo on your site. Thank the person who nominated you on your post and provide a link to their blog.
2. Write seven facts about yourself.
3. Nominate 15 other bloggers for the award.
So, let’s get into it!
7 Facts about Dogwood Dreamer/Sarah N. Ham
Fact 1: I’ve Written 20 Novels, 6 which are now published
I’ve wanted to be an author since the age of 10 when we had an author presenter at our school. After hearing this man talk about all the struggle and hard work he had to go through to become a published author, somehow that translated into my 10-year-old brain, I wanna do that, too. Go figure… but I wouldn’t change it for the world, because writing has given me an escape and comfort in both good times and bad. I think it’s one of the strengths God has given me, and I’ll always enjoy it, regardless if I’m ever a best-seller or not.
Fact 2: I am a Christian
This is something I will never hide. I am a Christian and will always love and be thankful of my God and Savior because I never deserved such grace, but He still gave it to me. I thank Him for every day of breath and all the blessings He has given me.
Fact 3: I live with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)
This is just a fancy way of saying I have split personalities. Currently, I’ve only dealt with the last one in recent years, Nikki, but at one time I had two others, Xena and Rin. I don’t have to rely on them as much as before, but when I first learned about them in middle school, they were coming out anywhere from daily to hourly. I used to be scared of them, thinking I was a freak, but now, I am strong in it and know that everything is going to be okay.
Fact 4: I’m a Thrifty Money-Conscious Gal
I don’t like to spend more than I have to on anything. My prom dress was $1.00 from a thrift store, my wedding dress was $150 from eBay. I made my own veils, my bridesmaids’ jewelry and hair accessories, the wedding decor, and more. My whole wedding I planned in California for less than $10,000 including the honeymoon will 100 guests. I just want to be a good steward with the money God has blessed me with.
Fact 5: I am Married to the Love of My Life
I met my husband back in 2007 on Halloween night, the same day my braces were put in. What an evil orthodontist! Yet somehow, he found Ms. Sore Mouth over there sucking on Hershey’s bars (out of revenge to said orthodontist) cute. We started dating in 2011, made it through three-and-a-half years of a long distance relationship, and finally married in December of 2016. He is so patient and supportive of all that I do, and I love how godly of a man he has always been.
Fact 6: I Love Cats
Pictured above is my old cat, Cypress, that I had for twelve years. I love cats and have been around them since I was a child. They are so stubborn at times but so cute. Right now I have two dogs with my husband and family, but someday I want to have a cat again, preferably a black cat or tabby from a rescue since they are the least likely to be adopted.
Fact 7: The Inspiration for My Very First Stories as a Catapiller Stuffed Animal by Aurora/Sharon Lea Larsen
Like I said, I started writing stories at the age of 10, starting with a collection of short stories (45 in total) from 2005-2007 that were thanks to a stuffed animal butterfly cat that I named Elizabeth Helen (after Emily Elizabeth from Clifford the Big Red Dog). I went on to entitle them The Adventures of Elizabeth Helen, and someday, I hope to rewrite them and publish them in a children’s short story collection book. I still have the stuffed animal to this day, by the way.