A riveting tale of a generation torn apart by war.
Lighting the Stars by Gabriele Wills
Publisher: Mindshadows, November 2020; ISBN: 978-1775035411
Category: Historical Fiction, World War II, Historical Romance
Tour dates: May-June, 2021
Available in Print and ebook, 477 pages
Tucked into the rugged Canadian wilderness of Muskoka’s majestic lake country, Merilee Sutcliffe’s peaceful town seems worlds away from the escalating conflict in Europe. But life is about to change dramatically in the Summer of 1940. As her patriotic friends and relatives leave for battle, her small town is thrust into the war machine. Merilee’s formerly tranquil skies soon roar with aircraft from the Royal Norwegian Air Force, stationed nearby to train young men determined to liberate their country from Nazi occupation. When German Prisoners of War march into her shocked community, they become Merilee’s closest neighbours – and biggest threat.
What unfolds in her remote town and on foreign shores sets Merilee and her growing circle on a collision course with an unimagined destiny. Caught up in the chaos is Luftwaffe pilot Erich Leitner. Shot down during the Battle of Britain and transplanted to a lakeside prison in Muskoka, he discovers he has more to fear from his comrades than his captors.
While her cousin-in-spirit, Elyse Thornton, navigates the treacherous skies of Britain as a Spitfire Girl, audaciously ferrying warplanes from factories to airfields, Merilee becomes quietly entangled in her own dangerous liaisons on the home front. Caught between worlds, with conflicted loyalties and a sense of duty, she joins the Royal Canadian Air Force, Women’s Division, and soon finds herself in ground-zero London, focussing her photographer’s lens on a city under bombardment.
Far from carefree summers on the lake, struggling to survive the relentless demands and sacrifices of war, Merilee, Elyse, and their friends wonder if they dare to risk their hearts as well.
As unlikely lives intersect, ideologies and social hierarchies are challenged, loves and friendships are forged or broken, and countless heroes are made and lost. But even those who return to the serenity of Muskoka are changed forever.
Buy Links: Amazon.com ~ Amazon.ca ~ Mindshadows Paperbacks ~ Barnes&Noble ~ IndieBound ~
Lighting the Stars – Excerpt:
[Erich is a Luftwaffe pilot captured during the Battle of Britain and interred in a lakeside Prisoner of War (POW) camp in Ontario, Canada. Merilee’s father, Colin, is an officer working at the camp.]
Merilee stopped her bicycle at the edge of the woodland by her favourite blueberry patch. Now that the Germans had taken over Mrs. Jones’s farm, they were uncomfortably close. Dare she go and pick berries?
It was her father who had suggested to the camp commandant that the POWs could lease and farm the land – using profits from their canteen - giving them not only healthy outdoor exercise, but also providing them with the satisfaction of home-grown food and a whiff of freedom. Colonel Winterbourne had been as enthusiastic about the idea as the new, and more amenable, Lagerführer, Oberstleutnant Benedikt Richter, who had been a commander with Rommel’s Afrika Korps. Colin had earned a promotion to Major for his ceaseless efforts to keep the prisoners happily occupied and out of trouble.
The Germans had built themselves a house for daytime use, a piggery, and a hen house, while the barn now contained two cows and three horses. They had also constructed a shelter and an observation tower for the guards. The extensive sports field and a fishing hole attracted parolees who weren’t interested in farming, so it wasn’t unusual to see a hundred men, accompanied by a few unarmed guards, marching the two miles to and from the farm singing sentimental songs.
So the parolees would be busy with their crops or games and surely not wandering about this far away. Merilee ventured into the woods.
Below a granite ridge and above a meandering stream, the blueberry patch was somewhat sheltered, but also from the wind. It was a sweltering August day, so she opened another button on her blouse, which she pulled outwards so that she could blow a breeze down her damp chest. “Blast!” she swore, when she realized that her berry-stained fingers had left a mark on her lilac shirt.
