Thursday 28 July 2022

Books to read in 2022!!! Four Treasures of the Sky by Jenny Tinghui Xhang #HistoricalFiction #NewRelease @pantaloonies


Four Treasures of the Sky

By Jenny Tinghui Xhang

Publication Date: 28th July 2022
Publisher: Penguin
Page Length: 406 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction

Daiyu never wanted to be like the tragic heroine for whom she was named, revered for her beauty and cursed with heartbreak. But when she is kidnapped and smuggled across an ocean from China to America, Daiyu must relinquish the home and future she imagined for herself. Over the years that follow, she is forced to keep reinventing herself to survive. From a calligraphy school, to a San Francisco brothel, to a shop tucked into the Idaho mountains, we follow Daiyu on a desperate quest to outrun the tragedy that chases her. As anti-Chinese sentiment sweeps across the country in a wave of unimaginable violence, Daiyu must draw on each of the selves she has been-including the ones she most wants to leave behind-in order to finally claim her own name and story.

At once a literary tour de force and a groundbreaking work of historical fiction, Four Treasures of the Sky announces Jenny Tinghui Zhang as an indelible new voice. Steeped in untold history and Chinese folklore, this novel is a spellbinding feat.

"An engulfing, bighearted and heartbreaking novel. Illuminates shocking injustices, making us stop and consider how many survive to this day..."

Ann Patchett, author of Women's Prize longlisted The Dutch House

"A sweeping adventure of identity, love and belonging"

C Pam Zhang, Man Booker longlisted author of How Much of These Hills are Gold

"Brilliant and devastating. Four Treasures of the Sky tells the story of Daiyu, who is brought to America against her will and forced to hide who she is even as she grows into her true self. Weaving together myth and history, Zhang's work is both timeless and utterly necessary right now."

Anna North, author of the New York Times bestseller Outlawed

Jenny Tinghui Zhang
is a Texas-based Chinese-American writer who holds an MFA in nonfiction from the University of Wyoming (where she wrote the popular Catapult column Why-oming) and is an alumna of the 2016 VONA/Voices, Tin House Summer 2019 & Winter 2020 Workshops. Jenny is a prose editor at Adroit Journal and has written nonfiction for The Cut, Bustle, Huffington Post, and HelloGiggles; her fiction has appeared in Ninth Letter, Passages North, CALYX, The Rumpus, and more.

Connect with Jenny:

Tuesday 26 July 2022

#HistoricalFiction author, Mercedes Rochelle, is taking a look at the fall of the Percys under Henry IV #History #Plantagenet @authorRochelle

The Accursed King 

(The Plantagenet Legacy Book 4) 

By Mercedes Rochelle


Publication Date: 18th April 2022
Publisher: Sergeant Press
Page Length: 282 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction

What happens when a king loses his prowess? The day Henry IV could finally declare he had vanquished his enemies, he threw it all away with an infamous deed. No English king had executed an archbishop before. And divine judgment was quick to follow. Many thought he was struck with leprosy—God's greatest punishment for sinners. From that point on, Henry's health was cursed and he fought doggedly on as his body continued to betray him—reducing this once great warrior to an invalid. Fortunately for England, his heir was ready and eager to take over. But Henry wasn't willing to relinquish what he had worked so hard to preserve. No one was going to take away his royal prerogative—not even Prince Hal. But Henry didn't count on Hal's dauntless nature, which threatened to tear the royal family apart.


by Mercedes Rochelle

Henry IV's relationship with the Percys went sour pretty soon after his coronation. He knew that he owed his crown to his northern earl; he also knew that an overly-powerful magnate was a recipe for trouble. So it wasn't long before the king attempted to mitigate their dominance by promoting their rival, the Earl of Westmorland, who happened to be his brother in-law. 


BnF MS Franc 81 fol. 283R Henry IV and Thomas Percy at Shrewsbury from Jean de Wavrin- Creative commons license.

Matters came to a head after their decisive victory at Homildon Hill, where they decimated the Scottish aristocracy. Many were killed, even more were taken hostage—among them the powerful Earl Douglas. Stung by their prowess—in contrast to the humiliating failure he had just experienced in Wales—King Henry demanded they turn over their hostages. It was his right as king, but he couldn't have made a worse miscalculation. Although Percy senior complied, is son Hotspur adamantly opposed him. King Henry had refused to pay a ransom for Hotspur's brother in-law Edmund Mortimer—held hostage by the Welsh—and Hotspur saw this as double treachery. He and the king nearly came to blows, and if the chroniclers can be believed, Hotspur stormed out of the room, declaring "Not here, but in the field!" This was the last time they saw each other alive.

