Pre-Orders Open for Novel by Local Author

Rochester author, C.H. Armstrong, has recently penned her first novel, The Edge of Nowhere.  This novel has been picked up by California-based publishing house, Penner Publishing, and is set for a January 19, 2016 release.  Recently on her website, she posted information about this novel and its origins.

Armstrong, a native of Oklahoma and 23-year resident of Rochester, grew up on the stories of her familys’ survival during the 1930s Oklahoma Dust Bowl and has centered her novel around this theme.  Below is a reprint from the author’s website telling more about this novel, the background, a little about the history, and the people who inspired the novel.  We reprint it here on our blog by permission of the author. Enjoy!


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FROM THE BACK COVER

The year is 1992 and Victoria Hastings Harrison Greene—reviled matriarch of a sprawling family—is dying.

After surviving the Oklahoma Dust Bowl and the Great Depression, Victoria refuses to leave this earth before revealing the secrets she’s carried for decades.

Once the child of a loving family during peaceful times, a shocking death shattered her life. Victoria came face to face with the harshness of the world. As the warm days of childhood receded to distant memory, Victoria learns to survive.

No matter what it takes.

To keep her family alive in an Oklahoma blighted by dust storms and poverty, Victoria makes choices—harsh ones, desperate ones. Ones that eventually made her into the woman her grandchildren fear and whisper about. Ones that kept them all alive. Hers is a tale of tragedy, love, murder, and above all, the conviction to never stop fighting.


 

AUTHOR’S SYNOPSIS

Victoria Hastings Harrison Greene knows her family despises her.  She’s even heard her grandchildren snigger behind her back about the “Immaculate Conception of David” – her fifth child, conceived between husbands.  But Victoria refuses to die before revealing the secrets she’s held locked away for more than 50 years; the secrets only whispered about in family folklore that have made her the feared matriarch of her family.

Widowed with nine children, Victoria will do anything to provide for her children – even murder, and without remorse.  Each day brings greater challenges:  poverty, homelessness, death, starvation, degradation and disease.  Some challenges will require despicable acts to overcome. But at what cost?  Can her family understand the decisions she’s made to secure their futures?


 

THE REAL STORY BEHIND THE NOVEL

The Edge of Nowhere is a work of historical fiction inspired by the experiences of my own grandmother during the 1930s Oklahoma Dust Bowl and the Great Depression.  While it is a complete work of fiction, many of the stories contained within its pages are based upon anecdotes that have been passed down from my father’s generation, through mine, and down to my children.  Several of the key factors of the book are taken from their actual experiences, and others are the product of my imagination or exaggeration.  As a reader, you’ll have to decide which is which.  The answers may surprise you.

Four of my grandparents' combined fourteen children.  These four were their first together.  Not pictured are the five he brought to the marriage, and the five that came after this photo was taken. Front Row:  Bill and Geraldine Second Row:  Shirley and Ed (My Daddy)Four of my grandparents’ combined fourteen children. These four were their first together. Not pictured are the five he brought to the marriage, and the five that came after this photo was taken. Front Row: Bill and Geraldine / Back Row: Shirley and Ed (My Daddy). For readers of the book, these four children inspired the characters of Jack, Grace, Sara and Ethan.

The Dust Bowl that swept through Oklahoma and neighboring states was arguably the most devastating natural disaster to ever hit American soil.  Unlike a tornado, earthquake or a hurricane, the Dust Bowl lasted nearly ten straight years.  What was once beautiful green prairie and farmland of wheat fields as far as the eye can see soon became nothing but dust and dirt.  A desert of sorts.  Everywhere you looked was blowing dirt.  It got into your mouth and ears.  You couldn’t help but to inhale it deep into your lungs until you choked.  Many during this time died of what came to be known as “dust pneumonia.”  It was relentless and brutal.

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Photo Credit Dorthea Lange

Farming was the lifeblood of most Oklahomans during this time, but the soil had become so eroded that nothing would grow.  If your livelihood is farming and nothing will grow, what do you do?  How do you live?  These are the questions I began asking myself as Victoria’s story unfolded. How do you provide for your family when you’re a single woman alone with nearly a dozen children and no resources?

