Thursday, September 20, 2012

South of Hitler by M.W. Fodor: A Review Essay


Marcel W. Fodor's journalist colleagues typically used superlatives when describing him. For example, John Gunther, who worked closely with him in Vienna during the early 1930s, wrote that "he has the most acutely comprehensive knowledge of Central Europe of any journalist I know." According to George Seldes, Fodor was "one of the best journalists in the world." Even one of America's most famed journalists, Edward R. Murrow, called Fodor "one of the greatest reporters I have ever known."

The reasons for the praise of Fodor's reporting is evident in his books, Plot And Counterplot In Central Europe: Conditions South Of Hitler and South of Hitler. The first book was published in late 1937 before the German-Austrian Anschluss. The second book, South of Hitler, was published in early 1939; its contains, unaltered, all Plot and Counterplot chapters, plus three new chapters on the tumultuous events of 1938.

Fodor's vast knowledge of Central Europe and the Balkans is displayed in these books. They were positively reviewed at the time of their publication, with reviewers often in awe of Fodor's command of a vast array of facts about the recent past and the prospects in 1937 of the eight countries that he covered, including Albania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Turkey, Hungary, and Austria. Much of the books concern the situation in the last two countries.

FODOR'S BACKGROUND

The revealing details in South of Hitler came largely from Fodor's seventeen years of closely following events in Central Europe and the Balkans as a correspondent for the Manchester Guardian and several papers in the United States. They also reflect his strong ties to Central Europe. Fodor was born (1890) and raised in Hungary. His  father, Janos, was a rich Budapest industrialist who had changed his name from Fischer to Fodor during the Magyarization movement in the last part of the 19th century. Among his holdings, he owned a newspaper in Budapest and in Vienna. Fodor's mother, Bertha von Auspitz, came from a fabulously rich family in Brno, then known as BrĂ¼nn.

As a member of this affluent family, Fodor was well educated in his youth and  learned several languages. He mentioned in South of Hitler (p. 188) that he first traveled throughout the Balkans in 1905 when he was 15, accompanied only by a 12-year-old nephew.  
M.W. Fodor in the early 1940s

Though a person with broad interests, Fodor studied chemical engineering at the University of Budapest and the Technical College in Charlottesburg (now, part of Berlin), earning a degree in the field in 1911. After that, he informally studied art in Zurich and Paris.

Fodor's first job, in 1913, was at an Iron and Steel Works in Frodington, England. According to his son, Denis Fodor, Marcel's father helped him get an engineering position at this plant, which was owned by Hungarian investors, so that he — a pacifist — could stay out of the Austro-Hungarian army.

When World War I came, Fodor was interned as an "enemy alien" in Great Britain, but soon after its end, he returned to Budapest. As described in South of Hitler, Fodor's journey home took him first in January, 1919, to Berlin, where he witnessed the Spartacus uprising, then by train to Munich, where the communist revolt was taking place. On his train ride from Munich to Salzburg, he watched the desperate cross-border smuggling of food to help supply starving Austrians.

Fodor was back in Budapest in late February 1919 shortly before Bela Kun's communist regime took power. He observed the turbulence and violence of that short-lived regime. According to family history, as told by Marcel to his son, his parents were murdered by this regime, which killed several hundred "class enemies." Fodor does not mention this terrible event in South of Hitler or any of his other writings. (I have found no independent verification of the time, place, or manner of the death of Fodor's parents.)

FODOR BECOMES A JOURNALIST

Foregoing his training as an engineer, Fodor got work as a reporter for the Manchester Guardian, a liberal British newspaper, in 1919, plus that year he did volunteer work as a Quaker for the Society of Friends in Budapest. In 1921, when he was living in Vienna, he was appointed to be a full correspondent for the Guardian.

In his role as a Manchester Guardian reporter, then correspondent, Fodor traveled extensively in the huge territory he was covering for the paper. From 1919 through 1937, he repeatedly interviewed political leaders and others making news in all of the countries on his beat. He augmented the knowledge obtained from his trips with information from regional news services; with facts, tips, and rumors obtained from tipsters, spies, and others who hung out at Vienna's Cafe Louvre; and with interviews of prominent people from the region who visited Vienna.

We can see a large sample of his encyclopedic mind in South of Hitler. It is crammed with long-forgotten names, places, and events that were part of the mosaic of regional politics at the time. For example, the book includes the history of numerous treaties that were made and broken as countries tried to counter threats from Italy or Hungary or Germany through alliances with neighbors. If you want to know the details of the Little Entente and its evolution, you can find them in South of Hitler.

Fodor's ability to keep facts about Central Europe and the Balkans at his fingertips was noted in his obituary published in the New York Times on July 1, 1977. After mentioning that Fodor spoke five languages fluently, the obituary stated: "In his old age he could on request name the deputy police chief in Vienna at the time of the Nazi assassination of Engelbert Dollfuss in 1934."

Fodor was not only able to assemble intimate, detailed knowledge of who did what and how in the countries he covered, he also went beyond the facts to analysis and prediction. He used his vast store of facts, opinions, rumors, and assessments to try to make sense of the political dynamics of Central Europe and the Balkans and to project what was likely to happen in the future. South of Hitler is full of his analysis and predictions.

FODOR'S FAMOUS COLLEAGUES

In comparing Fodor to some of his more famous friends and colleagues, he falls short on one aspect of his work: he did not write as fluidly and interestingly as some of them. After all, English was not his first language, and he had the mind of an engineer, not a novelist. His prose is rational and competent, not dazzling.
This picture was published in South of Hitler

Likely Fodor's rationalistic prose and modest personality contributed to the fact that he did not achieve the fame that came to three fellow journalists he met and worked closely with in Vienna. He was a mentor of two of them: Dorothy Thompson and John Gunther. He was friends with the third, William Shirer. All three became renown journalists in their post-Vienna days.

Fodor met Thompson in 1921, when she was just starting to work in Vienna as a journalist. She was a prolific, facile writer with boundless energy and strong opinions. She had quick success as a reporter and later became a widely read nationally syndicated columnist. Gunter came as a young man in 1930 to Vienna. A would-be novelist whose talent lay in telling rich "people" stories, he parlayed the knowledge he gained as a reporter, his interview skills, and his narrative writing abilities into the bestselling "Inside" books. Shirer was a Chicago Tribune correspondent in Vienna from 1929-1932; he returned for a few months in 1937 and 1938 as a CBS radio correspondent. Shirer's Berlin Diary, a passionately written account of his job as a radio correspondent in Nazi Berlin prior to the start of World War II, was a best seller in the early 1940s. In the 1950s he wrote a massive history of the Third Reich that also became a best seller. 

Though Fodor lacked the writing sizzle and outsized ego of these talented and successful correspondents, he surpassed them in other ways. He had an unparalleled memory for facts and superior analytic talent: He could make connections and draw conclusions from the huge matrix of facts that he had assembled. In addition, Fodor's language skills enabled him to interview a much broader array of  interesting people in their own language.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Given Fodor's strengths and weakness as journalist, the value and power of South of Hitler — as might be expected — lies in its deployment of facts and its analysis of their meaning to better understand events occurring in the late 1930s. Sometimes, South of History gets a bit bogged down by the huge array of characters and happenings that appear in the narrative, but they all are pixels in the larger picture of important developments in Central Europe and the Balkans during the first part of the 20th century. If a reader would like to immerse him- or herself in understanding people and events in this area during the 1920s and 1930s, this book cannot be beaten.  


For a biographical sketch of M.W. Fodor, go to this link:

For more information on the life of foreign correspondents in Vienna during the 1920s and 1930s, go to this link:

Also, more about Fodor can be found here: 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Winthrop Rockefeller in the Back Seat of my New Cadillac: My Life at the 1968 Republican National Convention



*********************************************

The news about the Republican National Convention held last week in Tampa reminded me of my own experience with the Republican Convention held from August 5 to August 8, 1968 in Miami Beach.  I attended the convention as an "aide" for the Arkansas delegation, and was in Miami a few days prior to its start until its end.  My expenses were paid, either directly or indirectly, by Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller (WR).
Groovy Nixon Youth Poster (Note "Milhous" Button)
How many people in the poster do you recognize? Clint Eastwood is near
Wilt Chamberland in the back

A Serious Young Republican

While still in high school in 1964, I had done some door-to-door canvassing in Fayetteville for WR's unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign. And during my first two years at the University of Arkansas, I had been active in the campus and state Young Republicans, which had been revitalized to support Winthrop Rockefeller's rebuilding of the party. In 1966, when WR beat Justice Jim Johnson to become Arkansas' governor, I had pitched in as a YR campaign volunteer, and I came to know several folks who worked in WR's famous public relations office, including Judy Petty and John Ward.

Through this activities, I had sufficient credentials and visibility to be taken seriously by the powers-that-be when I mailed, from Vienna, Austria, my application -- or supplication -- to go to the 1968 Republican National Convention (RNC).  I was thrilled when I was told that I had been selected to go to the convention. 

In the middle of July, 1968, I returned to Fayetteville from a year's study at the Vienna campus of the Institute of European Study and was scheduled to depart shortly thereafter for Miami Beach. Reading about events in the United States from an observation point several thousand miles away had made me apprehensive about what I would find on my return. Sitting in my apartment in Vienna's 1st district, I  heard the news of the King and Kennedy assassinations, the anti-war demonstrations, and the destructive race riots. I feared the country had become unglued, and was relieved to find, when arriving back in Fayetteville, that life seemed as normal as when I had departed for Vienna ten months earlier.

Home again, I learned the plans for the trip to the convention. I would be driving from Little Rock to Miami Beach with Everett Ham, another young delegation aide, and two of WR's secretaries (one of whom, if I recall correctly was Sandra Boatright). We would be going to Miami a week early to assist with the pre-convention platform meetings and other organizational activities that WR would attend. 

Everett Ham and the Trip to Miami

We departed for Miami before dawn on Monday, July 29th, with the goal of getting as far as possible -- all of the way to Miami, if possible -- on the first day. Our car was a "vintage" Cadillac. It was huge, black, plush and old -- probably a 1958 or 59 model. According to Ham, we were driving the car to Miami so that WR would have a familiar car for his use there, if he needed it. As far as I know, WR never once got into the car while he was in Miami.
The Cadillac looked like this. From mywvhome.com
Unfortunately, the aging luxury car was not up to the trip, and the travel became an adventure when it broke down somewhere in Mississippi or Alabama, and we had to stop overnight for repairs.

The next day, when I was driving the car, we ran out of gas -- fortunately only a few hundred yards from an Esso station. (Ham insisted that gas for the Cadillac be purchased only from Esso -- the successor to Standard Oil Company, founded by WR's grandfather, which made the Rockefeller family one of  the richest in the U.S.) We limped into Miami Beach late evening of the second day.
I don't have a picture of
Everett Ham, but recall that he
looked something like this,
with a flat top and larger jowls
From aginginplace.com

The car trip from Little Rock to Miami was not a pleasant one, mainly because Ham was an imperious, sweaty jerk. As a small bug, my dislike of him was unimportant, but the distaste for him developed by WR's secretaries was probably not good for his career.

At the time, I did not know much about Ham, who had a flat top and a pudgy, snarly face. I would not have guessed that he had been, only a few years earlier, WR's top aide and confidant. He was hired in the early 1960s, leaving a Department of Agriculture post to be the assistant to WR in his role as Arkansas' Republican National Committeeman. On WR's payroll, he became a blunt instrument -- if a hatchet has a blunt side -- to help WR and his group take over the Republican Party.

The folks running the hapless party in the late 1950s and early 1960s were described as "Post Office Republicans" because they often got patronage -- such as appointments to be postmaster of a city -- from the national party in return for their service to a losing cause. Rockefeller wanted to revive the party to challenge the Faubus-dominated Democratic Party. However, to do so he had to get rid of the folks who were complacent with being genial losers.

Ham was sent to organize the counties and identify supporters of WR to take over the leadership positions. The Republican Old Guard did not appreciate the effort and particularly disliked Ham, according to John Ward, the man hired in 1964 to head WR's Public Relations office. Ward wrote in his book, The Arkansas Rockefeller, that Bill Spicer, the chairman of the Arkansas Republican Party in the early 1960s, hated Ham "whom he considered tasteless, arrogant, overbearing, and not too intelligent about politics." Ward continued:

Ham...was a large man with a crew cut, whose total dedication was to Rockefeller and the Republican party. He could be -- and frequently was -- quite heavy handed, excusing it in the name of building a two-party system. Ham knew how to roll heads and he did it. You could go with Rockefeller or get out of the way. The old mossback Republicans did neither. They just got stomped by the growing numbers of Rockefeller supporters.

Elsewhere in his book, Ward wrote this about Ham, who was instrumental in persuading WR to run for governor in 1964 and expected to play the lead role in the campaign, only to be thwarted by Tom Eisele, who was appointed campaign director:

He saw a major aspect of politics in terms of investigations and scandal and gumshoe operations, a game between private investigators and men with secret intelligence techniques. You must "know the enemy,' he would argue. He did not inspire, but in his own way he was as dedicated to the effort as Eisele or anyone else. Ham had fulfilled his role early in the Rockefeller effort, having been instrumental in helping Rockefeller remove the old-guard Republicans who wouldn't cooperate. He thought he knew something about politics.