Although Henry tried to make amends by awarding lands in Scotland to the Percys—most of which happened to belong to Douglas. It was truly an empty gesture because they had to conquer those territories first. But, as they were acquisitive souls, the Percys decided to give it a try. Hotspur soon laid siege to Cocklaw Tower in Teviotdale, deep into Douglas territory, thinking this would be an easy target. It wasn't. He was soon frustrated and negotiated a six-week truce, coming back to England with another idea in his mind. Why not take advantage of the truce and launch an offensive against the king? 

I believe Hotspur caught his father by surprise. He must have been harboring resentment against the king that wouldn't go away. Leaving his father to guard the border, Hotspur went to Chester and started raising an army against King Henry; the men of Chester were among King Richard's most favored subjects and they were hostile to the usurper. They responded enthusiastically, especially as Hotspur promised that Richard would return from exile in Scotland and lead them into battle. Even when Hotspur later reneged on his promise, they agreed to fight anyway. With the help of Hotspur's uncle Thomas, who left Prince Henry's service with all of his troops, the rebels made for Shrewsbury, where the Prince was understaffed and vulnerable. They might have gotten young Henry into their hands, too, except for the unexpected arrival of the king, who forced them to battle. 

Froissart Chronicles by Virgil Master, Source: Wikimedia

The Battle of Shrewsbury was the most serious threat to King Henry's reign, and it was a very close call. This was the first time English archers faced each other across the battlefield. Only Hotspur's death turned the tide; up until that point no one knew who was winning. Would the presence of Earl Henry Percy have made a difference? Almost certainly. Historians debate the reason why he was absent. Some thought his presence was never planned, although he did belatedly start south to support his son. Some thought it was Hotspur's fight. Others blame Hotspur's impetuousness and claim he "jumped the gun" so to speak, and screwed up the timing. Shakespeare said Percy was ill and couldn't make it. Whatever the reason, Henry Percy was devastated by his son's death; he was never the same man afterwards, and was pretty much driven by the need for revenge. 

King Henry was set on punishing Percy, but because the earl wasn't directly involved he was obliged to wait until the next Parliament. Unfortunately for the king, the lords were on Percy's side and their response was merely to charge him with "trespass"—in other words, distributing his badge illegally. Percy was restored most of his lands, but the king refused to reinstate his wardenship or the constableship. The earl was in disgrace.

This unfortunate state of affairs lasted another two years. The king appointed his son John as Warden of the East March toward Scotland and Westmorland became Warden of the West March. Percy licked his wounds for a while before coming up with a new plan. In conjunction with Owain Glyndwr, the wily Prince of Wales, and Edmund Mortimer, uncle of the "true" heir to the throne (the child Earl of March), he concocted a new rebellion, this time originating in the North. Most of his supporters were in Yorkshire; as far as the Northumbrians were concerned, they weren't quite as interested in rebelling against the king and didn't respond enthusiastically to his overtures. No matter; Percy was on a mission.

Richard Scrope, Archbishop of York added his voice to this uprising. Once again, historians are divided as to whether Scrope went along with Percy, or did he devise a disturbance on his own that happened to correspond with Percy's rebellion? The timing certainly favored the former explanation. Working the citizens of York into a righteous frenzy, Scrope led a large assembly to Shipton Moor, a few miles from the city. They were protesting high taxes and intolerable burdens on the clergy. The rebels were not a fighting force; they were local citizens. Nor did they possess cannons or instruments of war. The archbishop insisted that their intentions were peaceful. Some historians suggest that their purpose was to add legitimacy to Percy's rebellion, which was to swing south and supplement its numbers with Scrope's insurgents. But unfortunately for the archbishop, the expected rebel army never materialized and he was caught holding the proverbial bag.

The lynchpin of Percy's rebellion was capturing Westmorland in advance, thus removing the only man capable of stopping him. But someone warned the Earl in time and he got away, foiling Percy's plot. There was no "Plan B". Had the Earl of Northumberland lost his nerve? He told his followers he was going to Scotland for help and bolted, leaving all of his co-conspirators to their own devices. Scrope wasn't even warned about the change of plans. So when the Earl of Westmorland mopped up after the aborted rebellion, his ruse was to convince the archbishop he would present their reasonable manifesto to the king, and that the Yorkist citizens should just go home. Naively, Scrope agreed, only to find himself arrested along with his confederate, the doomed Thomas Mowbray, son of King Henry's old enemy. 

