THE ARTFUL READERS CLUB

THE PERSONAL LIBRARIAN

by Marie Benedict

and

Victoria Christopher Murray

MY book cover creation

The year is 1905 and Jim Crow is progressively moving north. Belle De Costa Greene is hired away from Princeton University to become the director of American titan financier and industrialist J.P Morgan’s personal library and art collection. It’s not long before she’s charming New York society with her style, personality and intelligence. She’s trusted to attend male-dominated auctions throughout the world to secure the rare books and manuscripts she deems worthy, to complete the prominent collection that will make the Pierpont Morgan Library an unparalleled masterpiece. But Belle has a secret that only her family knows. The revelation of this secret will ruin everything shes gained…her career, her reputation and her relationships will all be in jeopardy…and to make it even more ominous, J.P. Morgan was notoriously known as being racist and anti-sematic (not unusual in the early 1900’s.)

THE PERSONAL LIBRARIAN by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray, was about allegiance and deceit. It was both captivating and fascinating, depicting the life of a courageous, inventive and resourceful woman, who was virtually unknown historically. A very timely novel as well… although women have certainly made strides in the workplace, men still remain dominant…and racism and equality FOR ALL still remains a big problem that must be resolved!

This was an excellent read and is highly recommended.

TORONTO TIMES

BEST FAMILY TIMES IN TORONTO, ONTARIO
MAKING FAMILY MEMORIES

We traveled through the mists of time to a forgotten age and a tale of devotion, courage and love…at MEDIEVAL TIMES Dinner & Tournament. We experienced the pageantry and excitement as a guest of the reigning Queen…we traveled back ten centuries to the way it might have been. Screaming cheers for our heroic Blue Knight on his spirited horse

…we ate our “hands-on” feast while watching some amazing athletic feats and challenging swordplay…feats that have become hallmarks of this unique entertainment experience at MEDIEVAL TIMES in Toronto, Ontario. The Queen’s top knights battled with brawn and steel to determine one victor to protect the throne. But the best part of the whole experience for us was the fact that our grandson, Hunter, was one of the Queen’s Trumpeteers who played intermittently, throughout the entire performance.

ANNOUNCING THE QUEEN AND THE KNIGHTS LEAVING THE COMPETITION ARENA

We also had the pleasure of seeing two shows…one of them on its way to BROADWAY. The first play was “2P4H…Two Pianos, 4 Hands.” Michael and I didn’t particularly care for this one.

But “& JULIET” the next day was another story. Its premise was imagining what would have happened if Juliet had lived after Romeo died. Shakespeare and his wife, Anne Hathaway, were lead characters, among others. The energy was high, the music was fun and the entire production was an exciting spectacle! I hope you have an opportunity to see it!

“& JULIET” CURTAIN CALL

As always, we treasure our time with our little family whatever we do…precious moments…precious memories…always!

GRATEFUL EVERYDAY!

THE ARTFUL READERS CLUB

THE MEMORY OF AN ELEPHANT

by ALEX LASKER

Stunning, extraordinary, profound, thought-provoking and emotional… a must read for all elephant lovers! This is a deftly told epic story that brings the beauty and the wild cruelty of Africa vividly to life. (It also reminds us that humans don’t deserve to live on this planet!) “The Memory of an Elephant” by Alex Lasker tells the story of the elephant, ISHI. In fact, it’s Ishi’s own “first elephant” voice…his perceptions that begin the novel… and a broader, omniscient third person narrative voice that fills in where needed.

Ishi’s journey takes place in a variety of places between 1962 (when his family and his herd were killed by poachers and he was found by a young, local tribal boy who arranged care for him at a Kenyan animal orphanage. We follow characters (and Ishi) around Kenya, London, New York and back again to the plains of his birth in Kenya for his final journey, returning to the place where he was nurtured and cared for as a young, orphaned calf by a family of very caring “two leggers” and specifically by his friend and guardian…the young Kikuyu boy named Kamau who found him. It is in the human lives touched by Ishi and his growth and development over time that this story fully captures the reader. (This novel reminds us that man’s cruelty extends beyond humans and into the innocent animal kingdom…exactly why I give to organizations that protect these awe-inspiring, impressive, sentient beings.) I’ve had the privilege of visiting these elephant orphanages and believe me, it’s exactly like caring for a new baby…requiring constant attention and most of all, LOVE.

Alex Lasker’s book, with its generosity of imagination and it’s spirit of empathy, will re-focus the elephant in your heart. This was a marvelous read that I may, at some point, revisit!

ARTFUL READERS CLUB

THE RAGGED EDGE OF NIGHT by Olivia Hawker

It all started with a notice in a German Catholic periodical, ESPRIT, in 1942. This set in motion the story of THE RAGGED EDGE OF NIGHT by Olivia Hawker…historical fiction about a former friar, a widow with three children and a small rural town during WWII called Unterboihingen in Wuttemberg, Germany. Here’s the cover I created for the novel…

This is a true story about Franciscan friar, Anton Starzmann, who was a music teacher for special needs children. The Nazis took the children, deeming them “unworthy of life” and shut down Anton’s religious order. Stripped of his beloved children and his life as a friar, he responded to a notice in a Catholic periodical (as seen on the book cover I created above,) married the widow who placed the notice and moved to her little town in Wuttemberg, Germany. As Anton adapted to the roles of husband and father, we learned what life was really like in the country, where threats existed but bombs were mostly at a distance. Although filtered through a somewhat religious lens, (as would be expected from a former friar,) it was nonetheless believable. The book focused on relationships and the lives of real people…a touching story of courage and morality in the face of evil. It showed the importance of small acts of defiance from German people who wanted to resist and found ways that didn’t endanger their families.

The author’s writing is lyrical, beautiful, eloquent, poignant and thought-provoking. It contained elements of hope in a damaged world, as Hawker was even able to put a credible, compassionate face on the soldiers who were committing unspeakable deeds (against their will.) Within the pages of THE RAGGED EDGE OF NIGHT, author Olivia Hawker offers us yet another point of view…that of the German people. This book is the most comprehensive and sympathetic coverage of the everyday life of the German people under the Nazi reign that I’ve ever read! Highly recommended!!

ARTFUL READERS CLUB:

“ONE FOR THE BLACKBIRD, ONE FOR THE CROW”

by OLIVIA HAWKER

My Book Cover Art

THE SETTING:

It’s 1870 on the eastern Wyoming prairie, in the shadow of the Bighorn Mountains. Two families (the Bemis family and the Webber family) with adjoining homesteads eke out a living on their farms, about 20 miles from the nearest neighbor or town.

THE DRAMA:

When Ernest Bemis discovers his wife, Cora, involved in an affair with their only neighbor, Substance Webber, mild-mannered Ernest shoots and kills Substance then surrenders himself to local law enforcement. He’s sentenced to two years in prison, leaving both families without a “man of the house.” With winter approaching, Cora asks Substance’s widow, Nettie Mae, if the two families could share resources. Reluctantly, she agrees to let Cora and her 4 children move into her home, joining her and her teenaged son. It’s a long, hard winter for these two women living under the same roof…with such trauma behind them.

THE REST OF THE STORY:

Olivia Hawker’s poetic and lyrical storytelling whisked me away to the raw, gritty pioneering days as she wove a story of resilience, acceptance, forgiveness, family, friendship and survival, jealousy, resentment and guilt… under the most difficult and awkward circumstances possible. Overflowing with beautiful language, lovely images and finely drawn characters, I could feel the cold, the harsh winter winds and even the dirt that came with farm living on the prairie. To say Nettie Mae and Cora wanted nothing to do with each other is mildly stating the situation, but as they stared down an impending Wyoming winter with no men to work their farms and no other neighbors within miles, they realized they must rely on each other and their eldest teen children…Nettie Mae’s Clyde (16) and Cora’s Beulah (13)…both responsible and knowledgeable about the workings of a farm, to survive the brutal winter. This story is all about connections and the long-lasting consequences of the decisions people make when they lose connections: between family members, between neighbors and community members, between humans and the natural world…and the connection of humans with the world after life has ended. It’s an epic novel and well worth the read. Olivia Hawker is at the pinnacle of her storytelling!

MUSIC, ART…and SO MUCH BEAUTY

MUSIC, ART, NATURE… FILL ME UP

A weekend immersed in nature, art and music…heaven to me! Michael and I spent a few weekends ago in Ithaca, N.Y. It’s a sweet university town (Cornell University and Ithaca College) known for its natural beauty. In the heart of the Finger Lakes, it has more than 100 waterfalls, gorgeous gorges and challenging hiking trails.

But, we weren’t there to bask in Ithaca’s natural beauty THIS TIME. We were there to soak up the wide variety of street art/graffiti gracing buildings around the city…and MOSTLY, we were there to experience, LIVE, a South African Zulu singing octet who I’ve wanted to hear since I started traveling to Africa 30+ years ago. They’re an acapella choral group made up of 8 family members. Founded in 1964, their sole purpose was (and still is) to bring their people…actually ALL PEOPLE, a message of hope peace, love and harmony. It was especially important when they started, as South Africa was in the midst of the racially driven APARTHEID and their upbeat messages were musical gifts! It seems that the world needs them now as well…

Since their founding, they’ve been nominated for 19 Grammys and won 5. Their soundtracks can be heard throughout many movies, but they’re best known to us for their collaboration with American singer-songwriter Paul Simon on his 1986 Grammy award-winning GRACELAND album. Their harmonies are legendary, as they relate their traditional stories, history and culture through their music. They’ve performed all over the world, for royalty and for general audiences. Their energy and fun personalities are evident in all they do…they’re a DELIGHT to watch and to hear. GRATEFUL!!!

“Homeless” from Paul Simon’s GRACELAND album
“Long Walk to Freedom” from Movie about the life of Nelson Mandela

HOW CAN WE HELP?

MY FAMILY IS MY HOME

Although our time in Toronto was filled with music, shoe-shopping and lots of eating, Michael and I also did our part helping Michelle with volunteer clothes-sorting for a locally based charity called SAFETYNET…something she and her neighbor do almost every Sunday. SAFETYNET is an organization that provides wrap-around services that encourage independence and helps break the cycle of poverty for those in need. If a family is suffering financial hardship, be they immigrant or local, their community is there to help. They not only offer free clothing but also tutoring, music lessons, furniture, kitchen items and bicycles. For the items they do NOT offer, there are other local organizations that DO offer these services.

We went through the donated clothing and accessory items very carefully, looking for rips, holes, stains and broken zippers, buttons, etc. The clothing that’s finally offered to families is clothing they’d be proud to wear and happy to own. When you go through your closets, please keep this in mind as you choose which pieces to donate.

We have similar organizations in my home town, Syracuse, that offer the same services for families in need…as well as opportunities to volunteer time and goods…making the climb out of poverty so much easier for those making that journey. This volunteer time was a time that touched our hearts and made us aware of the need in every community, everywhere. Here’s some visual information about our time at SAFETYNET… double tap on each photo to see it completely.

My hope in posting this is that we all realize that there are those living among us who are in dire need of help. Consider donating your gently used items to one of these service organizations…or consider volunteering your time to help keep these essential organizations afloat. There will ALWAYS be families who are in need of their help.

ART CATCH UP…POTPOURRI

ITCHING TO TRAVEL…

Do frequent trips to Canada count? Since Michelle’s and my trip to Italy in October/November 2021, we’ve been to Canada to see our dear family. Italy just whet our appetites to travel more…we’re used to journeying far and wide…anywhere we wish to go. Because of COVID, our passport has been inactive . Michael and I had to postpone an African journey in October and a Christmas trip to Germany and Austria to visit the Christmas Markets…a riverboat trip that we love. Plus, Michelle and I had to postpone our Ethiopia/Tanzania trip that we’d be doing right now! Looking ahead with hope and anticipation, though. I think we’ll be in Italy again in May to celebrate my 80th birthday, Michael and I have rebooked our Africa trip as have Michelle and I have done . So, we have lots on the horizon, but nothing soon enough to ease the itching! Enough whining… The purpose of this posting is for me to document some of how I’ve been spending my time…working out to stay strong, reading some good and not-so-good books…and creating art in addition to visiting with friends. Here it comes…

FIRE AT NOTRE DAME, PARIS

That’s a lot of art and a very satisfying way to pass the time… experimenting, researching topics I don’t know a great deal about…again, LIFE IS GOOD. Thanks for checking in. Stay healthy and keep a smile in your heart .

Big Hugs,

abbyj

THE ARTFUL READERS CLUB

“FOUR NAILS” by G.J.BERGER

Once upon a time, there was a young Indian boy…an elephant trainer… named Ashoka. Forced into slavery to help his family survive, he became known an “elephant whisperer” of sorts, after successfully training Four Nails, an unusually enormous, wild elephant. He eventually became head mahout in Hannibal’s army as they marched to war against the Romans.

MY COVER for this book…

In 218 BC, 28 year old Hannibal Barca, his soldiers and his 37 African battle elephants marched on an epic journey from southern Spain to the plains of northern Italy. To surprise the Roman Empire’s army, though, he took an unexpected route to Rome by crossing the Alps.

In a saga told by Ashoka, we read what the world would have been like then…fiction and fact woven together, sprinkled with love between a human and an elephant. Massively researched, GJ Berger’s writing immersed me in an ancient, distant, foreign culture making me fully invested in the outcome of Ashoka and his companions (both human and animal.)

The battle scenes were especially riveting and written with a well-balanced amount of strategic description as well as vivid imagery, but I think this was more of a coming of age tale (and a big, thick tale it was) because we saw Ashoka rise from an inexperienced and innocent 11 year old boy to a knowledgeable, honest, emotionally mature, ethical man. I traveled a journey, experiencing both personal triumph and tragedy…captivated by it from beginning to end!

If you love historical fiction and elephants, this book is for you! Most unusual…