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Favorite WWII Books of 2016

Rena was on the first Jewish transport to Auschwitz and endured the death camp for over three years. She fulfilled the promise she made to her mother years before—to take care of her little sister. Beautiful and extremely heart wrenching. Five stars.

By Gerda Weissmann Klein

Gerda was just a teenager when the Germans invaded Poland and everyone and everything she loved was taken from her. She survived labor camps and a death march in the winter of 1945. She was liberated by American troops and married Kurt Klein, one of the American soldiers who liberated her. Five stars. 

 Brothers in Battle, Best of Friends
By William "Wild Bill" Guarnere and Edward "Babe" Heffron

I recently wrote a review for this book HERE. It's told back and forth between two paratroopers who fought with Company E, 506th PIR, 101st Airborne. I've seen other reviews that said, "It was like sitting in the living room and listening to your grandpa tell stories." I have to agree with them. I learned so much, laughed at the veterans banter, and was brought to tears by what they went through. Four stars.

By Isabella Leitner

This was a library book, but I kept it long after I finished just so I could re-read parts. The writing is both beautiful and tragic. "Potyo was just thirteen; she was my sister. She had the wisdom of a child of war. She was full of fear, yet tiptoed with tenderness, laughter, and love in a world of madmen. She was a weeping willow, a song of sorrow, a poem of infinite beauty. 'Why does Hitler hate me? Why does he love hate, Mama? I am only thirteen; I have songs yet to learn, games yet to play. Give me time to live, give me time to die. Mama, how can I do all the living in just an inch of time?'"  Four Stars. 

By Ruta Sepetys

This book introduced me to the little known history of Lithuanians under Stalin's rule. I'm super excited that it's being made into a movie! Four stars. 

What were your favorite reads of 2016?


"Sweet Remembrance" Book Trailer

I remember The Little Match Girl being such a tragic tale, but somehow sweet—bittersweet. That’s how this WWII retelling of the story was. I don’t like tragedies, but if you’re going to write one, write it like Emily Ann Putzke did with "Sweet Remembrance." It was captivating. The history of the Jews being brutally persecuted by Germans is hard—the kind of hard where the enormity of it steals the breath from your lungs for a moment. The lost dreams so bitter. But the remembering of a heartfelt romance so sweet. All in all, it’s a sad tale of a horrific time in history … but it ends with a curious kind of hope. A hope that I want to hold onto. Very well written. A bittersweet, heart-tugging story of an ordinary girl in a terrible time. Shantelle Mary Hannu

Sweet Remembrance is my contribution to Once: Six Historically Inspired Fairytales. The boxset is available on Kindle for $4.99. Grab a copy and let us know what you think by leaving a review on Amazon and Goodreads!


"ONCE" Is Now Available!

Break out the confetti! Today's the day! Once: Six Historically Inspired Fairytales is now available on Amazon! It's been quite an adventure to collaborate with Suzannah Rowntree, Elisabeth Grace Foley, Rachel Heffington, J.Grace Pennington, and Hayden Wand. I've learned a lot through working with these authors and I'm so excited for you all to read our boxset!

To give you a taste of the collection, we're each sharing an excerpt from our retellings today. So without further ado, a snippet Sweet Remembrance, my WWII retelling of The Little Match Girl.

I soaked in every detail—the polished floors, the feel of lush fur coats against my arm as ladies brushed past me, the smell of cigar smoke that hung in the air, and the hazy, warm, elegant atmosphere that made my skin tingle with excitement. I followed Romek to our seats, my eyes drawn to the lights glimmering above us. A din of voices flooded the room.
“I’m sorry our seats are so far in the back,” he said.
“I don’t mind.” I really didn’t. I was bewitched by the sights and sounds. Even the seats felt like heaven. My body relaxed as I sank into the velvet cushion. I glanced over at Romek. He was staring at me with an amused grin.
“What?” I asked, blushing. He must have thought me silly to be so enthralled by something so natural to the rest of society.
“You’re refreshing.”
Unsure of his meaning, I ignored the statement and made one of my own instead. “Stop staring at me.”
“I’m not staring at you!” He quickly looked down at the program he was bending into a mangled-up fan.
“Yes, you were. It makes me nervous.” The lights began to dim. I scooted to the edge of my seat, hands clasped tightly in front of me.
“I wasn’t staring!” He lowered his voice to a defensive whisper. He just had to get the last word in.
“Shh! The concert’s starting.”
He fell back into his chair with a defeated sigh.


Be sure to read excerpts from the other retellings in this collection!

Mountain of the Wolf by Elisabeth Grace Foley
She But Sleepth by Rachel Heffington
Rumpled by J. Grace Pennington
Death Be Not Proud by Suzannah Rowntree
With Blossoms Gold by Hayden Wand

Grab a copy of Once:Six Historically Inspired Fairytales for $4.99 on Kindle! Please spread the word about our boxset using the hashtag #OnceFairyTales and adding Once: Six Historically Inspired Fairytales to your Goodreads shelf.


"We Stand Alone Together."

“The paratroopers were all volunteer. The elite of the Army. If you're going to combat, you want to fight with the best.” ― William Guarnere

If you know me, you probably realize that I have an infatuation with anything Airborne related during WWII. These kids jumped out of perfectly good planes and landed behind enemy lines while anti-aircraft was shooting at them. That takes some guts, man.

I stayed home and watched the first few episodes of Band of Brothers when my sister went to see Cinderella in theaters. Do I have a problem? Yeah, probably. =) 

Part of what got me interested in the 101st Airborne was meeting Tony Zanzinger who fought with the 501st PIR. It was really cool because I actually had a copy of Band of Brothers with me on that trip, and I got to meet a real paratrooper from the same division! And he gave me a copy of the Christmas card he sent to his mother! Then play the main theme from Band of Brothers and I'm done, guys. DONE. ALL THE FEELS.

All that to say, I recently finished reading Brothers in Battle, Best of Friends which is about two paratroopers who fought with Company E, 506th PIR101st Airborne during WWII. Yup. My kind of book right there, folks.

I've seen other reviews that said, "It was like sitting in the living room and listening to your grandpa tell stories." I have to agree with them. Probably because this sounds like something my grandpa would say:

“We were supposed to count to ten and then the chute would open, but I never counted, never met a guy that did. One guy said: 'I say a Hail Mary, what the hell is counting gonna do?!”  Edward Heffron

The intimate writing style of the book makes you become attached to these guys—William "Wild Bill" Gaurnere and Edward "Babe" Heffron. They grew up only a few blocks away from each other in South Philly, and didn't meet until they were sent overseas.

This book, told back and forth between Babe and Wild Bill, gives a gripping account of training in Camp Toccoa, Bill's first combat jump into Normandy, Babe's first combat jump during Operation Market-Garden, the living hell of Bastogne, the liberation of a concentration camp, and the capture of Hitler's Eagle Nest. It also tells what they did after the war, and about the making of Band of Brothers. I had no idea that the actors couldn't use their real names for an entire year! It had to be, "Hey, Heffron," and "Hey, Bill." They had to go through basic training and sleep in foxholes. That's dedication! Babe wore his rosary and scapular during the entire war so, Robin Laing, the guy who portrayed him in the film, did the same thing. Babe ended up giving Robin his scapular. I thought that was so cool!

"Soldiers of the Regiment! Tonight is the night of nights. Today, as you read this, you are en route to the great adventure for which you have trained for over two years."

"So that's why they gave us ice cream?!" — Wild Bill

“What was strange was when Frank Hughes or the other actors would talk to Robin Laing, and he'd say, 'Hey, Babe,' or 'Hey, Heffron.' It made me stop and look around.” ― Edward Heffron

The company was trained at Camp Toccoa by Captain Sobel. A strong hate for the man quickly formed a bond between them. Easy Company was the only company that stayed together from training to combat. They really were a band of brothers.

“We knew each other's next move, we trusted each other, it went right back to that bond. You'd give up your life for the man beside you. That's when boys became men.” ― William Guarnere

(I don't really like spaghetti, but now I really don't like spaghetti.)

 “Every day for six months, all we wanted was to get those silver parachute wings. You put on your wings and you bloused your boots up. That was it. Everyone knew you were the best of the best. You were different from any other soldier. Those wings made you different, and you never took them off.” 
― William Guarnere

The D-Day chapter really got to me. I just can't fathom what these guys went through. Bill found out that his brother was killed in Italy right before the D-Day jump. That's why the chapter was named Wild Bill's Revenge.

And yet, Bill was ready to do it all over again!

"They took us into the editing room and showed us some footage of our D-day drop. Planes all over the sky, paratroopers coming down in the dark. My first combat jump. I'll never forget it. Adrenaline pumping, going into the unknown. That scene made me want to relive that jump in the worst way. Those dirty sons of beetles.” ― William Guarnere

Another chapter that really affected me was Bastogne. 

When the Germans broke through and created the bulge and surrounded us, they identified the 101st Airborne as the ones surrounded. They though we were goners, I guess, so it was news. The 101st is surrounded! That's not news for a paratrooper.” ― William Guarnere

Reading about the deaths of Muck and Penkala  ... I have no words, just great respect for these men who endured the unimaginable. Bastogne is where Bill lost his leg when he was trying to save his friend, Joe Toye. Also, reading about Babe and Bill going back to the Bois Jacques woods years later ... guys, I just don't have words. With winter settling into NY, (and staying for a good five months) I'm going to think of Bastogne and remember that I have nothing to complain about.

"In Bastogne, your tears would freeze.” ― William Guarnere

“Each soldier has his own personal thoughts about what he experienced there. You think of what happened there, who was where, who got hit, who died where, you look for foxholes. Some of them are graves of our buddies. You barely survived there. No place has the same charge as Bastogne. It looks like it did in 1944. The woods are there, the foxholes are there. The place is eerie.” ― William Guarnere

“When shells were flying over your head, and you didn't know where they would land, you started making promises to the man upstairs. I said, 'God, if you get me out of this place alive, I'll do whatever you want.' I did that probably a million times. 'Get me out of here, Lord, and I'll do this or that.' You make all kinds of promises. We had a guy named Matson, he prayed if he got out he was going to become a priest. He become a priest as soon as the war was over, made up for all us scallywags that didn't keep our promises.” ― William Guarnere

"It was snowing, and Father Maloney gave us a pep talk. 'You're heroes. It's a pleasure to be your spiritual guide, and I'm proud to be part of the 506th.' He used the hood of the jeep as an altar, and we knelt in the snow to get communion.” ― Edward Heffron

“At about two or three in the morning, we boarded the trucks. All we had were our regular fatigue clothes on, we had no combat gear, no winter gear, no winter underwear; they sent us up as we were. No supplies, no ammo.” ― Edward Heffron

I think that chapter had the biggest impact on me.

There are some quotes that just make me want to cry.

“As I walked on our old training field, the strangest thing happened. I could hear plain as day the men counting cadence, double-timing, rifle bolts being pulled back, the guys shouting and kidding each other.” ― Edward Heffron

“When I think about the war, I don't think about the battle, I think about the men. I look at an American flag today, and I see the faces of men I fought with, the ones who lived and the ones who died.” ― William Guarnere

Thankfully, there are many light moments that had me laughing!

"Bill was good to my daughter while I was sick. I was lying in a hospital bed for almost a year, and the doctors didn't expect me to walk again. Bill took care of us. He came to see me every day.— Edward Heffron  (Bill adds: 'You owe me for parking. Sixteen dollars a day for a year! He was on so many drugs, he was nuttier than a fruitcake. Coco loco!”)

"If there was pain, I didn't feel it. That's my nature. If I get a headache, I bang my head against the wall, curse somebody, and it goes away bing-bang-boom! I just ignore it.” ― William Guarnere

“If you ever hear Bill's sayings, he copies them from me. If you offer him something to eat, he says, 'No thanks, I just had a peanut.' Well, he got that from me. It's supposed to be funny, but he says it constantly, so it gets on my nerves. Bill says, 'I'm sorry you ever told me that one.” —Edward Heffron

Although both of these men were incredibly courageous in battle, they don't consider themselves heroes.

“The heroes are the kids who gave 100 percent; they gave their lives. The heroes are the mothers who gave up a son, who carried him for nine months, and raised him to do right, and he does right, and at eighteen, he goes to fight for his country, and he dies doing right. That's a hero.”—Edward Heffron

“I put my hand on Bill's shoulder and told him, yeah the sacrifice was worth it. He said, 'Yeah, I think so, too.'” ― Edward Heffron

I give four out of five stars to this book, and a hearty cheer of "Currahee!" to these brave men who fought for freedom.

(Just a warning: I gave this four stars because there is a lot of swearing in this book, lots of drinking and some inappropriate behavior when they were on leave.)

Have you ever read Brothers In Battle, Best of Friends?


P.S. I just needed an excuse to put this picture in. SO CUTE.

Snippets of Sweet Remembrance

I stepped aside, nearly tripping over the curb, as a squadron of German soldiers marched past. The sunlight reflected off their helmets. They were so close I could have touched the eagle emblem on their field-grey jackets.

“You stupid Jew.” His deep voice slices through the air. “You know I could kill you for this.” He takes a step forward, his gear rattling against itself.

Benson checks the alley before stepping in closer. “They’re gone, Kasia. Everyone in our cell of the resistance is gone.”
I feel nothing anymore. “We knew we wouldn’t win. We knew we’d lose our friends in the fight.”
“But knowing feels so different than the reality of it all.” Benson exhales a long breath. “You and I are the only ones left.”

Romek slowed his strides to match mine as we meandered down the sidewalk, trying to drag the night on for as long as we could.  I stayed close to his side, and he seemed to like that, for he inched a bit closer too.

Each note swelled with passion and despair, fear and joy. I lost myself in the melody, closing my eyes to the cruel world outside those walls, closing my ears to the sound of jackboots against pavement. My soul and fingers were in rhythm, sparking pieces of my heart into the evening air. As I lifted my fingers from the final note, I opened my eyes to find Romek staring at me with such wonder and admiration that it sent my heart beating wildly.

Copies of Once: Six Historically Inspired Fairy Tales have been sent to our advance readers this morning! Things are happening fast, people. On December 2nd, you'll be able to pick up your own ebook copy of the collection on Amazon!


"We Should Thank God That Such Men Lived."

I've had the honor to meet so many wonderful WWII veterans! I put together this video to pay tribute to them. 

Thank you to all our veterans! Your service is not forgotten.


"You Would Not Recognize Me."

You would not recognize me
if you were to see me in the street.
I have changed, not merely outwardly,
but inwardly my soul is being molded.
I am someone different.
Forgive me, but please, don’t forget me.
I was insolent in my youth.
Brash, wild, defiant.

So I must ask, why did you still love me?
The world held me captive.
It fastened my feet
with ropes forged from my own desires.
I was dragged down into cold waters
and left to suffocate.

You will never hear these words.
We will never see each other again.
I have vanished from that world,
that world we grew up in,
that world we loved in.
The ropes have been severed from my feet.
The starry heavens, so immense in their grandeur,
call to me, an irresistible invitation.

You think me foolish, no doubt.
What are these words but an incoherent plea
that I long for you to hear?
But I know you won’t.
A soldier knows when it's his time.
It’s a feeling,
that festers in the mind and heart.

I see the world for what it is.
I see my sins in their mangled shapes.
Yes, I want to go back and rewrite it all.
But I can’t.
I see my life before me,
and those I left behind.
My heart wages a war inside my chest.
My breath quickens and my blood turns cold.
And I know.

From the temporal haven of the foxhole,
I see the stars erased by the waking dawn.
They wink at me.
They say goodbye.
Someone shifts beside me and moans,
lost in a forest of haunted dreams.
The barrel of my gun is cool against my hands,
as a machine gun kills the morning calm.
Plumes of smoke rise like incense into the sky,
and turn into hands of death, reaching for its victims.

I won’t come home.
Please, don’t expect me to.
But don’t mourn over the boy
whose soul once wandered in vice.
I’m not that boy any longer.
I falter and I fail,
but now I believe and I hope
for what lies behind the starry skies.
Dear Vi, you’ll never know these words.
But I pray you’ll know them
in your own soul.

By: Emily Ann Putzke