Who would have thought that the king would execute an archbishop? Scrope and Mowbray didn't stand a chance. Once he arrived at York, the king rushed his judges through a trial and condemned the leaders, deaf to pleas from the Archbishop of Canterbury that he should refer the case to the Pope. Henry was not to be reasoned with, especially since Percy had slipped through his fingers once again. This time, there would be no Parliament to get in his way. He brought his cannons with him and besieged Percy's castles all the way up to Berwick, ensuring that the traitorous earl would find no further refuge in England. 

For the next three years, Henry Percy wandered through Wales and France, looking for support against the usurper king. But it was to no avail. The great earl had lost all credibility. When he was finally lured back into England with a new offer of support, he snatched at the opportunity, campaigning into Northumberland in the midst of the most bitter winter in living memory. Gathering a motley crew of country folk and local knights, Percy was confronted with a local detachment led by the very man who invited him south. He had nothing to lose and chose to risk everything on a last battle, meeting his pitiful end at Branham Moor, about ten miles from York, on 19 February, 1408. His head was delivered in a basket to King Henry and his body was quartered as befitted any traitor. Eventually his parts were collected and the great earl was reunited with his son, laid to rest near the great altar at York Minster. 

But the Percy line was not extinct by any means. When Henry Percy took refuge the first time in Scotland, he brought with him Hotspur's young son Henry, who spent the next ten years a virtual hostage. Henry V decided that a Percy in the North would suit his purposes, and the king arranged Henry's return, creating him 2nd Earl of Northumberland in 1416. Part of the deal was young Henry's marriage to Eleanor, the daughter of Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmorland. And so they came full circle. But never would they achieve the fame of the first earl, their doomed ancestor.

A King Under Seige • The King's Retribution • The Usurper King • The Accursed King

Mercedes Rochelle is an ardent lover of medieval history, and has channeled this interest into fiction writing. Her first four books cover eleventh-century Britain and events surrounding the Norman Conquest of England. The next series is called The Plantagenet Legacy about the struggles and abdication of Richard II, leading to the troubled reigns of the Lancastrian Kings. She also writes a blog: to explore the history behind the story. Born in St. Louis, MO, she received by BA in Literature at the Univ. of Missouri St.Louis in 1979 then moved to New York in 1982 while in her mid-20s to “see the world”. The search hasn’t ended! Today she lives in Sergeantsville, NJ with her husband in a log home they had built themselves.

Connect with Mercedes:

Website • Twitter • Facebook • BookBub • Amazon Author Page • Goodreads 

Monday 25 July 2022

Cragside: A 1930s murder mystery by M J Porter is now available on #Audiobook (narrated by Gill Mills) #HistoricalFiction #Mystery @coloursofunison

Cragside: A 1930s murder mystery
By M J Porter
Narrated by Gill Mills

Publication Date: 14th April 2022
Publisher: M J Publishing
Page Length: 234 Pages
Genre: Historical Mystery

Lady Merryweather has had a shocking year. Apprehended for the murder of her husband the year before, and only recently released, she hopes a trip away from London will allow her to grieve. The isolated, but much loved, Cragside Estate in North Northumberland, home of her friends, Lord and Lady Bradbury, holds special memories for her.

But, no sooner has she arrived than the body of one of the guests is found on the estate, and suspicion immediately turns on her. Perhaps, there are no friendships to be found here, after all.

Released, due to a lack of evidence, Lady Ella returns to Cragside only to discover a second murder has taken place in her absence, and one she can’t possibly have committed.

Quickly realising that these new murders must be related to that of her beloved husband, Lady Merryweather sets out to solve the crime, once and for all. But there are many who don’t want her to succeed, and as the number of murder victims increases, the possibility that she might well be the next victim, can’t be ignored.

Journey to the 1930s Cragside Estate, to a period house-party where no one is truly safe, and the estate is just as deadly as the people.

Trigger warnings:
 Some descriptions of murder scenes and bodies

MJ Porter is the author of many historical novels set predominantly in Seventh to Eleventh-Century England, as well as three twentieth-century mysteries. Raised in the shadow of a building that was believed to house the bones of long-dead Kings of Mercia, meant that the author's writing destiny was set.

