Posted on January 16, 2016
Anna Dahlberg knows little of her early years spent in Germany. Her German mother, Peggy, and American father, Rod, had settled in America after the end of World War 2 while Anna was still very young.
When Anna’s overbearing husband, Lowell, insists she keeps an appointment at the military-history magazine offices that belonged to Lowell’s father she is upset by his insensitivity. It is her deceased mother’s birthday – the first after her death – and Anna wants to spend time looking through her mother’s belongings. She misses her and feels a heavy burden of guilt that she had not answered her mother’s request to visit just before her death. Her mother rarely asked for anything but Anna had been busy helping Lowell and had put off the visit. Her mother said she had received a visitor and there was something she needed to tell her.
When Anna had arrived that terrible day and found her mother unconscious on the floor there had been a home movie playing on the television. Anna assumed them to be relatives of her German born mother; relatives she had never met. One scene showed three girls picking flowers in a field and Anna had felt it had some connection with her mother’s past.
At the magazine offices Anna meets Hannes Ritter, the new editor, who encourages her to research and write a piece on Eva Braun, the long-time mistress and eventual wife, of Adolf Hitler. As she looks at a photograph of Eva Braun she sees the same face staring at her as the one from a portrait that hung on her parents’ wall for as long as she can remember.
Anna’s journey into the past takes her into the world of Eva Braun and her love for a man who many despised. It shows a side of Eva Braun that few knew. As secrets are unravelled Anna realises she knows very little about her own mother’s past in Germany under the Third Reich and discovers her mother and Eva shared a special friendship. With the help of Hannes Anna uncovers secrets which have a profound effect on her belief of who she is.
The Munich Girl reflects Phyllis’ interest in people, their relationships and the effects we all have on one another in the decisions we make. Each character reveals different aspects of humanity and gives an insight into the human condition. We see Anna’s distress and sometimes disappointment that her mother had kept secrets from her but also we see through Peggy’s early life in Germany her reasons for making the decisions she did.
Lowell shows that our overwhelming sense of self-preservation leads sometimes to behave in a shameless and thoughtless manner while Hannes displays the good in human nature through his expression of love and kindness. Then there is Eva. A woman who was able to love a man hated by so many.
The Munich Girl is a beautifully written book which weaves history and fiction to give an incredible story. It is an uncomplicated read of a complex situation. It is one of those books that carries you along the journey with the characters while offering an understanding of the intricacies of relationships. A good read and highly recommended.
Phyllis Edgerly Ring has a profound interest in nature and humanity and conveys through writing her interest in the journey we all share on this planet. She gives thoughtful consideration to our evolution through history and the influence others, and the world as a whole, has on each one of us. Her love of inspirational writing has resulted in over 900 articles to prestigious publications such as The World and I, Writer’s Digest and The Christian Science Monitor.
In 2009 Phyllis released a collection of these essays and articles called Life at First Sight: Finding the Divine in the Details and in 2015 released her first novel Snow Fence Road. Inspiration for The Munich Girl: A Novel of the Legacies that Outlast War, released in November 2015, came from a visit to Germany where Phyllis spent some of her childhood years.
I wish Phyllis oodles of success with The Munich Girl and look forward to reading much more of her wonderful writing in the future.
For more information about Phyllis take a look at her website: http://phyllisedgerlyring.
Posted on January 13, 2016
“People who judge others tell more about Who They Are, than Who They Judge.” – Donald L. Hicks, Look into the stillness.
I decided this year to forego that fruitless tradition of making resolutions as I have a history of breaking them before the Christmas decorations are packed away.
I chose instead to select an aspect of myself in which I feel ‘needs a bit of working on’. Considering my flaws the choice was not an easy one, trust me, but in the end I plumped for the issue of judgement. I sometimes (well, quite often) have a propensity to make judgements without understanding the facts.
Over the Christmas period this topic arose in different guises and got me thinking about the subject in general.
Christmas Eve, rushing to get my son to the station and then to the shops before they closed (I’d forgotten the sprouts would you believe!) we were held up in traffic. Everyone was attempting to manoeuvre around a car which had stopped on the main road as though parked. When we eventually passed it I saw that the driver was a young girl on her phone.
