Sunday, February 27, 2011

Author Interview - Pamela Schoenewaldt

Pamela Schoenewaldt is the author of When We Were Strangers, the book I last reviewed. You can tell by my rants and raves that I absolutely adored this novel and that it touched me deeply because of my own Abruzzi roots.

I'm especially thrilled today to have Pamela join us and talk a little about herself and her journey as an author.

 1. Welcome to the Historical Novel Review blog. Can you tell us a little about your novel?

It is the early 1880s. Irma Vitale, a young needleworker, lives in a mountain town of Opi, in Southern Italy. Opi is all she has ever known and all who leave it come to grief. Yet circumstances force her to leave Opi, to go down the mountain and make her way to the difficult cities of America. There she will create a new family and forge a new life and different work built on her extraordinary skill with a needle.

Village of Opi


(Both pictures courtesy of Viaggio In Abruzzo)

2. What inspired you to write a novel about a woman in this period of history?

I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of immigration. What situations and facts of character force some to leave what is known and go to the unknown? Whether we speak of the great immigration waves of modern history – and the late 19th Century was one – or the exodus from Africa 40,000 years ago, some moved and some stayed and endured. Some kept moving. Some found peace and some who were successful in the old world utterly failed to adapt. Why? I’m attracted to the late 19th Century also because in rural Italy you had timeless agrarian traditions pushed up against the roar of industrialization. How does a young woman with so painfully little experience of the modern world make that shift? And more, how does she apply the skills she has -- shepherding, needleworking – and her own character in a world that is so vastly different from what she knows? I was interested in what happens when you totally strip away a support system as well as things like money, connections or physical beauty that can ease any path. Why will a character like Irma endure and thrive when someone like her brother Carlo, who seems better adapted, flounders and probably fails?

And finally, I saw Irma. I actually conjured a still, cloaked figure when I was walking around Opi on a cold twilight. She was silhouetted against a darkening sky, quite alone, and I wanted to see her face and follow her journey.

3. What hardships did women face in this particular century and what lessons can today's woman learn from it?

Of course there were physical discomforts. Medicine was still primitive. Birth control and contraception were little understood and women suffered. I discovered that many women of all classes in Irma’s time might have had up to 10 abortions, as well as endured life-threatening induced miscarriages to control family size. They faced high risks of death in childbirth. They faced a society which did not have strong models for sexual relationships based on equality. Many women around the world still face these dangers.

But aside from these dramatic differences, the fact of leaving what is known and going to the unknown is part of every woman’s life today. We leave home or a hometown. Enter a relationship or leave one. Change jobs. In each case, so many of the skills we had in one situation become irrelevant in the new. Yet there are basic truths and basic strengths that can help us. Thus Irma manages to pull from the memory of a pushing through the hard work of sheep shearing, for instance, to sustain her in other hard work. Her memory that sometimes a tree torn out of a mountain can re-root and thrive buoys her up. Irma is not afraid to work hard, yet holds out for work that affirms her gifts and her sense of her best self. She struggles to read the characters of strangers carefully and trust when she can, serves when she is able. These values are still with us, I think.

4. Can you describe a typical writing day?

I work three days a week, writing for an agency, so I try to get in as much writing as I can the other days. I get up about 6 am to work before breakfast and work in the later afternoon or after dinner. I’m in a writing group which read every chapter of When We Were Strangers until I began submitting it. I was also sending chapters to other trusted readers. My sister has a doctorate in immigration history so she checked many facts. Other readers read as well and I listened carefully. So at any one time, I might have been blocking one chapter and revising the earlier two or three. Normally I begin each session by revising what I wrote in the earlier session. I kept notebooks and post-its to write down ideas that came between sessions. The flow and rhythm of sentences is very important to me, as well as the authenticity of imagery, so there was just a vast amount of revision, adding, taking away, like the frog that jumps two feet from the bottom of a well, falls back a foot, and so forth. But if you keep at it, you do see daylight.

