A WW2 Story You Haven’t Heard (Probably) K M Sandrick

No area of history is as popular in historical fiction and film as the Second World War. Oddly, it’s one I don’t read a lot about anymore, maybe because of overload when I was younger. I mean, I get it…Nazis = bad,  battles in the South Pacific were brutal, and I’ve seen all the Holocaust movies I ever need to see to get the point…. yet occasionally you get a new story, one you didn’t already know. Such is the case with The Pear Tree, from fellow Chicago writer Karen (K M) Sandrick.

Full disclosure, I read this book to review it for Windy City Reads (I’ll post the review when it’s up). While the topic was intriguing, I wasn’t impressed with the cover of the book, and went in with low expectations. I was wrong. It’s well-researched and moving. Plus the story is one I only vaguely heard of, With that…

Karen, what’s your story?

I am a long-time freelance journalist who specializes in clinical medicine, hospital finance and governance. The Pear Tree is my first attempt at fiction. You may wonder how it all came about; glad you asked. With a degree and background in science, I have had little education in some of the fun stuff, like literature, and drama, and music. Even history got short-shrift. The only class I had as an undergrad, for example, was The History of Western Civilization—in two semesters. So I have been filling in the blanks with continuing education courses at local universities.

One class in a course on WW II on the Eastern Front began by recounting the story of the Anthropoid operation (depicted in the recent movie Anthropoid editorial note: least appealing movie title ever) and then described the Nazis’ retaliation against the Czech people. That same evening at a free-form writing seminar (I have a lot of blanks to fill), the story began taking shape in my notebook. I have to say that it just grabbed onto me and wouldn’t let me go until it was told.

What’s The Pear Tree about?

It is a tale about a largely forgotten incident in WW II–the total destruction of the small Czech town of Lidice in retribution for the assassination of the head of Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia by Czech partisans. The Pear Tree begins on the day Reinhard Heydrich was attacked by Czech partisans. It describes the investigation that leads the Gestapo to Lidice, the destruction of the town, the interrogation of its women and children, and the forced separation of mothers from their infants, sons from their mothers, friends from friends. The book follows the paths of characters who wrestle with fear that they will never see their families again, that their secrets will be revealed, that they will never learn the truth.

It’s a fascinating…and horrible… story. What is it that fascinated you about it?

The enormity of the Nazi response and, in the end, its failure. Though there is almost no link between the townspeople and the assassination, all its men are killed onsite. All its women are taken away, killed or sent to forced labor or prostitution. Children are divided by their racial characteristics and either sent to gas vans or adoption by German families. The buildings of the town are razed, their bricks and stones carted away. The farms are plowed under, unsuitable “Czech dirt” is replaced by rich German soil. The objective is to leave no indication that the town ever existed. Overlooked is a pear tree sapling whose top branches have been blown away but whose trunk remains. The book tells of the importance of the only living reminder of Lidice to two main characters: a young woman who mourns the loss of her son and a thirteen-year-old boy who confronts Gestapo in search of his mother.

Without giving away spoilers, what is your favorite scene?  

After liberation of Eastern Europe by the Soviets, two characters from the town The Pear Tree by [Sandrick, Karen M]of Lidice meet in a displaced persons camp and begin a friendship. The woman is housed in the camp after being rescued from years in forced labor and learning that her son had been killed by Nazis. The teenage boy comes to the camp in search of his mother. The two begin a friendship: the woman tells the boy stories about what she remembers of his mother’s younger days; the boy brings the woman treats he smuggles from outside the camp.

The day before he leaves for Prague to continue the search for his mother, he brings the women one last gift: a crochet hook so she can stitch together patterns from the coils of threads she collects from her own clothing and the garments she resizes for other people in the camp. It’s a small scene but it reflects the resilience of the human spirit, the theme I hope the book conveys.

where can people find the book?

The book is on Amazon 

The website is: www.thepeartreebook.com.

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World War 2, Spies and Bobby Sox Libby Fischer Hellmann

I occasionally (very occasionally, because it’s too nerve-wracking. I seriously hate doing it) review books for Windy City Reads. This gives me a chance to repay some Karma, as they’ve been very kind to my books (so far) and also meet some Chicago writers. Last month I reviewed Libby Hellmann’s, “War, Spies and Bobby Sox, Stories About WW2 at Home.” (You can read the review here.)

Even though it was as far from the battlefields in Europe and the Pacific as you can get, there were important things happening here that impacted the war.

