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09 June 2021

Lighting the Stars by Gabriele Wills Book Tour Guest Review Guest Post and Giveaway!

Lighting the Stars by Gabriele Wills

Lighting the Stars by Gabriele Wills 
Publisher:  Mindshadows, November 2020 
Category: Historical Fiction, World War II, Historical Romance 

Tour dates: May-June, 2021 
ISBN: 978-1775035411 
Available in Print and ebook, 477 pages
  Lighting the Stars

Description Lighting the Stars by Gabriele Wills

A riveting tale of a generation torn apart by war. 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.

Praise Lighting the Stars by Gabriele Wills

​“I MISS THEM ALREADY! I love your characters SO much and of course, love the setting. I'm just in awe of how you weave the story, characters and actual history. I find that I become a character who is quite invested in the story lines of one and all like they are my family and friends. I just can't even put words (though I try) to how much I love your writing. I'm a super slow reader ON PURPOSE so I can savor, but I just couldn't...and I tried. I tried to give it a day or two in between, which wasn't hard with the busy life pre-Christmas, but I just couldn't put it down when I had time. THANK YOU! It was just wonderful.” – Laura Langevin, Echoes in the Attic “

If you enjoy learning history through fiction, then you will enjoy this novel. It is impeccably researched and accurate historical. Lots of action, personal entanglements, romantic relationships, realistic air battles set against the World War II conflict and its most significant theaters. The author is obviously a gifted writer and a thorough researcher. You will enjoy reading about the many characters as they grapple with their conflicts. I highly recommend this novel.”-Amazon Review

Bravo, you have written a masterpiece. You write so passionately about your characters and infuse them with incredible empathy. A Bronte reborn, you recount stories with a distinct Victorian flavour. The relationships between the characters are artfully established and realistic. The air battles are real and the air manoeuvres are exciting. Your knowledge of history and the inclusion of many historical characters, Bishop, Massey, etc., make this both realistic and informative. I love the character of your women. They are courageous, intelligent, super capable, and strong. And I did not know that they were flying planes and helping the way they did. The air raid sirens, the sudden bombings are so dramatic and real. You describe them so well and with such urgency.” – Ken Hills, author ​“

Best book yet! Lighting The Stars shares Canadian WWII stories with world events and the glorious lifestyle of that era in Muskoka. Gabriele Wills has seamlessly woven very accurate historical information into an enticing love story. Her many interesting plots make for an exciting book with a superb ending. As a reader of historical fiction, a person who studies Muskoka history, and one who just loves a good story, I was entertained, and highly recommend this fantastic novel.” - Mary Storey, volunteer archivist, Muskoka Discovery Centre, Gravenhurst, ON

Lighting the Stars

Guest Review by Laura Lee

The spellbinding tale of three young people and one small Canadian lake town during World War II. 

Merilee Sutcliffe is a 15-year-old girl with a sweet disposition and a bit of a charmed life. She lives in Muskoka, Canada in an area that used to belong to a sanatorium for tuberculosis patients. Now a peaceful lakeside town, Merilee has grown up there with her best friend, Peggy and the beautiful Canadian wilderness in her backyard. 

Of course, all things must change eventually, and as the book begins in the year 1940, this change involves the encroachment of the war into Canada. The Royal Canadian Air Force begins setting up a German prisoner of war camp right outside of Peggy's house and her life, and the lives of all of her friends are altered irrevocably by the coming years. 

The second main character in the novel, Erich Leitner is, himself a German POW who is imprisoned in the camp. Having been in a plane that was shot down during the Battle of Britain, Erich is surprised to find that the quality of life in Canada is nothing like he'd expected. Soon, a relationship develops between he and Merilee that challenges both of their preconceptions about one another. 

The third character is Elyse, the 20 year-old cousin of Merilee and an altogether different personality who is more interested in joining the war effort than finding a husband. Elyse eventually manages to make her way to England, where she begins flying planes as a Spitfire Girl. 

This novel is a treasure and one that is not to be missed! The different stories of these three characters take the reader on a journey that beguiles you in the most mesmerizing way. I read all the way through this in too short of a time and it left me wanting more from this author! ‘Lighting the Stars’ is book 4 of ‘The Muskoka Novel’ series but the first book I read.  I had no trouble picking up where book 3 left off but I do plan to read the entire series now!

Five out of five stars! 

Guest Post: From Gabriele

The Intrepid “Spitfire Girls”

 In 1939, the male editor of Aeroplane magazine wrote:

 The menace is the woman who thinks that she ought to be flying in a high-speed bomber when she really has not the intelligence to scrub the floor.

He was referring to a handful of women who lobbied to join the male Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) pilots in Britain, ferrying warplanes from factories to airfields. He was soon proven wrong.

The ATA was a civilian organization formed to release Royal Air Force (RAF) pilots for combat duty. The ATA pilots included veterans from WWI and men who had taken up flying between the wars but were too old or unfit to enlist in the RAF. A few were missing an arm or an eye, and became known as “Ancient and Tattered Airmen”.

