History — Four Views

History — as viewed by four authors

His­to­ry is bor­ing, dull, ho-hum. No, no, his­to­ry is excit­ing, new and fresh! Which is it? Is it thick books filled with facts, dates, wars, inven­tions, and famine? Or is it a live­ly nar­ra­tive, full of mys­tery and intrigue?

Answer—it can be either! Amaz­ing­ly, the sub­ject you may have hat­ed in school, just might be retold in anoth­er way, a way that keeps you glued to the pages, think­ing not of sleep or a TV dra­ma but of what comes next with the turn of a page. And, the same his­toric facts may form the basis for mul­ti­ple books, each com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent. His­to­ry may even be fic­tion­al­ized. (That is, turned into a sto­ry pos­si­bly even more allur­ing than the facts. But you knew that, right?)

The four books illus­trat­ed here approach his­to­ry in four dif­fer­ent ways. How is that?

On the left, Paper Woman by Suzanne Adair (the first of sev­er­al books) tells the sto­ry of a woman dur­ing the run-up to the Amer­i­can rev­o­lu­tion when British sol­diers and colo­nial rebels were very much in the pic­ture. Suzanne bases her mys­ter­ies on lit­tle-known facts of the south­ern states dur­ing the rev­o­lu­tion. She aug­ments those facts by tak­ing part in reen­act­ments. She knows what it is to dress as they did then, to pre­pare food, in fact, so many details of every-day life. A list of inven­tions, dates, and lin­eage? No—this approach to his­to­ry is the next best thing to being there—without the dan­ger!

The cov­er of The Blue may remind you of a col­orist gone wild, and that may be the intent, for it is, indeed about blue. Not blue as in sad, or even blue as in the sky, but blue as in invent­ing a dye that caused inter­na­tion­al upheaval in the world of porce­lain. Author Nan­cy Bilyeau com­bines her own her­itage as a Huguenot with fic­tion­al char­ac­ters to tell the sto­ry that spreads from 18th cen­tu­ry Lon­don to France. Inven­tions? Work­ing on that, for sure. But did any school book dwell on the king of France and obses­sion about porce­lain? This one qual­i­fies as a thriller.

The last two are not fic­tion. A Knuck­le­head in 1920s Alas­ka is the retail­ing of sev­er­al trips to work in Alas­ka for col­lege mon­ey. This is the sto­ry my father told me in six audio tapes. He made the tapes when he was 88, gave them to me (as the writer in the fam­i­ly) and asked that I write them for fam­i­ly and friends. It took a year and a half to orga­nize (and agree) on the con­tent, but we did it. Some years lat­er, one of my daugh­ters designed the cov­er and I pub­lished it for all. It’s an account, as he remem­bered (and named) it of  a hot-head­ed kid who need­ed to fin­ish grow­ing up. He told me he’d made anoth­er trip to Alas­ka, tak­ing his broth­er, but he hadn’t includ­ed those sto­ries. He said, “I wasn’t the knuck­le­head any more. Fred was.”

Spies In The Fam­i­ly, by Eva Dil­lon, is just that. After her par­ents had both died, Eva and her sib­lings found a wealth of papers in the attic. I’m still read­ing this one, but it has amaz­ing his­to­ry. At the height of the Cold War, her father was a U. S. gov­ern­ment agent han­dling the CIA’s high­est rank­ing dou­ble agent, a Sovi­et gen­er­al. Besides a lot of weird CIA action, the book includes infor­ma­tion gath­ered from the Sovi­et general’s son, now liv­ing in the Unit­ed States. To me, this is tru­ly a grip­ping sto­ry that I can’t wait to com­plete. (No mem­o­riz­ing dates here!)

Each of the book titles are linked to their Ama­zon page. Tell me, how did you view his­to­ry when you were in school? Did you find it inter­est­ing or bor­ing? Or, per­haps, since I’m waaaay out of school, the his­to­ry as taught now is more inter­est­ing. Or, per­haps, it is non-exis­tent, which is a shame. Like some­one once said (and I real­ly should look it up, but I won’t) those who don’t know his­to­ry are des­tined to repeat it. (Or words to that effect.) There are a mul­ti­tude of ways to present his­to­ry. What are your favorites?

A Memorial Day Reflection

A day of remembrance

My husband’s uncle died in World War II. My uncle served, but returned. My hus­band, broth­er, broth­er-in-law, and so many oth­ers we knew served in Korea, some my hus­band knew nev­er returned. And there have been oth­er bat­tles since then. Now, with­out the draft, it seems the same small per­cent­age of Amer­i­cans vol­un­teer to take on our bat­tles over and over, with each per­son return­ing to the front (wher­ev­er it is) repeat­ed­ly. No more is it the two or four year block of life removed from the draftee or vol­un­teer as in Korea. Or “the dura­tion” as in WW II. Now it seems a life-style of the select few. Which leaves a large por­tion of our cit­i­zens uncon­cerned about those fight­ing for free­dom around the world. Indeed, many of the young gen­er­a­tion seem unaware of the exis­tence of the rest of the world, except as a pos­si­ble place to vaca­tion.

I planned to see beau­ty in this day, but some­how, I’ve missed the con­nec­tion. Oh, there is beau­ty. Our tulip poplar tree in bloom. Pic­tures of our great-grand-chil­dren on Face­book. The orange I had for lunch. (Love­ly taste, too.) Most com­ments about this day might dis­play a flag or a mil­i­tary salute to vet­er­ans. I could do that as well, and it would be mean­ing­ful to me. But I’ll break with tra­di­tion and post the tree blos­som. Just for a moment, I’ll think beau­ty. But in the back of my thoughts will be that flag, those vet­er­ans, and why can’t it be dif­fer­ent?

Tomor­row, per­haps the sun will come out, and life will go on as before, as it did yes­ter­day.

New history mystery — on preorder

Killer Debt — Mystery on the battle line

Now that my blog is work­ing again, I can belat­ed­ly tell you about an his­toric mys­tery from one of my favorite authors. This month it’s on * pre-order * with an option of perks. (Since I’m so late, some of the perks are no longer avail­able.) But let’s for­get that and focus on the book. It will come out in May and is the newest in the Michael Stod­dard series. Stod­dard is an Eng­lish offi­cer under orders to pro­tect an Amer­i­can arriv­ing under white flag to con­sult with the British. His main adver­sary is anoth­er British offi­cer, as he also strives to keep an Amer­i­can lady safe. (Or, maybe I’m say­ing too much here? Can I men­tion that they real­ly do like each oth­er?)

Author Suzanne Adair brings our Amer­i­can his­to­ry to the pages, shin­ing a light on much that has been for­got­ten about our past. The sto­ry is fic­tion, but the his­to­ry under­ly­ing this mys­tery is real. What bet­ter way to dis­cov­er the for­got­ten past than in a thriller that por­trays colo­nial life as well as Eng­lish and Amer­i­can sen­ti­ments in our Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War? While you are on the site linked above, (set off by stars), check out the video telling more, the link to Suzanne read­ing chap­ter one, and a link to a PDF of the first chap­ter.

 

Kindle Scout book coming-Forgotten Body

Forgotten_ebook final coverNovem­ber 14, 2015, is the big day! I just got word this morn­ing (the 12th). My next mys­tery, For­got­ten Body, will be on Kin­dle Scout.

Okay, you want to know exact­ly what Kin­dle Scout is? It’s part­ly a choose-your-own-read, in that any­one can nom­i­nate books they would like to read. After giv­ing the read­ing pub­lic thir­ty days to choose a book, Ama­zon decides which ones they will pub­lish in e-book form. (Part of their deci­sion is based on the book’s pop­u­lar­i­ty.) The best part for the read­er: You receive a free e-book copy of each of the books you nom­i­nat­ed. Okay, that’s only true if they decide to pub­lish the book. (If not, they tell you where it is avail­able.) As a read­er, I’ve nom­i­nat­ed many books I’d like to read. (They allow three nom­i­na­tions at a time.) Sev­er­al have been pub­lished by Kin­dle Scout, so I’ve received free e-books. They were all great reads. They earned four or five stars when I placed my reviews on Ama­zon and Goodreads. (Since I know those reviews help the author and the read­er, I try to review every book I read.)

Of course, there’s good news for the author too. The Kin­dle Scout pro­gram offers a favor­able con­tract with advance and roy­al­ties, as well as pub­lic­i­ty.