An important thing to remember about Oklahomans of this era is that most had no formal education.  They knew one thing:  farming.  If you’ve read Steinbeck’s epic novel, The Grapes of Wrath, then you know that many of these people moved West for a better life.  Most people were too poor to move, however, and so they stayed behind and hoped for better days.  The Edge of Nowhere is the story of those people.  It’s the story of the true Oklahoma Spirit — the dogged determination and tenacity that continues to see them through continued disasters like the Oklahoma City Bombing and the yearly tornados that destroy home and property.  It is the story of a people dedicated to the land they love and the place they call home.  An interesting side note is that many of these same families who stayed behind and endured the harsh life of The Dust Bowl are still there today.  The same lands that once had forsaken them are now being farmed by their children and grandchildren.

“Abandoned farmstead in the Dust Bowl region of Oklahoma, showing the effects of wind erosion, 1937”
Image Source: http://www.britannica.com/media/full/174462/96105

My grandmother - Edna Hall Hedrick Golden - in her later years.

My grandmother – Edna Hall Hedrick Golden – in later years.

During this era, my grandmother was left a widow with her husband’s five nearly grown children and an additional seven smaller ones for a grand total of twelve children (she would go on to remarry after this era and have two more children for a combined fourteen).  She was only 28 years old.  Soon thereafter, she lost their farm and she found herself homeless, hungry and with few resources.  She had no family to speak of, so providing and caring for these children fell entirely to her.  I don’t know what she was like before my grandfather’s death, but I know that in the years I knew her she was strong and opinionated.  She ruled her children with an iron fist and they respected her for it.  She was a legend and not many people would dare to cross her path.

So sets the stage for The Edge of Nowhere.  You have a young woman, widowed, with a combined twelve children.  You have no resources.  You’ve lost your home, your children are hungry, jobs are scarce, what do you do?  Maybe a better question is this:  What wouldn’t you do to provide for your children?  And how do the decisions you’re forced to make change the person you are?

This book is currently under contract with Penner Publishing with an expected publication date of January 2016.  While you wait, take some time to visit the PBS website dedicated to the Dust Bowl.  You can find that link here.

The Edge of Nowhere is available for pre-order in e-book format (paperbacks coming soon!) through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iTunes and Kobo.  It is currently priced at a reasonable $2.99. You can preorder your e-book copy at one of the links below.

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Book of the Moment by Helen McIver

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June 2013
The Bookmore Cottage

Dear Gentle Reader,
Summer is almost upon us and I am not sure what happened to spring. I somehow didn’t have enough time to read with all the gardening, travelling and packing, to say nothing of shoveling unexpected May snow. But planes are perfect places to read, so I have always loved summer travel. Cars invite audiobooks across miles. And of course, the chaise lounge on the back deck can take you so many places. Last week I ended up in Scotland, alternating between present day, WWI and WWII.

Letters from Skye is the charming debut novel by Jessica Brockmole. Dear Reader, you will love this beautiful portrayal of old fashioned love in the time of war, the nuances of letter writing, the captivating period detail, and the two cultures (American and Scottish) which will stay with you long after you have turned the last page.

Through these letters, I met a new friend that I think you will also adore, the lovely Scottish poet Elspeth Dunn from the island of Skye. Her letters sparkle with her love of countryside, youth, family, her fears and dreams and her compass. I felt the same sea breezes, gazed at the stormy seas, despaired for days and years, questioned my own journey and just so enjoyed her erudite company. The letters of her daughter Margarite, her American friend and lover David Graham, along with various family memebers reveal secrets, friendships, bravery and trials, but as with the very nature of letters leave some experiences to the reader’s imagination. There was a satisfying resolution which celebrated joy, something worth remembering in turbulent times. “I have never stopped loving you.”

I have always been a letter writer, an anomaly/anachronism more so with the passing to the electronic age. The graceful correspondence makes for easy reading and is punctuated with lovely humour, wit and passion. I loved the development of the realistic characters (I have a number of Scottish friends I recognised instantly) over the years but also through the eyes of other family members. I enjoyed being reminded of my Grandmother’s time, and also reminding me of how grateful I am to live in this time. And of course, I want to go back home to Scotland now.

