Saturday, July 6, 2019

Historical Fiction Book Review: Of Bitter Herbs and Sweet Confections by Susan Shalev

Of Bitter Herbs and Sweet Confections by Susan Shalev
Self-Published December 2018
198 pages
Genre: Biographical Historical Fiction

Reviewers Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion. 

Of Bitter Herbs and Sweet Confections is a wonderfully written book. I was immediately pulled into the story of Tanya and her family. The year 1939, ten-year-old Tanya has no concerns other than hanging with her friends and members of successful Jewish family. Her father makes sweets, her grandfather runs a successful bakery. Life is good, and then it’s not. War rolls through Poland, flattening everything in sight. Tanya’s father wisely decides to flee, leaving behind his company and their beautiful apartment. With little more than the clothes on their back they head east into Russian. 

This is a tale of survival, and resilience under dire circumstances. Riding out the war is Siberia is no picnic as the family moves from town to town, seeking safety.  Even with peace comes more challenges, as Tanya and her family struggle to regain some semblance of their former lives. 

Written in first person, this narrative is fast-paced and intimate. Although fiction the author based the story is based on the real-life experiences of a young girl retold as a grown woman. The characters are well drawn and leap from the pages. Tanya was a delight, and I found myself cheering for her from start to finish. 

Congratulations to Susan Shalev on this amazing novel. 

I recommend this book to anyone with an interest in Jewish history, history of WWII, the holocaust, and historical fiction. 

I would rate this book 4 ½ stars 

You may also be interested in the following book:

Fake Papers by Aaron Rocket Another true story of a young Jewish woman who survives the holocaust.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Historical Book Review: Fake Papers Survival Lessons from Grandma's Escape by Aaron Rockett

Fake Papers Survival Lessons from Grandma's Escape by Aaron Rockett
Genre: Biography
Published: self published in May 2019
Pages: 278
Available on Amazon

Reviewer note: I was given a copy of this book to read and review. The opinions are my own. If you are interested in more information or in purchasing this book, click on the book cover which will take you to the book on Amazon. 

Fake Papers, by filmmaker Aaron Rockett, is the biography of his Jewish Grandmother, Letty Schmidt. Aaron's mother died when he was a young child, his grandmother Letty tells him the story of her escape from the Nazis during World War II. Many years later, Aaron's work in Afghanistan causes him to confronts his feelings about his family and Jewish heritage; he seeks the full history from his grandmother in her waning days. 

The Plot: Although technically a biography, this book reads more like a work of fiction. I had to keep reminding myself that the characters were real. This is not a criticism, in fact the book really pulled me in, unlike some dry biographies I've read. 

The story of Letty Schmidt, a Polish Jew, begins in Antwerp where her family has fled. With an absent father, and an uncertain mother, Letty and her sisters, Suzy and Annie, are thrust into the role of decision makers. Staying one step ahead of the Germans, Letty and her family flee from one precarious town to another. Hungry and desperate the family ties begin to dissolve as survival becomes all consuming.  

Letty's story is one of love, trust, betrayal and fear. The reader is taken on a harrowing journey as a young girl, forced to fend from herself in a cruel adult world, grows up too soon. As a dying old woman she learns to face and accept the scars that have shaped her life and relationships. She survived the war but, survival always comes with at a price.  

The Characters: Letty and her sisters are well drawn, each with a distinct personality. Her mother is especially vivid, her pain and fear was palpable. The photos added to the story but I felt like they were icing on the cake. 

The History: The author has a firm grasp on the history of the day and guides his readers through the events of the war that impacted Letty and her family. I found the reprehensible actions of the French Vichy Government to of particular interest. Family photos complement the story, especially of Letty in a Jewish workers camp. 

The writing: The prose is simple and straightforward. There are some minor issues that might annoy grammar divas, but overall the pace and style were fine. I enjoyed the quirky chapter titles and discovering what they meant. 

Conclusion and recommendations: I enjoyed reading Letty's story. I think it's very important to record the lives of our ancestors not only for posterity but for the lessons learned from them. I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in history, especially stories of the Jewish people in Europe during WWII. For those who have a special interest in the recording of family history, I think this book offers and excellent example. 

I rate this book 4 Stars

My Ratings: 

1  Star: Not good at all, do not read!

2  Stars: Read only as a last resort, no other books available

3 Stars: Good, enjoyed it, will recommend with reservations

4 Stars: Really good, read this book!

5 Stars: So good, I might read it again sometime! Highly recommend

Sunday, June 9, 2019

The Wild Wild East: Native Americans and English Settlers Battle for New Hampshire and Maine

I am currently researching the violent clashes between Native Americans and the English settlers who rapidly expanded into tribal lands and threatened their very existence. Growing up in the pre-computer age, I can remember playing 'Cowboys and Indians'. John Wayne was a hero and Custer's Last Stand was bravery personified. The West, during much of the 19 century was the battlefield and the settlers the ultimate winner of the spoils of war.  But what of those early days? What about the East?

In 1675 the Native Americans along the North East coast banded together under the leadership of a Wampanoag man named Metacom in his native language but known as King Philip to the Colonist. This war, King Philip's War, was a full-out assault on the colonists in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut. Together with warriors from  Nipmuck, Pocumtuck and Narraganset tribes brought death and destruction to the Colonist,  their combined efforts all but drove the colonist into the sea. But this was also a war between Native Americans. The Mohegans and the Mohawks of New York, allied themselves with the English and fought against Metacom and his coalition.  For the better part of 14 months, Metacom and his warriors ravaged New England. He was captured and killed in August of 1676 and the fight gradually dwindled until the signing of a peace treaty in Casco, Maine in 1678.