The Kin­dle Scout site for For­got­ten Body will include the one sen­tence teas­er, the blurb, and almost all of the first two chap­ters. It will even tell you some­thing about me and ask me ques­tions. (I answer, of course.) Mean­while, I’ll tell you For­got­ten Body is a sequel to Yesterday’s Body. Jo Durbin, my ama­teur detec­tive will do her thing (along with that elu­sive, imag­i­nary cat) at a reen­act­ment of the War of 1812. On Sat­ur­day the 12th, the whole thing will go live here. So vis­it, and if you like what you see, nom­i­nate. If you have any ques­tions, ask here.

Five Stars for Deadly Occupation

10-19 Bloody OccupationDead­ly Occu­pa­tion is a just-pub­lished pre­quel to the oth­er Michael Stod­dard his­toric mys­ter­ies. Lieu­tenant Stod­dard is a British offi­cer sta­tioned in the Amer­i­can colonies dur­ing the Rev­o­lu­tion. As such, one might not think him a hero to a 2015 Amer­i­can read­er, but that is not a con­cern for this Amer­i­can read­er. I have read the oth­er mys­ter­ies in this series, and while I rec­og­nize char­ac­ters from those, this book gives back­grounds of char­ac­ters with­out spoil­ing or reveal­ing any­thing from oth­er books.

The Stod­dard books bring out the ambi­gu­i­ty in Amer­i­ca at that time. There were Amer­i­cans who pre­ferred British rule as well as those who didn’t. (And there were nas­ties on each side, one revealed for sure.) Dead­ly Occu­pa­tion also illus­trates the ambi­gu­i­ties of his­to­ri­ans, for Suzanne Adair has delved into his­to­ry that is sel­dom report­ed. Makes for a (excuse me) damn good read!

Oth­er read­ers agree. Here’s a bit from one Ama­zon five-star review: “Michael Stod­dard is a young, 27-year-old, Lieu­tenant with a gift for solv­ing crimes, a chin full of blem­ish­es, and a murky past. In this nov­el, he choos­es an assis­tant, 18-year-old Nick Spry. Spry has his own tal­ents, an eye for detail and a relaxed way with peo­ple that encour­ages them to open up to him. He’s young, but he’s no one’s fool. They are an unlike­ly pair, yet they get results.

Whether sta­tioned in one loca­tion or on the move with the Reg­i­ment, the set­tings are well-craft­ed with his­tor­i­cal details that bring each scene to life. The sus­pects and char­ac­ters pop­u­lat­ing the nov­els are real­is­tic, with basic human moti­va­tions. They are col­or­ful, inter­est­ing, and many are seem­ing­ly drawn from authen­tic his­toric fig­ures.”

One place to order Dead­ly Occu­pa­tion is Ama­zon. (There are oth­ers as well.)

Five Stars for The Witch Doctor’s Wife

9-28 Witch doctors wifeWith The Witch Doctor’s Wife, Tamar Myers delves into her per­son­al his­to­ry as the daugh­ter of Chris­t­ian mis­sion­ar­ies in the Bel­gian Con­go. Rich and alive with the sights and sounds of the continent—as excit­ing, evoca­tive, charm­ing, and sus­pense­ful as Alexan­der McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detec­tive Agency novels—Myer’s unfor­get­table excur­sion to colo­nial Africa recalls Bar­bara Kingsolver’s The Poi­son­wood Bible, even the Acad­e­my Award-nom­i­nat­ed film Blood Dia­mond. Award-win­ning author Car­olyn Hart raves: “Mes­mer­iz­ing….The Witch Doctor’s Wife will long linger in the hearts and minds of read­ers. Authen­tic. Pow­er­ful. Tri­umphant.”

The above is part of the publisher’s blurb for the book that fol­lowed many of Tamar Myer’s two won­der­ful­ly fun­ny and clever cozy mys­ter­ies. I read The Witch Doctor’s Wife about five years ago, before I joined Goodreads, before I had a blog, and, mainly—before I began review­ing the books I read. How­ev­er, I remem­ber it fond­ly, so you know it has stay­ing pow­er.

I did inter­view Tamar for the Sis­ters in Crime blog. I remem­ber a cou­ple of answers from that inter­view. For one, she had a com­put­er ded­i­cat­ed to writ­ing, with no games or inter­net access. (That’s one I real­ly, real­ly should fol­low.) Also, she said she didn’t write the story—it was already writ­ten. All she did was ask the Uni­verse to deliv­er her dai­ly por­tion of cre­ativ­i­ty and it did. She then sat down and wrote a thou­sand pol­ished words a day, five days a week.

And that is tal­ent!

Inci­den­tal­ly, she has writ­ten more books in that series, as well as con­tin­u­ing the cozy series. In fact, she has a four-page Ama­zon author page. For a taste of Tamar’s fun, I would sug­gest read­ing the acknowl­edg­ments in Death of Pie.

War of 1812-Recruitment, A Matter of Money

What was a young man to do when his coun­try went to war? Sol­dier, mariner (sailor), what? Go where the mon­ey was best, of course. At least, that’s what hap­pened.

Pos­si­bly some want­ed to be on the sea, sail­ing and fight­ing against the British ships. Since most of those ships win­tered in Bermu­da, a few months off prob­a­bly didn’t hurt recruit­ment. How­ev­er, sev­er­al army units were enlist­ing men and giv­ing them boun­ties of $30 plus $8 month­ly with only one year enlist­ment. The marines (navy) gave them less. One could always sign onto a privateer—they paid bet­ter as well. There was anoth­er option. Hire on as a sea fen­ci­ble. That brought in $12 a month for one year. An advan­tage was that a man could not be called up in any oth­er ser­vice, he would be close to home, and in the win­ter unless some­thing else came up, he could take his food home to the fam­i­ly. Pos­si­bly as a result of the dif­fer­ent pay sched­ules, many blacks were marines. From the his­to­ry I’ve read, they were clothed and worked as equals.

This is anoth­er of my War of 1812 series. I am still dis­cov­er­ing his­to­ry I didn’t know, still find­ing in quite inter­est­ing. My next mys­tery involves a reen­act­ment of that war, which is why I’ve been read­ing up.

It’s two hun­dred years since The War of 1812, for­got­ten by most of our his­to­ry books. It is, still, a part of our his­to­ry. Do you find it as inter­est­ing as I do?

 

Five Stars for Murder on Lexington Avenue

8-31 Victoria Thompson coverMur­der on Lex­ing­ton Avenue is the 12th in Vic­to­ria Thompson’s Gaslight Mys­tery series. I’ve read sev­er­al, but this one is a favorite of mine. My review: Sarah Brandt, New York mid­wife in the ear­ly 1900s, keeps get­ting involved in mur­der while deliv­er­ing babies. It isn’t any­thing about souls pass­ing in and out, it’s just that the same peo­ple are involved. While one woman is hav­ing a baby, some­one she knows, be it her fam­i­ly or her neigh­bors, is mixed up in mur­der, often as the vic­tim. Sarah is handy and will­ing to help out an Irish cop, Detec­tive Sergeant Frank Mal­loy. In this case, the teenage daugh­ter of the vic­tim is involved with con­flict­ing schools of train­ing the deaf. Her father is a gen­er­al­ly dis­liked busi­ness own­er. But, who killed him? Seem­ing­ly he was alone at his place of busi­ness. His busi­ness part­ner, and sev­er­al oth­ers may have vis­it­ed. Or, none of them saw him, if one is to believe the tes­ti­mo­ny. And, even if Frank Mal­loy finds the killer, 1903 in New York often meant Frank, although he was the police, would find it dif­fi­cult to accuse any­one who had the mon­ey to make sure he didn’t keep his job. Then anoth­er mur­der com­pli­cates the pos­si­bil­i­ties.

The ambiance is authen­tic, the plot is devi­ous, the char­ac­ters are a mix from delight­ful to dev­il­ish. Best of all, the out­come is com­plete­ly unex­pect­ed, but, oh so absolute­ly right! High­ly rec­om­mend­ed to mys­tery and his­to­ry read­ers.

Vic­to­ria Thomp­son has been nom­i­nat­ed for an Agatha for his­toric mys­tery. There are now 17 books in the series. Her Ama­zon author page is here. (I believe the mid­wife and the police detec­tive sergeant are plan­ning to wed in the lat­est. Must read that too!)

Art In The Attic

A son visits his father.

A son vis­its his father.

The draw­ings on the wall of a third floor stor­age room have been there for over one hun­dred years. As the house passed through dif­fer­ent own­ers, one promise was made—leave the pic­tures alone. They are pen­cil draw­ings, made by two boys who lived with their moth­er in the rent­ed house. Some of them depict their old­er broth­er, Leo Hauck, who was a cham­pi­on box­er.