Most Sincerely,

A British Bluestocking

PS Be sure to Read on to:
Yes it has been compared with The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows), but it reminds me more of Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs, Julia Stuart’s The Tower, The Zoo, The Tortoise, or her Pigeon Pie Mystery and Mr Rosenblum Dreams in English by Natasha Solomons or Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simon (see previous reviews!).

Quotes:
“Like any whose blood runs tartan, I adore W.S…. his poetry really does a fine job of capturing Scotland in all of her changeable moods.”

“ All a person really needs to get them through the vagaries of life are the Bible and W.S. (both of them).”Read as an ARC
4 stars for a delightful summer read
Published July 9th 2013

Book Review – Bring Up the Bodies

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Bring Up the Bodies
A Review by Wendy Jaensh

I loved Hilary Mantel’s novel Wolf Hall, so it was with great excitement, that I opened her new novel, Bring Up the Bodies.  By the second page I was completely confused since it wasn’t clear to me who “I” referred to:  Cromwell or Henry the VIII.  However, the writing was so beautiful that I kept reading and – within two chapters – my confusion was replaced with pleasure.

Bring Up the Bodies details the downfall of Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn, who was eventually convicted and beheaded under the direction of the King’s chief minister and confidant, Thomas Cromwell.  Writing from the perspective of Cromwell, Mantel does a wonderful job of using the Cromwell’s thoughts to build his character.

Much that is written about Cromwell argues that he was ruthless and self-involved, but this novel illustrates the author’s view of Cromwell’s internal dialogue. He still seems to be cold, but there is some thoughtfulness in his character, especially toward his son and his friend, Sir Thomas Wyatt, who was implicated in the plot of Anne’s supposedly treacherous sexual behavior.

Though I knew the queen’s accused lovers would eventually be put to death, the author does such a great job of sharing the emotional dialogue between Cromwell and the condemned men that I actually felt sympathy for the accused and found myself wishing they would be found innocent.

Hillary Mantel does an excellent job of bringing the sadness and horror of the 16th Century into the present. For a little while, I felt the terror they must have felt over 500 years ago because of the mastery of the author. What a great piece of historical fiction.

This book is available at The Rochester Public Library in traditional format, as well as on Audio CD and downloadable audio version.

Book Review – “Flygirl”

Flygirl
A Review by Kathy Pestotnik

History is filled with moments that disrupt our lives and change the way we look at the world. Think Hurricane Katrina or September 11, 2001; or (if you’re old enough) the Challenger disaster or the Kennedy assassinations. Some historical novels center on events like these. The best ones, however, put these moments into the very personal context of their characters lives.

Flygirl, by Sherri L. Smith, begins in December, 1941. Ida Mae Jones is eighteen and old enough to make her dream of becoming a pilot come true. She grew up crop dusting with her daddy in Slidell, Louisiana.  She knows how to fly and she’s memorized all the manuals for her pilot’s license; but, since the death of her father, she cleans houses to help support her family. There are only two factors Ida Mae’s passion and determination can’t change: her sex and her race. That was the hard truth on December 6, 1941.

And then everything changed. The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the United States entered World War II, and Ida Mae Jones made some hard choices. Altering her father’s pilot’s license was a risk. Trusting that her fair complexion and “easy” hair would be enough to allow her to pass for white was a dangerous gamble. Living with her choices was the hardest of all.

What I loved about this book was that it constantly challenged my assumptions and perspective. When I think of World War II, I think of the risks and sacrifices of those in the armed services. I think about their parents worrying and waiting for the next letter. I think about rationing, blackout curtains, and curfews. I think about women drawing lines up the back of their legs to camouflage the absence of stockings. Yet for Ida Mae, World War II presented an opportunity that could not have come to her any other way.

As I read I constantly worried that Ida Mae would accidentally walk into a Colored Only bathroom, or drink from the wrong fountain. Then it came to me. There were no colored people in the world Ida Mae stepped into. There had been no women. I’m sure there were no signs on the men’s room doors. They were all men’s rooms!

I also liked the ending. No spoiler, here. We all know World War II ended, and with it, the WASP program. I’ll just say that, to me, any other ending would have been hard to swallow. I promise, it will make you think.

So here’s to you, Ida Mae Jones, and to you, Sherri L. Smith! You had me all the way!

This book is available at the Rochester Public Library in traditional format.

