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Monday, August 29, 2016

Ann Lowe for Alabama Genealogy

In native Alabamian Ann Lowe’s own words she wanted “to prove that a Negro can become a major dress designer.”

Her great-grandmother was a slave. Her great-grandfather was the owner of the plantation. The child born of their union, Georgia, became Ann Cole Lowe's grandmother, a strong woman who surely influenced her granddaughter. From great-grandmother, to grandmother, and through her mother Ann inherited a talent for design and sewing and a strong determination to prove herself. 

As the sun rose on that 1898 morning of Ann’s birth, no one in the small town of Clayton, Alabama (Barbour County) could have dreamed of the heights she would achieve for she was born a squirming, scrawny, little black girl in the Jim Crow South, but from an early age she recognized her dreams.

Her path would not be easy, and any success she might have was certain to be achieved only with steadfast effort and fortitude on her part. Armed with a great inner strength and natural talent, she rose above all obstacles and forged her own future. 

For any designer, designing the wedding dress to be worn by Jacqueline Bouvier, future First Lady of the United States, for her marriage to John F. Kennedy would be a lifetime achievement. For Ann Lowe, it became a statement. The iconic gown would become the most photographed wedding gown in American history proving that (in Ann’s own words), “a Negro can become a major dress designer.”

When she designed and produced Jacqueline Bouvier’s wedding dress, very few knew her name. No one but her staff knew of the disaster that preceded the delivery of that now-historic wedding dress to the home of the bride. Even fewer knew that she was the granddaughter of a former slave.
Even today, few know her story.

Ann modeling her own design.

Ann's grandfather helped build this 1853 Barbour County Courthouse.

Ann designed for the ladies who lived here, the early 1900's Alabama Governor's Mansion.

Ann doing what she loved best, sewing!

 From the Governor's mansion in Alabama, to high society in Tampa, Florida, and then, on to her final destination New York City where she became the favored designer for the ladies of high society--- the Duponts, Rothschilds, Rockefellers, Roosevelts, Lodges, Auchinclosses, and the Bouviers, as in Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy. 

Along the way there were husbands, a child, Paris, and even Christian Dior, and the most photographed wedding dress in American history.

I have researched, spoken with the family and written a biography of Ann Cole Lowe's life. Would love to tell you about it, but would probably get kick out of the group even though I see others, one in particular mentioning her books. 
 If you are interested, email me at I'll send you a link.

I would love to think that Ann's story would now become a Middle School student's history fair project---especially in Alabama!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Ann Lowe 1898-1981: Something to Prove

Several months ago I wrote that my work-in-progress historical fiction had taken on a life of its own and reversed course, thus becoming a biography.  At the time I explained it this way: "Soon it became clear to me that her story, her true, unvarnished story had to be told. It was, at that point told only in bits and pieces and often with the bits inaccurate and  the pieces changing with each retelling. I began my research to clarify things for myself and found myself getting to know a strong woman from a family of strong women.

As I researched, I gave up on the historical fiction for two reasons. First, as I said, her story in itself needs to be told. At times it reads rather like a fairy tale, and at all times is an inspiration. Secondly, I am a white woman, raised in the South. Try as I might I could not convince myself that I could do her justice in fiction. I could not get in her head and speak in her voice. I wanted her to speak for herself. And so she does."

Today is publication day for what I hope is a tribute to this, (if the term had been used during her lifetime) leading African American female in the world of fashion. She was born in a rural, poor area of the Black Belt South during the years of Jim Crow. On the morning that she entered the world as a tiny, squirming little black girl in her native state of Alabama very few took notice. Odds were against her, but she had but she had two things in her favor. Talent and determination. Of the two there is no questioning her talent, but personally, I think it was her determination, her eye on the prize, that made Ann Lowe a success.

Ann developed her talent, passed down from the strong women of her family who came before her, and used that talent along with her determination to reach her dream. Along the way she accepted challenges as stepping stones to, as she explained to Mike Douglas on national television, "prove that a Negro can become a major dress designer."

And prove it she did. From the Governor's mansion in Alabama, to high society in Tampa, Florida, and then, on to her final destination New York City where she became the favored designer for the ladies of high society--- the Duponts, Rothschilds, Rockefellers, Roosevelts, Lodges, Auchinclosses, and the Bouviers, as in Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy. Along the way there were husbands, a child, Paris, and even Christian Dior, and the most photographed wedding dress in American history.

On this day of publication, I hope many will read Ann's story. Get to know her and the behind the scenes events that shaped so many of her designs. As the ladies who knew her then think back on Ann, they have nothing but praise for her. I think you will also as you read and realize that she lived in turbulent times in American history, from the years of Jim Crow, through the depression and WWII, into the Civil Rights Movement and into the age of flight and television.

She should be better known, but she is not. As one of her debutants said to me earlier this year, "Ann was a lovely, gentle lady. Had she been designing today, she would be considered one of the great designers. Her time in history was against her."

I hope I can change the unknown part and introduce Ann Cole Lowe to an appreciative audience. As an educator I hope teachers will see Ann's story as an example to share with those students who often feel trapped by home, circumstances, distance, and society. I want them to learn from Ann that determination and a willingness to work toward your dream, can help anyone succeed. I believe the book can serve as a research resource for many; authors, students, etc.

I hope all enjoy Ann's story. There are two print versions for I first wrote the book with black and white historical photos and color photos of her designs. The outcome, labeled as a Special Color Photo Edition, will be cost prohibitive for many, especially for teachers who want more than one copy in their classroom. Therefore, I converted all the photos to black and white for a second version. While not as colorful, it still tells Ann's story and shows her work. In both versions, there is a link to a pinterest board that I made showing all of Ann's designs in color and historical photos from her lifetime. For anyone reading the black and white version, they should go to that site to view the photos in color. Also available on Kindle.

Below are the two full book covers, front and back. See what you think. Would love to hear from you about Ann and this project.

The Kindle edition is

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

WOW! At God's Mercy captured me within three pages...

                                             At God's Mercy by L.L. Fine. 

I had never heard of this author before ordering a sample for my Kindle. The moment I finished reading the sample, I ordered the book and continued my impassioned reading. I love it when I am drawn in immediately and that does not happen often. At God's Mercy had me immediately.

The author is a man. I mention this because I believe a female author would have embellished actions and feeling while Mr. Fine cuts to the core of the matter. He presents events, feelings, and actions with a rapid fire simplicity. It moves the story along quickly and efficiently. I didn't miss the flowery embellishments.

The book's editor, Julie Phelps, put it like this.  "This exceptionally well-devised book is immediately engaging and absorbing, introducing a heart-breaking mystery within the first few sentences. The story of At God's Mercy is all the more disturbing because there is a certain plausibility about it - who's to say such things didn't happen in war-torn Europe? Some of the events in this novel - Helena's story, as well as that of Kristzha - moved me to tears, something even real life can't usually achieve..."

The first mystery: twin boys are abandoned by their mother in Poland at the end of WWII. The twins are rescued and end up in the United States where they are adopted by different families. They grow up geographically close to each other, but with no knowledge that they have a twin just across town.

Within the first few pages they learn of this and immediate meet. It was a startling meeting...for both brothers. The are 52 years old and one is a Jewish Rabbi and the other a Catholic Priest.  Oh, my. So many ways this story could proceed. I love the avenue the author chose, and it was that choice that led to the meat of the story, the adventure, the conflicts and the answers to questions.

Again from the editor..."Many sharp contrasts are drawn between characters, events and behaviours. Strong emotions govern the events and deeds while prejudice presents itself in many forms, all the while tempered with kindness and love.  The amazingly strong and well-drawn characters are human and have very human flaws, making them both credible and vulnerable."

Even though there are construction flaws, transitions are sometimes missing and as are words to help clarify events for the reader, there are still many beautifully constructed thoughts and ideas. I highly recommend this book. It was a rare find for me. Thank you Mr. Fine.

I purchased my ebook online and have been recommending it since the moment I closed the back cover.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Turn of the Tide by Margaret Skea takes us inside a Scottish feud.

Disclaimer: I am of Scottish heritage...the Morrisons, Dockery's, and gasp...Montgomeries! But not those Montgomeries. At least I don't think we are, but who knows? Wouldn't be the worse thing in the world, now would it?

Okay, now that I have that off my chest, on to Margaret's book.  I read this book for background before reading her new novel A House Divided, which I still have not read, but will.

Based on historical fact and long rivalries, this book demands our full attention or else we will miss something important to the story or to the development of the characters. This is not a quick summer beach read. From the bloody opening massacre through continuing battles to the final scene, this is a book to stew over, to think and rethink about what we have read..

It is 16th Century Scotland. Rivalries abound and none fiercer than the age old one between the Montgomeries and the Cunninghams both real, both deeply involved in their mutual rivalry. 

Although the King wants peace, it does not come just because he demands it. The feud has been going on for so long that each side still holds hatred and suspicions of the other side. Finally, though, there is a semblance of accord, not peace necessarily, but accord.  

Infused with all of this chaotic action there is, of course, the home front. Wives, children, other family and friends who need to be cared for, taught, appeased, and generally looked after. It is a big undertaking for lairds and lords at war and ladies and lasses at home, but I found the characters believable and some were even likeable! I think most readers will become engrossed in the Kate and Munro story.

Obviously Margaret did her research well. I can just imagine her being immersed in the people, the time period and the battles for a long period of time. The use of names and the dialect seem very authentic, but they do take some getting use to. From her well informed descriptions of everyday life, women, and family I think I gained an insight into my Scottish relatives. From fight scenes to city scenes to the Scottish highlands, Margaret uses figurative language to paint verbal pictures for us, making both the beautifiul and the ugly come alive.

One word of caution for readers:  if at first you are confused and find the characters and the story a little hard to understand, don't worry and don't give up. You will soon develop an understanding of the intricacies of the rivalries and of the characters. Then you will enjoy a well-written, well-researched, and well-told tale.

I received an ebook copy of the book as a gift. That did not influence my review. Check it out online and in major outlets. 

Monday, August 1, 2016

Female French Resistance Fighters... The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

From the book's blurb:
"FRANCE, 1939

In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France...but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When France is overrun, Vianne is forced to take an enemy into her house, and suddenly her every move is watched; her life and her child’s life is at constant risk. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates around her, she must make one terrible choice after another.

Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets the compelling and mysterious Gäetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can...completely. When he betrays her, Isabelle races headlong into danger and joins the Resistance, never looking back or giving a thought to the real--and deadly--consequences.

The Nightingale tells the stories of two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals, passion and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path toward survival, love, and freedom in German-occupied, war-torn France--a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women." 

My review: 
Ms. Hannah is an excellent storyteller. She often uses cliches, but I don't mind. I think that there are times when a cliche is the most succinct way to say something. Additionally, Ms. Hannah can evoke feelings and events through beautiful prose. For example, when showing, not telling, us of the change in the quick-to-act, slow-to-think Isabelle, Ms. Hannah writes

"She let fear give her a little shake and she almost gave in to it. Then she thought about the swastikas that flew from the Eiffel Tower and Vianne living with the enemy and Antoine lost in some prisoner of war camp. And Edith Cavell. Certainly she had been afraid sometimes, too; Isabelle would not let fear stand in her way.”

The image of swastikas flying from the Eiffel Tower was powerful. I felt the sight would have spurred to action even the most calloused among the French. The acknowledgement of fear, yet the ability to  triumph over it, is a universally desired trait.  Many of us who read historical fiction often ask ourselves, 'how would I have reacted.'  Both sisters, although taking different avenues to do it, showed a remarkable ability to overcome their fear and help their community and their country.

Now, to my dissatisfaction with the book.  When reading historical fiction I always have an expectation of notes from the author at the end of the work distinguishing fact from fiction in his/her work. I feel cheated if I cannot connect to real people, places, and events through the author's notes on their research findings. Thus, when I finished Nightingale, I felt cheated. It was apparent that Ms. Hannah had done her research, but there were no words from the author on any of the women she researched, the places she visited, or the feelings she developed for her subject

I missed all that, so I did some research of my own. I learned that women only made up 15-20% of the French Resistance movement. In other European countries the women represented a much higher percent of the resistance. Still, there are some great stories to be found about the French women and their part in the resistance. I"m sure Ms. Hannah read many of these stories and plowed through many historical accounts. I just wish she had shared her research with us (me).

In 2009, one lady who served in the French Resistance celebrated her 104th birthday. Read her story, and others like it for yourself.
The 104-year-old holds up the concentration camp uniform she was forced to wear

Mrs Peel holds up the concentration camp uniform she had to wear after she was captured. She spent time in two such camps and miraculously survived a firing squad

Read more:
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Would I recommend the book to those who like WWII historical fiction. Yes, of course, but read it for yourself and see what your think.  Available at all major outlets and online. I bought mine on sale, online.