Libby Fischer Hellmann left a career in broadcast news in Washington, DC and moved to Chicago 35 years ago, where she, naturally, began to write gritty crime fiction. Fourteen novels and twenty-five short stories later, she claims they’ll take her out of the Windy City feet first.

She has been nominated for many awards in the mystery and crime writing community and has even won a few. She has been a finalist twice for the Anthony, three times for Foreword Magazine’s Book of the Year, the Agatha, the Shamus, the Daphne, and has won the IPPY and the Readers Choice Award multiple times.

Libby Fischer Hellman lives and writes in Chicago

Her most recent release, War, Spies & Bobby Sox: Stories about WW2 At Home was released March 1, 2017. Her novels include the now five-volume Ellie Foreman series, which she describes as a cross between “Desperate Housewives” and “24;” the hard-boiled 4-volume Georgia Davis PI series, and three stand-alone historical thrillers that Libby calls her “Revolution Trilogy.” Her short stories have been published in a dozen anthologies, the Saturday Evening Post, and Ed Gorman’s “25 Criminally Good Short Stories” collection.  In 2005 Libby was the national president of Sisters In Crime, a 3500 member organization dedicated to the advancement of female crime fiction authors. Her website is http://libbyhellmann.com.

Your book is actually an anthology, which is rare in historical fiction. What’s the nutsell version?

WS&B is my 14th crime thriller. (I have published five novels in one series, 4 in other, and 4 stand-alone historical thrillers.) The sub-title is “Stories About World War Two At Home” which is pretty much self-explanatory. WS&B is slightly different than my novels because it’s a collection of two novellas and one short story. But all three are set in and around Chicago during World War Two at home.

The first story, “The Incidental Spy”, is about a woman who worked in the Physics Department at the University of Chicago during the early years of the Manhattan Project (before it was officially called that, of course). “POW” is about two German POWs who were imprisoned in a camp that actually existed in Glenview. And the 3rd story, “The Day Miriam Hirsch Disappeared” was set in Lawndale, which, in the 1930s, was a thriving Jewish community in Chicago.

I liked them all, for different reasons. What was about this time period that intrigued you enough to do three different stories?

I’ve always been an avid reader of WW2 fiction, because I think it’s the last time in recent history where there was such clarity between good and evil. It was a time where some people turned out to be heroes while others became cowards—or worse. So it presents a wonderful opportunity for complex character development. At the same time, though, I was intimidated at the prospect of writing about the war. So many rich, beautiful stories have already been written (NiGHTINGALE, ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE, UNBROKEN, SARAH’S KEY, and more) I wondered what I could possibly add. A friend of mine, however, thought differently, and while she didn’t dare me, she did encourage me to write about the era. Eventually I took a deep breath and dived in. My caveat was to choose small pieces of the human “canvas,” since I couldn’t write about battles and military actions.

What’s your favorite scene in the book?

There are several. The scenes in Hyde Park near the U of Chicago were really fun to write, as was the description of the “Pile” (the first nuclear reactor) underneath Stagg Field. I also loved writing about the emotional tug of war in POW between Mary-Catherine and the two German soldiers. Lawndale, another South side setting, was fun to research, as I actually met a couple of “old-timers” who grew up there.

What I liked about your Lawndale story was the clash of cultures and class inside the Jewish community, which a lot of people under a certain age aren’t aware of. Good stuff. Where can we learn more about you and your work?

My Website: http://libbyhellmann.com

Amazon page: https://www.amazon.com/Libby-Fischer-Hellmann/e/B001HMMDZU/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

Facebook: https://facebook.com/authorlibbyfischerhellmann


A P Martin and WW2 Intrigue- Code Name Lazarus

While I can’t think of any time period that’s been better documented than the Second World War, there are still stories to be told. Today’s interview is with A P (Paul) Martin, who shares the story of a British student who becomes a spy at the outbreak of the war. The new novel is Codename Lazarus, the Spy Who Came Back From the Dead.

So who is A P Martin, and why do we care?

I’m an Anglo-Swiss academic who retired in 2013 to live with his wife in the

First time novelist AP Martin
First time novelist AP Martin

Bernese Alps in Switzerland. I’ve always read a great deal of fiction and for the last couple of years I’ve really enjoyed writing my first novel. I’ve found the whole experience a lot of fun and very rewarding, though not, so far, financially! (Editor’s note… we feel ya.) It’s amazed me how ideas and solutions to plot and writing problems can pop into my head when I’m hiking up a mountain. Good job a writing pad and pencil are always in my pocket!

What’s the book about?