Connect with MJ Porter:

Monday 18 July 2022

Have a sneak peek between the covers of M J Porter's fabulous novel — Cragside: A 1930s murder mystery #HistoricalFiction #BlogTour @coloursofunison

Cragside: A 1930s murder mystery
By M J Porter

Publication Date: 14th April 2022
Publisher: M J Publishing
Page Length: 234 Pages
Genre: Historical Mystery

Lady Merryweather has had a shocking year. Apprehended for the murder of her husband the year before, and only recently released, she hopes a trip away from London will allow her to grieve. The isolated, but much loved, Cragside Estate in North Northumberland, home of her friends, Lord and Lady Bradbury, holds special memories for her.

But, no sooner has she arrived than the body of one of the guests is found on the estate, and suspicion immediately turns on her. Perhaps, there are no friendships to be found here, after all.

Released, due to a lack of evidence, Lady Ella returns to Cragside only to discover a second murder has taken place in her absence, and one she can’t possibly have committed.

Quickly realising that these new murders must be related to that of her beloved husband, Lady Merryweather sets out to solve the crime, once and for all. But there are many who don’t want her to succeed, and as the number of murder victims increases, the possibility that she might well be the next victim, can’t be ignored.

Journey to the 1930s Cragside Estate, to a period house-party where no one is truly safe, and the estate is just as deadly as the people.

Chapter 1

Rain thuds onto the black roof of the Rolls Royce Phantom, but that doesn’t concern me. No, my eyes are drawn to the flurry of activity taking place around the main door of Cragside house, despite the sheeting rain that makes everything appear elongated and out of focus. I can see little despite my best efforts. 

What’s happened now? I want nothing more than to luxuriate in the Turkish bath complex with its beautiful blue tiles, soaking away the stink of the local police station at Rothbury, but that isn’t about to happen. Not if the bustle I’m witnessing is anything to go by.

Eagerly, not waiting for my chauffeur, Williams, to open the door, I swing it outwards, noticing how my sleeve darkens beneath the deluge, able to hear the hub of conversation as I skip over the gravel driveway. My red driving shoes are drenched between one heartbeat and the next. I can already feel the leather chaffing my cold feet. I hadn’t precisely been dressed for a cold and draughty police station when I was led away in handcuffs the night before.

Now I wear Williams’ overcoat over my sensible travelling clothes of a green skirt and thick stockings. My favourite blue coat and hat are still on the coat and hat stand. I was given no chance to put them on before being made to leave the house.

I’ve been gone for much of the day—darkness shadows even the brightest of the light pouring through the open doorway.

“My Lady,” a startled housemaid meets my gaze, bowing and curtseying all at the same time as we almost collide. I don’t get so much as the chance to ask what’s happened. She runs past me, a dark coat flung over thin shoulders, covering the smart black dress and white pinafore she wears. Her frightened eyes, hollowed by her short-cropped hair and pale face, reinforce my belief something is badly amiss.

Hastily, I stride into the sheltered stone alcove, grateful to be clear from most of the rain. I wince as I step into a puddle that hadn’t been there on my arrival the day before, cresting the flat and wide stone steps. Above my head, the weight of the house, cast almost into darkness, is telling. Chill water from the puddle slips over wet shoes and onto my cold skin. The rain is streaming at an angle, able to sneak into the stone alcove, whereas normally, it would do no such thing.

Bright lights welcome me into the house, for all the large double wooden doors hang entirely open, the trickle of flowing water attesting to the direction of the biting north wind even through my borrowed overcoat. I don’t want to consider the state of my hair, and I’m not even a vain woman.

I can see into the far reaches of the well-appointed property from my location. And there, the activity comes to an abrupt stop. There’s no one inside, not even the efficient butler, Mr Underhill. I can hear no noise from the kitchen. No noise from the dining room. Nothing at all. Can the upright Mr Underhill be out in the rain? I hardly dare think he’ll risk getting his immaculately shined shoes muddied. And if he has, then it’s indeed some new catastrophe that’s befallen the inhabitants of Cragside.

So then, where are the remainder of the weekend guests? Where are those who’d been so keen to see me sent away, slim hands held cuffed before me as the police smirked at having caught the culprit so easily? I turn, the pull of the unknown too much to ignore. I wish there were a handy torch to light my path into the impenetrable dusk that beckons to me.

The rumble of another motorcar outside pulling onto the gravel-strewn drive with the distinctive crunch beneath the thin tyres is all I need to hear. I swivel. All thoughts about luxuriating in the Turkish bath complex are forgotten. I need to see. I have to know.