Today, I would not mind having Ham as companion for a 1,200 mile, 19 hour, trip. It would be fun to hear his stories about early 1960s politics in Arkansas.  I could ignore his rough edges and laugh at his bluster. In 1968, it was almost unbearable to share the car with such a disagreeable man for the two long days it took to get from Little Rock to Miami Beach.

In Miami: Life on the Rockefeller Credit Card

The Arkansas delegation to the Republican National Convention stayed at the beach-front Eden Rock Hotel in Miami Beach, and I had a room there. It was partially owned by Joe Garagiola, former Cardinal's catcher and broadcaster. I know that  because one day I was sitting in the lobby when he walked in and sat down beside me. I was thrilled to get to chat with him.

Peanut Butter and Bacon Sandwich
From: 
dailygrommet.com 
I had never been a guest at a luxury hotel before, so it was rube-in-the-city Goll-lly time. I had plenty of leisure to lay by the large pool, and all I had to do for meals was sign my name. At the Eden Rock restaurant, on WR's dime, I had my first peanut butter and bacon sandwich. I was told that it was one of Elvis' favorite foods.

One night I joined a bunch of WR staffers -- mostly PR types -- for a trip to the floor show at the tony Fontainebleu Hotel. Our group got the front-row-center table inches from the stage and filled it with drinks and foods. At the end, we did not divide up the check and tips to pay our shares. Instead, one of the group produced a WR credit card, and we all walked out smiling. I was glad I had turned 21 the previous February.
A Postcard showing the Fontainebleu Hotel in the 1960s from  http://motelpostcards.blogspot.com

Much of the pre-convention activity was at the Fountainbleu and due to my driving duties (described later), I spent lots of time hanging out there.  One day when I was there, I ended up at a party where Jackie Gleason was presiding. He was a rather large man with a mustache and entourage, and he clearly enjoyed food and drink.

"Working" at the 1968 Republican National Convention

Soon after we arrived at Eden Roc Hotel, I was informed of my duties. Mainly, I was supposed to go where I was told to go, but also I was designated as a pre-convention driver. That meant that I would be driving people from the Eden Roc to the Fountainebleu Hotel and back again.

At first, I thought that meant that I would be driving WR from the Eden Rock to the Fountainebleu. That never happened because he apparently never got out of bed before 2:00 p.m. and by that time most  committee meetings were finished Others went to the meetings in his place. I was relieved because I did not relish the idea of driving one of the world's richest men around through the crowded streets of Miami Beach.

My problems with driving in Miami Beach were these: (1) I was given a brand new 1968 Cadillac to drive, but it had power steering and brakes, and I had never driven a car with either feature (and, of course, I had never driven a Cadillac, other than Ham's dinosaur); (2) I had never driven in a city larger than Little Rock (and had been nervous driving in such a large city the few times I was there), and (3) I had driven a car only a few times in the preceding year. My regular car was a Plymouth Valiant, which was about half the size of a Cadillac.
1968 Cadillac

I managed to do my driving duties without too much worry for the first few days, but on Tuesday, August 6th, I was told that I would be driving WR from the Roc Eden Hotel to the Miami airport in mid-afternoon. He was going back to Arkansas, which had held its primary election that day, to claim victory over his token Republican opposition. 

My heart started pounding. I would be driving a world-famous millionaire through unfamiliar streets amid busy Miami traffic in a fancy car that I could barely control. I sensed the potential for disaster.

I probably have never driven so carefully, tensely, and focused as during that trip to the airport. Fortunately everyone arrived in one piece. As I hopped out of the car, hugely relieved, and opened the door for WR, who (unaware that his life had been in danger due to an unfortunate choice of drivers) had spent the trip talking to one of his advisers. I held out my hand to shake it and wish him luck in the election. He looked a bit uncomfortably at the outstretched hand, then placed a folded up $100 bill in it. He mumbled something about giving one of these to all of the "aides" in Miami, then headed for the private airplane waiting for him. I was thrilled.

Aside from some driving, I also had a couple of other things I was told to do. They were related to the situation: WR had declared as a "favorite son" candidate for president as a way to keep delegates from committing to Richard Nixon and to support the insurgent candidacy of his brother Nelson. To show the escalating enthusiasm for Nelson's candidacy, crowds had to be created for his events. So, I joined a group of Nelson Rockefeller supporters who traveled to the Miami airport to welcome him to the city. Then, the next day, I went to a downtown rally to cheer for him.

It was for naught. It turned out that the insurgent generating the most enthusiasm was at the other end of the political spectrum: Ronald Reagan. Both Rockefeller and Reagan fell short of making a successful  challenge to Richard Nixon, who got the nomination on the first ballot with about 52 percent of the delegate votes. The tally was Nixon, 692 votes; Rockefeller, 277 votes; Reagan, 182 votes; and others, 182 votes. WR received 18 votes from the Arkansas delegation.  

The Convention

Once the convention convened, I had little to do. A bus took the Arkansas delegation from the hotel to the convention and back. So, there was little need for a driver.  
Eden Roc Room List for Arkansas Republicans Attending the 1968 National Convention in Miami Beach

A list of people from Arkansas staying at the Eden Roc Hotel during the convention contains about 112 names. These include the delegates and alternates, state Republican officials, various Rockefeller employees, and young "aides," such as myself. The younger crew included, among others, Joe Binz Jr., Ronnie Kendrick, Margo Dunaway (Arkansas Junior Miss, 1963), Laretta McElroy, and Debbie Wilson. The names of the Arkansas biggies included Truman Altenbaumer, Charles Bernard, Tom Eisele, J.P. Hammerschmidt, Cass Hough, Lynn Lowe, Lillian McGillicuddy, George Nowatny, and Odell Pollard. 

I watched almost all of the convention from the seats of the Miami Beach Convention Center. I cheered the speeches and enjoyed the spectacle. After having viewed the national nominating conventions, gavel to gavel, on television in 1960 and 1964, it was heady to actually be there to see one live.

For a spectator, there was plenty to see, including delegate buffoonery (funny hats, outfits, and signs), famous politicians roaming the halls, and celebrity journalists sitting in the well-lit booths in the rafters and roaming the halls with their cameramen. 

I must have really liked Nixon's acceptance speech. I have a letter that I sent to one of my aunts expressing my enthusiasm for it. However, I recall that I was puzzled by his choice of an unknown political midget, Spiro Agnew, as vice presidential candidate. A few of us spectators figured out that we could make a sign to show our displeasure. It said:  

          Nix on Agnew.

No doubt the sign was too subtle to send a strong message, and Agnew was nominated with 1,119 delegate votes; 186 delegates voted for George Romney, 12 voted for other candidates, and 16 did not vote.

My return to Arkansas was much less painful than the trip to Miami. All of us who had traveled to Miami in the Ham caddy found another way to get back home. In my case, I got a ride with the son of Tom Eisele. We drove straight to Little Rock, stopping only to gas up, taking turns driving.

I was a little apprehensive when arriving in Little Rock at about 10:00 p.m. because the city was under a dusk-to-dawn curfew due to some race-related rioting that had been going on. Fortunately, we encountered no problems. 

After the Convention

Inspired by the convention, I started a pro-Nixon group on the University of Arkansas campus during the Fall 1968 election. The group, Campus Action for Nixon, opened a booth in the basement of the student union and signed up a surprisingly large number of students as members.

The 1968 election featured some major political battles in the state. In the presidential race, George Wallace, candidate of the improvised American Independent Party, challenged Republican Nixon and Democratic Humphrey. Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller was opposed by Marion Crank, the Democratic nominee. And Sen. J. W. Fulbright faced serious Republican opposition from the candidacy of Charles T. Bernard. 

I was excited because this election was the first time I was old enough to vote. I joined several of the campus Young Republicans to do different types of volunteer work for Nixon and Rockefeller (secretly, I intended to vote for Fulbright, so I didn't go anything for Bernard).  We handed out bumper stickers at the county fair and at Razorback football games; boarded a bus to go to the downtown of different cities in Northwest Arkansas to hand out campaign literature; operated a Republican campaign headquarters; and did other "grass roots" actions to support our preferred candidates.

In the end, the election produced strange, puzzling results in Arkansas: Wallace won the state's presidential electors with 33.7 percent of the votes; Rockefeller was easily re-elected governor, and Fulbright won nearly 60 percent of the votes for the Senate.