‘How inconsiderate,’ I ranted, ‘she could have at least waited until she reached a side road and pulled in!’
‘Perhaps she’s broken down mum, and is calling the AA,’ replied my thoughtful son.
Ummm…Oops! Hadn’t thought of that. I saw the telephone and impulsively judged the poor girl. It didn’t really matter on this occasion because the girl had no idea that I had been so accusatory.
I didn’t give it another thought until a few days later when I was writing a review on The Munich Girl by Phyllis Edgerly Ring (coming soon…watch this space!). The central character, Anna, on discovering the truth of her past found it difficult to understand the decisions made by her mother many years before in the aftermath of World War 2.
Her lack of empathy for the choices her mother made, led me to think about the judgements we make regarding other people’s decisions. We think: How could he/she do this to me? Why wasn’t I told? Why did I get left behind? These thoughts are natural enough when feeling hurt but perhaps we should be asking why those choices were made. How much suffering did the other person incur from making those choices?
My father, who is 91, was evacuated to Devon from London during the war and was telling our children of his experiences there. I remembered that my mother and her three brothers were kept in London as my grandmother didn’t want to be parted from them. Both choices were made from a place of love.
My fathers’ parents loved him and wished him to be safe and my mothers’ parents loved their children and couldn’t be parted from them. As it turned out my father had a reasonably good experience as an evacuee and neither my mother nor her brothers were harmed during the Blitz.
It could have been a very different story. Imagine the anger and resentment that could have been directed towards either set of parents if something dreadful had happened. My father could have been abused in the hands of strangers or a member of my mother’s family killed in the Blitz.
Which prompted me to think again about the subject of judgement. Nobody can anticipate the future. I believe that the majority of people do what they think is best at the time for those they love. We are so wrapped up in our own suffering or well-being that judgement of others without understanding the reasons behind certain actions is all too easy.
So, as well as thinking before I open my mouth assuming the worst of someone, I will try to respect decisions made by others, even if I don’t agree with them, on the understanding that they are doing the best they can at that time with the information they have.
Posted on November 25, 2015
Nathan is just thirteen when the knock comes at the door which turns his world upside down. His father, a decorated Navy SEAL has been killed during combat in Afghanistan leaving Nathan, Cheyenne – Nathan’s eight year old sister and their mother Gayle to cope as best they can in the aftermath of his death.
From the first page Nathan captures the attention of the reader:
“Most people can’t pinpoint an exact moment when their life changed to such an extent that they effectively became a new person. It’s a rare privilege, or great burden, to have cognizant memory of what amounts to a re-birth. For better or worse, I am in that terrifying fraternity.”
Although his father’s team mates, Uncle Spencer, Bull, and LT Hagen do their best to give Nathan (Nate) direction they are absent, away on duty, for long periods of time. Nathan is left to struggle with all the usual problems and distractions of adolescence as well as cope with the loss of the father he usually looked to for guidance.
Because his father died a hero Nathan finds it difficult to live up to the expectations of those around him and feels he is letting everyone down. Living in his father’s shadow puts a lot of pressure on Nate as he moves through adolescence and he is regularly in trouble. He is angry with the world and everyone in it.
Especially when he meets up with the girl he likes,Tammy, who has strong opinions on America’s involvement in the Middle East. She voices the opinions of many who believe the soldiers and sailors should not be in Iraq or Afghanistan. She is against the killing of anyone and so therefore is against war. But as Nate said “It’s not that simple” as the forces have a job to do in protecting the rights of the country’s citizens.
Andy Symonds has captured the hopes, disappointments and confusions of a teenage boy dealing with the sudden and violent murder of his father whilst trying to discover his own identity as he matures.
Although a book containing a lot of sadness and pain it is not a depressing read. Throughout, it contains hope; hope that Nathan will pull through the difficult times; hope that he will make his choices, not on what is expected of him, but on what is right for him.