Peace did not last long. In 1689 King William of England declared war on France. As battles waged on the Continent, simmering tensions in the Colonies flared. Canada was, at that time, a French territory. The Governor, Louis de Buade, Comte de Frontenac, devised a three prong plan of attack against the Colonies of New York, New Hampshire and Massachusetts (Maine was part of Massachusetts). In the winter of 1690 a force attacked the town of Schenectady in New York, a second attacked Salmon Falls in New Hampshire and the third destroyed Fort Loyal in Maine. The loss of the Fort, near present day Portland, emptied the frontier. 

Attacks continued for the next few years. Here is a list of some of the most noteworthy attacks:

23 January 1689 Abenaki's raid Saco, Maine
27 June 1689 Cocheco Falls. 23 killed 29 captured Benjamin Heard's daughter taken to Canada
3 August 1689 attack on Fort Charles at Pemequid, Maine
August 1689 attack on garrison house in Oyster River 18k
5-6 Sept. 1689 Attack at New Dartmouth, Maine

9 Feb 1690 Attack at Schenectady 60k 27c, town destroyed
18 March 1690 Attack at Salmon Falls
May 1690 Attack on Casco Bay, 100k
May 1690 Attack on Saco, Maine
May 1690 Attack on Fox Point
4 July 1690 attack on Lamprey River Settlements 7k
6 July 1690 battle at Wheelwright Pond (Colonist pursed attackers) 15k
7 July 1690 attack on Amesbury, Massachusetts Philip Rowell killed

25 January 1691 Attack on York, Maine 48k 73c
28 September 1691 Attack on Sandy Beach 21k John and Remembrance Ault Rand killed 
9 June 1691Cape Neddick, Maine attacked
9 June 1691 Wells, Maine attacked

10 June 1692 Wells, Maine attacked

18 July 1694 attack on Oyster River, 100k John Ault (father of Remembrance) killed 
27 July 1694 attack on Groton, Massachusetts 22k 13c William Sanderson killed

This is the majority of the larger attacks. The numbers may not seem significant but the population of these settlements was small, and so impact of losing males of working age had a huge effect on the economy and the ability of these people to survive. That these people survived at all is testament to their tenacity. King William's War ended 1697 but flared again in 1702 with Queen Anne's War. 

For many Americans this is dry dusty information, naught but boring dates without meaning. But, each of the highlighted attacks is one in which one or more of my direct ancestors and or their family were killed or captured. If your family, whether they were of English descent or Native American, lived in New England in the 17th - 18th century it is almost certain that they were also affected by these wars. If nothing else the mental toll must have been enormous. In fact, Mercy Lewis, one of the Salem Witchcraft accusers fled the attack on Casco Bay in 1689, where her parents were both killed, leaving her an orphan and forced to work as a servant. It has been suggested that the psychological damaged inflicted by the war might have played a part in her role as an accuser. 

Garrison House Dover, NH
In these days of political correctness and technology, I am sure that no child today plays 'Cowboys and Indians' as we did. But I can't help but think that long before there were cowboys, there were Colonists who fought, right or wrong, the Indians. 

For a great book on King Philip's War I highly recommend The Name of War  by Jill Lepore.

For a history of the Oyster River attack from a Native American prospective see this fantastic website. Ne-Do-Ba .

Monday, May 27, 2019

Book Review: One Picture Two Journeys by Tommy Gibbs; Prepare For An Epic Ride

Book Review: One Picture Two Journeys by Tommy Gibbs
Published April 2019 by Tacky Rooster
180 pages
Available on
Genre: Fiction

Reviewers note: I was given a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Can I say, Wow! What a fantastic book. From the first page to the last Tommy Gibbs pulls you in and takes you along for a wild ride. Part travelogue, part mystery, part journey of discovery, this book, set in 1990 follows a motorcycle loving young college student determined to find the identity of a long lost father. From the deserts of Arizona to the swamps of Louisiana we ride along, wingman to Rand Garrett. Gibbs descriptions bring to life the people and places we encounter in small towns across America and the joy that only a full tank of gas and an open road can bring. Armed with an old photo, taken before Rand’s birth, and led by an unseen force, Rand retraces the path of a father on a trek that culminates in a tiny Cajun town near the Atchafalaya Swamp. Through a dramatic series of events, Rand discovers the healing powers of friendship and forgiveness and longed for answers that unlock the past.

The characters are well drawn and spring from the pages. From the roadside clerks to bar room owners they will charm you, make you laugh, make you smile and some will break your heart. Rand is kind, observant, full of spirit, an old soul in a young body with a keen inquisitive mind.

The writing is crisp, well paced, and littered with well placed details that add to the story. When describing the landscape Gibbs waxes lyrical, almost poetic, about the amazing and diverse American countryside.

Congratulations to Tommy Gibbs on this wonderful book. I highly recommend it to both men and women, fans of Americana, the movie Easy Rider, and generally well written fiction.

