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Hot Springs, Arkansas November 11, 1918
If perfection existed this side of heaven, Annemarie Kendall had just achieved it.
A thrill dancing up her spine, she rotated the tall, teardrop-shaped vase and examined it inch by beautiful inch. When she wasn't busy keeping books for the family pottery business or putting together Red Cross comfort kits for the boys serving in France, she found immense satisfaction in creating her own works of ceramic artistry.
Certainly not her father's preferred use of her time, as he'd told her often enough, but Annemarie aspired to more than utilitarian bowls, urns, and butter churns—the mainstay of Kendall Pottery. Someday ... someday ... visitors who came to Hot Springs for the baths would also take home a one-of-a-kind piece of her ceramic art as a lasting reminder of their stay in this scenic and charming city.
For the past few months, Annemarie had been experimenting with a crystalline glazing method, striving for the perfect blend of ingredients, timing, and technique. With this vase, she'd achieved her vision—a design reminiscent of a Ouachita mountain sunrise, the view she'd awakened to nearly every morning of her life here in Hot Springs.
Her smile widened, her cheeks warming with the glow of victory. Her ears hummed with imagined celebratory cheers—
Except the cheering wasn't coming from inside her head. Beyond the workroom walls, the sound grew louder, the eruption of excitement drawing Annemarie's attention from the vase she so tenderly cradled.
Suddenly the door from the adjoining factory slammed open.
The vase slammed against the stone floor.
"Annemarie!" Her father blew into the room like a late-season tornado. "Annie-girl, have you heard the news?"
A thousand shimmering shards scattered at her feet, Annemarie barely comprehended his words. She stood frozen and held her breath—along with the shriek that begged for release.
One ... two ... three ... four ...
With a stubborn lift of her shoulders, she turned to face her father. What news could possibly have Papa—and the entire factory, so it seemed—in such a state of jubilation?
"It's over, Annie-girl! The war is over!" Papa lunged toward her, his work boots grinding the pottery fragments to powder. He scooped her into his beefy arms and twirled her around the shop.
"What? What did you say?" Annemarie's heart slammed against her breastbone. She pounded her fists upon her father's thick shoulders until he released her. "Papa, is it true?"
"You heard me, girl! Kaiser Wilhelm has abdicated. They've signed the armistice. Our boys will be home before you know it!"
Head spinning, Annemarie stumbled backward and braced herself against a worktable. Tears choked her. She pressed the back of her fist against her mouth. Dear God, so much suffering, so many lives lost. How she'd prayed for this day—the Great War over at last! "Oh, Papa. Praise God!"
"Praise Him indeed!" Papa enfolded her in his arms, with gentleness and care this time, and let her sob into his grimy muslin shirt that smelled of sweat and smoke and clay. "There, there, Annie-girl, you're not the only lass weeping tears of joy this day. The Lord willing, Gilbert could be home by Christmas!"
Annemarie straightened and sniffed away her tears. Finding a handkerchief in her apron pocket, she dabbed at her cheeks with a trembling hand. "I almost forgot. A letter came this morning. I haven't even had a chance to open it."
"A letter from your sweetheart and you forgot?" Papa clucked his tongue.
Her happy smile faded. It pained her to admit the letters she'd so looked forward to this past year now evoked more distress than delight. She wrung her hands and swallowed the bitter lump of guilt. "I ... I was working at the wheel when Morris delivered the mail. He said there was a letter from Gilbert, but my hands were covered with clay, and ..."
Papa's disgruntled sigh spoke louder than words. His gaze slid to the pottery fragments littering the floor before he skewered Annemarie with a disapproving glare. If Papa weren't so anxious to learn the latest word from Gilbert, she'd surely be in for yet another lecture concerning the "abominable waste of time and money" spent upon her "art."
He was right, though. She had no business concerning herself with anything so frivolous when brave soldiers lay wounded or dying on the Western Front. She prayed the Lord's forgiveness for her selfishness.
"Well, go on, now. Get the letter and let's hear what our Gilbert has to say." Papa pushed the factory door closed and then plopped onto a stool and propped one elbow on the worktable.
Her face burning with remorse, Annemarie tucked in her chin and strode through another door to the front office. Sorting through the mail on her cluttered desk, she retrieved Gilbert's letter and hurried back to the workroom, careful to sidestep the broken vase. She would not mourn over pottery shards, not when Gilbert—her dear Gilbert, the boy she'd loved since childhood—would soon be in her arms again.
Letter in hand, she scooted a stool close to her father's. She slid a stubby, clay-stained fingernail under the envelope flap and tugged out the single page. The thin, cream-colored sheet crackled beneath her fingers as she unfolded the letter. As usual, the censors had already done their damage. Though as an officer Gilbert was particularly careful to avoid specifics, smudged ink and the occasional blacked-out word interrupted his spidery scrawl.
Smoothing the wrinkled page, Annemarie cleared her throat. "Shall I read it aloud?"
"Oh, no, no." Papa chuckled and waved a hand. "I'm sure it's full of personal stuff between you and your sweetheart. Just tell me the important parts—how he's mending, when he expects to ship home."
Annemarie stifled another frisson of worry. Wanting to shield both her family and Gilbert's from further concern, she hadn't shared how utterly impersonal Gilbert's latest letters had become—a coolness that had nothing to do with concerns over censorship. The letters he'd written as a West Point cadet, and even during the early months of his deployment to France, had been filled with declarations of love, how he strove every day not only to honor his father's memory but also to do both Annemarie and his country proud. It wasn't long, however, before the tone of his letters had darkened. While she knew he did his best to protect her from the ugliness of war, clearly he had been changed by it.
Then in August, word had arrived that Gilbert had been wounded. An artillery explosion had taken his left leg and shattered his left arm from wrist to shoulder. He'd nearly lost an eye and for eight days had feared permanent deafness. His first letters after evacuation to a French field hospital, dictated to the chaplain on duty, were terse and factual, which she'd attributed to the fact that Gilbert chose not to share too personally through a stranger.
Yet when he'd recovered enough to take up pen and paper himself, Annemarie could no longer deny the truth that lay beneath his deceptively courteous words. Her dear Gilbert, once bold and ambitious, full of life and love and great plans for their future, now seemed dispirited, desolate, defeated. Annemarie couldn't begin to fathom the horrors he'd endured, but surely with time he would recover both physically and emotionally. She prayed night and day for his healing—as well as for the strength within herself to stand strong at Gilbert's side as the wife he would need in the months and years ahead.
Slowly, determinedly, Annemarie perused the letter, dated Sunday, October 6. "Still in the hospital ... constant headache but some vision returning to my left eye.... They say I'm one of the lucky ones—if you can call it that. So many wounded, so many dead and dying. More every day. Will this blasted war never end?"
Annemarie's heart broke to realize Gilbert had penned these somber words only weeks before the armistice. With trembling fingers, she brushed away a tear. Her father reached across the space between them and patted her knee as she silently read on. "Waiting for the next transport home—possibly December. Don't know where I'll end up yet. Probably a military hospital somewhere like _____."
The name was obliterated, but wherever it was, Annemarie would find a way to get there as soon as possible. She looked up with a hopeful smile. "He's getting better, Papa. He may be home next month! He says—"
The jangle of the telephone interrupted her. Papa hefted his bulk off the stool and hurried to the front office to answer. "Kendall Pottery Works, Joseph Kendall speaking."
Within seconds, Annemarie discerned the caller was Evelyn Ballard, Gilbert's mother, and it sounded as if she'd received a letter as well. Annemarie rushed into the office and hovered at her father's elbow, waiting to hear what news Mrs. Ballard's letter contained.
"Of course, we're as thrilled as you, Evelyn," Papa was saying. "What a homecoming that boy will have! Here, I'll let you speak directly with Annemarie."
A dark tress had worked loose from Annemarie's bun, and she tried in vain to tuck it back into place. The arrogant Evelyn Ballard, with all her wealth and sophistication, never failed to intimidate Annemarie. She could feel the woman's critical eye upon her even through the telephone line. Hesitantly, she accepted the earpiece from her father. "Good morning, Mrs. Ballard. It's wonderful news, isn't it?"
"Oh, my dear, it's simply the best! I've already made some calls, and thanks to my late husband's military connections, I've arranged for Gilbert to continue his recuperation at the Army and Navy Hospital right here in Hot Springs. We'll be able to visit him every day until he's discharged."
"Really? I'm so glad!" Annemarie drew her lower lip between her teeth. "How ... how did he sound to you?"
Mrs. Ballard released a long and pain-filled sigh. "Oh, my dear, our poor lad has suffered so much. Of course, he is unhappy about his current state of disability and naturally concerned about the prospect of a lengthy recovery. But we cannot give up hope. We must encourage him in every way possible and keep him constantly in our prayers."
Fresh tears sprang into Annemarie's eyes. "Always."
"And once he's home and we set the wedding plans in motion, I'm sure it will lift his spirits even more."
Annemarie squeezed her eyes shut. "Perhaps we shouldn't rush him in that regard. He'll have so many adjustments to make."
"Yes, but keeping his mind occupied with happy anticipation of your nuptials will be the best medicine, I'm positive." Voices in the background drew Mrs. Ballard's attention for a moment. She came back on the line to say, "Sorry, I must ring off for now. But I'll have you and your mother over for luncheon soon, and we can start making plans!"
"Yes, well ..." No use arguing with the woman—truly a force to be reckoned with. If Mrs. Ballard had been a general, the Allies would have won the war in a single day. Annemarie said good-bye and set the earpiece on the hook.
She pivoted toward the workroom, only to find her father had returned to the factory. Beyond the open door, she could hear his booming voice instructing the pottery workers to finish their current tasks and then take the rest of the day off in celebration of the armistice.
Annemarie's current task, unfortunately, was sweeping up the remnants of her shattered vase. She found a broom and dustpan and with each stroke sang a little song in her head: My Gilbert is coming home soon!
With a new lightness in her step, she made quick work of depositing the broken pottery in the waste bin.
Yes, perhaps it was time to put this dream to rest once and for all, because when Gilbert returned to Hot Springs, everything about her life was sure to change.
Excerpted from When the Clouds Roll By by Myra Johnson. Copyright © 2013 Myra Johnson. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted November 26, 2013
After waiting for her fiancé, Gilbert Ballard, to finally come home from fighting in the Great War in Europe, Annemarie Kendall is happy to receive the news he will arrive soon. Preparing to share a life with a man who has lost his leg, Annemarie has no idea of his other injuries. Gilbert doesn’t want to burden Annemarie with a disabled man and breaks the engagement. He encourages her to move on with her life and even tells his best friend and army chaplain, Samuel Vickary—who has shown an interest in Annemarie—to go ahead and claim Annemarie for himself. Samuel, however, is afraid to take that step, because he is convinced Gilbert will come to his senses and will want her back.
When Samuel becomes ill with the Spanish Flu, the Kendalls take him in and nurse him back to health. During this time, Annemarie feels a strong connection to him, and a close friendship develops. Samuel is head over heels in love with Annemarie, but still feels it is not his place nor the time to court her—not only because of Gilbert, but also because of the ghosts of the war haunting him.
Then something happens that makes Annemarie start to think about her feelings for Samuel—is it a mere friendship she is experiencing, or is it more than that? And what are her feelings for Gilbert? When Gilbert doesn’t seem to wait for her and moves on with his life, Annemarie and Samuel dare to explore the possibility of a relationship. Can Annemarie let go of the love of her youth and move on with another man? Or will she go back to her first love?
An exceptional story about a young woman sorting out her feelings for two men scarred by war wounds. The one with physical wounds, the other with mental wounds—two men who are transformed by what they have seen in the war and must learn to let go of the horrible memories and the losses they have suffered.
The writing style is excellent! After having read the first pages, I was so drawn into the story that I knew this was going to be a great read…and I wasn’t disappointed! Although I’m normally not a big fan of two men vying for the hand of the same woman, this book is so good that it didn’t bother me at all. It has an original storyline and kept me guessing till the end. Highly recommended!
Posted October 27, 2013
When the Clouds Roll By is a poignant love story set during and after the first World War. Both heroes struggle with some form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Guilt, accompanied by flashbacks, overwhelm these men as they try to assimilate into the life they left behind when they joined the service. The "normal life" they once had is gone forever.
The heroine, Annemarie, has less flaws, but she's still a complex character as she struggles with her conflicting feelings about the two men. She considers one is a stranger, while the other has been a close friend since childhood. But now that the war is over, which one does she really know? Which one should she love?
It's refreshing that Annemarie is a potter. Johnson really did her homework in this area. I've thrown a few bowls (both on the wheel and against the wall) and she describes the sights, smells, feels and physicality of throwing pots accurately. I also enjoyed the love story between Annemarie and the man she chose to love. There was growth of all three characters and a push-pull tension between them throughout the book.
If you like complex, brooding men, independent women and happily-ever-afters, you'll love this book. My thanks to Abingdon Press for a copy in exchange for my fair and honest review.
Posted September 30, 2013
Myra Johnson in her new book, "When The Clouds Roll By" Book One in the Till We Meet Again series published by Abingdon Press takes us into the life of Annemarie Kendall.
From the back cover: Sometimes, going home is the worst thing you can do.
World War I has ended, but returning to Hot Springs, Arkansas, means Lt. Gilbert Ballard has to face his fiance, who has no idea how badly he's been wounded. Army Chaplain Samuel Vickary has helped Gilbert confront his postwar anxiety, but both men continue to struggle with the war's aftermath in their lives.
Determined he won't become a burden, Gilbert decides to break his engagement to Annemarie. Samuel does his best to convince Gilbert he's a fool for giving Annemarie up, but he can't deny--at least to himself--his own growing attraction to his best friend's girl.
Caught in the middle and confused, Annemarie searches for the courage that can save them all--the courage for Samuel to reaffirm his faith, for Gilbert to leave the war behind, and for her own journey to become the woman God intended to be.
Stories set during or after World War I are hard to come by and good stories are even scarcer. Ms. Johnson has stepped up to the void and filled it with a winner. The title tells you the story is set after the war when you would think that the storm clouds of the war have passed. Ms. Johnson is writing about the clouds that come after the war when the soldiers came home shell-shocked or having what we call now PTSD or wounded or both and how does everyone deal with those clouds. Gilbert has his issues and really does not know how to cope in his new civilian life, Samuel has his issues and Annemarie is forced to deal with these new components in her life. This story had the potential to become a real downer but Ms. Johnson is a champion and not only kept it from going in that direction but she really kept it interesting and real. Ms. Johnson does an outstanding job of bringing her characters to life and you feel that you know and understand each of them and feel their individual pain. On top of that really want their romance to succeed. What a great way to start a new series. I am already looking forward to the next book.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Abingdon Press for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."
Posted September 30, 2013
I enjoyed this book very much. I enjoyed the detail, dialogue, and each chapter seen from the viewpoint of a different character. It was the attention to detail that first captivated me. I felt as if I was there in Hot Springs, Arkansas with Annemarie Kendall and Lt. Gilbert Ballard, seeing what they saw and tasting what they tasted. The dialogue also intrigued me. It helped me know Annemarie, Gilbert and Army Chaplain Samuel Vickary very well.
Although it took place after World War I, it reminded me of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and how the soldiers are coming home wounded. I think many people would enjoy reading this book. I highly recommend it.
Disclosure of Material Connection- I received When the Clouds Roll By by Myra Johnson for free from Abingdon Press and the Early Reader Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255.
Posted September 29, 2013
Set directly following World War I, When the Clouds Roll By deals with the scars--physical, emotional, and spiritual--the war left behind. I really appreciated how honestly the problems the soldiers faced upon returning home were portrayed. Gilbert especially had many demons to conquer, and I liked that while he recognized the need to make changes, he still had to deal with the consequences of his choices.
When the Clouds Roll By is a romance, but it's an unpredictable one. The "winner" of Annemarie's affections is not apparent from the first page (in contrast to most romance novels), and I wasn't sure how Johnson would resolve the love triangle until near the end of the book. I definitely enjoyed the unpredictability! I also appreciated that the romance didn't overshadow the rest of the book.
While the book does tend to drag a bit in the middle, overall this is a wonderful story that shows how the wounds of war don't go away when the guns stop firing. I will certainly be coming back for the next book in the series!
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received an advance reading copy of this book for review from Abingdon Press through its early reader program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.
Posted September 26, 2013
When the Clouds Roll by is the first in an exciting, thought provoking new series. The time frame is at the very end of WW1. The setting mostly takes place in a small Arkansas community.
Gil and Annemarie had been close childhood friends, high school Sweethearts, and engaged couple before the war. However, in the past year, Gil"s letters had become a little less warm. Annemarie worried he perhaps didn't care for her in the same way.
Gil was severely injured and was being sent home. A chaplain, Samuel, and Gil became very close on the ship and then the train home. Although the chaplain wasn't injured, he suffered spiritually and emotionally from the horrors he experienced on "the front lines". Sam decided Gil's home town sounded perfect for him to heal within and was able to be transferred to the small Veteran's hospital there.
Against Sam's pleadings,Gil had determined, since he wasn't "a whole man" anymore, he would drive Annamarie away - he couldn't stand to feel her pity.
When the two men arrived at the train station, Gil greeted his family warmly but totally ignored his anxiously awaiting fiance'. The ambulance was awaiting transport of the men and other soldiers who were being located in this hospital. Most still suffered Post Traumatic War Syndrome.
Between the hurt Annemarie was feeling, and Gil's mother pushing her to plan the wedding, she escaped, often, the pottery factory - where she worked for her father- into the refuge of her private workshop where she was creating delicate, beautiful pottery.
At the hospital, Gil refused to allow Annamarie to visit, although she persevered each day to try to visit him. A young nurse, Mary, developed strong feelings for Gil although he did not return them.
This is a bittersweet story of how so many lives are affected by war - not only those who serve. It is a story of dismemberment suffered by many who are called on to fight against the enemy. It brings to light, that Post Traumatic War Syndrome is definitely not new, just better understood.
Some Key points: Distress, physical disability, drug addition, women's independence, love, loyalty, pain, betrayal, friendship, and family support.
The end of the story causes the reader to "beg for more". It is very "clean" reading, fit for YA/Adults.
It was a little repetitive at times still deserving of almost five stars but since there is no 1/2 stars allowed here I will have to stick with four stars.
Posted September 11, 2013
No one was anticipating the news more than families. Those looking for an end to the war were hoping that today would be different, and that they would receive news that it was finally over and the men and women would soon be returning home to waiting families and soon-to-be families. Yet not everyone was overly happy.
Annemarie Kendall knew things had changed over the time Gilbert Ballard has been serving in the war without ever speaking to him. The tone in his letters and what he wasn't saying, lead Annemarie to believe that Gilbert had changed. Sure she knew that he had suffered the loss of his leg as well as injured his arm but isn't love suppose to conquer all? Even war? Now facing him as she waits with her family and Gilbert's family to welcome him home, Annemarie is certain it will definitely be an unforgettable homecoming and one that will change the lives of them all now that the war is over. All Annemarie can hope is that she can show Gilbert that no matter what, she'll be with him all the way to the end.
Lt. Gilbert Ballard has been trying to imagine how he will manage now that he is half a man. Definitely not the man who conveyed his undying love and dedication to Annemarie before he left for the war. All he has been able to do it look at the faded photograph to help him remember what he had waiting for him when he returned back to Hot Springs, Arkansas. Not only a well-to-do family, but also the love of a woman who he had known his whole life. Beautiful beyond measure, she made sure to let him know how much she continued to love and support him, but how would Gilbert be able to provide for Annemarie now? He only hoped he could have enough courage to push past the pity she would feel for him and be grateful they hadn't married before the war.
Army Chaplain Samuel Vickary has been by Gilbert's side often fearing that the post traumatic stress disorder that is pulling at Gilbert will be able to be overcome when he reunites with Annemarie. He worried that during the long train trip home that Gilbert might find a way to take his own life without giving Annemarie a chance to show Gilbert that nothing has changed between them, even though in Gilbert's mind it has. If only he wasn't so drawn by her beauty and Gilbert's description of her kindness, he might be able to help more. But Samuel has his own war demons to face and one that has him questioning his own faith in God during the horrors he witnessed during the war. Would any of them be able to forget and move forward or will have the war changed them all forever?
I received When The Clouds Roll By by author Myra Johnson compliments of Abingdon Press for my honest review and received no monetary compensation for a favorable one. My love for history coupled with an unforgettable romance between Gilbert and Annemarie as well as the love of Samuel to help his two friends while the war continues to consume lives even though it's long over. This one is poignant and compelling, making me turn page after page in wondering in anticipation if it would turn out as expected. I was not disappointed. This is the story of being lost and then found and what happens when we let our feelings gain control over what we really want deep down inside. There is courage to be found in facing what we fear the most and I believe Myra Johnson did just that in this novel. I easily give this one a 5 out of 5 stars! This is the first novel in the Til We Meet Again Series and one I will be watching for!