How did this all get on the front page of my local news­pa­per? The cur­rent home­own­er was curi­ous. She asked ques­tions and dis­cov­ered a few amaz­ing con­nec­tions. Three of Leo’s chil­dren sur­vive and live local­ly. Peg­gy, age 100, and Eddie, age 94, didn’t walk up the stairs to see their father as a young box­er. Joe, age 80, lives less than a mile away. He and his daugh­ter vis­it­ed the third-floor draw­ings and were amazed.

As a writer, I always think, what if? What if any one of the own­ers of the house had paint­ed over those pic­tures? What if, the house was remod­eled and win­dows replaced a wall? What if the area had been zoned for renew­al and the place torn down and became a park­ing lot? What if none of those hap­pened, but the con­nec­tion was nev­er made?

Joe Hauck was thir­teen when his father died. He knew he’d been a fight­er. He’d known those uncles who drew the pic­tures as chil­dren. He knew his father start­ed box­ing as a fly­weight at age four­teen. He knew he was known as the “Lan­cast­er Thun­der­bolt,” and often as Leo Houck due to a mis­spelled pro­mo­tion­al piece. Joe’s father, who suc­cess­ful­ly boxed in every weight up to heavy­weight (as he grew) is named in the Inter­na­tion­al Box­ing Hall of Fame. Now Joe knows a bit more.

To see more pic­tures and the com­plete arti­cle, check out this link in LNP News­pa­pers.

The Burning of Washington, D.C. 1814

Rear Admiral Cockburn had his portrait painted in front of burning Washington

Rear Admi­ral Cock­burn had his por­trait paint­ed in front of burn­ing Wash­ing­ton

After Britain defeat­ed and impris­oned Napoleon Bona­parte in April 1814, they had the men and ships to renew attacks on the Unit­ed States. Eng­land want­ed to retal­i­ate for  the “wan­ton destruc­tion of pri­vate prop­er­ty along the north shores of Lake Erie” by Amer­i­can forces. Rear Admi­ral Cock­burn was giv­en orders to,  “deter the ene­my from a rep­e­ti­tion of sim­i­lar out­rages.…” You are here­by required and direct­ed to “destroy and lay waste such towns and dis­tricts as you may find assail­able”.

On August 24, 1814, he found Wash­ing­ton, D.C. assail­able. Most pub­lic build­ings were destroyed. Actu­al­ly, the American’s burned the fort before the British arrived to keep them from get­ting their pow­der. The British burned what was left of it in their sweep. The Library of Con­gress and all the books were burned. Cock­burn was so upset with the with the Nation­al  Intel­li­gencer news­pa­per for call­ing him a Ruf­fi­an, he intend­ed to burn their build­ing too. How­ev­er, a group of women con­vinced him a fire would burn their homes, so he had his men tear the build­ing apart, brick by brick. He also had them destroy every C in the type fonts, so they could no longer abuse his name.

At the White House, it was not Dol­ley Madi­son who saved George Washington’s por­trait. She did orga­nize the slaves and staff to car­ry valu­ables, car­ry­ing some of the sil­ver in her retic­ule, The French door­man and the president’s gar­den­er saved the por­trait. After Mrs. Madi­son and the staff left, the British came in, ate the meal and drank the wine pre­pared for the res­i­dents, then went about burn­ing the build­ing. It was dif­fi­cult. They end­ed up pil­ing fur­ni­ture and light­ing it which final­ly start­ed the build­ing burn­ing. They added fuel dur­ing the night. The only gov­ern­ment build­ing left stand­ing was U.S. Patent Office.

Less than a day after the attack start­ed, a ter­rif­ic storm hit the area from the south­east. It spawned a tor­na­do and put out the fires. Accord­ing to reports Admi­ral Cock­burn asked a woman, “Dear God! Is this the weath­er to which you are accus­tomed to in this infer­nal coun­try?” She replied, “This is a spe­cial inter­po­si­tion of Prov­i­dence to dri­ve our ene­mies from our city.” But Cock­burn insist­ed the storm helped them destroy the build­ings. Actu­al­ly, he was cor­rect. How­ev­er, the storm also dam­aged the British ships in the har­bor.

Sounds to me like they had a hur­ri­cane.