Through the determined efforts of aviatrix Pauline Gower, who had run her own air taxi service before the war and whose father was a Member of Parliament, she and 8 other highly experienced women pilots joined the ATA in January of 1940. 

At first relegated to flying just the slow, open-cockpit trainers like the Tiger Moth to training units, they would eventually be at the controls of supercharged fighter aircraft like the Spitfire. Breathtakingly powerful, effortlessly responsive, it seemed to fit the women like a silk glove. They were rapturous in their descriptions of soaring and dancing through the clouds, one calling it “a machine that made poetry of flight”. Another deemed it “the perfect lady’s plane”. They all loved it.

Other passionate women pilots from five continents eagerly came to join them, including 25 from the United States and 5 from Canada, especially when they had the chance of “flying the most thrilling airplane yet built”. They knew this would be their only chance.

The 168 who became “Spitfire Girls” had the most exciting and dangerous job for women during the war. Two of my characters in Lighting the Stars – a Canadian and an American – are among them.

Some of women were glamorous society beauties who had been profiled in British magazines, like wealthy socialite Diana Barnato, whose father owned the Bentley Motor Company. She was fun-loving, and was an instinctive pilot who survived potentially deadly encounters with faulty aircraft and impossible weather that killed colleagues. 

In her fascinating memoir, “Spreading My Wings”, she recounts an amusing incident with self-deprecating humour. 

One hot, sunny day she was transferring a Spitfire from one RAF station to another in the beckoning, blue sky. She had never been taught aerobatics, but decided she would try to do a roll. Suddenly, she found herself stuck upside down. Her powder compact fell out of her unbuttoned breast pocket, opened up, and spilled its entire contents into the cockpit. She managed to right herself, but the powder was everywhere – on instruments, controls, windscreen, and glued to her damp face.

When she arrived at her destination, an “extremely handsome” RAF officer greeted her by hopping onto the wing. His smile vanished as he gasped, “I was told that a very pretty girl was bringing us a new aircraft. All I can see is some ghastly clown!” and he high-tailed it away. It might have been the start of a beautiful romance, she lamented.

Here are some more intriguing facts:

  • Ferry pilots were expected to be able fly any of 147 different types of aircraft, even if they had never set foot in one before. 

  • They trained on types, like single or twin-engine planes, and had a spiral-bound book of notes that described the most important info for each plane. That’s all they had to go on before stepping into the cockpit.

  • A few of the women even got to ferry 4-engine bombers. When they delivered them to a squadron, the men would sometimes search the plane for the “real” pilot.

  • They had no radios and were not trained to fly by instruments, which made flying in unpredictable British weather treacherous.

  • There were 14 Ferry Pools throughout Britain; two of them were all women. Diana Barnato was stationed at the women’s in Hamble on the coast near Southampton, along with my characters. One of their main tasks was to move Spitfires from the nearby Supermarine factory – a dream job.

  • They worked for 13 days straight, ferrying up to 4 planes a day, often of different types, and then had 2 days off.

  • Some also played hard, like Diana, who would take the train to London after work and party at the 400 Club with friends - of which she had plenty - nap on the 3:40 AM train back to Hamble, grab a few more hours of sleep in her digs, and report for work at 9:00 AM.

  • At first the women earned 20% less than the men even though they were doing exactly the same job. In 1943, they achieved pay equity, which was a first in Britain.

  • The ATA ferried over 300,000 aircraft during the war.

  • The dangers of their job included catastrophic mechanical failure, flying badly damaged planes to maintenance units, being shot at by German fighters, encountering V-1 rockets, being mistaken for the enemy by their own anti-aircraft guns, and flying into the deadly curtains of steel wires of the barrage balloons that protected cities.

  • But about half of the 173 ATA pilots who were killed on duty crashed into hills during bad weather.

  • 16 women pilots died - about 1 in 10. 1 in 7 of the men were killed.

In their nonchalant manner, the brave, undaunted Spitfire Girls would ask each other, “What are you dicing with today?” when they received their flight assignments. “Dicing with death” was part of the black humour that kept them focussed. 

But none of them would have traded her perilous job for anything. Many were reluctant to admit that it was the best time of their lives.

Thank you for inviting me to share my admiration for these remarkable, trailblazing women!

About Gabriele Wills
Lighting the Stars by Gabriele Wills 
Gabriele at the location where 'Lighting the Stars' begins[/caption] 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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Giveaway Lighting the Stars by Gabriele Wills

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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  Lighting the Stars by Gabriele Wills


  1. Thanks so much for hosting Gabriele Wills! Intriguing review!

  2. I'm delighted that you enjoyed the novel! Thank you for your generous and thoughtful comments!

  3. I'm delighted that you enjoyed the book and want to read the others! Thank you for that glowing review, and for inviting me to guest post!



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