As I  hope, the other motorcar has been brought alongside that of my Rolls Royce Phantom, Williams still inside and just about visible behind the rain-soaked windscreen. Now both vehicles’ thin, yellow beams attempt to drive back the mizzle and the gloom. I’ve experienced rain like this before on very few occasions. Williams warned me when I mentioned our destination was the far North-East of England in November, but well, I didn’t believe it could be so torrential.

I step outside once more, pulling the hood of Williams thick woollen coat over my head, wishing for an umbrella. I meet Williams’ eyes through the fogged-up interior of the car. I incline my head questioningly, but he shakes his. I’m not the only one to be unaware of what’s happening.

Carefully, wary of the deep ravine that lies below me if I take a wrong step, I make my way to where the beams of the two vehicles are being directed. There are yellowed glimmers from small torches, and an amber glow spills from the curtains of the study and the staircase. Still, it isn’t enough to truly see the focus of everyone’s attention. I consider the time. It can only be just after 4 pm. The blackness of the storm shocks me.

Amazon UK • Amazon US • Amazon CA • Amazon AU • Barnes and Noble • Waterstones • Kobo • Apple Books • Audio

MJ Porter is the author of many historical novels set predominantly in Seventh to Eleventh-Century England, as well as three twentieth-century mysteries. Raised in the shadow of a building that was believed to house the bones of long-dead Kings of Mercia, meant that the author's writing destiny was set.

Connect with MJ Porter:

Website • Blog • Twitter • Facebook • LinkedIn • Instagram • Pinterest • BookBub • Amazon Author Page • Goodreads • LinkIn

Tuesday 12 July 2022

Join #HistoricalFiction author, Amy Maroney, as she talks about the inspiration behind her fabulous novel - The Girl from Oto (The Miramonde Series, Book 1) #Renaissance #WomenArtists @wilaroney

The Girl from Oto
(The Miramonde Series, Book 1)
By Amy Maroney

Publication Date: September, 2016
Publisher: Artelan Press
Page Length: 520 Pages
Genre: Historical mystery

A Renaissance-era woman artist and an American scholar. Linked by a 500-year-old mystery…

The secrets of the past are irresistible—and treacherous.

1500: Born during a time wracked by war and plague, Renaissance-era artist Mira grows up in a Pyrenees convent believing she is an orphan. When tragedy strikes, Mira learns the devastating truth about her own origins. But does she have the strength to face those who would destroy her?

2015: Centuries later, art scholar Zari unearths traces of a mysterious young woman named Mira in two 16th-century portraits. Obsessed, Zari tracks Mira through the great cities of Europe to the pilgrim’s route of Camino de Santiago—and is stunned by what she finds. Will her discovery be enough to bring Mira’s story to life?

A powerful story and an intriguing mystery, The Girl from Oto is an unforgettable novel of obsession, passion, and human resilience.

In The Girl from Oto, a baby is born into a cruel and violent noble family; her mother names her Miramonde, ‘one who sees the world.’ Raised in a convent, Mira becomes an extraordinary artist—never dreaming she will one day fulfill the promise of her name.

Mira’s modern-day counterpart, Zari Durrell, is a young American scholar doing research in Europe who discovers traces of a mysterious woman artist in several sixteenth-century paintings. Soon she’s charting a path through history to Mira herself—but the art world ignores her findings, dazzled by a rival academic’s claim that the portraits were in fact made by a famous male artist.

I never set out to write this story when I embarked on the adventure of a lifetime a decade ago. In fact, I was writing an entirely different novel at the time—a pharmaceutical thriller I call The Sunscreen Caper—which is now tucked away, gathering dust.

But during travels with my family in Europe all those years ago, I struggled to make centuries-old portraits by Old Masters relevant to our two young daughters. I wished there were women painters to serve as examples for them. Then I was lucky enough to visit Oxford University. 

Caterina van Hemessen

At Magdalen College, I stumbled across a sixteenth-century portrait of a woman that was attributed to a female artist, Caterina Van Hemessen. After visiting museums full of Renaissance-era portraits and learning about art history as a college student, I had somehow never heard of female Old Masters. But now, before my own eyes, was evidence that there were women painters in those days. 

Around the same time, a friend saw 17th-century painter Artemisia Gentileschi’s work in a Paris museum and gave me some information about her. I was hooked. I soon learned that because women’s work wasn’t valued, their paintings were often attributed to men or kept anonymous. I became obsessed with the lost stories of these women artists—and I resolved to write a novel on the topic. 

Artemisia Gentileschi painting.