5. Can you tell us briefly about your other novels and any new novels in the works.

This is my first novel that has been published. I wrote a medieval novel earlier that started falling apart under its own weight. I’ve learned a lot since then and am working again in the medieval age, but with a fictional main character who becomes entwined in the household of the Holy Roman Emperor and slowly creates an independent life for herself.

Thank you Pamela, for taking the time to tell us a little bit about yourself.

For more details about Pamela, please visit her website at:

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Book Giveaway - When We Were Strangers by Pamela Schoenewaldt

Everyone is raving about the book, When We Were Strangers by Pamela Schoenewaldt.  Contest details: 

1.  Visit Pamela Schoenewaldt's website and find the name of her philosopher. 

2.  Visit Historical Novel Review on February 27 and read Pamela's interview.

3.  Leave a comment with the philospher's name and why you would love to read this book.  Ensure you provide your email address with your comment.
4.  Winner will be announced on February 28!

Here is a clue:

Good Luck everyone!

Thanks for stopping by!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

When We Were Strangers by Pamela Schoenewaldt

Reviewed by Mirella Sichirollo Patzer

If you love a good tale interwoven with both heart-break and dreams, loss and success, you will truly enjoy When We Were Strangers by Pamela Schoenewaldt.

Irma Vitale is a poverty-stricken young woman of marriageable age who lives in the small village of Opi nestled in the Abruzzi mountains of Italy. Her brother and closest friend departs for America, hopeful to escape poverty. He tells her he is going to Cleveland and departs soon afterwards. As more and more youths from Opi and neighbouring villages depart for America, Irma’s chances at making a good marriage dwindle. Her aging aunt encourages her to go to America, find her brother, and make a better life for herself. And so, with a secret stash of money passed down from mothers to daughters in the family, Irma sets out and boards a ship to America. The reader is then swept into a heart-wrenching and intriguing tale depicting the hardships of immigrants from the crossing to the desperation and struggles they face the moment they take their first steps into the new world.

I could not help but be touched by this story - my own mother and aunts also immigrated alone to the new world from their own small town in the Abruzzi region of Italy for the same reasons and alone, like Irma. I became wholly immersed in this credible tale of poor Irma, finding parallels with the stories my relatives repeated to me of their own shocking experiences. Every detail of this novel felt authentic – from Italian village life, to the struggles with finding work, to being cheated, and finding a friend or two along the way to help.

It is an inspiring tale of strength, determination, and courage, paying homage to the many women who bravely faced the pain of loss of hearth and kin to scrape out a new life in a land brimming with hope. Vivid detail, heart-felt emotion, and highly developed characters make this novel stand out, lending believability and vividness. I loved this novel and it is most definitely one of my all-time favourite books of all time. I highly recommend it!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Rebels and Traitors by Lindsey Davis

Gideon Jukes has what we would now call ‘issues’, with everything. His position in the family as a much younger, overlooked son, and the assumption he will follow his father and favoured elder brother into the grocery trade. Determined to anger his father by being as outrageous as possible, he dabbles with being an actor – guaranteed to put you outside polite society in the 1630’s.

Apprentices as a printer, Gideon becomes interested in politics and develops the same attitude to the self-serving and fickle King Charles as he does to his father and becomes a republican.  He joins the London Trained Band, choosing the Green Regiment simply because his brother is in the Blue Regiment.

Ms Davis’ historical research into life during the English Civil War is impeccable and I thoroughly enjoyed delving into the details of Roundhead uniform,  matchlocks and flintlocks, exactly why the bishops were treated with such suspicion  and how the King Charles managed to upset everyone, even the Scots when he was one himself.

When King Charles raises his standard to summon troops to battle Parliament, Gideon is there to defend the rights the common man. In the latter stages of the war, he encounters Juliana Lovell, whose Cavalier husband has vanished after  Naseby, leaving her to struggle to raise two young sons in poverty.