For me, however, the strangest thing about the 1968 election season was my adventure as the driver steering a brand-new Cadillac down Miami Beach causeways with a Rockefeller in the back seat.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Levi Montgomery: Selling Books in Birch Bay, WA

During the 2012 Summer, the outdoor Birch Bay Market has been open on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays with people selling rustic bird houses, golf balls, pickles, jewelry and other crafts, and all kinds of used goods from temporary booths. The market is located between the C Shop and Terrell Creek. It is a few steps from where I live.
Levi Montgomery's Book-Selling Booth at the Birch Bay Market


One of the regulars at the weekly market has been Levi Montgomery, who sells self-published books at his booth. Curious, I decided to sample his offerings, which include six different novels. I was not sure which book to read, so I asked him if any were set in the local area (Whatcom County, WA). He pointed to a book with the title Light Always Changes, and I carted it off, putting it in a long queue of things I intend to read.  

A few weeks later, I got around to reading the book. I quickly noted that one of the two main characters -- the person at the center of the story -- was a 16-year-old female. Much of the book takes place in her head. The other main character is a 17-year-old guy. Looking at the blurbs for the six books at Levi's booth, this perspective seems to be the norm. Here are the titles and "blurbs" for the six books he has for sale at his booth:

Light Always ChangesAll she wants is to hide her scarred face forever. All he wants is to take the perfect portrait. Sometimes the deepest secrets are hidden behind the thinnest veils.

Stubbs and BernadetteShe's finally found a friend that she can't drive away. And he's a boy. He's finally found the perfect girl. And she's wrong in every way. You cannot be yourself, until you know who you are.

Jillian's GoldJillian has lost her mother, her home, her favorite aunt and every friend she's ever known. Now she has Royal. But is he the counterweight that will help her regain her balance, or is he the anchor that will drag her under forever. Is he the most perfect boy every made, or is he a serial killer with a grudge?

Cursing the CougarMorgan has been too busy with her music and her truck to have time for boys. Now it may be too late. Now someone might have to die. Fear is a powerful enemy. But it is a powerful ally, too.

Other Loves -- Four NovellasSometimes life just isn't like a storybook. In fact, life is almost never like a storybook.

A Place to DieWhat do you do when life takes everything that ever mattered to you? When you lose every single thing in one terrible day? You begin to look for a place to die.

The first four of these novels -- including the one I read -- tell the stories of young women (late teenagers?) in a difficult situation who form a relationship with a young man.  

Light Always Changes is just over 200 pages long. Picking up the self-published book, the first thing I noticed was that its quality of production is comparable to books produced by commercial presses. Reading the book, it is clear that it was ably edited.

The book has a slick, well crafted cover. The significance of the picture featured on the cover is apparent only after getting to the end of the book. 

As might be evident from the short blurb for the book (see above), the novel appeals most immediately to late teens who can readily identify with the travails and triumphs of its teenage protagonists. Nevertheless, because the book is well written, with an engaging plot and a touch of mystery that is not solved until the final pages, I enjoyed the story even though my teen years are a fading memory. 

The novel is set in fictional Port Hale, described as a small place located on the Pacific Ocean between Bellingham and Blaine, Washington. The plot has two main characters, Lydia and Tanner who attend high school in Port Hale. Lydia and her father (an irresponsible pot-head) moved there from Los Angeles, and she is new to the school. Unknown to anyone other than Lydia and her father, they are fugitives from justice: several years earlier, he had abducted Lydia after a court had given his ex-wife custody of her.

Lydia is scarred, both literally and figuratively. One side of her face and one hand have been badly disfigured by acid. The disfigurement is accompanied by internal turmoil and by a hard persona that enables her to ignore the sideways looks she gets and the rejection she fears. She fends off those who would befriend her with a sharp tongue and standoffish behavior. 

Tanner is a passionate photographer with an eye that immediately sees past Lydia's disfigurement. He is smitten. She rejects. He persists. With complications, young love develops, but Lydia's secrets threaten the future of the relationship. All of this unfolds in a deftly written story that includes a surprise at the end. 

The story moves quickly, and the relationship between Lydia and Tanner develops in a plausible and charming way. The book ends with revelations answering the question of who had caused Lydia's acid scars and why.

I have not yet read any of Levi's other novels. I was glad to find that most are available in e-book (Kindle and Nook) form. A search of Amazon, shows the following Kindle formatted e-books:

Blood Bonds ($0.99)

A Place to Die, Cursing the Cougar, Light Always Changes, