This is not an April Fool’s Day Joke

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.

Tomorrow’s Bread, by Anna Jean Mayhew

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.

Girls on the Line, by Aimie K. Runyan

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.

The Glovemaker, by Ann Weisgarber

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?

Janet

A Thriller, Hatteras in WWI, and Appalachian Memories

I had more to say about the six books I read in August than reasonably fit into last week’s blog post, so today’s post is about the three I didn’t get to last week. I’m a bit put off by long blog posts, and I doubt I’m alone in that. Without further ado, I offer my thoughts about the other books I read in August.

Here and Gone, by Haylen Beck

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Here and Gone, by Haylen Beck

If books have a demeanor, Running on Red Dog Road and Other Perils of an Appalachian Childhood, by Drema Hall Berkheimer is at one end of that spectrum, in many ways Here and Gone, by Haylen Beck is at the other end of that spectrum. While Ms. Berkheimer’s book was a relaxing read, Mr. Beck’s thriller grabbed me by the throat immediately and never let me relax.

I thought I’d done well to read Ms. Berkheimer’s memoir in three days, but I read Here and Gone in 48 hours.

Wow! What a book! I made the mistake of starting to read the book late one night. I read until my vision blurred to the point that I could literally read no more without getting some sleep.

Audra Kinney fled New York with her young son and daughter to avoid her children being taken away by Children’s Services. Her husband had tried to prove she was an unfit mother.

The book begins in Arizona where Audra thought things couldn’t get any worse when the Elder County Sheriff pulled her over and discovered a bag of marijuana in the trunk of her car. Audra and the reader could not imagine all that would transpire over the next four days. What a thriller!

By the way, I thought I had picked up a debut novel by Haylen Beck, but it turns out that is the pen name of Stuart Neville! You may recall that I wrote about one of Mr. Neville’s Northern Ireland thrillers, The Ghosts of Belfast in my January 3, 2017 blog post (What I read in December.)

According to the author bio on the back inside flap of the book jacket, Haylen Beck’s books are set in the United States whereas Stuart Neville’s books are set in Northern Ireland. That tells me there will be more Haylen Beck books in the future. I can’t wait!

Hatteras Light by Philip Gerard

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Hatteras Light: A Novel, by Philip Gerard

Hatteras Light, by Philip Gerard, took me to the beautiful Hatteras Lighthouse on the Outer Banks of North Carolina during the tense days of World War I when German U-boats and submarines trolled the Atlantic coast of the United States. This book was the August selection for the Rocky River Readers Book Club.

Hatteras Light follows the lives of the few residents of Hatteras Island in the early 1910s, particularly the people associated with the maintenance of the Hatteras Lighthouse and their efforts to rescue people in peril on the sea.

This was hard and lonely work. It took a special kind of person to acclimate to the demands of the job. The waters off Cape Hatteras are known worldwide as “the graveyard of the Atlantic” because the treacherous clashing of the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the warm Gulf Stream (from the Gulf of Mexico) cause constantly changing conditions that have resulted in the sinking of hundreds of ships.

The Germans had already torpedoed an oil tanker, the resulting blaze literally getting the attention of everyone on Hatteras Island. The US Navy was too busy protecting the more densely populated Mid-Atlantic coast to come to the aid of the keepers of the Hatteras Lighthouse who did double duty of going out to sea to try to rescue anyone in peril.

Tensions were coming to a head at a community meeting when Ham Fetterman said the following:

“ ‘ I have lived longer than ever I hoped or wanted,’ Fetterman said. ‘I have seen Yankees and pirates and bootleggers and a good deal worse. And now I’ve seen this, too. And I tell you:  this is different. This murderous lurking Teutonic bastard is hunting by the Light – our Light! He navigates by it, he ambushes by it, he kills by it…. With that Light, he is damn near invincible.’ ”

Fetterman was a true Hatterasman, meaning he was born and had lived on Hatteras Island all his life. He was someone others listened to because of his age and his experience as a Hatteras Islander.

Someone else in the meeting spoke up and suggested they rig up a false light like had been done at Nags Head years before. Then, Fetterman said their only choice was to turn off the Hatteras Lighthouse Light.

Did they? I suggest you read Hatteras Light, by Philip Gerard, to find out.

