One Month Until You're Transported into the Sweeping World of the Ack Ack Girls

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In just one month, my first World War II historical fiction The Light Over London comes out. Whether you're a print, ebook, or audiobook reader, you'll be able to sink into this sweeping story.

It’s always been easier for Cara Hargraves to bury herself in the past than confront the present, which is why working with a gruff but brilliant antiques dealer is perfect. While clearing out an estate, she pries open an old tin that holds the relics of a lost relationship: among the treasures, a World War II-era diary and a photograph of a young woman in uniform. Eager to find the author of the hauntingly beautiful, unfinished diary, Cara digs into this soldier’s life, but soon realizes she may not have been ready for the stark reality of wartime London she finds within the pages.

n 1941, nineteen-year-old Louise Keene’s life had been decided for her—she’ll wait at home in her Cornish village until her wealthy suitor returns from war to ask for her hand. But when Louise unexpectedly meets Flight Lieutenant Paul Bolton, a dashing RAF pilot stationed at a local base, everything changes. And changes again when Paul’s unit is deployed without warning.

Desperate for a larger life, Louise joins the women’s branch of the British Army in the anti-aircraft gun unit as a Gunner Girl. As bombs fall on London, she and the other Gunner Girls relish in their duties to be exact in their calculations, and quick in their identification of enemy planes during air raids. The only thing that gets Louise through those dark, bullet-filled nights is knowing she and Paul will be together when the war is over. But when a bundle of her letters to him are returned unanswered, she learns that wartime romance can have a much darker side.

Illuminating the story of these two women separated by generations and experience, this heartbreakingly beautiful novel through forgotten antique treasures, remembered triumphs, and fierce family ties.

AmazonApple Books | Kobo | Nook | Google Play

12 Days of Christmas Reads — The Christmas Sisters by Sarah Morgan

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Welcome to a bookish celebration of the Christmas season! For 12 days in December, I’m highlighting a book a day that puts the holiday season front and center of the narrative. You’ll find romances, women’s fiction, and even a cookbook! For day six, I’m sharing a cozy women’s fiction with sisterhood at its heart.

All Suzanne McBride wants for Christmas is her three daughters happy and at home. But when sisters Posy, Hannah and Beth return to their family home in the Scottish Highlands, old tensions and buried secrets start bubbling to the surface.

Suzanne is determined to create the perfect family Christmas, but the McBrides must all face the past and address some home truths before they can celebrate together . .

I’m an unabashed fan of Sarah Morgan’s. Her backlist is impressive so I’m not even close to reading it down, but I’ve been enjoying picking up her books over the last few years because there’s always something satisfyingly layered about her characters and their stories.

It should be no surprise then that The Christmas Sisters was one of the first books I picked up to read for this year’s 12 Days of Christmas Reads.

The story follows three sisters who’ve drifted apart over the years. However, this year they all wind up at their adoptive parents’ home in the Highlands. Stuck together, for better or worse, they’re with their biological parents’ tragic deaths while also addressing their sometimes rocky relationships.

I’m incredibly close with my sister (Why else would I do a podcast with her?) and I love seeing sisters portrayed on the page. But it isn’t just the sisterly relationships that are explored. Each woman is at a crossroads of sorts, and they work through their obstacles—sometimes making mistakes—until they understand that what they think they want isn’t necessarily what they actually want. Watching fully realized characters work out for themselves what they need to do to come to terms with their own happiness is one of the great joys of reading a women’s fiction novel.

Plus, being a Sarah Morgan book, there’s also a bit of romance for each of the girls. What’s not to love?

Check back tomorrow for the next edition of the 12 Days of Christmas Reads. If you want to see all of the 12 Days of Christmas Reads recommendations in one place, you can check out this handy landing page or sign up for my newsletter.

12 Days of Christmas Reads — Not Just For Christmas by Natalie Cox

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Welcome to a bookish celebration of the Christmas season! For 12 days in December, I’m highlighting a book a day that puts the holiday season front and center of the narrative. You’ll find romances, women’s fiction, and even a cookbook! For day five, I’m sharing a romantic comedy featuring a bit of a grinch and a lot of dogs with big personalities.

Charlie hates the holidays, and this year is shaping up to be her worst yuletide ever. Her boyfriend has left her for his personal trainer, her flat is out of bounds after a gas leak, and her mother has gone to spend Christmas in Melbourne with her fifth husband. Finding herself single, mildly concussed and temporarily homeless, Charlie hesitantly agrees to dust off her wellies and spend the festive season in Devon, looking after Cosy Canine Cottages, her cousin Jez's dog-care centre.

