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Sunday, June 25, 2017

The mind forgets, but the heart never does...Before We Were Yours

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate is a beautifully written book about an ugly subject. It is fiction built around factual events and places. It gets in your mind and stays there long after you close the final chapter.

I loved it! So much so that I read it twice in two weeks. It's that good.

The book has many layers and themes, many truths to be uncovered, and many lessons to be learned. All beautifully presented.

From the book's blurb:  Two families, generations apart, are forever changed by a heartbreaking injustice in this poignant novel, inspired by a true story, for readers of Orphan Train and The Nightingale.

Memphis, 1939. Twelve-year-old Rill Foss and her four younger siblings live a magical life aboard their family’s Mississippi River shantyboat. But when their father must rush their mother to the hospital one stormy night, Rill is left in charge—until strangers arrive in force. Wrenched from all that is familiar and thrown into a Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage, the Foss children are assured that they will soon be returned to their parents—but they quickly realize that the truth is much darker. At the mercy of the facility’s cruel director, Rill fights to keep her sisters and brother together—in a world of danger and uncertainty.

Aiken, South Carolina, present day. Born into wealth and privilege, Avery Stafford seems to have it all: a successful career as a federal prosecutor, a handsome fiancĂ©, and a lavish wedding on the horizon. But when Avery returns home to help her father weather a health crisis, a chance encounter leaves her with uncomfortable questions—and compels her to take a journey through her family's long-hidden history, on a path that will ultimately lead either to devastation . . . or redemption."

First, fact from fiction...the characters of the children are fictional, but based upon the recollections of numerous children who lived the fact. They show us the innocence of youth.

The modern day characters are fiction, but the main adult character, Georgia Tann, the baby broker, is real. She shows us the ugliest side of humanity for the novel is based on the notorious real-life scandal of Mrs.Tann, director of a Memphis-based adoption organization who kidnapped poor children and sold them to wealthy families. This was accomplished under the guise of charity and accomplished through the Tennessee Children's Home Society in Memphis.

Our young characters, and later as the elderly adults they become, are well drawn, thoroughly believable, and thoroughly touching. First there's Rill, a river-rat with spunk, a female Huckleberry Finn. There are then her three sisters and a brother. Their stories drive the novel and expose the cruelty of Georgia Tann as well as the acceptance of her 'work' by society.

Then, as adults, we meet Rill and her sisters again. We hear their stories of mid-life, but it is the living of the elderly years of two of them, that touches our hearts, and brings the story full circle. It is through them that we poignantly learn such truths as : "You need not be born into a family to be loved by one," "The music of old age is difficult to hear when it's playing for someone you love," and finally as Hootsie says, "What the mind don't 'member, the heart still know. Love, the strongest thang of all. Stronger than all the rest." 

One beautifully written passage has stayed with me: "Life is not unlike cinema. Each scene has its own music and the music is created for the scene, woven to it in ways we do not understand. No matter how much we may love the melody of a bygone day...we must dance within the music of today."

I found the story engaging, deeply touching, and deeply moving. Some readers will find the story difficult to read at certain points. Still it needs, it deserves, to be read.

I received an ereader preview copy from NetGalley and then won a hardback copy through a Talbots summer reading program. I am thrilled to have that copy to add to my bookcase and to share with my family. The book is available at all major outlets and online.

The history behind the story. Here's a brief except from the New York Times Post of June 17, 2017. Click the link below to read the entire article, complete with photos.

This woman stole children from the poor to give to the rich:

Babies were snatched off the streets by strangers in passing cars. Or taken from day-care centers or church basements where they played. Or stolen from hospitals, right after birth, passed from doctor to nurse to a uniformed “social worker” — before vanishing in an instant.
Some were dropped into dismal orphanages; others were sent to a new family, their identities wiped, no questions asked. Most would never see their birth parents again.
While it sounds like something out of Dickens or the Brothers Grimm, this happened in the United States in the 20th century. Thousands of times.