Beautifully written it gets to the heart of the lives of the families of those working for the Services. It is a book with depth, courageously exploring family relationships in time of terrible tragedy and the long lasting effects it has on the children who are left behind. Frequently angry, Nathan’s relationship with his mother begins to change but he still retains a loving affection and a desire to protect his little sister Chey.
Andy Symonds has also conveyed the additional issues that arise from the death of a family member who is part of the Services. As the lives of Servicemen and their families are intertwined they form a cohesive unit and each time a member of that unit is killed in service it affects all the other families. Death, especially where the Forces are deployed to places like Afghanistan, is a regular occurrence and each new death brings fresh pain to everyone, opening wounds that have yet to heal.
It is a book that needed to be written and should be read, whether you believe in war or not.
Andy Symonds is an award-winning journalist based in the Washington, D.C. area. His father is a thirty-three year veteran of the U.S. Navy, and he grew up on military bases throughout the world.
You can follow Andy on Twitter: @fatherssonbook
Posted on November 18, 2015
I recently read an article in a magazine that gave tips on how to “free yourself from your ego” and offered help in “getting rid of the ego” and it struck me that the ego often gets unfair press.
It is often mentioned in a derogatory way, linked to vanity, self-importance and arrogance. One definition I found described it as “an inflated feeling of pride in your superiority to others”.
There is no doubt that most of us dislike arrogant people who think they are better than others (even when they are crap at what they’re doing but think they’re great at it!) – especially when the arrogant person is trying to make himself feel superior by making another feel inferior. But do these negative qualities reflect the ego accurately or are there positive aspects to the ego?
I came across a lovely little story which I thought contained a lot of truth but still had the ego on the bad side.
An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.
“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one that you feed.”
So I thought I would investigate the much maligned ego before I bashed it over the head with a hammer and obliterate it altogether.
In Greek, Ɛƴω (ego) means ‘I’. Simply put, the ego is who we are. All of our experiences, past and present, have an effect on who we are. The ego is our thoughts, emotions, reactions, memories…in fact everything that makes you ‘you’. It is the subconscious mind.
Looking at it like this, if we got rid of ego who would we be?
I discovered that we have a good ego and a bad ego – those two little voices in our head which give us conflicting advice. The one tells us we can’t carry out a particular task because it is afraid of failing while the other tries to encourage us by convincing us we will succeed. Even the most confident of people are beset by doubts when something they are doing is of importance. The little voice in my head is constantly nagging: do this, don’t do that. It drives a me crazy, but without it I probably would not do anything.
Now in order to feel worthy and have a good self-image and make the best of our life we need encouragement…and that comes from our ego. It’s our ego that drives us to do good things, to achieve our full potential, so it would be counter-productive to kill it without considerable thought.
It seems to me the key to dealing with the ego is to keep it in balance. Respect it. Question it if you feel it is not doing you good service. The ego is not the enemy it is who you are. Just be careful that it doesn’t trick you into thinking that you are either better than you are or worse than you are.
So I thought rather than attempting to slay the ego I would be more careful what I feed it! No more titbits of superiority because I’ve answered a few more questions than everyone else at Quiz night (not usually the case, but it’s an example) or gloating because it only takes me 5 minutes to complete a Sudoku (not true either but you get the gist!!).
Posted on November 6, 2015
Head over heels in love with the enigmatic Giles Worthington, Lizzie Dixon feels that this year her birthday will be a special one. Giles has sent her for a day of pampering at an exclusive spa and she is expecting a marriage proposal at dinner.
Instead, Giles informs her that he is going to marry Natasha – the woman he jilted prior to meeting Lizzie – and so their relationship is over. While Lizzie was at the spa Giles had sneakily moved out of the penthouse flat they shared.
With her job in the same company as Giles under threat Lizzie resigns and, feeling emotionally vulnerable, returns to her home town of Wynbridge, humiliated and nursing a broken heart.
Best friend Jemma and husband Tom are soon to launch their new venture, The Cherry Tree Café, and offer Lizzie a place to stay in the flat above. Rediscovering her passion for sewing – and herself along the way – Lizzie begins to get her life back on track and realises just how much she had changed to accommodate Giles.
And then there is Ben…
Mystery shrouds the circumstances in which Ben, too, has returned to Wynbridge after a failed relationship. Lizzie finds the crush she had for Ben as a teenager reigniting and there is also another man clamouring for her attention. Lizzie, desperate to find love again, is not sure whether she can she trust either.
Written in first person the story takes you on the journey with Lizzie as she struggles to reclaim her life, on her own terms, after her ill-fated relationship with Giles. Sometimes her capricious nature can be frustrating but there is always that desire to see her fulfil her ambitions and find love.
It is a contemporary love story that has all the heady mix of love and friendship, lies, betrayal and forgiveness. One of the commendable things about Heidi’s writing is the ease with which the story carries you along. It is like a good conversation between friends, flowing seamlessly from one chapter to the next, and before you realise it you have been reading for much longer than you thought.
For those who enjoy romantic fiction The Cherry Tree Café will not disappoint. Curl up on the sofa – nice and warm with a hot drink – and indulge yourself this winter!
The Cherry Tree Cafe was published by Simon and Schuster in July 2015
You can follow Heidi on Twitter: @Heidi_Swain
Heidi Swain lives with her family in Norfolk. She has always had a passion for writing and has been scribbling away from a very young age. Heidi has a degree in Literature but it was only when she joined the RNA New Writers’ Scheme and submitted her manuscript for The Cherry Tree Cafe that her debut novel was recognised and published. I wish Heidi every success for The Cherry Tree Cafe and all her future writing – of which I think there will be plenty!
Posted on November 3, 2015
“The more a characteristic in someone else bothers you the more your soul is trying to draw a reflection to your attention.” - A Little Light on the Spiritual Laws by Diana Cooper.
I have read this Law many times and had always failed to see the logic in this premise. How can a characteristic that annoys me be reflecting back an aspect of my own personality? The reason it irritates me is because I don’t behave in that way – at least I didn’t think I did.
What is it that piques you most?
On reflection (no pun intended) I realise that I am increasingly irritated by those who are so strongly opinionated that they refuse to listen to anyone else’s views. On the radio and TV everyone talks over each other, determined to assert themselves. The ego demanding to be heard because of ’the need to be right‘.
Our opinions are formed by our life experiences and no two people see things in the same way. Some have privileged lives and others have difficult lives. Even those who share common experiences view them differently, so how can our perspective be the same? Yet often this is not taken into consideration. How often do we take the time to listen to others and try to understand why they believe what they do?
The ossification of our ideas leave us as brittle as our old bones; and as inflexible. We can become hard and uncaring, discarding any form of compassion. I heard someone talking in a café the other day about those fleeing Syria. The woman was adamant that ‘those people are just leaving to have a better life on benefits’. This was her opinion (and that of many) and she would not shift from this view. I’m sure, if asked, many of those fleeing would provide a different perspective.
Many of those escaping war ravaged countries know the risks when they leave but are trying to keep their children and families safe. It is desperation that drives them to take their families on a dodgy boat, or trudge miles across land, leaving behind everything they own. I’m sure some are economic migrants but I’m sure most aren’t (my opinion for what it’s worth!) How does it reach the stage where, after seeing a few programmes on TV about benefit cheats and migrants sponging off the state, that our opinions become so entrenched that we lose our humanity?
I’m ashamed to admit that I can finally see the logic behind the Law of Reflection because – and I’m reluctant to admit it – I do exactly the same as the people who annoy me. I often have strong views and am not shy to express them. I have even been know to talk over others and interrupt (yes it’s true!).
We have all been blessed with the gift of thought and our thoughts are free. We have the opportunity to change them at any time. I will use this Law to change my way of thinking by ensuring that my opinions, which can be very forthcoming after a glass or two of wine (culminating in full eruption after three) are not forced on others. I will shut my mouth and open my ears and ask myself: Do I really believe this or do I need to re-evaluate the judgements I’ve held close for so long?…And then I’ll give my opinion!