However, her plans for a quiet rural Christmas with only the four-legged friends for company are dashed as soon as she meets Malcolm the deaf Great Dane, Hugo, his gorgeous (but engaged) owner, and Cal, the undeniably attractive but unbearably haughty and patronising local vet...

There’s nothing like a grinch story at Christmas. From Scrooge to…well…the Grinch, literature is full of them.

Meet Charlie. She doesn’t really do Christmas by choice. But when her upstairs neighbor’s boiler explodes (one of my flat residing nightmares) and her London home quickly becomes unlivable, she finds herself thrust on her dog boarder cousin during the festive season. Except the cousin has plans of her own, absconding to Lapland for a romantic rendezvous with an Arctic researcher and leaving Charlie in charge of the luxury kennel.

Enter a cranky, hot vet and a charming, hot Great Dane owner and we have ourselves a rom com live triangle set against Christmas.

Check back tomorrow for the next edition of the 12 Days of Christmas Reads. If you want to see all of the 12 Days of Christmas Reads recommendations in one place, you can check out this handy landing page or sign up for my newsletter.

12 Days of Christmas Reads — Rocky Mountain Cowboy Christmas by Katie Riggle

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Welcome to a bookish celebration of the Christmas season! For 12 days in December, I’m highlighting a book a day that puts the holiday season front and center of the narrative. You’ll find romances, women’s fiction, and even a cookbook! For day four, I’m sharing a Colorado-set romantic suspense.

When firefighter and single dad Steve Springfield moved his four kids to a Colorado Christmas tree ranch, he intended for it to be a safe haven. But he never expected danger to follow them to his childhood home...

Or that he would come face-to-face with the one girl he could never forget.

Folk artist Camille Brandt lives a quiet life. As the town's resident eccentric, she's used to being lonely—until Steve freaking Springfield changes everything. Brave and kind, he's always had a piece of her heart, and it doesn't take long before she's in danger of falling for him again. But as mysterious fires break out across the sleepy Colorado town, Steve and Camille will have to fight if they want their happy family to survive until Christmas...

I’ve always liked a good Western United States-set romance novel, so Rocky Mountain Cowboy Christmas was a blind pickup from me based solely on the man in a cowboy hat, flannel, and denim on the cover. (I love the genre and its covers, but I’m glad to see that there was no snowy shirtless cowboy on this one. Poor man would’ve frozen to death.)

This light romantic suspense is unusual in that it flips the reclusive hero on his head and casts the heroine in that role. Camille isn’t comfortable around people, and that manifests not through physical awkwardness and clumsiness but pure dread at crowds, strangers, anything really. But Steve is a good solid man and father who shows her from the beginning that he poses no threat. He accepts her fear and discomfort for what it is and, suitably, the relationship progresses on her terms. This makes for a slow building romance that is ultimately believable and satisfying.

One of the most deft pieces of characterization in this book centers around the watching Camille becoming fully comfortable in Steve’s life. She relaxes and interacts and shows who she really is around him and his children gradually. The fact that she doesn’t automatically slip comfortably Steve’s life is a credit to the author. Steve doesn’t make her a social butterfly but helps her become a better version of herself in a realistic way.

Check back tomorrow for the next edition of the 12 Days of Christmas Reads. If you want to see all of the 12 Days of Christmas Reads recommendations in one place, you can check out this handy landing page or sign up for my newsletter.

12 Days of Christmas Reads — The Christmas Chronicles by Nigel Slater

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Welcome to a bookish celebration of the Christmas season! For 12 days in December, I’m highlighting a book a day that puts the holiday season front and center of the narrative. You’ll find romances, women’s fiction, and much, much more! For day three, I’m sharing a favorite cookbook that’s about so much more than just cooking.

The Christmas Chronicles is the story of Nigel Slater’s love for winter, the scent of fir and spruce, ghost stories read with a glass of sloe gin, and beeswax candles with shadows dancing on the ceiling. With recipes, decorations, fables and quick fireside suppers, Nigel guides you through the essential preparations for Christmas and the New Year, with everything you need to enjoy the winter months.

Taking you from 1 November all the way to the end of January, The Christmas Chronicles covers everything from Bonfire Night, Christmas and New Year to Epiphany. Throughout the season, Nigel offers over 100 recipes to see you through the build-up, the celebrations and the aftermath. Here are much-loved classics such as goose and turkey (and making the most of the leftovers), mincemeat and the cake; recipes to make the cold months bearable, like ribsticker bread pudding with Comté and Taleggio, salt crust potatoes with blue cheese and goat’s curd, and hot-smoked salmon, potatoes and dill; as well as bright flavours to welcome the new year, including pink grapefruit marmalade, pear and pickled radish salad and rye, linseed and treacle bread.