Erich Leitner, leaning against an oak, grinned with amusement. He should have warned her of his presence, but he enjoyed watching her as she hummed happily to herself. He could hardly believe that his ravishing dream girl was only a few feet away.
Merilee grabbed her lustrous, shoulder-length hair and twisted it with annoyance into a ponytail, which she knotted loosely at the back of her neck, but already the silken tresses threatened to escape. But for a few moments, Erich could see the long, dark lashes, and the luscious curve of her lips. Everything about her was sensuous - her bare, unblemished arms and shapely legs, the way she moved and popped the odd berry into her mouth. He found himself immensely aroused by her.
They both became aware of the rustling of underbrush and snapping of twigs moments before hearing snuffling grunts. Merilee straightened up with a scream as a bear cub came galloping over the ridge towards her. She turned to flee and shrieked as she crashed into Erich. She knew instantly that he was one of the prisoners, but before she could scream again, he covered her mouth with his hand, saying, “You are in no danger, Miss.”
She struggled in his arms, terrified that even if he wasn’t a threat, there was still the bear.
“Brunhild also will not hurt you,” Erich reassured her. “Come, I will show you,” he added, loosening his restraining grip.
The cub had stopped at Merilee’s cries and stood several yards away, seeming perplexed.
“No!” Merilee protested as Erich tried to draw her towards the animal. “When her mother comes, she’ll tear us to pieces!”
“There is no mother. That is why she is our… how do you say?… pet. At the farm.” Turning towards the bear, he pointed and said, “Brunhild, setz Dich hin.”
The cub tilted her head back and forth as if she understood, but didn’t want to obey. Erich took a handful of berries from Merilee’s basket, and repeated his order as he held out the offering to the bear. She sat down as directed, gobbled the berries, and licked Erich’s hand.
Merilee watched in astonishment.
“She loves blueberries, but she also likes to be with me,” Erich explained, scratching the cub’s head. “You can touch her if you please.”
Merilee shook her head.
“She makes a good guard at the farm. Nothing comes to steal the chickens or the little pigs anymore.”
“Have you escaped?” Merilee asked in a small voice, almost afraid to know the answer.
He chuckled. “No, we do not escape when we are on parole. We have given our word of honour as officers. It would not be good to break that. And if we did, we could be hanged when we return to Germany.”
Merilee was shocked.
“It is… verrückt… crazy, is it not? When we are behind the barbed wire, it is our duty to try to escape… But you wonder why I am away from the farm?”
“The guards permit us to wander in the woods a little. They know we need time to be alone. But Brunhild, she did escape, and followed my smell.”
The bear rubbed her head against Erich’s leg. “Ja, Du kannst jetzt aufstehen. Aber nicht weglaufen.” The cub stood up and sauntered over to Merilee’s basket. “Nein! Nicht stehlen!” he admonished. With a shake of her shaggy head, she went over to the blueberry shrubs and began feasting.
Merilee couldn’t help giggling at the well-trained animal. “She understands German!”
Erich smiled at her amusement, glad that she hadn’t run away yet. He wanted to keep her here a while longer. “You had a shock. You permit me to offer you a cigarette?”
Merilee hesitated. She shouldn’t, of course. “Thank you."
You can find the Tour Schedule HERE.
About Gabriele Wills:
Gabriele at the location where ‘Lighting the Stars’ begins
Gabriele Wills is the author of 6 highly acclaimed historical novels, including 4 in The Muskoka Novels saga set in North America, Britain, and Europe through the two cataclysmic World Wars and the seductive Jazz Age.
Her passion is to weave compelling stories around meticulously researched and often quirky or arcane facts in order to bring the past to life, especially with regard to women’s often forgotten contributions.
The first novel in her ‘Muskoka Novels’, ‘The Summer Before the Storm’ was the “Muskoka Chautauqua Reading List Winner”
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Lighting the Stars by Gabriele Wills (3 Winners)
Print copies are open to the U.S. and Canada only. Gifted Kindle is open to the U.S only and Kobo is open to anyone who has a usable account on Kobo. It ends on June 30, 2021,midnight pacific time.
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