This is not an April Fool’s Day joke. I read six books in March. Six. I set the bar high for myself by reading ten books in February, but I could only manage to read six in March. Today’s blog post is about three of those books. All three are newly-released historical novels.
Tomorrow’s Bread, by Anna Jean Mayhew
I eagerly awaited this second novel by Anna Jean Mayhew, and it was well worth the wait! Tomorrow’s Bread was released on Tuesday.
I love the main characters! Ms. Mayhew weaves the stories of several families together in Tomorrow’s Bread. She puts names and faces on the destructive aspect of Urban Renewal, which was a program funded by the U.S. Government in the 1960s to remove “blight” from inner cities
Although I was only eight years old in 1961 when the removal of the Brooklyn neighborhood in Charlotte, North Carolina began, I remember the segregated era on the cusp of the Civil Rights Movement.
I know the main streets referenced in Tomorrow’s Bread. I have traveled them all my life and, as a young adult, was employed in several offices that were built as a result of Urban Renewal. I remember separate water fountains for “white” and “colored” in department stores and the so-called “separate but equal” segregated schools.
I remember riding on racially-segregated Charlotte city buses. I clearly remember the time my mother and I got on a bus for me to go to the doctor. All the seats for whites were taken and I didn’t understand why we couldn’t sit in the back of the bus where there were vacant seats. The reverse must have been equally confusing for little black children.
In 1961 I was too young to understand segregation or Urban Renewal and, being white, I didn’t have to understand it.
Tomorrow’s Bread, by Anna Jean Mayhew, is a must read for anyone living in the Charlotte area – especially the young people and those new to the area. To understand some events of today, it’s beneficial to know the history of the city.
Although only someone who lived in the Brooklyn section of Charlotte’s inner city could state this with authority, but as an outsider, I think Ms. Mayhew captured the essence of a place and time not so long ago in our history – yet a place that is gone forever.
Tomorrow’s Bread made me stop and think – like I never had before – about the people who were displaced by Urban Renewal as real flesh and blood individuals. They went from living in a sustainable neighborhood with grocery stores, a doctor, a library, and a church all in walking distance to having to look for affordable housing in neighborhoods that offered none of those things. Loraylee, Hawk, Rev. Eben Polk, Bibi, Uncle Ray, and Jonny No Age will stay with me for a long time.
Thank you, Anna Jean, for writing this novel and for prompting me to give serious thought to a time and federal program in the 1960s that – in the name of giving people a better life – demolished their homes, businesses, and churches and split up families that had been neighbors and friends for generations. It’s not a pleasant read, but it’s a story built around fictional characters you will love and pull for.
Now, I want to know what happened to Loraylee, Hawk, and Archie. Is there a third book in the works, Anna Jean?
Girls on the Line, by Aimie K. Runyan
This is a historical novel about “the hello girls” – the women who served as military switchboard operators in France and Germany during World War I. The service these women provided was an integral part of the Allies’ ability to defeat Germany in the War. It was something I was not aware of, although I’ve studied history and minored in history in college. It just goes to show how women’s contributions have often been ignored or minimized.
I listened to this audio book and found myself listening to “just one more chapter” (and then a couple more) before going to bed at night. I hated to see the book end. It followed Ruby, an experienced telephone switchboard operator, and the six women she supervised in France. Ruby’s brother had been killed in the War and joining the US Army Signal Corps was her way of honoring his memory.
The book tells how the military switchboard operators had to go through rigorous training and had to memorize new codes daily in order to do their jobs. They worked long hours and were always under stress as it was their duty to make sure they correctly and efficiently connected phone calls between generals and other officers.
These women were denied military benefits by the US Army until 1979 – 60 years after their service. Sadly, only 28 of the 228 US Army female switchboard operators lived to see that day.
The story line of the book includes Ruby’s being torn between her less-than-exciting fiancé and the Army medic she met and fell in love with in France. Some of the dialogue between Ruby and Andrew, her new love, is a little sappy but other than that I thoroughly enjoyed the book.
The Glovemaker, by Ann Weisgarber
I had the pleasure of hearing Ann Weisgarber speak several years ago at Main Street Books in Davidson, North Carolina. Her novel, The Promise, had just been released. I purchased a copy, but time got away and too many library books kept coming into my house. Long story, short: I haven’t read The Promise yet. In fact, The Glovemaker is the first of Ms. Weisgarber’s novels that I’ve read. I want to read all of them.
Having visited Capitol Reef National Park in Utah, I could really picture in my mind the setting for “The Glovemaker.”, Fruita, (formerly, Junction) Utah is a stark place As I recall from my visit there in 2002, there’s nothing there today but an orchard, an old schoolhouse, and a picnic table – along with sheer rock cliffs, interesting rock formations, dry creek beds, and no trees to speak of aside from the orchard.
I learned some things about Mormons that I hadn’t known before — that there was an underground railroad-type network that assisted Latter Day Saints to a place of safety when they were being tracked down for prosecution for polygamy. I love it when I learn something about history when reading a novel!
The book paints a picture of the hard life the early settlers in that part of Utah had in the 1880s. My heart broke for Deborah Tyler and her brother-in-law, Nels. Deborah watches each day for her husband’s return from his traveling wheelwright work in southern Utah, but the weeks turn into months. Nels loves Deborah but cannot have her because she is married.
There is suspense when a stranger appears at Deborah’s door seeking directions to the safe place and when the US Marshal comes looking for that stranger. Deborah and Nels are forced to lie and keep secrets due to the conflict between Mormons and non-Mormons and the law.
There is also tension among the eight households in Junction due to the secrets being kept and due to differences of opinion about polygamy and other The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints doctrines and practices. Add to that the bitterly cold weather and snow and you have a recipe for good historical fiction.
Since my last blog post
The word count for my The Doubloon manuscript stands just shy of 22,000. That’s a net gain of nearly 8,000 words since last Monday. I had a good writing week last week.
Until my next blog post
I hope you have a good book to read.
If you’re a writer, I have you have quality writing time and your projects are moving right along.
Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog.
Let’s continue the conversation
Have you read any of the books I talked about today? If so, please share your thoughts with me. Have I piqued your interest in reading any of these books?
What are you reading, and would you recommend it?