Packed with feasts, folktales, myths and memoir and all told in Nigel’s warm and intimate signature style, The Christmas Chronicles is the only book you’ll ever need for winter.

I love cookbooks, and I frequently read them cover-to-cover in the same way that I would a novel. I’ve been a fan of Nigel Slater’s ever since I started watching his quirky cooking shows on the BBC. Then I read and started cooking out of The Kitchen Diaries series, and I absolutely fell in love with his lyrical style and beautiful observations about cooking, gardening, and lifestyle.

The Christmas Chronicles is a mixture of recipes, observations about the holiday season, and entertaining tips. Slater can be particular and picky, but that just adds to the whole “thing” that he’s doing. I recently gave a copy of this book to my mother, and we’ve both been cooking—and reading—our way through the holidays.

Check back tomorrow for the next edition of the 12 Days of Christmas Reads. If you want to see all of the 12 Days of Christmas Reads recommendations in one place, you can check out this handy landing page or sign up for my newsletter.

12 Days of Christmas Reads — Christmas at the Palace by Jeevani Charika

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Welcome to a bookish celebration of the Christmas season! For 12 days in December, I’m highlighting a book a day that puts the holiday season front and center of the narrative. You’ll find romances, women’s fiction, and even a cookbook! For day two, I’m sharing a very royal romance.

Not even in her wildest imaginings did Kumari ever think she'd become a princess. But having fallen for Ben - or rather Prince Benedict, sixth in line to the throne - it looks like nothing will ever go as planned again. And as Christmas rapidly approaches the distinction between family festivities and Royalty becomes ever more apparent.

With the paparazzi hounding her, her job on the line and some rather frustrating royal training, Kumari feels panic set in.

Does loving Prince Charming mean she'll get her fairy tale ending - and on her own terms?

This sweet, albeit thinly veiled retelling of Harry and Meghan’s engagement is more “run up to the royal wedding” than strict Christmas book. However, what worked best for me was watching Kumari struggle and learn to cope with the overturning of her entire life because the man she loves just happens to be sixth in line for the British crown. She deals with paparazzi and press, realizing that her job is no longer going to be viable, changing relationships with friends and family, and more. When she decides that being with Prince Benedict is worth all the bother—spoiler that you could’ve guessed—you understand the enormity of her decision.

If you’re looking for a royal escape this Christmas, this one is worth picking up.

Check back tomorrow for the next edition of the 12 Days of Christmas Reads. If you want to see all of the 12 Days of Christmas Reads recommendations in one place, you can check out this handy landing page or sign up for my newsletter.

We're Giving Away Books Again!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

My publisher is feeling very generous this holiday season and has decided to give away 25 advance reader copies of The Light Over London. All you have to do is click on this Goodreads link between now and December 10th and enter.

The fine print? This giveaway is open only to US readers. (European readers, I’ve got some special things planned for you very soon.)

Good luck!

12 Days of Christmas Reads — How the Dukes Stole Christmas

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Welcome to a bookish celebration of the Christmas season! For 12 days in December, I’m highlighting a book a day that puts the holiday season front and center of the narrative. You’ll find romances, women’s fiction, and even a cookbook! For day one, I’m sharing an anthology of historical romances that are sure to make you smile.

Christmas magic is in the air... From the ballrooms of London, to abandoned Scottish castles, to the snowy streets of Gilded Age New York, four bestselling authors whip up some unforgettable romance...with a little help from some enchanted shortbread.

The trouble with anthologies is that I always rank the stories. It’s human nature to try to bring order to things with lists and ranking and, despite my best efforts to enjoy each story on its own terms, I always fall victim to the temptation and end up disappointed in at least one of them.

You can image my happy surprise then when I discovered The Dukes Who Stole Christmas. Each story in this anthology is enjoyable and each offers a little something different for romance fans. Between the charm of Tessa Dare’s “Meet me in Mayfair”, the lush lyrical prose of Sarah MacLean’s “The Duke of Christmas Present”, Sophie Jordan’s classic enemies-to-lovers “Heiress Alone” set in the Scottish Highlands, or the refreshing change of Joanna Shupe’s Gilded Age novella “Christmas in Central Park,” al of the stories feel unique and fresh.

The conceit that ties all of these stories together—other than the Christmas timeframe and the “dukes” of the title—is a shortbread recipe. In some stories, the characters acknowledge that this shortbread has magical properties. In some, it’s incidental—more gesture of love than love potion. Either way, it’s used to reveal elements of character and draw the hero and heroine closer together.

