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I don't imagine many of our schools look like this anymore, but it conveys the freshness of a classroom at the beginning of the year--clean blackboards and fresh flowers. (Do they even use blackboards anymore?) I almost chose the picture of a school library, but as these are now being deleted in some states--a tragedy to my way of thinking--it didn't seem appropriate. I love books. I love the feel of a library. The quiet. The wealth of knowledge and entertainment within reach of my fingertips. Those first days of school were always exciting. New books to be taken home and covered with paper bags. (Does that suggest my age?) New subjects with new assignments. A look at how everyone might have changed over the summer. While we wore uniforms, I did have the chance to wear my new shoes!

On my continued search to read authors new to me, I happened to read a couple of novels lately that bordered on the "mean girls" theme. But more than that, these novels spoke to the impact of childhood experiences and how they often stay with us for life. I don't think I was a mean girl, but I learned early on about cliques, and while I was pretty lucky with friends, that part of growing up can certainly be tough for many kids.

When September comes around and those school days are behind me, I have always had that need to learn something new. Last year, I headed west to Nebraska to learn about homesteading. This year I'm heading east with stops in Richmond, Gettysburg, and Bull Run. I've never had any particular interest in the Civil War, but when I recently learned that I had some great uncles who fought for both the North and the South, it piqued my curiosity. I learned it was not uncommon for the Irish to come to America to fight. Our Civil War came just after the time of the Potato Famine (The Great Hunger) in Ireland, where many were starving and looking for an escape.

I had never heard of Libby Prison--formerly a tobacco warehouse in Richmond, Virginia, which was converted to a prison during the war. Originally it was to take Union officers, but it is said to have held some 25,000 prisoners over the course of the war. It was later taken apart brick by brick and rebuilt in Chicago as a war museum in the 1890s. The following historical novel provides a fascinating look at how a clandestine group of Union supporters in Richmond worked to improve the Libby prison conditions and aided in the escape of many Union soldiers.

  • THE SPY MISTRESS by Jennifer Chiaverini (2013) Lizzie Van Lew was part of the Richmond aristocracy and, because of this, was given a modicum of freedom to provide for the health and well-being of the Union prisoners. She did so at great risk to herself, as many thought she should be using her money and skills for the Confederate wounded. How she maneuvers through the politics, earning herself respect from her neighbors as well as the Union leadership, is a fascinating account.

Now for Growing Up:

  • THE LITTLE FRIEND by Donna Tartt (2011) This is the story of a young girl who had an older brother who was found hanging from their backyard tree when she was still very young. As she grew older, she became convinced that her brother had been murdered and she was going to find the killer. Set in the deep South, with a fractured family who seems to have had little time for her, she and her side-kick, a boy a bit younger but totally entranced by her, set out to solve this mystery. Filled with slimy drug dealers, snake-charming preachers, and racial tension, this is a great story, if not just a bit long.

  • THE FALSE FRIEND by Myla Goldberg (2010) This was an interesting take on how what happens to us as kids can become quite distorted in our memory as we grow older. A woman returns to her childhood home, wanting to come clean as to what she sees as something she should have confessed to as a child. She thought she had deserted her best friend and thereby caused her best friend's death. The problem is that nobody else remembers what she thinks happened; they believe the friend was abducted. In fact, they either believe they saw what happened or had proof of that happening. Woven into this is the relationship between the woman and her parents and her longtime partner. It keeps one guessing.

Hoping you have a wonderful September!

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