Visiting the Pyrenees soon after seeing the portrait at Oxford, I found my setting and my heroine. Our family stayed in a restored medieval tower on the edge of Ordesa National Park in Aragon, Spain, and I knew this was where Miramonde de Oto’s story would begin. 

As I dove into research, I got seriously obsessed with the medieval wool trade in Spain; the wealth created in Toulouse by the blue dye made from the humble woad plant; the independent communities of the Pyrenees, which self-governed during the era of feudal societies; and the clash of paganism and Catholicism in those mountains. 

Ordesa National Park photo by Gustavo Naharro.

Winding their way through this history were the pilgrims who journeyed along the Camino de Santiago to Compostela despite all the dangers. And then there were Basque fishing and whaling traditions and the mysterious people known as the Cagots. My original idea for one novel expanded into a trilogy as I developed my plot and characters.

As I studied forgotten women artists and their work, I developed a fascination with the field of art conservation. Using X-rays and other tools, researchers can now see under the layers of paint in a portrait, determine the age of a wooden panel, and more. We used to rely solely on the ‘eye’ of an art expert to determine who actually painted a portrait. But today, science can debunk the opinion of an expert and reveal secrets within paintings. 

For me, this knowledge made a dual narrative critical to the story. I wanted a modern-day female historian, an outsider in both the academic and art worlds, to discover a hidden female artist using these high-tech research methods. I read a lot and relied on the expertise of art conservation professionals who gave generously of their time and resources to help me. Still, each time I sat down to write about modern heroine Zari Durrell’s efforts, I felt like was studying for a college exam. I would pore over the technical material and then, over painstaking hours, translate it into a compelling scene. 

Since The Girl from Oto was published in 2016, more women artists of the past have been rediscovered, their work studied and promoted by academics and historians. Their work is fetching higher and higher prices at auction. Museums are dusting off women’s paintings that have been hidden away in basements and attics for far too long, giving them space on their walls and even the occasional exhibition. Finally, these forgotten women are getting the recognition they deserve. 

It’s incredibly gratifying to know that the Miramonde Series has played a role in amplifying the work and lives of these talented artists. I get chills thinking of all the other women artists languishing in the shadows of history, waiting for people like Zari Durrell to shine a light on them and their work.

Image References:
Caterina van Hemessen self-portrait. Wikipedia/public domain photo.
Artemisia Gentileschi painting. Wikipedia/public domain photo.
Ordesa National Park photo by Gustavo Naharro. Creative Commons Generic Attribution License.
Medieval woman painting a portrait. Public domain, French National Library photo.

Only 0.99 on #Kindle for a Limited Time
This novel is FREE to read with #KindleUnlimited subscription

Amy Maroney lives in the Pacific Northwest with her family, and spent many years as a writer and editor of nonfiction before turning her hand to historical fiction. When she's not diving down research rabbit holes, she enjoys hiking, dancing, traveling, and reading. Amy is the author of the Miramonde Series, a trilogy about a Renaissance-era female artist and the modern-day scholar on her trail. Amy's new series, Sea and Stone Chronicles, features ordinary people seeking their fortunes under the rule of the medieval Knights Hospitaller in Rhodes, Greece. To receive a free prequel novella to the Miramonde Series, join Amy Maroney’s readers' group at

Monday 11 July 2022

Join The Coffee Pot Book Club in conversation with #HistoricalFiction author, Rachel R. Heil #interview @HeilRachelR

Leningrad: The People’s War 
(Leningrad, Book 1)
By Rachel R. Heil

Publication Date: 5th February 2021
Publisher: Independently Published
Page Length: 326 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance 

Leningrad, 1941. As Europe crumbles under the German war machine, the people of the Soviet Union watch. There are whispers of war but not loud enough for the civilians of Leningrad to notice. Instead, they keep their heads down and try to avoid the ever-watching eyes of their own oppressive government.

University student Tatiana Ivankova tries to look ahead to the future after a family tragedy that characterizes life under the brutal regime. But, when the rumors that have been circulating the country become a terrifying reality, Tatiana realizes that the greatest fear may not be the enemy but what her fellow citizens are prepared to do to each other to survive. 

As his men plow through the Russian countryside, Heinrich Nottebohm is told to follow orders and ask no questions, even if such commands go against his own principles. His superiors hold over him a past event that continues to destroy him with every day that passes. But, when given the opportunity to take an act of defiance, Heinrich will jump at the chance, ignoring what the end results could be. 

Leningrad: The People’s War tells the harrowing beginning of a war that forever changed the landscape of a city, told through the eyes of both sides in a tale of courage, love, and sacrifice. 