I couldn’t finish this recommendation without spending a little more time on the standout story in the anthology. MacLean’s “The Duke of Christmas Present” delivers the wonderful yearning and slow-burning heat that I’ve come to rely on her for over the years. What the characters do is far more powerful than what they say after more than a decade apart. The language is beautiful, weaving around the reader as it guides one through pain and longing and—eventually—reconciliation.

Check back tomorrow for the next edition of the 12 Days of Christmas Reads. If you want to see all of the 12 Days of Christmas Reads recommendations in one place, you can check out this handy landing page or sign up for my newsletter.

Your First Look at an Entrancing, Heartbreaking Novel of World War II

Told from the present-day perspective of a British antiques dealer who specializes in helping families sell the contents of estates, The Light Over London transports readers to World War II London through forgotten treasures. Please enjoy this early look at this entrancing, heartbreaking novel, reminiscent of Martha Hall Kelly’s Lilac Girls.

The 12 Days of Christmas Reads

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It’s the most wonderful time of year—and the most wonderful time of year to be a reader!

Last year I celebrated the Christmas season with my 12 Days of Christmas Reads. I highlighted 12 books with holiday themes that I thought readers would enjoy, from romance to historical mystery. This year I’ll be bringing the 12 Days of Christmas Reads back with an brand-new selection of books from an even wider range of genres.

The 12 Days of Christmas Reads kicks off on December 3rd. You can catch all of the Christmas cheer by checking in every day, keeping an eye on my 12 Days of Christmas Reads page that’s updated with a new post every day, or by signing up for my newsletter.

The Women Who Rode Bikes for Britain

In researching my upcoming release, The Light Over London, I was continually amazed at the many—often unsung—ways women contributed to the war effort in Britain during World War II. The Lightseekers is an ongoing series of articles that highlights some of their work and the ways they brought light to Britain in one of its darkest times.

If you’re looking for bravery and glamor in equal parts, look no further than the motorcycle dispatch riders of the Women’s Royal Navy Service (WRNS), popularly known as the Wrens. This group of women played a vital role during World War II, providing reliable communication for the Royal Navy and admiralty in a time when technology could too easily fail. 

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The history of female dispatch riders starts far earlier than World War II. The first group of Wrens who rode motorcycles for Britain was formed in 1917 during the World War I. They were disbanded in 1919, but the service was revived in 1939 when Britain again found itself at war. All able-bodied seamen were needed in the Royal Navy, and the women’s auxiliary adopted the famous slogan “Join the Wrens and Free a Man for the Fleet.” 

Seen a posh and glamorous with their flattering uniforms and upper-crust recruits, many girls who wanted to join up clambered to become a Wren. But when it came to becoming a dispatch riders, only those women with prior motorcycle riding experience were initially selected. (This was in part because riders had to be able to maintain their bikes as well as ride.) That meant that before World War II, which so many of us see as a turning point in the activities that were acceptable for women, women were riding bikes—including some well-known competition riders from local race circuits. 

The primary role of a dispatch rider was to ferry orders and messages between the Royal Navy and admiralty’s offices and bases. They worked in sometimes harrowing conditions, during Blitz conditions and in all weather. 

One story of a Wren’s bravery is that of Wren McGregor. She set out to deliver a message to her commander in Plymouth, which was under a bombing raid. En route, her motorcycle was hit by a bomb. Incredibly, she was uninjured and left the destroyed motorcycle by the side of the road, running a half mile to her headquarters to deliver the message with bombs falling around her. With her task complete, she volunteered to go back to work. Unsurprisingly, McGregor was awarded a British Empire medal for bravery.

The accomplishments and importance of the dispatch riders was so great that they became the subject of parliamentary debate on July 6, 1943. Lord Brabazon of Tara criticized the Royal Air Force (RAF) for not making use of women as dispatch riders. “We, who live in London, see many members of the W.R.N.S. going about on motor bicycles in all sorts of weather,” he said. “We see them on the streets of London every day. Figuratively, whenever I see one I take my hat off to her—but only figuratively.

Courtesy of the Imperial War Museum

More than 100 Wrens who were motorcycle dispatch riders lost their lives riding through the Battle of Britain and other conflicts. The subjects of photo spreads and press interest just as they were the recipients of medals for bravery, they became famous across the world as an example of the work women did during the war. 

Read every story of the The Lightseekers in the series archive. You can also learn more about their stories by following the hashtag #TheLightseekers on InstagramFacebookTwitter, and Pinterest.

What I Read: July to September 2018

What a three months of reading!

I mentioned the other day that I’ve started a brand-new podcast with my sister Justine, who is the woman behind the blog I Should Read That. I’ve been reading a lot for project, PLUS I also handed in the first draft of a new book to editor. That means I’ve been binging all of the books I haven’t been able to read while working.

Here’s a look at what I’ve read (and loved) this last quarter:

If you want to follow along with me as I read my way to the end of the year, you can find me on Goodreads. And please, if you’ve read any of these books or have a recommendation for me, leave a comment!

The Women Who Delivered Planes

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In researching my upcoming release, The Light Over London, I was continually amazed at the many—often unsung—ways women contributed to the war effort in Britain during World War II. The Lightseekers is an ongoing series of articles that highlights some of their work and the ways they brought light to Britain in one of its darkest times.

The men of the Royal Air Force and the Fleet Air Arm were not the only pilots who flew during World War II. Thanks to the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA), a group of civilian flyers otherwise considered unsuitable for service because of age, ability, or gender made an incredibly important contribution to the war. 

While the ATA may have originally been conceived of as a support group to transport personnel, mail and medical supplies, it soon became clear that pilots were needed for a serious role: transporting the RAF’s aircraft from factories to bases. They were delivering the planes that protected the Home Front in the Battle of Britain and fought over seas.

Before the outbreak of the war, there was major resistance to the idea of women flying planes. Although women could and did fly before the war, critics believed that they would be taking men’s jobs f they were used for this purpose in the ATA. However, a few months into the war, in December 1939, the ATA caved. Pauline Gower was appointed to head up a newly formed women’s section of the service. An accomplished circus pilot between the wars, Gower was firm in her belief that women could and should fly. 

The first female pilots of the Air Transport Auxiliary from the collections of the  Imperial War Museums .

The first female pilots of the Air Transport Auxiliary from the collections of the Imperial War Museums.

“Some people believe women pilots to be a race apart, and born ‘fully fledged,’” she said. “Women are not born with wings, neither are men for that matter. Wings are won by hard work, just as proficiency is won in any profession.”

Gower selected the first eight women to be appointed to the ATA. They were accepted on January 1, 1940, and were trained up at Hatfield. Over the course of the war, their numbers swelled to include over 160 female pilots. Nicknamed the “Attagirls,” these women hailed from Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the U.S., the Netherlands, Poland, Argentina, and Chile. 

Although they were restricted to non-combat roles in their duties as trainers and transporters, the Attagirls flew every time of aircraft used by the RAF and the Fleet Air Arm. This included some of the war’s most famous planes, Hurricanes and Spitfires. 

ATA personnel Lettice Curtis, Jenny Broad, Audrey Sale-Barker, Gabrielle Patterson, Pauline Gower.

ATA personnel Lettice Curtis, Jenny Broad, Audrey Sale-Barker, Gabrielle Patterson, Pauline Gower.

While their roles might have been restricted, that didn’t mean that the danger was any less. The women in the ATA were flying aircraft in open skies, and 15 of them lost their lives during the war.

If you’re interested in the incredible Attagirls and the work they did, British Airways has created a photo gallery featuring archive images of them.

Read every story of the The Lightseekers in the series archive. You can also learn more about their stories by following the hashtag #TheLightseekers on InstagramFacebookTwitter, and Pinterest.

A Brand-New Podcast for Booklovers

One of the best things about having a sister who is also a booklover—and the blogger I Should Read That—is that we’re never at a loss for book recommendations. But when it comes to actually reading those recommendations, we are both guilty of major failure.

To solve that problem (and tackle our growing TBR lists), we’re launching a new podcast. It’s called You’re Never Going to Read This. Each episode we recommend a book each from one of the many genres we love in hopes that we can convince the other to finally sit down and read it.

You can listen to a trailer of You’re Never Going to Read This on Apple Podcasts and all major podcasting platforms. You can also click here to find out a little more about the show on our website.

The Light Over London Goodreads Giveaway

Autumn is my favorite season. The cozy clothes, leaves crackling under foot, and plenty of good books.

If you're looking for something fresh for your TBR this fall, you're in luck. I've got another The Light Over London Goodreads giveaway to tell you about! 

Up for grabs are 100 advance reader copies of The Light Over London. All you have to do is click here to enter to win one. (You can also follow me on Goodreads for updates about my book.)

Now for the fine print: The contest is for U.S. readers only and is open until September 24. 

Good luck!

The Woman Who Was “The Real Force Behind Churchill”

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In researching my upcoming release, The Light Over London, I was continually amazed at the many—often unsung—ways women contributed to the war effort in Britain during World War II. The Lightseekers is an ongoing series of articles that highlights some of their work and the ways they brought light to Britain in one of its darkest times.

She was married to the most famous man in the world during World War II, but Clementine Churchill did far more than stand by her husband. She was an active, dynamic part of his war efforts from handling informal diplomatic duties to managing the man himself.

Born April 1, 1885, Clementine Ogilvy Hozier was the daughter of Henry Montague Hozier and Lady Blanche Hozier, although there is question about her actual paternity given her mother’s well-known affairs. (Lady Blanche is reported to have managed ten lovers at once, although verifying this is, understandably, somewhat difficult.)

Clementine was educated at home and then at schools before attending the Sorbonne in Paris. At 18, she became secretly engaged to Sir Sidney Peel—twice—who had fallen in love with her. However, she would not marry him. 

Winston Churchill  (1874-1965) with fiancée  Clementine Hozier  (1885-1977) shortly before their marriage in 1908, Wikimedia Commons

Winston Churchill (1874-1965) with fiancée Clementine Hozier (1885-1977) shortly before their marriage in 1908, Wikimedia Commons

Clementine met Winston Churchill in 1904 at a ball at Crewe House. Winston thought her beautiful at this first meeting. But in 1908 they would meet again, this time at a party hosted by one of her distance relatives, and this time he recalled that she’d become an intelligent woman of character. He proposed five months later at Blenheim Palace, and they were married just over a month later on September 12.  

During World War I, Clementine distinguished herself with her efforts on the home front. She organized canteens for munition workers in London and was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1918 in gratitude for her work.

When World War II broke out, Clementine resumed her war work with the Red Cross, serving as chairman of the Red Cross Aid to Russia Fund. She was also the President of the Young Women’s Christian Association War Time Appeal (YWCA) and the chairman of the Maternity Hospital for the Wives of Officers, Fuller Chase. She was also a fire watcher during the Blitz and was held up as an example of how British women could pull together and help their country.

The wife of the Prime Minister, Mrs Clementine Churchill, inspects members of the ATS at the Royal Artillery Experimental Unit, Shoeburyness, Essex, courtesy of the Imperial War Museum

The wife of the Prime Minister, Mrs Clementine Churchill, inspects members of the ATS at the Royal Artillery Experimental Unit, Shoeburyness, Essex, courtesy of the Imperial War Museum

However, some of her most important work during the war came when Winston became prime minister on May 10, 1940. Judith Evans, the house and collections manager at the Churchills’ home Chartwell, offered perspective on Clementine’s role in an interview in the Telegraph. [LINK] “She was quite a big player,” said Evans. “She helped maintain difficult relationships and worked quietly behind the scenes for the war effort.”

Not only did Clementine act as a hostess and a de facto diplomat, she was her husband’s confidant. So close was their relationship that she had a room of her own in his War Rooms, a bunker just to the east of St. James Park in London that became the nerve center of Britain’s wartime strategy.* She was called to comfort Winston the night before the D-Day landings when her husband was sitting despondent in the operations rooms. Although they presented a united front in public, she was also one of the few people who could openly criticize his ideas in private. She held him accountable and supported him during one of the most uncertain times in British history.

Winston’s chief of staff, General Ismay would later say that the “history of Winston Churchill and of the world would have been a very different story” without Clementine.  And Winston Churchill wrote that, Clementine made “my life and any work I have done possible.”

Lady Clementine Churchill, Baroness Spencer-Churchill and a life peer in her own right, outlived her husband by 12 years. She died in 1977 in her London home at the age of 92.

Read every story of the The Lightseekers in the series archive. You can also learn more about their stories by following the hashtag #TheLightseekers on InstagramFacebookTwitter, and Pinterest, and sign up for Julia's newsletter to receive every episode of The Lightseekers.

*The Churchill War Rooms are fascinating. The underground bunker that was the nerve center of Britian’s war effort was mothballed after the war ended in 1945. The Imperial War Museum has made considerable effort to restore and display it as it would’ve appeared during the war. If you choose to go, which I highly recommend, time your arrival for the opening as a limited number of people can be in the exhibition space at a given time. Plan to give yourself a couple of hours to go through the maze of rooms. 

The Woman Who Held Paris

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In researching my upcoming release, The Light Over London, I was continually amazed at the many—often unsung—ways women contributed to the war effort in Britain during World War II. The Lightseekers is an ongoing series of articles that highlights some of their work and the ways they brought light to Britain in one of its darkest times.

Noor Inayat Khan was one of the most well-known female spies of World War II, but little about her background makes her the obvious choice for espionage. Yet an artless personality hid a steeliness that led her to defy her superiors and remain at her station in Paris during the height of the war, continuing the dangerous work of operating a radio to enable the British to continue to supply the French Resistance and save the lives of downed pilots.

Born on New Year’s Day in 1914, Khan was the daughter of Hazrat Inayat Khan and Amina Sharada Begum (originally known as Ora Ray Baker). After living in Moscow, the family moved to France and then to Britain where Harat Inayat Khan would become leader of the Sufi Order, a form of Islam that preached love, tolerance, and pacifism. 

Hon. Assistant Section Officer Noor Inayat Khan (code name Madeleine), courtesy of the Imperial War Museum

Hon. Assistant Section Officer Noor Inayat Khan (code name Madeleine), courtesy of the Imperial War Museum

It’s hardly surprising then that Harat Inayat Khan’s daughter would grow up to become a pacifist herself. However, in 1939, as Germany began to invade its neighbors, she decided that she needed to act. After enrolling to train as a Red Cross nurse in France but narrowly escaping the German invasion on one of the last boats to evacuate British citizen, Khan enlisted in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAFs). She was not British, and neither did she accept Britain’s policies wholesale; she told her recruitment officers that when the war ended she would campaign for Indian independence. However, she was accepted and selected to train as a wireless operator. Then, in October 1942, she was recruited by the Special Operations Executive (SOE), likely for her radio skills and her fluency in English, French, Spanish, and German. 

While Khan excelled at all aspects of radio operation, there were concerns about how well she would hold up in the field. Her superiors believed she was too artless to be an agent, and she frightened easily. One of her officers recalled her reaction when she was put through the paces in a mock interrogation:

She was so overwhelmed, nearly lost her voice. As it went on she became practically inaudible. Sometimes there was only a whisper. When she came out afterwards, she was trembling and quite blanched.

However, despite some reservations about her suitability, the 29-year-old Khan was parachuted to Occupied Paris where wireless operators were desperately needed in 1943. She was given the code name Madeline and became the first female wireless operator stationed in France.

She initially made contact with PROSPER, a network bringing in arms from Britain for the French Resistance. However, shortly after she arrived, a double agent betrayed PROSPER and almost all of the high-level members of the network were arrested. The SOE ordered Khan to return to Britain, but she refused, going rogue and continuing to broadcast. Soon she was the only active wireless operator in the area surrounding Paris. 

Life on the run meant zipping around on a bicycle, hanging her conspicuous aerial wherever it might be reasonably hidden, transmitting her information, and quickly breaking her radio down before the Germans could track her signal and find her. Her broadcasts mostly concerned drops of arms and money, as well as the status of the resistance networks. She is also believed to have been “instrumental in facilitating the escape of 30 Allied airmen shot down in FRANCE,” according to a posthumous commendation.

Khan’s bravery was unquestionable. Wireless radios were large and bulky, and not discreet even when broken down into their parts. One story goes that she was riding the Metro in Paris when she was stopped by two German officers who wanted a look at her case. She told them that her radio was a film projector, and even opened it up to let them see. Incredibly, they didn’t recognize the radio in front of them or the woman named Madeline whom the Germans were so eager to find.

Ultimately, Khan was betrayed by another woman who sold Khan’s address to the Germans in October of 1943. When Khan got back to her apartment, the Gestapo was waiting for her. Not only did they find her transmitter, but they also found a school copybook in which she’d meticulously recorded all of her transmissions and security checks. This was directly against SOE orders, although there is some dispute about whether she misunderstood the SOE instruction, “Be very careful in the filing of your messages” to mean recording them down rather than transmitting, or “filing” them.

Either way, the German’s arrested Khan and interrogated her. They would go on to use her notebook to transmit messages as her until early 1944 when the SOE realized that something was amiss. Khan tried multiple times to escape from her prison in Paris but each time was captured and returned to her cell. Eventually she was taken to Pforzheim, a German prison, where she was badly mistreated and spent most of her days heavily shackled. 

On September 11, 1944, she and three other female prisoners were sent to Dauchau. Two days later, Khan and the other women were executed. Her last reported word was, “Liberte.”

No one knew what happened to the operative known as Madeline until after the war when Vera Atkins, a woman who had worked with Khan in the SOE, went searching for the agents who had gone missing in the war. Atkins realized that Khan had been mistakenly identified as a woman who had actually been killed at Natzweiler. Atkins was able to learn the truth of Khan’s death and inform the War Office which, in turn, told her family.

Khan was posthumously honored with an MBE, the British George Cross, and the French Croix de Guerre with gold star. Although her months operating in France were short, the information she was able to broadcast was considered invaluable during a time of extreme danger. Her incredible bravery and dedication to the cause is as remarkable as her death was tragic. 