My rating: 5+ stars

If you are interested in purchasing this book, click on the cover and it will take you to Amazon.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

HIstorical Book Review: Julia Mistress of Longwood by Linda Metcalf

Reviewers note: I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. 

This book, written in the format of a journal, tells us the story of Julia Williams Nutt. Julia shares with us the highs, the lows, the good and the bad of her life in Antebellum Mississippi before, during and after the American Civil War. Like other reviewers I found the writing enchanting and although sorely tempted, I did not read it all in one go. Instead I  wanted to savor each journal entry, image her in her lovely magenta gown or riding alone through Union troops to petition General U.S. Grant. 

 I was amazed by the incredible life she led; her pampered upbringing, the utter joy she finds in her family, and her brave reaction  to all that befell her and her family. I felt like I acquired a new friend by the end of the book. 

I highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in historical fiction, you will utterly lose yourself in the world of the Deep South. Although not a romance novel there is a wonderful love story at the heart of the book, so I think anyone who loves great, well written historical romances will definitely appreciate this novel. 

Congratulations to Linda Metcalf on a wonderful book, meticulously researched, flawlessly written.  Five Plus Stars from me!

Friday, May 17, 2019

Book Review: The King's Furies by Stephanie Churchill

The King’s Furies by Stephanie Churchill
Crowns of Destiny, Book 3
341 pages

The King’s Furies by Stephanie Churchill

Reviewer’s note: I was given an ARC of the book in exchange for my honest opinion. 

The King’s Furies is a historical fantasy, the setting of which resembles medieval Europe. The book is the third in a series. I have not read the first two. The book is told in both first person, Casmir-the king, and in third person by various other characters, including Queen Irisa and her sister Kassia, the main characters of the first two books. 

The Plot: Without giving anything away, the book is centered on the king, Casmir, who has recently come to the throne of a kingdom once ruled by the father he hated. He is determined not to follow in his footsteps as king, husband or parent. Although the setting is medieval, it is not our medieval. The king’s ideals are much more modern and progressive. An event occurs early in the plot which sets Casmir on a path which challenges his principles, abilities and beliefs. I didn’t feel his actions were all that outrageous or merited the reactions they received. 

It seemed as if the first half of the book was mostly dialogue. There was little actual action but lots of talking. Characters would go off and do things, come back and talk about them. There is also a great deal of back story, filling in details from the first two books. There are several chapters that take place in the near to distant past. I almost felt as if I read a mini version of  book one and two, contained inside the pages of the third. 

Casmir spends a great deal of time in self reflection. It was fine for a while, but I found it tedious by the end of the book. One character, Helene, was introduced in chapter three. She does not appear again until chapter 34. I found this confusing, wondering who she was and why the huge gap in her appearance. I went back to chapter 3 several times to try to see if I had missed something. 

It’s not until the second half of the book, when the storyline is picked up by Jack, that the action kicks up a notch. I found this odd as he was a secondary character. There is also a significant amount of backstory from previous books but at least someone is doing something other than talking. The final chapters are back to the angsty king and his personal struggles. The resolution of the plot was practically a nonevent. 

The Characters: I have to admit I didn’t particularly care for Casmir. I found him somewhat whiny. He seemed out of place; out of time. The Queen, Irisa, was better, but she really did nothing in this book but talk. I wanted her to do something, anything. Her sister Kassia was an improvement, but then she too fell into the angsty female trap. Jack seems to have been the only one with any confidence or cojones. 

The Writing: I thought the writing was good. I sometimes found her word order and syntax to be off-putting. For instance, “He peeked at them from hiding and found nothing amiss.” I dislike having to reread sentences to try to understand what the author means, it breaks my concentration and pulls me out of the story. I did enjoy the fact that the author used her own words, I assume invented, and her use of original names, etc. Some descriptions were overly wordy and unnecessary to the plot. 

Overall: I thought it was better than good, but not a page turner. I had no trouble putting it down. I think I might have enjoyed it more if I had read at least one of the first two books and felt a stronger bond with the characters. I think the emphasis on emotions over action put me off. Blame it on Game of Thrones, I was expecting a high action period drama and got a medieval Hallmark Channel movie instead. I think the target audience for this book is women who love to talk about their feelings. Not sure if men would like it. Recommend it for women who like historical romance. I would give this book 3 1/2 stars, I don’t have that option, so I giving it 4 stars on Amazon and Goodreads. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Dover, New Hampshire, Hatevil Nutter and the Quaker Problem of 1662

What do you think of  when you read the words, 'religious radical'? A few images spring to my mind. A fiery preacher raining hell and damnation on his flock, pointing a finger at those who do not follow his theology, of which he is certain is the only way to salvation. Most religions have some variation of radicalism. I don't have to give you a list, you can create your own. One religious denomination which would not make my personal list would be the Quakers. I live in a town founded by Quakers. They seem to be very nice people, they are known for their peacefulness. A well known early Quaker, Margaret Fell, wrote to King Charles II:
"We are a people that follow after those things that make for peace, love, and unity; it is our desire that others' feet may walk in the same, and do deny and bear our testimony against all strife, and wars, and contentions that come from the lusts that war in the members, that war against the soul, which we wait for and watch for in all people, and love and desire the good of all."
Today, they are known for their pacifism and anti-war stance, they would appear to the the antithesis of radicalism. And yet, their arrival in New England in the 1650s and 1660s was regarding as something akin to a visit from the devil himself with all his plagues in tow.  The Massachusetts General Court issued an indict in October 1656 that said:

"Whereas there is a cursed sect of heretics recently risen up in the world, which are commonly called Quakers, who take it upon them to be immediately sent from God, and infallibly assisted by the spirit to speak and write blasphemous opinions, despising government, and the order of God in church and Commonwealth, speaking evil of dignities, reproaching and reviling magistrates and ministers, seeking to turn people from their faith and gain proselytes to their pernicious ways..." 
What followed this lengthy proclamation was a list of punishments for those who provided transportation to Quakers into the Colony, gave aid or shelter to Quakers, were found to have Quaker books or pamphlets or was found to be a Quaker.  

The first Quakers to arrive in Massachusetts were two women, Mary Fisher and Ann Austin, who traveled to Boston from Barbados. They were taken into custody, their papers burned, their bodies searched for witch marks. After a stint in prison they were sent back to Barbados. Many early Quakers shared their fate, imprisonment, whipping then banishment. But the Quakers were a persistent bunch and by 1658 the Massachusetts General Court, in order to deter further arrivals, adopted the death penalty for returning Quakers. In 1659 three people, two men and one woman, Ann Dyer, were hung in Boston. More followed their fate.

In 1662 the Quaker problem came to a head in Dover. The presence of three Quaker women did not sit well with some of the leading males of the town including Hatevil Nutter. Nutter was an elder of the church, served as a selectman, town moderator and justice of the peace. Hatevil crafted a petition, signed by his neighbors, and sent to the General Court craving assistance with the Quakers. The General Court's answer:
" is ordered that Captain Richard Walderne shall and hereby is empowered to act in the execution of the laws of this jurisdiction against all criminal offenders within the said town of Dover, as any one magistrate may do until this court should take further order."
The further order decreed:
To the constables of Dover, Hampton, Salisbury, Newbury, Rowley, Ipswich, Windham, Lynn, Boston, Roxbury, Dedham, and until these Quaker Vagabonds are out of this jurisdiction You and every one of your are required in the King's Majesty's name to take these Vagabond Quakers, Anna Coleman, Mary Tompkins, and Alice Ambrose, and make them fast to the cart's tail, and drawing the cart through your several towns, to whip them upon their naked backs, not exceeding ten stripes apiece, on each of them in each town, and so convey them from Constable to Constable till they are out of this jurisdiction, as you will answer it at your peril, and this shall be your warrant." (Provincial Papers, I:243)

Constables, brothers John and Thomas Roberts, arrested the three women. They were brought to the meeting house on High Street on Dover Neck. Deputy Walderne had the women stripped to the waist, and according to Sewell's History of the Quakers, had the women 'cruelly whipped while the Priest stood and looked and laughed. They were then sent to Hampton, the next stage of their journey to Boston. Accompanying the women was Doctor Walter Barefoot, a resident of Dover Neck. Perhaps he went to attend to the women's medical needs. In Hampton the women received their lashing and were sent on their way.

In Salisbury, they encountered a merciful reception. Major Robert Pike and Dr. Walter Barefoot concocted a plan. A boat was hired that carried the women to the home of Major Nicholas Shapleigh who lived in Kittery, Maine, just across the river from Dover Neck. There they received treatment for their wounds and were treated with hospitality.

The women remained in the area but damped down the ardor of their preaching. In time, the persecution of Quakers ceased and approximately one-third of the population of Dover called themselves Friends. It would seem then, it was the Quakers, not the Puritans who fought for religious liberty, the freedom to worship as they saw fit. King Charles II gave the Quakers the right to worship as they saw fit.

Hatevil Nutter has borne the brunt of the blame for the whipping and persecution of these women in New Hampshire. I'm not sure he deserves our censure. Hatevil was a product of his time. A staunch believer who saw chaos and strife in those who chose to go their own way; individualism is a tenant of Quaker belief. He sought to maintain order and regiment in a world very different from ours. I doubt I'd like him or him me, but I cannot hold him to the standards of this day, even as I despise his actions and those of my ancestors who lived alongside him. I'm sure they were they standing at the meetinghouse gaping at the Quaker women as they were cruelly whipped. I can only hope they cringed at the scene before them and felt some measure of pity for those poor souls.

Be on the lookout for my next book: Pine Tree House, coming in 2020.

You can purchase a genealogy of Hatevil Nutter on Amazon. 
Beware it's $100.00, here's a link:

Essential Genealogy Book Review: New Englanders in the 1600s by Martin E. Hollick

Genealogy book review: New Englanders in the 1600s, A guide to Genealogical Research Published Between 1980 and 2010. By Martin L. Hollick

Information from Amazon:
Publisher: New England Historic Genealogical Society (2010)
ISBN-10: 0880822759
ISBN-13: 978-0880822756
Package Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.8 x 0.7 inches
Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars   2 customer reviews
Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,916,349 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

I am doing research for my new book which will be set in the 1600s in New Hampshire. Many of the characters in my book will be real people, some ancestors others their friends, neighbors, and possibly their enemies. Where do I turn to find the latest genealogy on these folks? Martin E. Hollick's New Englanders in the 1600s

What it is:
This book is a compendium of known New England immigrants, born prior to 1700, who are mentioned in scholarly works published between the years 1980 and 2010. Each entry provides the name of the immigrant, mostly men, birth and death if known and the location where they resided. This is followed by a reference to every publication which mentions their name. This is so important. How many of us have found incorrect, out of date information from old genealogy's published as long ago as the 1800s. Now don't get me wrong, those genealogist of old did an amazing job and produced high quality work which stands today. But, there are some dubious works out there, some innocent mistakes, some deliberate. The internet has fueled many genealogy disasters by propagating old, false information. Folks, surfing the web find these old book, not available online for free and copy out bad genealogy. Many of the sources used by Hollick require a subscription to genealogical societies such as the New England Historic Genealogical Society. This paywall can be a barrier for some who cannot afford the price. 