Posted on October 27, 2015
Tying Down The Lion tells the story of Roy Bishop and his half- German wife Bridget as they travel to Berlin in the summer of 1967 in an old Morris Traveller. Accompanied by their children, fourteen year old Jacqueline and seven year old Victor, along with Roy’s mother Nell they set off from their semi in Audette Gardens, foregoing their usual holiday to Clacton, so Bridget can meet the sisters she hasn’t seen since the war.
Berlin at this time is divided by the Cold War and Bridget has one sister living in the East and the other in the West.
Jacqueline is working on a school project with the theme of ‘contrasts’ and, inspired by an article about Berlin and their forthcoming trip, she chooses Berlin as the subject. With pen and paper in hand she takes notes during the journey but discovers more about her mother’s early life in Berlin than she was expecting.
Grandma Nell has a dislike for anything foreign and criticises her daughter-in-law at every opportunity – whilst busy knitting and eating sweets of all descriptions. She’s also a little uneasy about the travel arrangements as she believes the Morris Traveller is “held together by no more than a couple of sticking-plasters and an overstretched rubber band”.
Teenager Jacqueline is desperate to be allowed to grow up and finds Victor a ‘pest’ a lot of the time, while Bridget and Roy have their own demons to deal with.
The story is told in first person by Jacqueline with wit and humour, mixed with doses of tenderness. She records the interactions between family members that includes the unavoidable bickering which accompanies five people thrown together in a small space for long periods of time. References to Opportunity Knocks, crimplene frocks, Biba and The Beatles keep you immersed in the 60’s for the duration of the novel.
Tying Down The Lion is a book about division but also about reconciliation. It shows the necessity of family love and understanding. There is warmth and humour mixed with the reality of the prejudices and bigotry which inevitably came in the aftermath of World War 2. It is an amusing and entertaining story but equally moving.
Joanna has taken an entirely unique approach to tell the story of the Cold War and the suffering of Germans during WW2, including those who were not Jewish. It highlights the fact that everyone endures misery during war whichever side they are on. There is a lovely sentence towards the end which links to the title and encapsulates the whole essence of the story. A delight to read.
Tying Down The Lion is published by Brick Lane Publishing
Joanna was born in 1960 and grew up in Hayes, Middlesex. Many of her short stories have been published in magazines and she has had fiction shortlisted in many competitions: the Bridport and Fish prizes and the Flannery O’Connor Award to name just a few. A collection of Joanna’s prize-winning short stories, When Planets Slip Their Tracks, is due to be published later this year.
Joanna answers questions in A Conversation with Greenacre Writers.
You can follow Joanna on twitter: @PygmyProse
Posted on October 4, 2015
“Everything In Moderation” – My Uncle Peter (and, I believe, Oscar Wilde)
This has always been Uncle Peter’s philosophy in life: Everything in moderation; nothing to excess. This is such a sensible way to live but, for me anyway, impossible to abide by. As much as I hate to admit it I lack self-discipline. This theme runs through all my activities including mediation practise and eating habits. It’s usually all or nothing!
I decide on a Monday morning – it has to be Monday because I can’t ever begin something mid-week – to go on a ‘healthy eating’ plan and commit to 30 minutes meditation each morning. This usually follows a few weeks of self-indulgent eating and drinking resulting in my jeans getting tight. (How this phenomenon happens I don’t know, I think there needs to be a study of the correlation between eating too much and clothes shrinking in the wash).
Monday passes well. Meditation achieved. Lots of salad and veg with grilled salmon or chicken. No wine or chocolate. I’m so good! Tuesday very similar although a chocolate biscuit is added at the very end of the day due to sugar craving. Wednesday morning a friend invites me to lunch at Al Fresco’s, a lovely Italian restaurant. Do I decline or just vow to eat something healthy?
Of course I don’t decline – I love to meet for a chat and Alfresco’s is the perfect place. I have a food shop to fit in before I go so I decide to meditate in the evening instead. My foot has just stepped onto the slippery slope.
On arrival my friend is sipping a glass of chilled white wine with an almost full bottle glistening in the cooler beside the table. Our usual ritual. Help!