Today she is remembered with a memorial bust of Khan—the first dedicated to an Asian woman—stands in Gordon Square in the Bloomsbury neighborhood of in London, as well as a number of plaques and other commemoration across Britain.

Read every story of the The Lightseekers in the series archive. You can also learn more about their stories by following the hashtag #TheLightseekers on InstagramFacebookTwitter, and Pinterest.

The Light Over London Goodreads Giveaway

What's better than free books? Not much. That's why I'm happy to announce another The Light Over London Goodreads giveaway! 

Up for grabs is 100 advance reader copies of The Light Over London. All you have to do is click here to enter to win one. (You can also follow me on Goodreads for updates about my book.)

Now for the fine print: The contest is for U.S. readers only and is open until August 27. 

Good luck!

The Women Who Ran Towards Bombs

After the greatest darkness...There is light..png

In researching my upcoming release, The Light Over London, I was continually amazed at the many—often unsung—ways women contributed to the war effort in Britain during World War II. The Lightseekers is an ongoing series of articles that highlights some of their work and the ways they brought light to Britain in one of its darkest times.

The London Blitz saw 56 out of 57 days of German attacks on the capital city, claiming an estimated 17,500 lives. People learned to shelter in basements, purpose-built spaces, church basements, and Underground stations. But every night, at least one group was out on the streets.

The air raid wardens in London, Newcastle, Liverpool, Glasgow, and all over the United Kingdom, were responsible for both keeping the British public safe and acting as first responders. Most were civilian volunteers who also worked a day job, although there were some full-time air raid wardens. But most of all, their jobs were incredibly dangerous and important.

Air raid wardens were covered by the Air Raid Precautions (later the Civil Defence). Their ranks were varied. Some of the men were World War I veterans who were unable to fight or were deemed too old. About one in every six warden was a woman. 

Elaine Kidwell, who served as an air raid warden in Swansea, told Wales Online in 2009, “We were a family of volunteers so I joined up as a civil defence messenger and when I was 17 years and two months old I asked to be an air raid warden even though you had to be 18. The man in charge could see I was young and when I told him my true age he said ‘In war we bend rules’. So I was in.”

Each warden had a post which covered a certain area and certain sectors within that area. At the start of the war, with no major German air attacks, they were tasked with registering everyone in their sector. They also made sure everyone “did the blackout”, which meant blocking out all visible light in a home either through blackout curtains or by turning off all lights after dark. The wardens were easy to spot with the bright white W painted on the tin helmet they were issued, but they weren't always welcome in those early months. Some saw them as busybodies or pests who demanded to know why a family's blackout wasn't up to scratch.

When the London Blitz started on September 7, 1940, all that changed. When the air raid sirens would sound, everyone else was meant to shelter. The wardens, however, helped people into shelters, touring their sectors to make sure that no one was out and in danger. That exposed them to the possibility of being hit themselves, either by a bomb, falling bricks, shrapnel, or other debris.

Kidwell recalled a close encounter while on one of her shifts: “I suddenly saw a parachute mine drift down a few yards away and it went off, blowing me backwards until I hit a wall. Amazingly, I was alright so I dusted my jacket down and applied my lipstick. My lipstick was like my armour so I felt safer."

All-in War Worker- Everyday Life For Mrs M Hasler, Barnes, Surrey, 1942, courtesy of the Imperial War Museum

All-in War Worker- Everyday Life For Mrs M Hasler, Barnes, Surrey, 1942, courtesy of the Imperial War Museum

At sixteen, Dorothy Lee volunteered to become a part-time warden like her father. In an interview with the website Memories of War, she recounted her what it was like to be out on the streets when the bombs were falling, saying, "I don’t think I was ever that scared. But then again maybe because you’re young."

If a bomb were to fall in a sector, a warden was often the first on the scene—long before the fire brigade, police, or ambulances arrived.

"You all have something you must do," said Lee. "You’re not running around which—you had to be orderly and do these things and I think that kept me sane in as much as I was panicking that day."

The wardens performed what first-aid they could and put out smaller fires. When a building collapsed, they might be one of the people digging survivors out. It was just as possible that they would find they were too late.

At the end of a shift, when the all clear sounded, wardens would submit information on bomb strikes in their sectors including the size of the damage. Then they would go back to their normal day jobs until their next shift.

"It’s amazing what you can endure if you’ve got a job and you stick to it," said Kidwell.

Read every story of the The Lightseekers in the series archive. You can also learn more about their stories by following the hashtag #TheLightseekers on InstagramFacebookTwitter, and Pinterest.