She was the mastermind behind a black market for white babies.
It was the dark handiwork of the Memphis branch of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, a supposedly charitable organization, led by a woman named Georgia Tann.

Tann was a pied piper without scruple; she was the mastermind behind a black market for white babies (especially blond, blue-eyed ones) that terrorized poor Southern families for almost three decades. It’s estimated that over 5,000 children were stolen by Tann and the society between 1924 and 1950 and that some 500 died at the society’s hands as a result of poor care, disease and, it is suspected, abuse.
Particularly vulnerable were newborns. In 1945 alone, as many as 50 children perished in a dysentery outbreak. The precise figure, like so many terrible details about the society, is not known.
Tann had various means of procuring babies and children for her wealthy customers. She bribed nurses and doctors in birthing wards, who would then tell new parents that their babies had been stillborn.

It’s estimated that over 5,000 children were stolen by Tann

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Grand Junction, Colorado and The House on Seventh Street

The House on Seventh Street by Karen Vorbeck Williams

I read this book because of the setting...Grand Junction, Colorado, one of my favorite places. I had just returned from a week's stay in a vacation house on the corner of Sixth and Chipeta Streets in Grand Junction,  just one block from Seventh Street, so was interested from that perspective. Also, I was familiar with the lovely Seventh Street homes because thirty years ago I drove past them every day on my way to work. Thus, my interest in this book was born.

From the book's blurb:
"When Winna returns to settle her father’s estate, she knows she’s heading into an emotional maelstrom. Estrangement, nostalgia, old wounds, and a rekindled love pull her in every direction. Then she finds a diamond ring hidden among her childhood marbles – and suddenly nothing in that grand old Edwardian house is what it seems. She would do well to let it all go to the estate sale and move on. As she delves deeper into her family’s past, Winna makes a dangerous discovery: the house on Seventh Street is hiding an 80-year-old secret – and someone is desperate to keep things buried."

The book wasn't earth shattering, attitude changing, or even historically enlightening. It was plain and simple a multigenerational mystery. Our protagonist returns to the house after inheriting it from her father and wondering why her sister was disinherited. The questions multiply: Was Grandfather who she thought he was? Did he kill someone? If not, did someone in her family commit murder? What about Grandmother? Wasn't she always a staid, be careful, follow the rules kind of person? Finally, who is now trying to kill our main character?

Enter the sister, a high school sweetheart, a hunky handyman, and the desert/mountain landscape surrounding Grand Junction. All come together for a lightweight, but enjoyable who done it.

The author, Karen Vorbeck Williams,  lived in Grand Juncton for part of her youth, so the descriptions of the town, the surrounding scenery, and Colorado National Monument ring true.
Available on Amazon.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Is "The Woman on the Orient Express" Agatha Christie?

The Woman on the Orient Express by Lindsay Jayne Ashford

The woman is, of course, Agatha Christie in disguise, trying to escape from situations in life that overwhelm her. Two other women are traveling the same train and both have problems of their own.  After the three meet and get to know each other, her disguise is uncovered and the adventure begins.

From the book's blurb: "Agatha isn’t the only passenger on board with secrets. Her cabin mate Katharine Keeling’s first marriage ended in tragedy, propelling her toward a second relationship mired in deceit. Nancy Nelson—newly married but carrying another man’s child—is desperate to conceal the pregnancy and teeters on the brink of utter despair. Each woman hides her past from the others, ferociously guarding her secrets. But as the train bound for the Middle East speeds down the track, the parallel courses of their lives shift to intersect—with lasting repercussions."

This is an interesting book with settings most of us will never visit. Agatha Christy followers will know that Agatha Christie did actually disappear for a time leaving a world of questions and speculations behind her.  Her followers will probably read this novel and come away with mixed feelings. I know I did, but still it was an enjoyable read for a lazy weekend.

The book is available at all major book retailers and online.