Could you tell us a little about your book and what inspired you to set your story during this period in history? 

Leningrad: The People’s War is the first book in a three book series set during the Siege of Leningrad. This blockade lasted from September 8, 1941 to January 27, 1944, making it one of the longest sieges in history. The People’s War follows Soviet civilians and German soldiers from the start of the invasion of the Soviet Union in June, 1941 to the start of the first winter of the siege. The story follows Soviet civilian Tatiana Ivankova who, after performing a heroic act, is volunteered into a women’s unit tasked with protecting the city as the Germans draw closer. As Tatiana defends the city she soon catches the unwanted attention of the Germans, led by Heinrich Nottebohm, who is tasked with finding Tatiana and eliminating the threat she poses. I was inspired to write this story when I read about the history of the siege and the people who survived the ordeal. I was struck by the strength and resilience of Leningraders, who went through so much, lost many close friends and family members, and then tried to return to their normal lives after the war but were continuingly viewed as an embarrassment by the Soviet government and faced many challenges and ordeals. It wasn’t until the Soviet archives were opened to the people in the 1980s that survivors began to speak about their experiences. I was absolutely fascinated by this event that is rarely discussed in the vast canon of World War Two and when I found very few fictional stories depicting the siege I decided I had to write a story that told this event from start to finish. 

When researching this era, did you come upon any unexpected surprises? 

Going into the research phase, I had some expectations of what I would and would not find. The Soviet Union tried to censor and contain a lot of the information surrounding the siege because they knew they had failed in protecting civilians. They refused to let Leningraders evacuate when they had time and the food chain fell apart during the first winter of the blockade, leading to countless people losing their lives. Even the famous Road to Life, which was created on the frozen Lake Ladoga to get survivors out of Leningrad, was bungled and was not perfected until the second winter of the siege, by which time the number of survivors had dwindled. This lack of access to the truth has continued into today as the Russian government will still not disclose vital information to the world, such as the death toll or how many people were truly evacuated before the Germans reached Leningrad. As a result, I knew information might be scarce on certain aspects of this historical saga and I would have to rely heavily on survivor testimonies and the few accounts written by historians. As I began the research process I did come across a few surprises along the way. The biggest surprise to me was the survivors themselves. In the immediate aftermath of Leningrad being liberated, the Soviet government elevated the city and its survivors to hero status. But, within a few years, that was all swept away as stories about the horrors Leningraders had witnessed started being spread and told to Soviet citizens outside the city. To contain the damage and save their own reputation, the Soviet government restricted what could be told about the siege and survivors found themselves being targeted. Despite this, many of them fought back against this treatment and won small victories in the next few decades, including having memorials created in the city to commemorate those lost and the establishment of a memorial cemetery where thousands of siege victims are buried. Still, many faced discrimination, and many didn’t feel comfortable sharing their stories until nearly fifty years after the end of the war. To me, this was a surprising revelation as World War Two is held in such high esteem in Russia today. Referred to as the Great Patriotic War, veterans and survivors of the war are highly respected and honoured in Russia and while this seemed to be the case for most individuals throughout the years, it was not always true for Leningraders. To me, it seemed the survivors never got their proper recognition until thirty years ago and considering the situations they faced I found this very sad and mindboggling. 

Why do you think this period in history still fascinates readers? 

Oh, that’s a very good question! World War Two is one of those events in history that everyone is seemingly fascinated by and I think that’s for a variety of reasons. For one, in the grand scheme of history, it didn’t happen that long ago. We still have veterans and survivors who can share their stories of what they experienced and how they felt. I do sometimes wonder if, once the last veteran passes away and the last survivor of a major event during the war like the Siege of Leningrad passes if that will eliminate some interest in the topic. I’m not sure but I do think people having a physical connection like a relative who served or survived World War Two helps hold our fascination with the topic. For me personally, I became fascinated in it because I was interested in my paternal grandfather’s service. He came in at the tail end of the war and served in Allied occupied Italy, guarding German prisoners of war. While I never got to ask him about his service, I’ve been able to hear stories from my father about his service and that connection has helped grow my interest in the topic. Finally, I think the Second World War fascinates readers because it's effect on the modern world can still be felt. Many of the events that transpired in the decades that followed were a direct result of what happened during the war, such as the Iron Curtain, the establishment of Israel as its own country, and the establishment of the United Nations. All of these actions can be traced back to the war and helps add to people's interest. 