Codename Lazarus is basically a spy story and its principal action takes place between 1938 and 1940. It concerns a young academic, who is approached by his university mentor to play the lead role in a daring plan to deceive Britain’s enemies in the run up to and first years of the Second World War. Without giving too much away, I can say that, as the plot unfolds he not only finds himself in frequent danger, but also his past comes back to threaten him in a completely unexpected way. So the book weaves together conflict and betrayal at the national and personal levels.

I’m a sucker for a good spy story. What inspired you to write this one?

Actually, having grown up in post war Britain and having had a father and uncles, all of whom fought in the Second World War, I’ve always been interested in that period. I also speak German fluently and really like both Germany and its people. But I must say that what inspired me to write the novel was the true story, from which it has been adapted. As soon as I read about this case, in the files released in 2014 by the British National Archive, I knew it would make a great basis for a gripping story.

Of course, my work is fictional, rather than an accurate account of the case, but I hope that I have paid some sort of tribute to the real heroes of the true story. In fact, I was very happy to learn recently that one of the journalists who wrote about the original file release in 2014 is now planning to publish a historically accurate account of the case in 2018. He’s even bought my book to see what I made of the case!

The new WW2 thriller from AP Martin
The new WW2 thriller from AP Martin

Do you have a favorite scene?

I’m not sure that I can pick a favourite scene or event, but I would like to say that what pleases me greatly is how the plot gathers momentum as it progresses and how its various threads come together at the end in what I think is a very satisfying conclusion. Reviewers have said that they’d have liked more and I’m taking that as a compliment!

Those who are interested in finding out more about myself, Codename Lazarus and the actual wartime case that inspired it are invited to look at my website :  www.apmartin.co.uk

It is possible to leave comments and greetings on each page of my website and I’d love to hear directly from readers! I can also be followed on Twitter as @APMartin51

Codename Lazarus is currently available as an ebook only via Amazon Kindle, though it will be released on all other platforms in mid October. It’s also available now as a paperback from Amazon.

Tales of WW2 Italy from Pamela Allegretto

Sometimes you run across people who are just so darned talented in so many ways and has such a seemingly cool life it seems quite unfair to the rest of us mere mortals. Pamela Allegretto is one of these folks.

Pamela Allegretto is the polymath author of Bridge of Sighs and Dreams
Pamela Allegretto is the polymath author of Bridge of Sighs and Dreams

She was educated at L’Università per Gli Stranieri in Florence, Italy, lives in Connecticut and divides her time between writing, painting, and translating. In addition to the new historical novel: Bridge of Sighs and Dreams, Her published work includes dual-language poetry books, translations in Italian literary journals, articles in local newspapers and on-line websites, CD covers, and cartoons. Her original art is collected worldwide. If it wasn’t for her habit of sending emails in comic sans,   I wouldn’t believe she’s mortal.

I, on the other hand, managed to feed Byron, my cockatiel, without spilling any seeds on the rug this morning. Not in the same league at all.

In a nutshell, what’s the book about?
Nazi-occupied Rome sets the stage for Bridge of Sighs and Dreams, where the lives of two women collide in an arena of deception, greed, and sacrifice.   
While political cartoonist Angelina Rosini channels her creativity into the art of survival for herself and her daughter, Lidia Corsini quenches her greed by turning in Jews to the Nazis. Lidia’s spiral into immorality accelerates as swiftly as the Jewish population dwindles; and soon not even her husband, her son, nor Angelina is immune to her madness. 
What is it about that period or character that intrigued you and motivated you to write about it?
  While growing up, I always hated listening to jokes about the Italians going into World War 2 with their hands raised. This was not at all the case, and I wanted to point out the bravery of the Italian population during this horrific time. Although Bridge of Sighs and Dreams is fiction, It is based on real events. I felt compelled to write a war novel in which the women don’t play the role of wallpaper or objects of amusement to soldiers and politicians. The women in Bridge of Sighs and Dreams take center stage in a behind the lines battle between good and evil.
Without giving away spoilers, what’s your favorite scene or event in the book?

Oh boy, asking an author what’s her favorite scene in a book is like asking a mother to name her favorite child. I suppose writing my antagonist, Lidia, affected me most. To think that such an immoral character lurked somewhere in my psyche was more than a little unsettling. And the idea that I actually enjoyed getting into her head and writing her odious words and deeds, well…

A tale of Italy during WW2
A tale of Italy during WW2
Where can people find you and your book?
 You can read more about my book at:  http://www.pamelaallegretto.com

Bridge of Sighs and Dreams is available for purchase in paperback and eBook at: AMAZON: