Wednesday 27 December 2023

PROMOTIONAL SPOTLIGHT & AUTHOR INTERVIEW - BIG SKY FALLEN - THE UNRAVELING BY KEVIN CRAVER

Title: Big Sky Fallen
Series:
The Unraveling
Author:
Kevin Craver
Genre:
Post Apocalyptic
Release Date:
22nd January 2024

BLURB
In an instant, it was all gone.The survivors called it the Unraveling—a merciless one-two punch of economic collapse and deadly plague that brought the United States, and the world, to its knees.For history teacher and Army veteran Eric Jaeger, the collapse of the nation he once swore to defend is only the beginning.As civilization crumbles around them, Eric and tough-as-nails paramedic Susan Walker flee the Milwaukee suburbs for the safety of the Montana home of his Army buddy, Manny Landeros. They join an eclectic group of friends forced to adapt to survive in a violent and lawless post-apocalyptic world in which kindness and decency end at Manny’s property line.Eric’s hopes of staying hidden to weather the catastrophe are dashed when a wealthy despot seizes power in the nearby state capital and hatches a horrific plan with the remnants of a federal government desperate to regain control at any cost. When the enigmatic leader of a growing resistance movement asks Manny’s group to join the fight, they must decide whether to risk everything to defeat a tyrant—and in Eric’s case, risk sacrificing Susan on freedom’s altar.

Goodreads Link

PURCHASE LINKS
Amazon US
Amazon UK

AUTHOR INTERVIEW  

  

If you had to describe Big Sky Fallen in less than 20 words to a prospective reader, what would you say?
It's a post-apocalyptic adventure and a fight to restore liberty and civilization that's set in the scenic Montana Rockies.

How did you come up with the cover of Big Sky Fallen? Who designed the cover?
Many fiction genres have well-known tropes when it comes to their covers - for example, if you think of a romance novel, a very stereotypical cover pops into your head of a woman with flowing hair in the arms of a muscular man. When it comes to post-apocalyptic fiction, the tried-and-true trope is a person, or people, staring off into the distance at either ruin or an uncertain future. It's very important as an author to know your cover trope and stay faithful to it—you need a prospective reader who likes your genre to know what your book is about at a glance. From there, I decided to have two of the main characters on the cover staring off into rocky mountains, given that my novel is set in Montana.

The cover was designed by graphic artist Christian Bentulan, who has done covers for many post-apocalyptic authors. You can find his work at www.coversbychristian.com—he's a pleasure to work with, and I would highly recommend him to anyone who is writing an indie novel.

Did you do a lot of research for Big Sky Fallen? Or did you mostly use your own experience from the National Guard & Prepping?
Both. I'm a stickler for accuracy—in my novels, if I say there's an Arco gas station at the corner of First and Main streets in some tiny little town, that's because, at the time of the writing, it was there. While a lot of the knowledge of prepping and military weaponry and tactics came from my own life experiences and training, I still fact-checked them.

When it comes to what would happen in a societal collapse, I drew from everything I've read and watched from a lifetime of fascination with the subject. That includes stuff from your side of the Atlantic—I was probably the only American child who had read "Protect and Survive" and knew what the four-minute warning was.

Are any of the characters in Big Sky Fallen based on yourself or people you know?
No—I prefer to let my imagination run free and come up with my own characters and villains. I'd never base a fictional character off of myself—besides being extremely tacky, anyone who would pay their hard-earned money to read a story about me is in serious need of professional help.

If you had to choose to be a character from Big Sky Fallen, who would you be and why?
Eric—he's a simple guy who works hard to get through life, leads by example, rises to the challenge, and gets the girl in the end.

Who is your favourite character from Big Sky Fallen and why?

I'd have to say Animal, the retired Special Forces officer. I probably made him a little too larger than life—he doesn't act like any of the special operators I've met in my travels—but hot damn, was he fun to write.

Do you think you could have lived, survived in the way those in the book did?

That's a tough one. If I had a support group like they did, yes. Alone, no chance in hell—you don't survive a long-term collapse as a lone wolf.

Were you tempted to make Big Sky Fallen a series?