What do you think is the most challenging aspect of writing Historical Fiction during this era? 

Honestly, it’s the fact that everyone knows how it’s going to end. We all know that the Allies are going to win and Hitler will be defeated. As an author I can’t change that outcome so I focus on my fictional characters and the situations they are in. I can do whatever I want with them and keep the reader interested. Yes, the Soviet Union ends up winning, but what is going to happen to Tatiana and her family? Does she get caught? Does she survive? Those are the type of questions I want the reader to be asking as they read the story and what I hope keeps them interested. 

Does one of the main characters hold a special place in your heart? If so, why? 

Ah, all my characters hold a special place in my heart. However, I think it’s because I try to base all my characters on people who went through the event that is being portrayed in my book. Tatiana and Heinrich are a combination of many different people I read about, which makes them more special to me. The fact that I know Tatiana and Heinrich are based on someone who lived through the siege makes them all the more important to me and helps bridge that connection between me, a writer in the twenty-first century, to the people who lived during a war that happened in the twentieth century. 


“WE FOUND HER! Here she is! Here she is!”

Heinrich looked up from the disturbing reports he was reading about the Germans taking Pavlovsk and Pushkin and found that a number of his men had invaded his tent. Bechtold was at the front, wildly waving a Soviet newspaper in the air.

He slammed it down on the table in front of Heinrich and repeatedly poked the paper. “This is her. This is her.”

Heinrich found Bechtold gesturing to a large picture of a young woman with thick black hair. She wore an army uniform, gun swung over her shoulder, and looked at the
camera with a smirk. The headline stated ‘TATIANA IVANKOVA: A HERO OF THE PEOPLE!’

Heinrich removed the newspaper from under Bechtold’s finger. “Who is she?”

“The woman who destroyed that tank a few days ago,” Bechtold said breathlessly.

His partner Dinter came up next to him. “It’s true, sir! The soldier who survived the attack identified her this morning when he saw the picture.”

“We have a target.” Sauer was standing in the corner, arms folded across his chest, decidedly menacing in the poor lighting. “We must now take action.”

“Take action?” Schneider looked at Sauer.

“Of course! She must pay for what she did.” Sauer balled his hand into a fist and slammed it into his open palm. “Hang her from the street corner so everyone can see her.”

Heinrich’s eyes were still glued to the newspaper as the men continued to argue about the proper punishment. Heinrich was stunned. He had expected someone older, perhaps a mother with a murdered son wanting revenge, but instead he was staring at a young woman who was most likely university age and had probably never experienced hardship in her life. Why had the army recruited her? He was determined to learn everything about this woman. Somewhere, he would find the answers he was looking for.

“Gentlemen.” Heinrich’s voice rose above them, and they all turned to him while he got to his feet. He held the newspaper so everyone could see the woman’s photo. “We must be vigilant and keep our eyes open for this,” he looked back at the paper, “Tatiana Ivankova.”

“Nothing we can’t handle, sir,” Sauer’s sidekick, Hermann, gloated.

“Nevertheless,” Heinrich ignored him, “keep an eye open. If you are able to capture her along with her comrades,” he unfolded the paper and pointed to a smaller photo of the woman’s apparent comrades; another dark-headed beauty and a blond, “you are to bring them directly to me. You are not to harm them.”

There were murmurs of displeasure.

“She may have secrets,” Heinrich explained. “And I will not pass an opportunity that may save our men’s lives. Understood?”

“Jawohl, Oberstleutnant!”

The men exited the tent and Heinrich sat down, placing the paper on his desk. Returning to his initial reports, he continued to read on. Max’s unit had started to take the palaces inside Leningrad. They spoke of how they had found civilians inside, unaware the Germans were so close. Even more disturbing, they discovered some returning from the city, having been turned away by the police as they did not have residency permits. Why had they been so unprepared? Had they, in their arrogance, refused even to contemplate the idea the Germans could take Leningrad?

Overhead, Heinrich could hear planes heading to bomb the city again. Glancing back at the photo of the young woman, he began to think he would be doing her a favor by saving her from her government.

Rachel R. Heil is a historical fiction writer who always dreamed of being an author. After years of dreaming, she finally decided to turn this dream into a reality with her first novel, and series, Behind the Darkened Glass. Rachel is an avid history fan, primarily focused on twentieth century history and particularly World War Two-era events. In addition to her love for history, Rachel loves following the British Royal Family and traveling the world, which only opens the door to learning more about a country's history. Rachel resides in Wisconsin.

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