Anyone who pursues genealogy with family ties in early New England should get a copy of this book. I ordered mine from American Ancestors, the website for the New England Historic Genealogical Society. As a member, I got a discount. 

Recommendations: I have many early ancestors who immigrated to New England during the Great Migration. This book is great for me. If you have only one or two Great Migration ancestors you may not want to spend the money on this book. If you are like me, I highly recommend it. 

Sunday, May 12, 2019

On The Trail of the American Civil War in Mississippi and Tennessee

Whew! Just back from weeks driving vacation tour of Civil War sites in Mississippi and Tennessee. The weather cooperated for the most part, not too hot, nice and sunny most days, one day of rain. We have watched a fair number of Civil War documentaries so I was excited to see some of the actual places related to the war. 

Day was a long drive to the town of Vicksburg, Mississippi. It's not much of a town, in fact what we saw of it was rather depressing. We  checked into a B&B called the Cedar Grove Mansion Inn and Restaurant. (Alas, the restaurant was shuttered.) The guest rooms are spread out over several buildings on the remains of what was a large antebellum estate. The neighborhood is kinda dicey and I was a bit nervous, but they have 24 hour security. We stayed in the main house in a downstairs room. The house was build in 1840 for John Alexander Klein and his bride, Elizabeth Day, a cousin of William Tecumseh Sherman. During the Civil War the house was used as a hospital by the Union. There is a cannonball lodged in the wall of one of the rooms. 

As we were checking in, a rather angry German man was shouting at the receptionist, something to the effect that he had stayed in hundreds of great hotels in America. I'm guessing he was not adding Cedar Grove to his top ten list. It's not making mine either. The house, once beautiful, is in need of repair. A lot of repair. Many several millions in repair. The paint is peeling and the plaster cracked. The sidewalks outside are uneven and a trip hazard. I wouldn't stick my big toe in the pool. Our basement room was dark and gaudy. The thermostat was incredibly and inconveniently located upstairs in another part of the building. In the bathroom, we had a tub, no shower. We were served the exact same breakfast both mornings. Most of the guests were Europeans. The couple across from us, from the Netherlands, stared in horror at their bowl of grits. I bet they throw away a lot of grits in that place. There is no wi-fi in the rooms! You have to go outside or stand in  one of the ground floor rooms to access the Internet. I can live with the Internet but I was disappointed overall in the state of the place. 

For dinner our first night we ate at a great restaurant called 10 South. The place is on the 10th floor of a building with large windows on three sides. The views of the river and the historic downtown district of Vicksburg were great. The food was excellent as well. I had their Shrimp and Grits and they were perfect. See, you can make great grits. Our second night we had pizza in a place next door to 10 South called the Cottonwood Public House. They have their own brewery. It was good, I'd recommend it.  

Day two, following our less than stellar breakfast, we headed to the Vicksburg National Military Park. After watching a film in the visitors center we hit the trail, widows down, sunroof open, armed with a great map. I also recommend you download the app on Vicksburg from American Battlefield Trust. Do this before you leave home and download all the media. There are plaques and statues everywhere. You cannot possibly see them all in one day. Do not go on the tour without watching the film! The battlefield/siege area is well preserved, amazingly peaceful and empty of tourists. (Except the Germans from our B&B. The trail is marked with stops where you can get out and walk around. We took our time and spent several hours going through the park. It was superb, I really loved it. 

After lunch we drove back into Vicksburg. We stopped in at the Old Courthouse Museum. It was ok, nothing fantastic. We walked around a bit they drove down by the river to the Louisiana Overlook, great view of the river, but some shady folks hanging out there.

Day three, a shortish drive to Memphis, Tennessee. Home of Graceland, blues and bar-b-que on Beale Street. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express, right downtown. It was perfect. The day was pretty warm and we walked a block or two to Beale Street. It was not crowded and in the bright light of day is was rather tired and rundown looking. We had a great lunch at the Rum Boogie Cafe. We were the only customers. I guess Beale Street is like a vampire hangout, best viewed after dark. After lunch we visited the Cotton Museum. I know what you're thinking...Cotton Museum right, but hey it was pretty good and interesting. Since we had eaten late, we sat in the bar with a group of French people who had shipped their Ford Mustangs from France to Houston to tour the U.S. How cool is that. That evening, instead of returning to Beale Street we opted to attend a baseball game. The ballpark is right across the street from the Holiday Inn Express! The Redbirds are the triple A farm team for the St. Louis Cardinals. The beer was expensive, the hot dogs cheap. The Redbirds lost, but it was fun. 

Day four, Shiloh. We got an early start and drove to the Shiloh National Military Park. It's in the middle of nowhere, really absolute nowhere. Again download the app from American Battlefield Trust and watch the film in the visitor's center. It was another glorious day and we had the park to ourselves. The battlefield is immense, much of it wooded. The trails are well marked and the stops along the route well documented. More 110,000 men fought at this Battle, over 23,000 were killed or injured. I felt like every step I took was on sacred ground. When we walked around the site where General U.S. Grant had his headquarters, I could picture him standing in the very spot on which I stood. The National Cemetery is sobering and contains the remains of thousands of men, many unknown. It's a beautiful place with a dreadful past. Highly recommend. 

Although the battlefield is in Tennessee we stayed in the town of Corinth in Mississippi. Corinth, once called Cross City was and is the location where two important railroads cross. The Union needed to capture the town and the rail lines to control the West. The Confederates desperately need to stop them. The Battle of Shiloh was fought for control of the rail. 

We stayed two nights at a great B&B called The Generals' Quarters Inn. The house was built in 1870, just after the end of the war. The rooms are large and air, the bathroom had a claw-footed tub. Breakfast was great! It had wi-fi! I loved it. The house is in a lovely historic neighborhood in walking distance of downtown and restaurants. We ate dinner on night four at Smith, a cute little place just down the street from the B&B. The food was top notch. 

Day Five, Corinth. It was pouring rain when we hit the road. First stop the Corinth Interpretive Center, also part of the National Park Service. Once again, we had the entire place to ourselves. The siege and battle of Corinth are explained in depth, with lots of displays. We visited the Crossroads Museum to see the rail road crossing. It's a small local museum but fun to visit and the only way to see the crossing. We tried to visit the Contraband Camp, a free black camp, but because of the rain it was closed. After a quick lunch we did a walking tour of the historic homes of Corinth, including the house where Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnson made the fateful decision to launch an attack against General Grant's army of the Tennessee. The house is beautifully preserved and we had a personal tour by the curator. 

We had a nice day in Corinth, lots to see in this pretty Southern town. We walked to a restaurant called Pizza Grocery. All I will say is that it was terrible!

Day six, Fort Donelson. We left Corinth, well fed, on a grey rainy morning and drove to the small Tennessee town of Dover to visit Fort Donelson. The battlefield here is spread out across town but well marked. The views of the Cumberland River were fantastic. Highlights were the Dover Hotel where General Ulysses S. Grant demanded the unconditional surrender of the Confederate troops under the command of his friend and West Point alum General Simon Buckner. This win for the Union opened the door for Grant to attempt the taking of Corinth. The area around Dover is beautiful, both the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers come together to form a boaters dream landscape. There is not as much to see as Shiloh or Vicksburg but if you have the time, it's well worth the effort to effort. Sadly, there was no real hotel in the area so we spent the night in Kentucky, near Fort Campbell. This was the end of our adventure, save for the long drive home, but it was well worth the miles to see not only the  amazingly preserved battlefields so full of history, but also America itself, the land, the people the culture that makes America what it is.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Essential Genealogy Book Review: Evidence Explained by Elizabeth Shown Mills and Mastering Genealogical Proof by Thomas W. Jones

Several years ago I took an online course on Mastering the Genealogical Proof. We used the book by that name, Mastering Genealogical Proof as our text book. The author of the book is Dr. Thomas W. Jones, PhD. He is a noted genealogist and educator whose books focus on the methodology of genealogical research. The book teaches you how to recognize and evaluate sources for writing genealogical proofs. Each chapter is set up like a lesson with problem solving questions to help you understand the content. His book is for any researcher who wants to up their game and take their research to a higher level. I got a lot out of this book, the online class was an added bonus, working alongside other students raised the bar and made a tremendous impact on my research abilities. If you are looking to better understand sources, how to differentiate the quality of source types and fine tune your ability to write a proof, then I highly recommend this book.  

One of the things I learned how to do during this course was to write source citations. The book we used as our guide is Evidence Explained by Elizabeth Shown Mills. This book is the gold standard for source citation. Now writing citations is no easy thing, each type of evidence requires a different style of citation. With many sources no found online the citations become even more difficult. Elizabeth Shown Mills breaks down each type of evidence and givens ample examples of citations for any source you can imagine. 

One of the problems I had when I first started doing genealogy research was not being able to locate my sources once I'd moved on. Someone would write and say how do you know that, where did you find that? And I couldn't remember. That is where a well written citation comes into play. With an excellent citation you can always find your evidence. I highly recommend this book to every researcher who takes their work seriously. I personally bought the hardback edition. There are so many pages that I thought it might be difficult to find what I was looking for in a digital edition. 

Friday, April 26, 2019

Historical Fiction Book Review: Fog Coast Runaway by Linda B. Myers; A romp through the 1890s West Coast

Fog Coast Runaway by Linda B. Myers

Historical Fiction, 342 pages, published 6 April 2019 by MyComm One. 

Disclosure: I was given a copy of this book in exchange for my review. The opinions contained in their review are my own. 

The Plot in brief: Set in the 1890s West Coast. 13-year-old Adelia has a rough life with her neglectful father and abusive brother and when it reaches the breaking point, she runs. In the town of Seaside she finds a new life and a new beginning, but she can’t outrun trouble. Over the course of a year, Adelia cobbles together a makeshift family of misfits, loners and other like her on the run from their past. Adelia’s search for safety, love and happiness takes her from the Oregon Coast to an inland logging camp and back to riverside town of Astoria.