If you mean stretch this particular story into multiple books, then no; I wanted my debut novel to be wrapped up in one book. But for people who really like Big Sky Fallen's characters, you will see them again. That's a promise.

Looking back now, is there anything you would change within Big Sky Fallen?
Ask me again in a few years when I have two or three more novels under my belt and I can look back at my first work and laugh.

Is there a certain Author/Authors that influenced you in your writing?
A partial list would include Tom Clancy and Michael Crichton, who made technical details an integral part of their stories, as well as James Wesley Rawles and his fiction and nonfiction prepping books. And while I wouldn't call Emily St. John Mandel a post-apocalyptic author, her books serve as a reminder to me to add compassion and soul to my characters. I also would be remiss if my list didn't include William Forstchen (the author of the One Second After series) and Robert Heinlein, both of whom are mentioned in my book.

What can we expect from you next and in the future?
Big Sky Fallen is the first book in my Unraveling series, and a sequel will drop next summer. The second book is set in the Pacific Northwest with a new set of characters, save for two from Big Sky Fallen who cross over. While Montana was spared the worst of the pandemic because of its remote location, readers will see the H7N9 pandemic in the sequel hit the West Coast, and hit hard.

Where can your readers follow you?
They can follow me on Facebook (@AuthorKevinCraver), Instagram (@kevinpcraver) and Goodreads (@kevincraver). They can also visit my website, www.kevincraver.com, and sign up for my mailing list.
Kevin Craver
Post-apocalyptic author
www.kevincraver.com
Facebook: @AuthorKevinCraver
Instagram: @kevinpcraver
Goodreads: www.goodreads.com/kevincraver

Tuesday 26 December 2023

REVIEW - MISTRESS OF LIFE AND DEATH BY SUSAN J. EISCHEID

  

Title: Mistress Of Life and Death
Author:
Susan J. Eischeid
Publisher:
Kensington Books, Citadel
Genre:
Non Fiction, History, Biographies, Memoirs
Release Date:
26th December 2023

BLURB
The first-ever biography of SS Overseer Maria Mandl, the highest-ranked woman in the Nazi killing machine and one of the few female perpetrators of the Holocaust.

With new details and previously unpublished photographs, this gripping, unflinching examination charts her transformation from engaging country girl to “The Beast” of Auschwitz.

By the time of her execution at thirty-six, Maria Mandl had achieved the highest rank possible for a woman in the Third Reich. As Head Overseer of the women’s camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, she was personally responsible for the murders of thousands, and for the torture and suffering of countless more.

In this riveting biography, Susan J. Eischeid explores how Maria Mandl, regarded locally as “a nice girl from a good family,” came to embody the very worst of humanity. Born in 1912 in the scenic Austrian village of M├╝nzkirchen, Maria enjoyed a happy childhood with loving parents—who later watched in anguish as their grown daughter rose through the Nazi system.

Mandl’s life mirrors the period in which she lived: turbulent, violent, and suffused with paradoxes. At Auschwitz-Birkenau, she founded the notable women’s orchestra and “adopted” several children from the transports—only to lead them to the gas chambers when her interest waned. After the war, Maria was arrested for crimes against humanity. Following a public trial attended by the international press, she was hanged in 1948.

For two decades, Eischeid has excavated the details of Mandl’s life story, drawing on archival testimonies, speaking to dozens of witnesses, and spending time with Mandl’s community of friends and neighbors who shared their memories as well as those handed down in their families. The result is a chilling and complex exploration of how easily an uordinary citizen chose the path of evil in a climate of hate and fear
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Goodreads Link

REVIEW
The cover shows one of the photographs taken of Maria Mandl when she was taken into police custody. In it she looks to the side but you can she has her hair pulled back in a neat hairstyle which according to the information further inside the book was a fairly on trend, up to date style. Maria's expression is somewhat stern, almost harsh, possibly stoic, you could even say from her face & posture there us some arrogance there too.

I asked myself the following question on more than one occasion both before starting to read this book and during reading it, 'Why would I want to read a book about someone involved in such atrocities?' Well, the simplistic answer is that it's a period of history that I am really interested in learning about as I believe it should never be forgotten or repeated. I was also curious as to what led Maria Mandl to a path of atrocity & evil. It is the question the author says she continually asked herself as she wrote this book. Susan Eischeid says that Maria Mandls life journey encompasses the eternal question of right vs wrong, good vs evil, and the paradox of how cruelty & compassion can exist in the same person.

I'll totally admit I approached the book hating people like Maria Mandl, the Nazis and what they did during the Holocaust. I honestly cannot say I feel any great difference in emotions after finishing the book.

However I tried my best to approach reading this book and learning about Maria's life as fairly and open minded as I could.

At times during the book, I was internally screaming at Maria, her colleagues and the Nazis. One such time was very early on in the book when the book was describing what happened in September 1946 on the prison extradition train containing the female overseers from the prison camps. Outside people shout & scream, banging on the train wanting to get at the women. Maria makes her way to a toilet cubicle and takes some pills a Nazis Officer & Doctor has given her before guards can stop her. She collapses, convulses, and is forced to vomit up the poison. The guards kick her as she lays on the floor and she mutters, "God protect me" I honestly couldn't believe the irony! I mean really? Calling on God to protect her after what she has done? And if she really believes in God, any God, how could she take part & commit the atrocities she has?
The author does a great job though of making you wonder if Maria felt any reluctance or remorse at what she was part of. She does this by first looking at Maria Mandl’s origins, her family. Maria was born in Austria and brought up religious, to be a good catholic girl. People who remember the young Maria who were interviewed by Susan Eischied say she was a pleasant girl/young woman. Maria's family were not part of, nor did they agree with the Nazis party. Maria’s father, Franz had his own business making shoes which kept the family comfortable financially. They had no connections to the Nazis party at all. In fact, at one point Maria is working for the Post Office and is sacked because she is not a member of the Nazis party. It is then her Uncle who was a Police Chief Constable suggested that Maria apply for a job as an overseer. Maria started out at Ravensbruck which ended up becoming a kind of training camp for overseers.

The conditions for the overseers was good, in fact for some it was better than they were used to at home. The women were then trained to become overseers, told what was expected of them and issued with a uniform as well as canes, pistols and whips to use to keep order. The women were given high heeled boots supposedly to enable them to stride through the awful muddy conditions at the various camps but these same high heeled boots were considered “useful” when kicking the prisoners!

Not everyone took to this tough regime, the Head SS Overseer Supervisor was Johanna Langefeld who also came from Lichtenburg like Maria. Johanna was not 100% on board with the ethical consequences of what they were doing, but she was in a minority. When Johanna could no longer meet the brutal expectations of the Nazis Regime Maria Mandl stepped right on into her job and became in charge of the women (as no female could give a male officer any sort of orders) at Auschwitz. It was whilst she was at this camp that Maria earnt the name Mistress Of Life and Death.

The Author has really done her research, from speaking to Nuns at a school, school friends, neighbours to survivors from the prison camps. You really get a sense of Maria’s fairly normal, though religious upbringing. On one hand you could perhaps say she sort of stumbled into her career in the concentration camps, but on the other hand there was always a home for her to go back to if she didn’t want to work in the camps. Maria seemed to enjoy the life she had, always having the latest hairstyle courtesy of the camp hair salon. Though the irony of her perfectly coiffed hair and the fact prisoners had all their hair shaved off upon arrival at the camp are a stark contract. It is said there were parties and though forbidden there were relationships and flings between the male and female officers, resulting in the male officers referring to the females as whores. At Christmas the overseer’s rooms would be decorated for the season, another irony, it was the prisoners that were put to work doing the decorations! Maria visited her home town all dressed up in her uniform, kind of showing off what she had become, proud of herself. Not all of her family were proud of what she became, her mother was said to be ashamed and prayed daily for her daughter when she realised the type of work she was doing and the fact she eventually became part of the Nazis party.

At her trial Maria Mandl tried many lines of defence from “she was only following orders” she was doing nothing wrong and even flat out denying some of the brutal acts she was known to have committed. Even when faced with survivors who recognised her and recounted the brutality they witnessed and was subjected to by her, she still denied it. Maybe she thought if she didn’t admit it, she somehow hadn’t done it or that she would get away with it.

I found this to be a very interesting, detailed book about a dark time in history. Though my opinion of Maria Mandl and her fellow overseers such as Irma Grese who is perhaps more well known has not really changed. You tend to think of women being more empathetic and caring to others but these women were as barbaric as their male counterparts. There are so many ironies within the book, such as the fact that Maria could be listening to music with her tears in her eyes one minute and then beating someone or sending them to the gas chambers the next minute. The fact Maria would have paperwork changed so prisoners appeared less Jewish as she wanted them orchestra and such a position was considered a high, privileged one. One that a Jew could never be allowed to obtain. A position in the Orchestra meant less hard work, better conditions, “treats” such as walks in the fresh air, being allowed to swim in a nearby lake one time, and extra food. All these “treats” could mean the difference between survival or death. The women of the orchestra were given a uniform, the women allowed to grow their hair as Maria wanted the women to look pretty. She wanted to and often did show off the orchestra to visitors at Auschwitz, taking credit for how good it was. When one of the major members of the orchestra died it is said that Maria Mandl herself was visibly upset. It is also said in the book that Maria Mandl liked children, as did some of the other female overseers and would take a child and almost keep it like a “pet” until they tired of the child and then it would be sent to the gas chambers.


I did “enjoy” learning more about how Maria came to become an overseer and the “training” she underwent. All the information is presented so well by the author. Susan never condemns, she reports the facts for you to form your own opinion and make your own decisions. The author makes you wonder what sort of life Maria and the other overseers would have had if not for Hitler and the Nazi regime. Would she have stayed in her village, married and maybe had a family. Did she have to become an overseer, there were other jobs, maybe she could have returned home to her family and found work locally. But all that is “if only” and there were so many other female overseers and SS Officers would just one less have made any difference, there would have been someone else in her position making the lives of the concentration camp prisoners lives a living hell. Maria Mandl even tried at her trial to say she “helped” the women, which on occasion I suppose in her warped mind she perhaps did. I keep coming back to my thoughts of the fact she had to know what she was doing was wrong surely? I know at one point, maybe more she did try to leave/change her overseer job but was told in no uncertain terms she was staying where she was and to get on with it.

In the end, Maria is sentenced to death which some would say was a relatively easy, painless way out for her and her colleagues when compared to what those in the concentration camps went through on a daily basis. No punishment could make right or undo the horrors that happened, and feeding/clothing Maria Mandl in a prison would still be an easy life in comparison to those in the concentration camps. I did learn new facts about Auschwitz within this book as well as discovering details about different camps. I was surprised at how many of the female overseer’s names were familiar to me, yet had I been asked to name any, the only one I would have probably come up with would have been Irma Grese. The fact all these females went through the same training at Ravensbruck only compounds the disgust and horror that there were, so many other like Maria Mandl, perhaps some not as harsh as her but also there would be ones that were even more cruel than her. We tend to hear a lot about the different men and SS Officers involved in the Holocaust but not so much about the women. Certain things reminded me of when I read The Dressmakers Of Auschwitz by Lucy Adlington, in fact the author Susan does reference this book. I still don’t understand how anyone, male or female could treat other human beings like this, but the fact remains they did and it should never be forgotten. Unfortunately, the sad, devastating reality is this type of eradication of races is still occurring in our supposedly more modern world. I don’t pretend to understand all the politics of it all but it has to somehow stop.

I feel like I could talk forever about the content of this book but summing up the book is about an historic person and is both interesting and enlightening about a time/era that should never be forgotten. The book is based on facts from interviews the Author herself conducted and covers highly emotional events in an unbiased way.
I still feel the mixed emotions of horror, sadness and disgust that even at trial Maria Mandl and others used the defence of following orders when survivors clearly remembered seeing her commit atrocities, in fact some of them were her personal victims. I don’t know how she could look at them and just deny any wrong doing. I honestly find it extremely difficult to feel any compassion or understanding or forgiveness for this woman, or any of the other brutes who beat, maimed, experimented on and murdered in the name of Hitler & Nazism.