Book Review – “Doc”


Doc
A Review by Kathy Pestotnik

When I was a kid I used to watch a TV program called Wyatt Earp. The theme song was catchy and we sang it at the top of our lungs on the swings at recess. Wyatt Earp was a famous marshall of the Old West, which was sometime before World War II because my dad didn’t know much about it. I knew Wyatt Earp was quirky, because even though he was a good guy, he wore a black hat. And Hugh O’Brien, who played him, was plenty cute. Anyway, one of Wyatt’s sidekicks was Doc Holliday.

As you can plainly see, when I picked up Mary Doria Russell’s novel, Doc, I already had a wealth of knowledge on the subject of Doc Holliday. Or not. I didn’t know that John Henry (Doc) Holliday was born with a cleft lip and palate, and that his uncle and another surgeon repaired the lip when he was two months old…in 1851! Or that he was a Georgia boy, who grew into adolescence with an understandable disdain for Yankees.

Despite his cleft palate, he learned to speak elegantly, and not just in English, either. He was a talented classical pianist. He lost his mother to tuberculosis when he was 15, and his uncle (who took him in when his father remarried immediately) paid his way through a Northern dental school. Another young foster child in the family taught him to play cards. (This was a happy twist of fate, because a dental practice in Dodge City, Kansas, didn’t exactly bring home the bacon, or even the pork’n’beans).

Doc was diagnosed with tuberculosis at the age of 21, and treated his cough with liberal (and frequent) doses of bourbon, and his pain was self-treated with laudanum. I guess that’s why they called it the Wild West:  No Robitussin and no Advil!

Although Doc  is historical fiction, most of the characters are not.  Real or not, they are well-developed, believably flawed and humanly quirky. (If you don’t love Doc, the Earp brothers, China Joe, Eddie Foy and/or Father Alexander von Angensperg, see me after class.  I will eat my hat.)

The dialogue sparkles and made me laugh out loud more than once, so I wouldn’t read it on the bus if I were you. While I’m no expert on how much research a writer of historical fiction needs to do, Russell’s research was prodigious. I read the Author’s Note!  And I’m not even getting extra credit!

This book is available at the Rochester Public Library in traditional format and for digital e-readers.

For more information on this book, you can follow this link and read an excerpt on the author’s website.

Book Review – Moloka’i

Moloka’i
A Review by Catherine H. Armstrong

Leprosy. Today we know it as Hansen’s Disease and we have a cure.  But even today, just that single word brings fear a vivid image of disfigurement, shame and mass contagion.  The disease does not discriminate and finds its home in the both the rich and the poor; and those afflicted have been historically shunned by society, and even close family.  Moloka’i is the story of a young girl and her lifelong struggle with the disease that ripped her from her family and all she knew.

In the late 1800s, Rachel Kalama is arrested on suspicion of having leprosy and is transported to the infamous Island of Moloka’i in Hawaii, a detainment colony for leprosy victims.  Ripped from the arms of her beloved family and all she knows at the tender age of about 6, Rachel will spend the remainder of her 70-odd years in Moloka’i’s leprosy colony.  The family who once loved and supported her will be gone to her forever, and she will learn to make a new life on this island surrounded by varying degrees of illness caused by this most debilitating disease.  The only light at the end of her tunnel is that her favorite uncle has also been removed to this colony.

I hesitate to say that I “enjoyed” this book, because how can one possibly “enjoy” what is effectively the suffering of others? With that said, I will leave it at “I liked it.”  The voice of the main character, Rachel, was heartbreaking and gave a a glimpse into the life of a child – and eventually a grown woman – who was stolen from the bosom of her family for reasons that she’s too young to understand.

What a heartbreaking journey! To see the fear and confusion of a child as she’s ripped from the arms of her family and sent away to a place where sickness surrounds her.  She’s even denied the ability to have any real relationship with her beloved uncle, who has also been sent to Moloka’i.

Moloka’i is the story of a woman’s journey through childhood, adolescence and into adulthood, and the difficulties her disease presents in living out any real semblance of a “normal” life as the rest of the free world understands it.

This books spans the lifetime of Rachel from approximately age 5 through her death at about age 70. It’s a story about ignorance, prejudice, misunderstandings and fear. And yet, it’s also a story about love and the true meaning of ‘Ohana – Family.   Overall, a really great read.