Gideon’s and Juliana’s stories were told as asides from the omniscient historical narrative and although they were interesting and intricate, I didn’t feel very involved and would have liked to have got inside their heads more rather than simply following their progress as an observer in  a history book. 

A great history book certainly, with plenty of material to keep me reading, and I learned a lot, but it wasn’t the usual work of fiction. Perhaps because Ms Lindsey tried to tackle a very complicated and far reaching, not to mention long drawn out period of English history that changed the country forever.

A very accomplished work, but I would have liked it to be Gideon and Juliana's story, or a text book - not both.

Friday, February 4, 2011

To Ride The God's Own Stallion

Ride the Gods Own Stallion, ToDiane Lee Wilson’s “To Ride The God’s Own Stallion” is the story of two boys, a horse and the destiny the three weave together within the Assyrian Empire.

Soulai is a poor boy sold into slavery to Prince Habasle, a palace brat who fights to prove himself to his father and people. Both boys are drawn to the “parti-colored” stallion whose falcon-shaped birth mark displays his connection to the god, Ninurta.

The horse’s destiny leads to war and Habasle is eager to ride him into battle, but he must do so with Soulai trying to protect the horse and the King’s mad physician trying to sacrifice the animal.

Wilson has done a fine job of sketching the historical texture of the period while keeping the novel’s place moving. The characters developed in a believable and enjoyable fashion. It was especially nice that I never felt like they were boys written by a woman writing how she thought boys should behave. I will say, there were no surprises.

I did read a few oddities I had to gloss over to continue reading. There are three sections to the book and each section is begun in the perspective of an animal. This confused me and I did not believe them necessary to understand or believe the story’s events, so I’m surprised the author used the technique.

However, once past those passages, the novel has a smooth read broken only by my occasional recognition that there are three main characters. You care for each of them and they each have identical, linked growth patterns and carry equal weight, though not perspective.

I still wonder if that wide-spread equality is why I never felt as drawn to any of the main characters as much as I did when reading Wilson’s “I Rode A Horse of Milk White Jade.” Nonetheless, there were times it was difficult to put down  “To Ride God’s Own Stallion.” It is an enjoyable read, especially for boys or those who love a great horse story in an unusual setting.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Scandal of the Year by Laura Lee Guhrke

Review by Mirella Sichirollo Patzer

Trapped in a marriage with a cruel husband, Lady Julia Yardley decides to free herself. Her only escape is to be caught in an adulterous affair. Carefully, she sets her plan in motion. She seduces Aidan Carr, the Duke of Trathen, and as secretly pre-arranged, her husband arrives to catch the two lovers in the throes of passion. The divorce is inevitable, but the shockwaves caused by the scandal ripple through society when she readily admits the affair in court. Free at last, Julia sets out to return to society. Although Aidan does his best to avoid her, he continues to find himself under her allure. Slowly, amid oodles of sexual tension, their hearts open to each other, despite the pain they carry from their pasts.

Scandal of the Year is a sequel to Wedding of the Season. Although I did not read the first book, I was able to follow the second instalment seamlessly. In the Victorian era, the setting this novel is set in, the affair of the hero and heroine would definitely had caused much scandal. I found this aspect accurately portrayed in the novel.

For a well written, well paced, romance novel, this is a wonderful book – a great escape any evening of the week. Highly recommended to romance readers who love the Victorian era.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Heart of Deception by M.L. Malcolm

Reviewed by Mirella Patzer

In the throes of World War II, Leo Hoffman is tired of his life as a spy, but he cannot retire until he successfully concludes the political intrigues he finds himself embroiled in. In Morocco, he must help prepare for the allied invasion into North Africa. Only when he has completed this task, will he earn himself a legitimate passport so he can return home to New York. There he hopes to reunite with his daughter, Maddie, whom he had sent to New York under the care of his paramour to protect her from the falling into the hands of the Nazis.