Not wishing to offend I allow the waiter to pour and I indicate to stop when the glass is a quarter full. (I’m trying).
After a quick catch up I look at the menu. Now it gets tricky. I refuse point blank to pay £10 for a plate of lettuce and tomatoes and the fish is a little beyond my lunch time budget so I opt for something middle of the range: a delicious, thin based anchovy and black olive pizza. My favourite.
As we eat the waiter tops up the glasses.
Then, having ruined my healthy eating plan for the day I follow up with a coconut meringue thingy. Absolutely delicious. I arrive home stuffed and a little tipsy (I didn’t drive by the way, hubby dropped me off. Somewhere in my subconscious I knew I would have the wine!). Needless to say I fall asleep in the evening after thirty seconds meditation.
The trouble with all this is that having broken my strict regime I can’t recapture it. Now I will have to wait until next Monday to start again.
Why is it so difficult to have a small glass of wine and not half the bottle? A few squares of chocolate rather than the whole bar? Or two biscuits instead of half the packet?
I know it’s all to do with mind set and mine is obviously malfunctioning. I need to come up with a new strategy otherwise I will end up overweight and alcoholic and walking in the opposite direction on the path to self-awakening.
I will have a think…
Posted on September 9, 2015
Linda Huber lives in Arbon, Switzerland. Although Linda has been writing throughout her life she considered it a hobby until the publication of her first novel, The Paradise Trees, In September 2013. Just a year later, in August 2014, The Cold Cold Sea, was published and her third novel, The Attic Room, was released in July 2015.
The Attic Room is a suspense/thriller that spreads over three generations: Nina, her daughter Naomi and her mother Claire. When Claire dies following a car accident Nina is trying to cope with the deep grief she feels for the loss of her mother when she receives a telephone call from a lawyer.
Nina discovers she has been bequeathed a substantial estate from a man she does not know: John Moore. From her home on the Isle of Arran she travels to Bedfordshire, leaving Naomi with a friend to run their bed and breakfast business, to see the house she has inherited.
Once there she becomes embroiled in blackmail and lies as she uncovers dark family secrets involving her mysterious benefactor. Who is John Moore and what happened in the attic?
Like Linda’s other two novels, The Attic Room is packed with suspense and intrigue. It explores a difficult topic which Linda has weaved into the mystery in a sensitive way. Her research into the subject results in authentic characterisation which enhances the tension and secrets the story reveals. A well written book and a good read.
Watch the trailer to get a taster
You can also see the trailer for Linda’s new book Chosen Child:
You can follow Linda on Twitter: @LindaHuber19
Posted on August 30, 2015
Things We Have In Common is Tasha Kavanagh’s first adult novel, having written books for children under the name of Tasha Pym. She has also worked as an editor on films such as Twelve Monkeys and The Talented Mr Ripley.
Yasmin is 15 years old, very overweight and has no friends. Her fixation with the pretty girl in her class, Alice, alienates her further from the other children and she retreats deeper into her own world of fantasy and obsessions. Yasmin lives with her mother and Gary – her stepdad – which creates additional issues for the troubled teenager.
Yasmin, convinced Alice is to be abducted by a man she knows is watching Alice, becomes embroiled in a rather one sided friendship with the potential paedophile/murderer.
Kavanagh has captured the voice of the lonely and complex Yasmin – desperate for love and attention – very convincingly and it leaves you wondering where the boundary between fantasy and reality lie for Yasmin; they appear to merge, leaving you to speculate on whether the events she relates have really occurred or whether they are just flights of her imagination.
Although a monologue of Yasmin’s confused and unhappy existence – and I have to admit that at times she left me exhausted – it is also a novel of twists and turns. Unpredictable and intriguing. Just when you think you have worked out what is happening – you discover you haven’t.
The novel had an excellent start and then the voice of Yasmin became a little tiresome. However, once accustomed to her expression the novel was all-absorbing. It is a story that flows well and begs you to turn the next page. The only failure, in my opinion, was the ending. I didn’t find it as satisfying as I would have liked.
Published May 7th 2015 by Canongate