Running on Red Dog Road and Other Perils of an Appalachian Childhood, by Drema Hall Berkheimer

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Running on Red Dog Road, by Drema Hall Berkheimer

I need to start jotting down where or how I hear about a book I want to read. I can’t recall how I learned about this one, but I’m glad I did. I found it at the public library and devoured it in three days. It is just 200 pages, but I’m a slow reader. Any time I read a book in three days, take it as a compliment.

The author grew up in West Virginia and writes humorously but lovingly and respectfully about her childhood there in the 1940s. Although I grew up in the piedmont (not the mountains) of North Carolina in the 1950s, I could identify with many of the things she wrote.

I never had a grandmother, though, and Ms. Berkheimer writes a lot about the grandmother who pretty much raised her while her mother was off in New York helping to build airplanes for the World War II effort.

Ms. Berkheimer and I grew up in a simpler time than the one we’re living in now. Home-canned produce from the garden, lightning bugs, playing Red Rover, church being the center of one’s social life, and many old sayings used in the book – all these rang true with me and brought to mind fond memories of my childhood.

I loved her memory of church fans:

“Paper fans always stood ready in the wooden rack on the back of each pew, along with the hymnals. Each fan was the size of a small paper plate and had a flat stick attached as a handle. Sometimes you got a fan with a picture of Jesus on one side and Scripture verses on the other, while another time your fan might advertise a bank or a furniture store.” ~ Drema Hall Berkheimer

The church where I grew up always had those same fans, but the back side advertised one of the two funeral homes in the county. Hence, they were always referred to as “funeral home fans” at Rocky River Presbyterian.

If you’re looking for a book that harkens back to rural and small town American life a few decades ago, this is the book for you.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time.

Janet

Late July Reading

Another month has whizzed by and left me getting ever more behind in reading all the books I want to read, but July was another rewarding month of reading for me. I hope you’ll enjoy reading “my take” on the three books I read the last couple of weeks of July. On July 17 (Reading South Africa and South Carolina Novels) I blogged about the two books I read earlier in the month.

The Orphan’s Tale, by Pam Jenoff

I kept reading about The Orphan’s Tale, by Pam Jenoff and decided I wanted to read it. It was the first book I’d read by Ms. Jenoff, who has a fascinating background in government work. I look forward to reading her other books.

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         The Orphan’s Tale,           by Pam Jenoff

The Orphan’s Tale revolves around a toddler who is rescued from the Nazis by a young woman who is no longer welcome in her parents’ home. She ends up being taken in by a circus and assigned to the trapeze, although she knows nothing about being an aerialist.

The woman assigned to train her resents her. Throughout this book of numerous twists and turns, the two women resent each other, support each other, and risk their lives for each other. It is a tale of humanity, forgiveness, trust, friendship, love, and loss set in Germany and France during World War II.

Bird-by-Bird:  Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott

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Bird-by-Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott

As someone learning the art and craft of writing, I enjoyed Bird-by-Bird, by Anne Lamott. In the book’s introduction she writes about learning to love books as a child. The following quote comes from the introduction:

“The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.” ~ Anne Lamott

I set out to write about the many things I liked about this book and the beautiful way Ms. Lamott writes about the many things a novelist needs to pay attention to in the writing process. It soon became obvious that today’s blog post would be longer than anyone wanted to read if I did that. Therefore, I will write about Bird-by-Bird in my August 14, 2017 blog post.

The Midnight Cool, by Lydia Peelle

I read this book because it was set in Tennessee during World War I. I haven’t read many novels set in that era and I wanted to learn more about it. I’m participating in the Read America Book Challenge from the Mint Hill Branch of the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. The object of that challenge is to read novels set in as many different US states as possible in 2017. Thirteen down and 37 to go. Seven months down and five to go. Hmmm. Not good.

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      The Midnight Cool,         by Lydia Peelle

I was conflicted as I finished reading The Midnight Cool. Lydia Peelle has a way with words, but I found the book hard to follow since the dialogue was not enclosed within quotation marks. It was tedious to have to go back a couple of paragraphs at times in order to discern who was speaking.

I was interested in the subject matter, but the middle of the book did not hold my attention. I enjoyed the last 50 or so pages of the book, so I’m glad I didn’t give up on it. For all the hype of the book to be about mules for World War I and a killer horse, I found it to be more about the two men who traded in mules and the women they loved.

The book gave me some things to think about that I really hadn’t considered before, such as the massive number of mules the United States transported across the Atlantic in ships to pull artillery and do other hard labor in the Allies’ war effort in Europe.

I learned that horses have to be trained, but mules more readily reason things out. (Don’t hate me, horse lovers!) According to the book, the only thing the mules had to be trained in was being fitted with gas masks. Gas masks for mules was another thing that had never crossed my mind. This goes to show that you can learn things from reading well-researched historical novels.

The website, http://www.mountvernon.org/george-washington/farming/animals/father-of-the-american-mule/, confirms that George Washington was the “Father of the American Mule.” The site explains that there were advantages that mules had over horses in the Allies’ efforts in World War I in addition to their not needing much training. Mules eat one-third less than horses, they don’t need to drink as much water as horses, and mules are more surefooted than horses.

If Lydia Peelle writes another novel, I will check it out because she has a gift for turning a phrase and I believe she does her research.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading Killers of the Flower Moon:  The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time. I also recommend that you read Bird-by-Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott.

Janet

They’re All Uncertain Times

Events of the last week prompted me to write about uncertain times for today’s blog post. It soon occurred to me that all times are uncertain because we cannot see into the future.

We tend to think the time we’re living in is more unpredictable than any other time, but if you’ll stop and think about it, you might see that life is and always has been full of doubts, worries, and stress. The unknown can do that to you.

I think about the uncertain times my known ancestors lived through:

English-speaking Lowland Scots being taken into the Gaelic-speaking Kintyre Peninsula in the southwest of Scotland to be tenant farmers in the 1600s and being required to attend a church where only Gaelic was spoken;

Scottish immigrants crossing the Atlantic and settling in the Carolina backcountry/wilderness in the 1760s; and

Those Scottish immigrants facing the American Revolution and not knowing what the outcome would be.

On December 23, 1776, in “The Crisis,” Thomas Paine wrote the following:

“THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.”

My ancestors lived through those times. The deaths of my Morrison great-great-great-great-grandparents during the American Revolutionary War left my great-great-great-grandfather orphaned at the age of nine. He and his siblings were cared for thereafter by his uncles and their wives, but it must have been more than frightening.

Then came the following trying times:

War of 1812;

American Civil War;

Reconstruction Era in The American South;

My maternal great-grandmother’s death in childbirth in 1881;

My paternal great-grandfather’s accidental death while felling a tree for lumber to build a kitchen in 1886;

Spanish-American War;

World War I;

The Great Depression;

My paternal grandmother and maternal grandfather both dying as young adults;

World War II;

Korean War; and

Illnesses and epidemics.

Living in the age of modern medicine and miracle drugs, it’s difficult for most of us to empathize with our ancestors who lived with the possibility of dying or watching their children die of typhoid fever, tetanus, flux, or polio.

When the Salk polio vaccine became available in the late 1950s, I did not fully appreciate what it meant to my parents. For me, as a child, I just remember our family going to the gymnasium lobby at Harrisburg High School on three Sunday afternoon after church to get an oral vaccine on a sugar cube.

The 1960s and years since have brought the following times of uncertainty:

Vietnam War;

Civil Rights Movement in the United States;

Numerous wars in the Middle East;

Rumors of more wars;

Terrorism; and

Incompetency and recklessness in The White House. (Don’t blame me; I didn’t vote for him!)

All of my ancestors down through my grandparents were farmers. I can’t imagine a life full of more uncertainties than one in which one’s livelihood is at the mercy of the weather.

I believe that God created the world with everything we need to not only survive but thrive. Human beings have brought on many uncertainties by not being good stewards of the world that God has entrusted to us – its animals and natural resources. Come to think of it, we have created most of the uncertainties ourselves – war, poor planning, poor agricultural practices, greed, and envy.

Earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, volcanoes, and wildfires happen, but even many floods and wildfires are caused by man’s carelessness.

I attended two funerals in less than 48 hours last week. One was expected after a long battle with cancer, but the other one was quite sudden. Life is full of uncertainties.

Reviewing some of the events and hardships my ancestors faced, and the things I’ve witnessed in my 64 years has helped me put recent events and concerns in perspective.

The sun comes up. The sun goes down. The world keeps spinning around and revolving around the sun. What an amazing world!

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Photo by Simon Hesthaven on Unsplash

 

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading Killers of the Flower Moon:  The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann and Among the Living by Jonathan Rabb.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have lots of productive writing time.

Janet