The Characters: Adelia is well drawn and a compelling main character. She captivated my attention from the start and I cheered her on through her adventures, her highs and her many lows. There are numerous other characters who fill the pages of this book, each a unique figure in Adelia’s life. I enjoyed the mix of nationalities, especially the Finns. It brought to life the melting pot that was the West Coast at the time.

The History: 1890s Oregon and California were rough and tumble places, very different from the East Coast at that time. The story felt well researched and authentic.

The Writing: Written in 3rd person POV, I enjoyed the pace of the novel, not to fast, not to slow. It has a steady progression.  The prose is good and well written and easy to understand. I enjoyed the inclusion of period songs and slang which added to the historic atmosphere.  I thought that some of the dialogue was too adult for 13 year Adelia, despite her maturity; I had a hard time picturing her speaking some of her lines.

Conclusion: I really enjoyed the story and the setting. I do have one caveat, without giving away the plot, some of Adelia’s actions made me very uncomfortable and in order to read the book I had to reset her age in my head. 

I would rate this book 4 stars out of 5 and recommend it to readers of historical fiction and those who enjoy coming of age stories. 

My Ratings: 

1  Star: Not good at all, do not read!

2  Stars: Read only as a last resort, no other books available

3 Stars: Good, enjoyed it, will recommend with reservations

4 Stars: Really good, read this book!

5 Stars: So good, I might read it again sometime! Highly recommend

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Historical Fiction Book Review: The Fiery Salamander by Will Robinson

Historical Book Review: The Fiery Salamander by Will Robinson. Independently published on 13 January 2019. 417 pages. Book 1 of Back Country Novels. I was given a copy of this book in exchange for a review. The opinions given in this review are mine alone. 

The Plot in Brief: 
Set in the year 1763 in the British Colony of Carolina.  This is the story of 14 year old James Kirkpatrick, his extended family and close-knit neighbors. Life is hard for these back-country Scots-Irish settlers who eke out a living on their remote farms. An Indian raid sets in motion a series of events which dictate the next four years of James' life. As his life unfolds, he is pushed, pulled, shaped and molded, by family, friends, life, death and of course love. 

The Characters: 
The author has done an excellent job fleshing out his characters, giving them distinct personalities and character traits. I felt I knew them all. Over the course of the book we see James evolve from a boy on the cusp of manhood to his maturity. His character is complex and multidimensional. Quite a few of the characters are Native Americans and I thought the author did a great job bring them to life and treated their plight with sensitivity and understanding.  I appreciate that the good guys are flawed and the bad guys can earn our sympathy. 

The History:
Although there are few obvious 'historical events' that occur in this book, the historical setting seems spot on. The setting, the people, the way they dressed, spoke and lived are detailed and appear to be very accurate. I did not see anything that was 'out of time'. As a history buff, I was interested in the upcountry system of justice and the 'Regulators', the vigilante group which formed to enforce the laws and keep the peace. As a descendant of Scots-Irish immigrants I was also glad to see them accurately portrayed. 

The Writing:
The book is written in first person-present tense. Present tense is not my favorite as it is very easy to screw up. However, the author does a fine job and I was soon comfortable with his style. The pace zips along in the beginning and again at the end. I felt it dragged at times in the middle, but never enough to put me off. So this leads me to the one thing that I didn't like; the author employs a great deal of 18th century Scots-Irish vernacular. Reading his narrative and dialogue made me feel hate narvish. Know what that means? Neither did I. There were times when I thought the use of Scots-Irish words detracted from the story telling. This may not bother every reader, but I had to stop and look up the meaning of many of these words. Luckily, there is a Dictionary of Ulster Scots which I used to decipher his meaning. 

I really enjoyed this coming of age book. I think anyone who enjoys historical fiction, or has a particular interest in the region or time period will appreciate James' story. I would not hesitate to recommend The Fiery Salamander

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Caroline Clyde Holt Holly: Pioneer in the Fight for Women's Rights

A reader recently contacted me and told me a little about a descendant of Samuel Clyde and Catherine Wasson Clyde about whom I've written extensively. I have not followed the genealogy of all of the couples children so I was surprised to find out about their amazing great-granddaughter; Caroline Clyde Holt. Here is what I know about Caroline.

Caroline was born on 1 July 1856 in Manhattan, New York. [1] Her father was William W. Holt, son of Catherine Clyde and Lester Holt of Cherry Valley, New York. Caroline was raised in Stamford Connecticut. In the 1880 census  she was age 23.  Her father, an attorney, did not appear to work. In the 1860 census he had a real estate value of $3000 and a personal estate of $48,000. He has no occupation in 1860,1870 or 1880, either he'd already made a lot of money or being an Attorney was not considered work. (Sorry Lawyer joke)

In 1881 Caroline, who went by "Carrie" married Charles Fredrick Holly, also an attorney. They were living in New York in 1885 when their daughter Emily Ethel was baptized in a church for the Deaf. 
The family moved to Colorado by 1889. Charles was significantly older than her. He was born in 1819 and was a Colorado Territorial Supreme Court Justice in 1865. He also served during the civil war. 

