What a year for books! And I don’t just mean the release of my own, which believe me, it was a real whirlwind (click here to learn more about that). There were the book signings, the zoom-in book clubs, and the book release parties – the sales, the marketing, the social media. It was a lot to learn and sometimes, it was a real interesting experience trying to stay afloat! But through it all, I couldn’t be more proud to see my book smiling down at me from bookstore shelves all over the country. It was a major dream come to life, and I couldn’t thank all my readers and supporters enough for that.
Along with my own adventures in literature, it was also another fantastic year for reading. I found myself dabbling in all kinds of different genres this year, even picking up a new fantasy series for the first time in decades. Yes, I do mean decades, not to age myself at all! 😉 Another big twist in my book year was that I didn’t read as much Historical Fiction as usual. Instead, I tended to gravitate towards meaty family dramas and even some good suspense novels, diving into the David Baldacci world for the first time. I guess no matter how awesome your favorite genre is, sometimes you just need to branch out. However, I never stay far from non-fiction historical reads, and I read more than a few good ones this year. Some just for fun, and some for research for my latest writing project, of which I’m hopeful you will hear more about very, very soon!
I also have to admit that I had a larger amount of DNF (Did Not Finish) reads than usual. Although I do think that had more to do with my busier schedule than the books themselves, it’s always sad when I’m unable to finish a book. I guess I feel like there’s so many books and so little time, so if I’m not hooked in after a certain amount of chapters, I have to put it aside. Also, I sometimes just bite off more than I can chew with books and can’t possibly finish all the ones that I start!
Through it all, there were plenty of gems in my reading this year, and after a lot of back and forth, I managed to pick the ten that stood out to me the most. Whether they taught me something new, gave me a badly needed laugh, allowed me to view the world through a different lens, or moved my heart with absolutely beautiful writing, all of these reads have stuck with me through 2022. It gives me great pleasure to share them with you now – in no particular order:
Hi Everybody! Can you believe November is upon us already? It’s been quite a year with the writing journey, and I can’t believe I’ll be wrapping up 2022 very soon. But 2023 is already shaping up to be an interesting one, as I just put my second manuscript on submission! How exciting! Cross your fingers for me! While we all wait for news on that front, I thought you could enjoy the latest installment in my war poem epic – this one covering the Civil War’s gruesome battle of Antietam. A terrible fight that would prove to be the deadliest day in the entire war. It’s hard to believe I’ll soon be wrapping up this giant poem, with only a few more segments to go! I sincerely hope you have enjoyed it so far, and I can’t wait to share the rest and more with you!
Antietam – The Bloodiest Day
It’s a burning hot September Day
And in this jagged cornfield, I’ve lost my way
The place is bursting with enemy shell
It’ll be one of the worst, and it’s hell
The corn cuts my skin like blades as I run
If I can’t find my line, I will be done
But the corn is so tall, I just can’t see
And I trip over the bodies that are sprawled around me
A shell goes off close and knocks me to the ground
I’m buried under soil and corn by the pound
I claw my way up, I have to get free
I can’t let the shell with my name find me
I’ve got a life back home, a wife and kids
I can’t leave them here, not like this
But I find that’s not up to me to decide
I learn it too soon, and oh, how I cried
Another shell crashes into the bloody corn
My screams reach a fever pitch, my ligaments torn
My world goes black, I’m thrown to the ground
I died fast and easy, but I was never found
To Be Continued….
And for some lovely fall colors pics – click here.
It’s easy to see how the place could be haunted. I mean, even when you walk towards it, down a quiet road in the shadow of the tall, wooden gate, there’s something in the air at Andersonville. Just the very name conjures up chills. Andersonville, otherwise known as Camp Sumter. Arguably the most notorious prison of the entire Civil War.
Andersonville opened in February of 1864 – built to house the massive influx of Union prisoners streaming into the Confederacy. Shortly before then, housing prisoners wasn’t a big problem. In the early years of the war, it was more common for them to be paroled and exchanged through a sort of honor system set up between North and South. However, as the war ground on and got a bit nastier, prisoner exchanges came to an abrupt halt. It was an exceptional advantage to the Union side, who had more or less inexhaustible sources of men to tap from. Whereas the South, with a population not nearly as dense as their Northern counterparts, had already been crippled by years of blood-draining battlefields. Losing countless men to the prison system was a huge blow to their manpower.
And Grant’s non-stop Overland Campaign drove prisoner numbers up considerably on both sides. As more men fell on the battlefields of attrition, many more also wound up captured by their enemies. For Union soldiers in the Eastern Theatre, this meant a trip down to the snarled depths of Georgia for an indefinite stay at Andersonville.
It was a quiet day in 2018 when I came up over the hill, looming over a place called Omaha Beach. It was cloudy and cool for summer. A rough breeze tossed my hair and clothes around. The channel was visible on the horizon – the water a silvery blob stretching all the way into the distance, surrounded by a bed of tawny, wet sand. The vast section of beach sat mostly abandoned. Silent, where the rest of the place was busy and bustling in the height of tourism season.
A host of tall monuments joined me on the green hill. Gray and quiet, like the somber sky up above me. Some were made after the fact, commemorating brave regiments here and solid actions there. Some were made on the day itself – broken pillboxes, shattered bunkers, and deep craters. Remnants of the terrible fighting that had taken place here on that day so long ago. That day…
Have you ever been left behind? I was once. It’s quite comical, actually. My dad used to bring the whole family to the Oshksoh Airventure show in Wisconsin every summer. One year, when I was very little, I somehow got left behind at the bus stop while the whole rest of the family went on ahead to the flight line. I was a bit spacey as a child, running away with my imagination, off in my own little dream world. So I actually didn’t even notice that anything was amiss. I just played happily in a sand pile until I looked up and saw my father bounding off a bus and flying toward me in a panic. I remember him scooping me up and hugging me. It was only then that I figured out I’d been left behind.
And we get left behind in other ways too –left behind in school, at work, and in an ever changing and volatile political landscape. But let’s face it. No matter how painful it is to be left behind, we can always be grateful that it wasn’t at Dunkirk beach in 1940. Dunkirk, one of the British Army’s worst defeats but by the grace of God and Operation Dynamo, it turned into one of their finest hours.
Today, everyone knows the story of the over 300,000 troops rescued from their perilous situation at Dunkirk, thanks to the help of the British Navy. And the many brave and courageous British citizens who skippered everything that could float and hastened pace, sometimes under fire, towards the French beaches. And who can forget Churchill’s speech? We will fight them on the beaches. We will fight them in the streets. We will never surrender. My God. It’s the stuff that legends (and excellent Hollywood films) are made of.
But there’s a darker side of the story. A painful story inside the big story that gets… well, left behind sometimes. And that story is this: As the British Army languished on those rough, windy beaches and awaited either extermination or rescue, tens of thousands of soldiers, facing certain capture and quite likely death, fought grisly rearguard actions to help their brothers in arms get away safely. To keep hope alive for Britain and consequently, for the rest of the world. Despite being overlooked in many accounts of Dynamo, these people made the famous rescue possible.
Here I am! Bet you thought I dropped off the face of the earth, didn’t you? I wouldn’t blame you if you did. The truth is it’s been a crazy summer, with a lot of different things going on. First and foremost is the big book release, which you can learn more about by clicking the link below. It’s been a real learning curve navigating putting a book out into the world. If you think the process is all done when the book hits the shelves, well, you would be wrong! 🙂 It turns out that’s when the real work begins with book signings, events, promotion, and advertising. Then while doing all that, I’ve also been hard at work on the next project, because we have to think ahead you know! I’ve been working on it for over a year, and just last month I finally got a rough draft turned into my agent. Now I sit in the doldrums of waiting for her notes, of which I’m sure she’ll have plenty, given that this is quite a rough first draft. But the waiting has given me a little time to slow down and start brushing off this old history blog! I’ve missed it to tell you the truth, and I’m looking forward to reconnecting with all of you in the weeks ahead. I thought I’d kick things off by continuing my historical poem covering various wars in US History. Remember that?! (For a refresher, click here). And since I’ve been dabbling with an old Civil War manuscript while I wait for notes on my other project (so many projects, so little time) I thought it would be fun to dive right into Part III – the Civil War. Which happens to be the final part. But fear not -there are seven segments that I will be posting in weeks to come. I hope you enjoy them all, as well as all the other posts I have planned for the rest of the year! Can’t wait, and hope to hear from all of you soon!
It’s no secret that getting into the Air Corps, during the First World War or any other conflict, is quite a feat. As we’ve all learned from Top Gun, combat pilots are often considered the elite of the elite, and before they can even sit in the cockpit of a fighter plane, there’s all kinds of hoop jumping (or flight looping) for a spot in the prestigious ranks. And unfortunately, especially during the First World War, those hoops increase exponentially for black people. But that didn’t stop Eugene Jacques Bullard – who beat all the odds, and heaps of racism, to become the first Black American fighter pilot in history. And unlike many of his flying contemporaries, Bullard would live to tell the tale.
Eugene Bullard was born in Columbus, Georgia in 1895, descended from ancestors born into the evils of slavery in the deep south. And while the Civil War may have put an end to slavery in name, it didn’t dislodge the racism at all. As a young child, Bullard witnessed a horrific lynching attempt against his father after a work dispute gone wrong. While his father survived the attack, the episode still deeply traumatized young Eugene, and he soon became enamored with his father’s stories of France – a place where people were a bit more accepting of all races and backgrounds.
Those stories are what ultimately drove Eugene Bullard overseas in the early 1910s. Determined to escape racial discrimination, he traveled to Norfolk, Virginia, where he stowed away on a steamer ship bound for Scotland. From there, he eventually made his way to London, where he joined an African-American troupe of slap stick performers called the Freedmen Pickaninnies.
Did any of you play Super Mario 3 on Nintendo when you were a kid? You know, the one with the raccoon tail that made Mario fly (makes zero sense, but we loved it) and you had to move through all the different worlds to get to the end. My favorite world was giant world. Everything blown up to incredible, gargantuan sizes, with giant Goombas, giant mushrooms, and giant tunnels. Giant enemies pressing in from all sides. All while poor little regular-sized Mario had to fly and fight his way through the chaos.
It made me wish I could find my own version of Giant World here in the three dimensional land, and as it turns out – I did. That’s right, I found a corner of the world where very normal things are blown up to very abnormal sizes, things like forks, belt buckles, and rocking chairs. And I found them at the best place for encountering such quirky little road side attractions.
So, here for you is a tour of some of the giant treasures hidden all across America on the Old Mother Road. The “giant world” of Route 66, which felt fitting, since the road still feels like it’s larger than life. And hey, at least you don’t need a raccoon tail to work your way through it.
SEASHELLS BY THE SEASHORE
I was just a little girl when my toes sunk into the sand
Of the balmy, pretty beach deep in the Southland
I fell in love with the ocean blue, and the big open sky
The billowy clouds and thunderstorms that often blew on by
But it was all the seashells that really captured my heart
Scattered over the sand and beach, covering every part
Tumbling in the waves and buried deep in the sea
Ripe for the plucking, those seashells really called out to me
Seashells dumping onto shore with every incoming tide
Shells clinking and clacking in the waves, rolling on a surf ride
More seashells on one beach than I could ever want or hold
I was just a child then so they seemed to me like gold
Shapes of pure perfection, colors like the sand
Twisty shells, clam shells, oyster shells that all fit perfectly in my hand
When I held them to my ear I could hear the ocean’s call
Even long after I got home and winter did befall
As the snow and ice set in, I stare out the window and dream
Of that long ago visit to Florida, where the ocean waters gleam
Where seashells of every shape and size rest upon the shore
Where the ocean horizons and palm trees stretch on forever more
“I’ll return and visit someday,” I always said in my heart
“No matter how many years go by, we won’t forever be apart.”
And now, so many years later, I’m returning to Florida land
I’m returning to play in the waves, and search for shells in the sand
I’m sure I’ll have a wonderful time, really, how could I not?
In a place where seashells are everywhere, like a big treasure pot?
I’ll see you soon, Florida beach, get ready for when I arrive
Because I can’t wait for the sun and shells, to feel so much more alive
As you might have guessed from this poem and post, I am headed off for a badly needed (and quite lengthy!) vacation to Florida next week to see my grandma and some other extended family. So the blog will be pretty quiet for awhile. I look forward to resuming posting and visiting all your amazing blogs when I return after Easter! You all be good until then! 🙂
If you want to follow along on my Florida and road trip adventures – follow me on Instagram and Twitter, handle @mbhenry1985
Photos by M.B. Henry – for more photography from all over the world, click here!
Looking for some spring reading? If you like WWII Historical Fiction and have an interest in D-Day, you might enjoy my debut novel which drops in a little over a month. Click here for more information!
As anyone who has been following this series knows – there are certainly a lot of charming stops on the fabulous old Mother Road. Despite its faded space on the map, the former Main Street of America still boasts ample antique small-town stops with faded brick buildings and cozy, pretty streets. Right alongside the bigger city dazzles like Chicago, Armarillo, and St. Louis. There are museums, restaurants, tourist attractions, and bright neon lights. Though it’s a blast from the past in many respects, the eastern half of Route 66 still takes you through a mostly civilized world – with nicely paved roads, traffic lights, and plenty of places to stop for gas and a bite to eat.
But somewhere in Oklahoma, things begin to change. Buildings and towns grow more sparse, and the towns you do encounter have a different vibe. The architecture gets more rugged. Tumbleweeds blow past some of the empty roads. Vast, unending fields and plains replace the big buildings and old souvenir shops. Pump stations, whether just for photos or to actually fill your car with gas, become harder and harder to come by. As do restaurants and touristy stops.
By the time you reach Arizona, Route 66 has officially gone from a road through modern civilization to a desolate, abandoned backroad in a forgotten part of America. The cracked, pot-holed asphalt boils under the hot, desert sun. Red rock formations and dry, thirsty mountains stretch on underneath a big blue sky with the occasional white clouds. Sun-burned cacti and bits of petrified wood dot the horizon. Sprawling National Parks and old Pueblo monuments replace cozy diners and old-fashioned cafes. In short, the western half of Route 66 is quite a different world.
And it’s in this most isolated part of the Mother Road that you really begin to encounter some interesting people and places. Like Ray’s in Arizona – a small roadside stop where the owner insists on feeding you chili dogs and showing you his astounding Hot Wheels collection (seriously… it’s astounding, and I had to at least find a way to mention it during this series).
Not far from there you will find the town of Oatman. An old mining town just off the winding, quite untamed (and somewhat treacherous) part of the old Route 66. The really old route 66 – the one from John Steinbeck’s “Okie” world of desperation instead of the movie “Cars.” Once you work your way around the dicey curves and narrow passes, you come around the mountain and there it is – the main street of Oatman. Which might not strike people as a particularly interesting town, until they see that the place is mostly run by…. (*checks notes*)… Burros.