Review of Victoria’s War, by Catherine A. Hamilton

Well, the sun has sunk its fiery head below the horizon to close a wintry Sunday. The weekend is almost history, but I want to spin the time dial back into this past weekend, for a moment.

i want to talk about an excellent book I had the opportunity to read these last few days. As you’ve “guessed” from the title, the book in question is Victoria’s War, by Catherine A. Hamilton.

Here’s what Amazon says:

In Victoria’s War, Hamilton gives voice to the courageous Polish women who were kidnapped into the real-life Nazi slave labor operation during WWII. Inspired by true stories, this lost chapter of history won’t soon be forgotten.POLAND, 1939: Nineteen-year-old Victoria Darski is eager to move away to college: her bags are packed and her train ticket is in hand. But instead of boarding a train to the University of Warsaw, she finds her world turned upside down when World War II breaks out. Victoria’s father is sent to a raging battlefront, and the Darski women face the cruelty of the invaders alone. After the unthinkable happens, Victoria is ordered to work in a Nazi sewing factory. When she decides to go to a resistance meeting with her best friend, Sylvia, they are captured by human traffickers targeting Polish teenagers. Sylvia is singled out and sent to work in brothels, and Victoria is transported in a cattle car to Berlin, where she is auctioned off as a slave.GERMANY, 1941: Twenty-year-old Etta Tod is at Mercy Hospital, where she’s about to undergo involuntary sterilization because of the Fuhrer’s mandate to eliminate hereditary deafness. Etta, an artist, silently critiques the propaganda poster on the waiting room wall while her mother tries to convince her she should be glad to get rid of her monthlies. Etta is the daughter of the German shopkeepers who buy Victoria at auction in Berlin.The stories of Victoria and Etta intertwine in the bakery’s attic where Victoria is held the same place where Etta has hidden her anti-Nazi paintings. The two women form a quick and enduring bond. But when they’re caught stealing bread from the bakery and smuggling it to a nearby work camp, everything changes.

My Turn:

Now, I have to admit, I like reading just about everything WWII, but this book was so well crafted and researched, that it had my full attention and left a lasting impression.

Catherine does a fantastic job of creating realistic characters and scenarios. I couldn’t help but feel a range of emotions towards both the prisoners, and some of the helpful Germans, alike. The fate of one character, I won’t spoil it, caused a lump in my throat.

This is not a shoot-em-up, we’re the greatest heroes ever, type of story. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of suspense and action, too.

Victoria’s War is exactly what the title suggests. It’s about the tragic experiences of a young and innocent woman who was forced to grow in self-confidence and courage. I believe that Victoria represents so many that went through those horrific trials.

If you’re queasy, rest easy. The descriptions of the prisoner camps and victims is sprinkled throughout, but just enough to give you an impression of the conditions. There are no excessively gory details.

What I came away with is a new respect for the courage and resilience of the brave men and women who fought against tyranny, in the face of extreme danger and nearly insurmountable odds. Many selfless and self-sacrificing acts of kindness are carried out and warm the heart against the chill of the Nazi regime.

Five Stars!

Meet Catherine:

A native Oregonian of Polish descent, Catherine A. Hamilton spent several years as a freelance writer. Her articles and poems have appeared in The Sarasota Herald Tribune, The Oregonian, The Catholic Sentinel, and The Polish American Journal. She is the author of a chapter, “Katherine Graczyk”; in Forgotten Survivors: Polish Christians Remember the Nazi Occupation. Edited by Richard C. Lukas, pp.31-37, (University Press of Kansas, 2004). Her debut novel, Victoria’s War, is now available: Plain View Press (2020).
Hamilton lives in the Northwest with her husband.

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‘Fiction In A Flash Challenge’ Week #15 #IARTG #ASMSG @pursoot #WritingCommunity #fiction

pursootfictionchallengeHappy Sunday! Here is my take on talented Author Suzanne Burkes’ weekly Fiction In a Flash Challenge.  Authors are invited to write a short story about the photo shown. Please click on the above link to go to her blog site. Thank you so much, Suzanne for hosting this regular challenge!

Rosemary’s Treasure

“Grandma, are you sure you want to go up there? They’re in bad shape, and your hip.”

“Oh, pish posh,” Rosemary waved dismissively. “Should have done this years ago and those were built when quality counted.”

“That was seventy-seven years ago. This place has been abandoned for—”

“Twenty years, other than some vandalism, the bones are solid.”

“Maybe, but yours aren’t. Please, just let me have a look. The third floorboard from the back wall of the closet, right?”

Rosemary patted Emily’s hand. “I need to do this myself, with a bit of help from you.”

Emily wiped a tear and hugged her grandmother. “I understand. You were eight and you’ve waited this long. It was your only hope. All these years . . . ” Her grief soaked the purple shawl.

“Shh . . . I’ve made my peace. This must be done before I see him again. I pray God will allow it in Heaven. Father has the other half, that’s why they never found it on him.”

Rosemary’s eyes stung but she must show restraint, be the brave girl that her father had said she was just before he left for the Great War. “Let’s continue, shall we?”

“Yes, I’m sorry.” Emily broke her embrace and took the tissue from Rosemary.

“But you must let me check each tread before you step on it and let me guide you. Those are my rules, I’m sorry. I love you too much to lose you.”

Rosemary nodded. “Agreed.”

They moved ahead, arm in arm, with Emily sweeping away the debris with her foot to clear a path. At the base of the stairs, she tested the railing and was satisfied.

“You see, built to last. The stairs will be the same, though the third step might creak. I learned to avoid that one when I’d sneak downstairs after bedtime to grab an extra cookie.” She pointed to the room they’d just left. “My parents would be sitting in their chairs, Mother with her nose in a book, while Father would be asleep. I never got caught, but sometimes I think Mother knew.” Rosemary smiled.

The stairs proved to be every bit as resilient as promised, but every tread protested the disturbance.

The hideous orange and white floral-patterned linoleum flooring installed by the last tenants had chunks missing and revealed the hardwood underneath. Decay wasn’t always bad.

Emily gingerly walked her grandmother across the tripping hazard to the first room on the left. Time had left only a thick layer of dust, cobwebs, and a musty smell in the barren room.

“Hmmm . . . used to be a lot bigger,” Rosemary said. She blamed her watering eyes on the dust and mold. “I loved this room, but after Father was gone, well, we had to move.”

She sighed deeply and shuffled towards the tiny closet. Emily’s hand went to grab her arm, but she brushed it off. “I’m good for now, but I’ll need you to help me kneel.”

The old woman reached the closet and Emily helped her to her knees.

Rosemary struggled to remove the floorboard and Emily offered to help.

“No! I must do this!” Her face softened and her tears splattered into the floor dust. “I’m sorry, dear, I didn’t mean to snap. This arthritis is making it hard. Did they nail it down?”

After what seemed an eternity, the board yielded, and was hoisted with a collectively  held breath. Would it still be there?

Emily handed over the flashlight. The small beam illuminated only cobwebs and dirt. Rosemary dug frantically to clear them, and the light reflected off a silver object lying in between the floor joists.

Rosemary picked up the necklace with shaky hands. Emily gasped, for there it was, the legendary object that she’d heard about since early childhood.

A heart, with one half missing, the other half perhaps lay on a faraway battlefield.

Rosemary clutched the jewelry to her heart, and then wept loudly. Emily rushed to her side and tried to console her grandmother through her own tears.

It took several moments to recover, and Rosemary showed her the inscription in the heart. Because of the shape and the missing piece, it read, ALW TOGE . . . Always Together.

“Oh Grandma, is that true? Do you really believe that?”

“Yes, Emily, all of my life I knew he was there, and soon I will get to see him again and this heart will be whole.”

An Invitation to Join the Club

As the dawn sheds light on a new day, I find myself reflecting on yesterday’s celebration of Canada’s birthday.

Canada is many things, including a beautiful land of diversity, both in landscape and people. We’re far from perfect and face our own struggles, but overall, we are blessed.

However, Canada is but one country, and sparsely populated in relation to land mass.  At just over 37 million, we’re a drop in the bucket.

What about this club thing in the title, Bierman? And what’s with the handshake photo? Don’t you know it’s dangerous nowadays? I’ll get to that, soon, I promise. First, I’m going to give you a quick bio about myself, so that you have a gist about who’s extending this invitation.

Here goes: I’m a white, middle class, Christian man, with a nuclear family. I have over twenty years’ experience as a Correctional Officer. I’m the son of immigrants who arrived as children, from Holland. I am proud of who I am, my heritage, my country, and my family.

I hope you are proud of who you are too. You have every right to be.

You see, this club is not exclusive, it’s open to everyone, regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, political leanings, and occupation.

There are some rules, however:

  1. You must have a pulse.
  2. You agree to behave in a respectful manner to all. Do not mock or belittle anyone because you think their ideas, religion, beliefs, interests, what have you, are foolish.
  3. You agree to disagree, refrain from assigning unfair labels to someone, simply because their opinions do not coincide with your own.
  4. You agree to inform yourself and question what you see and hear on the news. That goes for social media, too. You are intelligent and have free will. Please do your research before you make assumptions. I’m sorry, I know real issues exist, but this particular item is gasoline on an inferno. Blue Lives Murder T Shirt on Amazon . So every police officer is a murderer? I don’t think so. I’m using this one because it hits a bit close to home. I don’t know what you do for a living but think about possible stereotypes for your profession. Are they true for all who work in that field?
  5. Honest questions are encouraged and even polite debate, but do not expect a conversion to your way of thinking. Oh, by the way, might be wise to leave the thesaurus at home. Sophisticated or uncommon words that are meant to demonstrate superior “intelligence” often do the opposite. More importantly, they do not foster amicable relations.
  6. We all have trauma and scars from the past. Yes, even the rich and famous. So many things shape us into what we are today. I think it’s important to remember that we are all one footstep away from being someone else.

So, what is this club? Well, I guess I’ll call it, The Club of Humanity. The invitation has no expiry date. All that is required is to follow these simple rules and check any bitterness, anger, and prejudice at the door. If you’d like, I can leave a bin of glasses at the entrance to wear, so that members can see others through a new lens.

Thank you for reading this. I hope to see you there!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Thirst for Gold, Part One of Three

Dawson City, Yukon, during the Klondike

October 21,1897

The horse sped by and kicked up chunks of manure that struck the front of Albin’s Mackinaw jacket. He shook a fist at the rider and blued the air with curses. His foul mood further soured as he slogged along the muck-slimed boardwalk to Heaven’s Hearth Inn. He began to contemplate the madness that had driven him to come here. All the best claims had been staked.

Hen cackles pierced his thoughts, just seconds before he heard the rattle of glass panes. The front door of The Gilded Bruin Saloon had smacked against the outside wall after being given a hard shove.

A young bull, his massive head squished into a wide-brimmed hat stumbled outside. His twiggy sidekick was slung over a granite outcrop shoulder like the strap on a haversack.

A pair of scurvy-plagued down-and-outers, one draped in a threadbare horse blanket that fell across pyramid shoulders, the other, a gargoyle with moth eaten gloves that exposed frost bitten digits, pleaded with the corned louts for a handout.

The sidekick waved a boney arm dismissively, slurred them to eternal damnation and ordered them to pull foot.

The bovine, however, whispered in his ear and gave him a wink. His partner chuckled before his mouth curved into a crescent moon.

“Can you stand, Tom?” It was a rhetorical question because Tom was dumped onto the porch before he could answer. He wobbled on new-born fawn legs and had to grab the nearest awning post.

“Ya gotta ‘nuff dust Gabe?”

Gabe nodded. “Plenty.”  He squeezed a meaty hand into his pocket and pulled out a caribou-hide poke, after opening the draw strings, his sausage fingers removed a pinch of gold flakes. “You ready for some fun!” He winked and tossed them into the filthy spittoon beside the door.

The beggars raced for the spittoon, shoving, and punching each other, they knocked it over, spilling the vile liquid over the porch. The pair landed in a heap and continued to battle with the ferocity of feral cats, alternatively clawing at the opponent’s eyes and the liquid. The philistines howled with delight.

Disgusted, Albin averted his gaze. The fires of Hell were being stoked for these two. God’s wrath would fall upon those who made a mockery of starvation. His eye caught something that confirmed the Creator’s justice and His benevolence towards Albin. Something glittered in the muck, just an inch from the porch. The fool had unwittingly dropped a significant amount of gold. The combatants were entangled, and the devils were too drunk. Temptation called for immediate action, but Job came to mind . . . patience was always rewarded.

The wait had the lifespan of a sneeze. The gasping corpses tired quickly and agreed to an even split. Both ruffians gave a final whoop and stumbled off, no doubt on the prowl for harlots.

Albin moved swiftly, scooping the gold, he placed it in his red handkerchief. The Lord certainly does work in mysterious ways. As in everything, this had happened for a reason. The gift wouldn’t be squandered, he knew what to do.

He entered the den of iniquity. At first, the patrons took little notice of the large man in the filthy coat, but as Albin wandered past the bar, even the most inebriated threw him looks of revulsion. He side-stepped a painted lady who straddled her client’s lap. She wrinkled her nose and demanded the head of whomever had let this pig inside.

Albin paid no heed to any of them. His focus remained fixed on the vault style door at the far end of the room. A solid slab of oak, it was leagues out of character with the typical match-stick construction that littered this shanty town. The most impenetrable portal in Dawson, complete with a heavy deadbolt, its only weakness was a small peephole. Behind it was the fortified lair of Dawson’s Klondike King, Karl Jackson.

The door wasn’t the only thing barring unsolicited entry. Two behemoths stood guard, both armed with Smith and Wesson revolvers. The one on the left appeared to be around thirty. He fell three inches short of Albin’s six-foot-two stature, but every square inch rippled with muscle. His hair was black as Satan’s heart, heavily coated with Macassar Oil and parted just above the left eye, one of a pair that were darker than a mine shaft. His face would have caused a swoon among the fairer sex, had those peepers been less soulless.

His back up had an extra inch of height and an equal portion of muscle. Close-cropped brown hair spiked above hazel eyes that signaled a generally docile disposition that would turn murderous if provoked or commanded to do so by Jackson. Probably mid to late thirties, but the weathered face, and the sizeable scar under the left eye suggested the accelerated aging of a hard life.

A phantom hand gripped Albin’s stomach and he questioned if this truly was God’s plan. He slowed his gait to a shuffle and prayed silently and swiftly for guidance and deliverance. The effect was immediate; a surge of confidence that removed doubt and relieved pain.

There were two powerful motives to see this ordeal through. One practical, the other was the need to lay eyes on a beast who profited from misery and death.

The guards had noticed him, and Albin sensed the entire patronage holding its collective breath. All were hungry for blood. The door men sized him up. How must he appear? A big man covered in horse crap with a wild look in his eyes, headed straight for them.

In unison, their hands moved to rest on their pistols. Neither displayed emotion beyond amused curiosity. The reach for the guns was purely instinctual. No morale code would prevent them from killing him, as one might a pesky rat, but shooting would be bad for business, so unless he made a grievous error, he should remain on this side of eternity.

Albin raised his hands to show that he was unarmed. The larger man nodded and relaxed his grip, but Macassar Oil repeatedly clenched and unclenched the pistol butt. His ambivalence stretched Albin’s nerves.

“Whoa there, partner. Where do you think you’re going?” Mister “docile” stepped forward and raised a hand the size of a Clydesdale hoof, the other had returned to roost on the pistol. His voice had the quality of one who gargled with stones on a daily basis.

Albin came to an abrupt halt, arms still vertical. “I’m requesting an audience with your boss.”

To be continued . . .

 

 

 

Vanished, A novel by Mark Bierman

 

Today I wish to take some time to promote my novel, Vanished. Now, I must be honest with you, I never thought I’d write a story about human trafficking

How it all began and why:

My father was a building contractor and had been to the impoverished nation of Haiti a number of times. He would assist with the construction of homes, churches, and a few other projects. His return meant amazing stories and disturbing photos of tiny shanties where families lived, in cramped quarters, without running water or electricity.  In fact, often, there were open streams of raw sewage that ran close to these squalid huts.

In October of 2010, my brother-in-law accompanied my father to decimated post-earthquake Haiti. Yes, you guessed it, another construction project.

“Oh, take a journal with you and write in it every day,” I instructed them. “I want to write an article for a magazine about your experiences.”

The pair dutifully completed their “assignments” and I was blessed with a plethora of information and colorful stories. That’s when the idea came for a book. Yes, but why Human Trafficking? Well, I have spent years working as a Correctional Officer and my mind instinctively wandered to the criminal element, I also enjoy reading action novels. I really believe, too, that this book was a therapy for me, to cleanse my mind of the negative experiences of working in a prison.

Please be aware that the book contains NO graphic violence or sexual deviance. I DO NOT create rape scenes, nor describe grotesque injuries or deaths.

A quick summary of Vanished:

Tyler Montgomery loses his wife to cancer and is grieved beyond consoling. His father-in-law, John Webster, cannot bear the loss of his daughter, both men are headed for self-destruction. When the opportunity for the mission trip arises, Trudy, John’s wife, convinces the pair to go. Though she grieves herself, she puts their needs first and believes this Good Samaritan experience will be a distraction.

They arrive in Port-de-Paix, Haiti, which is relatively untouched by the earthquake and find their host, a missionary named Steve Tracey. He drives them to Rescue Haiti Mission, their home for the next month. At dinner that night, they meet a lovely young woman named Mahalia, who takes in the Mission’s laundry, and her sweet seven-year-old daughter, Chantale.

All goes well for the first while, until Mahalia bursts into the cafeteria during dinner, proclaiming that Chantale has been taken, her cherished doll found abandoned on the road. A local search leads nowhere, and the police are unwilling to help. Even Steve tells them to accept that little Chantale is lost forever. The earthquake has created too many problems and these children are never found.

Unaccustomed to such atrocities, and reeling with the pain of their own loss, the two Americans develop a strong desire to do the right thing. Steve resists, at first, citing the dangers and fallibility of the undertaking.

One day, in a fit of frustration, Steve declares that Chantale is as good as dead. Mahalia overhears this and reacts strongly. She ignores Steve and approaches Tyler, the look of sorrow in her eyes is what he sees in the mirror daily.

Mahalia shoves a photo of her daughter, and the doll into Tyler’s hands. She locks eyes with him and utters the words that begin a terrifying journey into the underbelly of Haitian society.

“Don’t listen to him. He has given up hope for many things. You are a good man. I know you can do this. Please find her! Please find my baby!”

Yes, John and Tyler are loosely based on my kin, and yes, there are some facts and experiences they had that are incorporated into the story. However, the majority of it is fiction.

This book was written mainly for the purpose of drawing attention to the world-wide issue of Human Trafficking that is prevalent in EVERY country.

Fifty percent of the profits made from Vanished, are donated to a charity that helps victims of human trafficking.

I’ve composed a poem that speaks about Mahalia’s thoughts as she deals with her grief:

Chantale, little angel, my barren arms embrace the ghost of you; they’ve squeezed the shards of my shattered heart, since the day you were snatched away.

Blurred by the rain of constant grief, my soul’s eyes search this decimated land; baby girl, where’d you go to?

Pointed fingers accused me, for surely, I fed you to the mongrels; pay no heed, my precious child, to the evil lies they say.

Come back Chantale, the flowers you picked crumble in the vase; my will to live falls with each petal, fresh ones will die quickly, unless touched by you.

In feverish madness, I’ve commissioned strangers to the rescue, placed faith in two men, pure of heart but naïve to the ways of monsters; forgive me Chantale, for my options were few.

If to the cruelty you succumb, please climb on the Father’s lap, whisper your plea; a hug from Heaven in a rainbow’s hue.

Please check out the book trailer:

I wish to thank the professionals at 4WillsPublishing for creating such a wonderful trailer!

Vanished made the top ten list! Jan Sikes is a very talented author. Please visit her website.

Thank you so much for taking the time to learn about Vanished.

If you wish to purchase a copy, available in ebook and print format:

Amazon.com       Amazon.ca      iBooks

Connect with Mark:

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I am also a member of  Rave Reviews Book Club a wonderful community of authors.