Born of Jewish roots, Maddie is separated from everyone she knows because of the war. All Maddie knows is that her mother is dead and her father has abandoned her for some unknown reason. She does not know of her father’s secret life or of her mother’s family. Unwanted by her father’s lover, Maddie is sent to live with her best friend whose mother cares for her and provides her with a loving home. Then one day, her aunt, her mother’s sister, locates her and takes Maddie to live with her and her husband. There Maddie gets a sense of family. Her life is comfortable, her needs seen to, however, as she matures, she grows bitter at her father’s abandonment of her. As Maddie grows to womanhood and enters into personal liaisons of her own, she must learn who to trust as long buried secrets resurface.

Although Heart of Deception is the sequel to Heart of Lies, the book can be read independently of the first. The reader will have no troubles following the plot or picking up the story.

The plight of Maddie riveted me. The fact she is alone and innocent in the world except for a few people who truly care about her, endeared her to me. As Maddie grows to womanhood, she finds herself in love with two very different men and must choose between them. It is these relationships that I found intriguing. The author introduces characters slowly, revealing their personality and motives slowly, creating suspense as I read along, fully engrossed in the tale.

The author’s prose and style of writing made the story easy to follow and hard to put down. If you like tales with a touch of intrigue, strong in family ties, and with colourful, unpredictable characters, this story is sure to satisfy. I found myself turning pages late into the night and highly recommend it.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Losing Role by Steve Anderson

Reviewed by Gregory Graham

This is a novel by an American told from a German actor’s point of view during the Battle of the Bulge in WWII. The actor’s military mission is to pose as an American so he can sabotage the Allied effort. Secretly he is trying to find a way out of a brutal war that Germany cannot win. That is a tiny hint of the ironic “Through the Looking Glass” tone that the author maintains throughout the book.

I know a little more than the average person about the Battle of the Bulge. My father was a front line infantryman battling the Germans, the snow, and the cold in Belgium in December of 1944. I knew of the Massacre at Malmedy, and I knew the G.I. response to it. A soldier caught in an SS uniform from that point on died immediately. It never occurred to me what the German soldier’s response to the massacre might be. I see now that they would be equally horrified first because turnabout could be expected, and secondly, the growing realization on both sides that the stupidity of their own officers is what got them killed.

Max, the main character of the novel, is an apolitical failed actor turned reluctant soldier. He has lived in America and has mixed feelings about the broad, muscular, cultureless country. He returns to Germany when he cannot support himself as an actor in New York. While there, he has seen America’s might and its endless resources, and knows that Germany will lose the war. He merely wants to survive. When the chance comes to escape the brutality of the Russian Front for a special mission in the west, he grabs it hoping at some point he will be able to surrender to the Americans or perhaps disappear behind the American lines until the war is over.

The only problem is he is the tip of the spear for Germany’s greatest attack against the west during WWII. They put him in an SS uniform, give him an American uniform on top and send him out ahead of the Panzers to create confusion in the American ranks, and to take a key bridge that the tanks must cross if the attack is to be a success.

Max does not anticipate several problems. American slang is subtle and beyond his skills as an English speaker, his companions are less than helpful, the weather is awful, and the attack is doomed to failure from the start. He manages to handle those problems, but what he does not anticipate is the moral conundrum he finds himself in. Is he a German or an American? What is he willing to do to survive? Once he decides who he is, his path is clear.

There are a bunch of good reasons to read this book. It presents the war as seen from the eyes of a German corporal. It is a nasty, brutal affair that they have been tricked into by Nazis. He is terrified of the Russians, but has a hard time thinking of the Americans as the enemy despite the bullets and the artillery. The book does a marvelous job of showing the ‘fog of war’ wherein no one truly understands what is going on once the attack has begun. Finally, the book is fun. Shakespeare may have said that all the world’s a play, but Max lives it. The difference is that Max’s audience is hostile, and a bad review means death.

The Winner of The Pilgrim Glass by Julie K. Rose Is...

Linda Brower! Linda, please contact Julie Rose with your mailing address to receive your FREE, signed copy of The Pilgrim Glass. Thanks for visiting the blog.