Smoky Mountain Family Historian

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Chilbury Ladies' Choir

Ryan, Jennifer. The Chilbury Ladies' Choir. New York: Crown, 2017.

This is the story of how the village of Chilbury coped with World War II. Many of the men were at war. The ladies, inspired by a newcomer to the community, organized a choir when there were not enough men to continue the parish choir. No single woman is singled out as a narrator. Instead it is told through the voices of several women, often in letter form. This format often fails to deliver, but Ryan made it work. The narrative includes incidents of village life as well as personal ethical decisions. The bombings touch home for the villagers. It is not quite as "homey" as some novels focusing on village life, partially due to the time in which it is set, but it probably paints a more realistic portrait of it. Enough humor is interspersed to make up for the occasional unpleasantness. This review is based on an electronic galley provided by the publisher through NetGalley for review purposes.


The Not-Quite States of America

Mack, Doug. The Not-Quite States of America: Dispatches from the Territories and Other Far-Flung Outposts of the USA. New York: W. W. Norton, 2017.

This combination travelogue and history presents a fascinating look at territories owned by the United States. Mack took trips to the U.S. Virgin Island, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Marianas, and Puerto Rico where he commented on the culture and infused it with a bit of the history of the islands. Readers get a sense of what each of these islands are today, but the book is not quite what I expected. Many of these territories are over-commercialized; some are not. I appreciated the historical parts more than the travelogue portions, and I sincerely wish more attention to what the culture was like at the time the territories were acquired so readers could compare it to what the United States was like at that time and then draw present-day comparisons based on a number of factors. Mack points out few Americans really know much if anything about the territories. His book was designed to bridge that gap for himself and somewhat for his readers. While I'm glad I read the book, I am interested in reading other books about these territories which may be more aligned with my own interests. For example, Mack focuses on the economy and on political factors, but rarely addresses religion which is a strong interest of mine. Fortunately Mack includes a brief bibliography of other materials at the end of the book for those who want to delve a bit deeper. An advance review e-galley of this book was received by the publisher through NetGalley for review purposes.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Solo Birthdays

My first birthday.

Birthdays are not quite they once were.When the above photo was taken, my mother lovingly baked the cake. My dad and two brothers were around to help celebrate. This year Mom and Dad are both gone as well as one of my brothers. The other brother is over 6 hours away. None of my friends are available to help me celebrate so I'm all alone. If I want a cake, I must either bake or purchase my own. What good is a cake without someone with whom to celebrate? I certainly don't want birthday cake for the next 3 weeks (if it would even keep that long).

I'm even working on my birthday. A lot of my friends are going to Ballet Magnificat, but they are leaving before I'm off work. I won't be celebrating that way. I decided what I really wanted to do was go eat at Red Lobster. (Garlic shrimp scampi and cheddar bay biscuit craving!) I reached out to friends, but none were available. So now I get to try to celebrate my birthday all alone.

As the timeline posts are probably at 100 or more (if you count the ones done as comments) and will probably exceed 200 or even 300 by day's end, the real card count is at one and the e-card count is at one (from an e-card company instead of an individual). Birthdays just aren't the same after your Mom is gone. I miss her!


Friday, November 25, 2016

Death in the Shadows

McCusker, Paul. Death in the Shadows. Oxford: Lion Fiction, 2016.

Father Gilbert is attending a church conference. He becomes involved in an investigation led by his friend and former law enforcement colleague Detective Inspector Gwynn. A prostitute was murdered, and one of the suspects is a fellow clergyman. The area is saturated with "spas" offering under the table services. I was uncomfortable reading this book. Lion Fiction has published some of the better written Christian fiction. However, I do not think many Christian readers will be comfortable reading about sexual slavery. I think even fewer of them want a sleuthing priest to make a call requesting services even if he is only investigating and does not engage the young woman for her services. The book is well-written, but it is far outside my comfort zone. I considered abandoning it. This review is based on an advance readers copy provided by the publisher through NetGalley for review purposes.


Thursday, November 03, 2016

Remarriage after Divorce Was Not an Option

I've been studying many of Mississippi's laws that affect our research as genealogists. Sargent's Code, the earliest collection of laws dating back to 1799 in the Territorial Period of the state's history is not freely available online. However, an 1807 version of The Statues of the Mississippi Territory is available at Google Books.

In today's culture and society, remarriage after a divorce is pretty commonplace, but in the early days of Mississippi's existence, it was not permitted. Chapter 13, section 4 of this code reads:

And be it further enacted, That divorces from the bond of matrimony shall also be decreed, where either of the parties had another wife or husband, living at the time of such second or other marriages : and that all marriages, where either of the parties shall have a former wife or husband living, at the time of such marriage, shall be invalid from the beginning, and absolutely void.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2016


Oliver, Mary. Upstream: Selected Essays. New York: Penguin Books, 2016.

When I first saw this book, its subtitle was "essays and poems." When I received the book, its subtitle was "selected essays." I love Mary Oliver's poetry so I was curious about her writing in the essay format; however, I really was not that thrilled about the book having very little poetry of hers with a couple of exceptions, introducing the book and perhaps one section. I was, however, pleasantly surprised that many of her essays were almost poetic because of the way she described things. In one section she reflects on the writings of other poets, and parts of their poems are included. I found all of the essays readable, but a few did not quite live up to the poetic characteristic of others. Still, all in all, it is a good collection, even if I was disappointed Oliver's own poetry was not really present. This review is based on an advance review copy received by the publisher through NetGalley for review purposes.



Atwood, Margaret. Hag-Seed. (Hogarth Shakespeare) New York: Hogarth Shakespeare, Crown Publishing, 2016.

Margaret Atwood did a remarkable job re-imagining Shakespeare's The Tempest. Since his release as artistic director of the Makeshiweg Festival, Felix Phillips has been going by the name Mr. Duke and teaching theatre to a group of prisoners at a medium security institution. He calls his group the Fletcher Correctional Players. The class is more than simply theatre, but he uses theatre as a means to teach other material and critical thinking to the inmates. When the person who had him ousted is set to visit the facility in his official governmental role, Felix sees his opportunity for revenge. He decides to perform The Tempest. He chooses the role of Prospero for himself, gets the woman who was to play Miranda before he was ousted to portray her in this version, and assigns the inmates their roles.  This work is certain to please Shakespeare enthusiasts as well as those who love Atwood's writing. I received an electronic copy for review purposes from the publisher through NetGalley.


Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Holy Shakespeare!

Sparks, Maisie. Holy Shakespeare!: 101 Scriptures that Appear in Shakespeare's Plays, Poems, and Sonnets. New York: Faith Words, 2016.

I was looking forward to this book, thinking perhaps the author was using the Scriptures and passages of Shakespeare to create devotional thoughts. I was disappointed when I opened the book to find only the passage from Shakespeare at the top and the Scripture at the bottom with a few pages of short "facts" about Shakespeare or his times scattered in between. This is definitely a marginal purchase for most persons and libraries as other books treat the subject better from both an academic and devotional point of view. The bibliography at the end of the book is probably the most useful aspect of the entire volume. This review is based on an advance uncorrected proof e-galley provided by the publisher for review purposes through NetGalley.

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Napoleon's Last Island

Keneally, Tom. Napoleon's Last Island. New York: Atria, 2016.

Abandoned read. Napoleon was exiled to the island of Saint Helena in the South Atlantic in 1815. His residence was not fully renovated so he spent time near the Balcombe family home. Betsy Balcombe, in particular, became a friend of Napoleon for the remainder of their lives. Keneally's well-researched novel focuses on the strange relationship between the two. What the novelist failed to do was create anything that engaged me as a reader. I made it approximately one third of the way into the book before deciding to quit reading it. Other persons may find the book more engaging than I did, particularly if they have a strong interest in Napoleon or enjoyed other books by the author. This review is based on an advance reader's e-galley provided by the publisher through Edelweiss for review purposes.


Saturday, October 01, 2016

Crossing the Waters

Fields, Leslie Leyland. Crossing the Waters: Following Jesus Through the Storms, the Fish, the Doubt, and the Seas. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2016.

Fields, the author of this volume, resides in Kodiak, Alaska, where she works with her family in the commercial fishing industry. This book relates stories from her own experience. She also travels to Israel where she visits the waters Jesus himself frequented -- the Sea of Galilee and Jordan River. I found the narrative to be fairly rambling, jumping around in locations of the stories, and making the reader question how they got from Alaska to Israel. I felt the narratives needed further editing to really polish them and have the desired impact. The Bible study materials in the appendix were quite good and probably could be used whether Fields' main book was read or not. I received an advance electronic copy of the book through Edelweiss for review purposes.

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