In 1893 Colorado voted to enfranchise women, women could not only vote but run for office. Caroline, who is said to have studied law under her husband, took was active in the Women's Suffrage Movement. She ran for public office, first as a member of the School Board and then in 1895, along with two other women, for the State Legislature. All three were elected. 

Carrie Holly was the first female to introduce a bill into legislature. Her desire to fight for women extended to the right to consent. At the time, the legal age of consent for women was 16. Carrie's bill, which passed, raised it to 18. [2]

Caroline Clyde Holly is still honored in Colorado as a pioneer of Women's Rights. I think her grandmother Catherine Wasson Clyde would have been very proud of her achievements. 


[1]"New York, New York City Births, 1846-1909," database, FamilySearch ( : 11 February 2018), Caroline C. Holt, 01 Jul 1856; citing Manhattan, New York, New York, United States, reference Birth Reg 1856-1857 New York Municipal Archives, New York; FHL microfilm 1,421,411.


*Charles Fredrick Holleys death: The National Archives at Washington, D.C.; Washington, D.C.; Record Group: Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General; Record Group Number: 92; Series Number: M1845

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Great Blogs: Witches of Massachusetts Bay (with genealogy links)

Photo by Tejas Prajapati from Pexels

As you might have guessed by now, I have an affinity for witches. No, not the spell casting,  cauldron brewing witches, but the real women and men of Colonial New England who were accused and tried for witchcraft. I am related to at least one accused witch, Mary Perkins Bradbury and to several witch accusers. What a terrifying time to live, when you believed that your neighbors, the very people you counted on for support, were giving you the evil eye, killing your children, your livestock, making you ill, and all manner of devilish acts. 

The first and lesser known cases of witchcraft in the colonies occurred in Connecticut. Their were cases in other colonies as well but the brunt of the trials were in Massachusetts. Of course the best known witch trials were those that were held in 1692 in Salem. But, women, and to a lesser extent men, from all over the Colony of Massachusetts found themselves ensnared in the web of witchcraft. I can only imagine their horror, knowing they faced at best stigmatization from their peers to worst case losing all they held dear, including their lives. 

I want to tell you about a great website/blog that is a super resource if you are researching your witchcraft ancestors, both accused and accuser. This site includes research, resources, genealogy links, road trip plans, notes on historic sites linked to witchcraft, the whole shebang.  You can find all this and more at Witches of Massachusetts Bay Here is a link to the blog article on my book, Weave a Web of Witchcraft and an interview with the author (me).  

This website, hosted by the library of Virginia is a Salem Witch lovers dream. Court records, testimony, maps, records books, and letters. This site has it all. Easy to navigate and chock a block full of fascinating information if you are into the Salem Trials. The information here is top-notch. 

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Historical Fiction Review: Acre's Bastard by Wayne Turmel

Acre's Bastard by Wayne Turmel. Published by Achis Press 2018 (2nd Ed.) 298 pages. I purchased this book from in e-book format. It is also available in paperback. The opinions contained in this review are my own. 

The Plot in brief:
Acre's Bastard is the tale of 10 year old Lucca Le Pou, an orphan boy who lives with a foot in two worlds. His father was a Frankish knight, his mother a Syrian Muslim. The year is 1187 and the Christian's have a tenuous hold on the Holy Land. Lucca is cared for by the monastic military order known as the Order of the Knights of St. John, or the Hospitallers for short. A spunky mischievous boy, he leads a band of like-minded ragamuffins through the raucous streets of Acre. Lucca's life takes a dramatic turn when he is taken in by a mysterious man he knows as Marco, a knight from the Order of St. Lazarus. Together their adventure's take a serious turn as Saladin the great Muslim leader threatens the Christians hold on Acre and Jerusalem. 

The Characters:
I don't normally read books whose main character is a child. I have to admit, Lucca sucked me in within a few pages. Lucca is smart, plucky, observant, brave and a survivor, but at his core he is still a child with a child's need for love and protection. His character is well drawn and believable. He remains true to character throughout the book. Lucca's buddies are multi-dimensional and endearing each in their own way. Marco, the mysterious Knight of Lazarus remained a mystery to me, I am still not sure of his motives, but I found myself cheering him on. 

The History
It is clear from the start that Wayne Turmel knows his history. I felt completely immersed in the 12th century. From the dusty hot streets of Acre to the luxurious tent of Count Raymond of Tripoli to the desert scene of the Battle of Hattin, I felt I was present in the book, looking through Lucca's eyes at his chaotic world. I never felt that anything was off or had one of those 'that never happened' moments. As a lover of history, it was a joy to read. 

The Writing
I thought the book was very well written; kudos to his proof readers and editor. The pacing fit the story perfectly, zipping along, never dragging. The action was almost nonstop and I was never bored or tempted to skip ahead. The dialogue was believable, written without a forced vernacular. 

The book is a great read for lovers of history, lovers of action stories and those who enjoy a more youthful main character. No previous knowledge of the Crusades required! I highly recommend Acre's Bastard and give it five stars! I look forward to reading Part 2 of Lucca's story, Acre's Orphans also available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Chapters. I rate this book a rare 5 stars!

My Ratings: 

1  Star: Not good at all, do not read!

2  Stars: Read only as a last resort, no other books available

3 Stars: Good, enjoyed it, will recommend with reservations

4 Stars: Really good, read this book!

5 Stars: So good, I might read it again sometime! Highly recommend

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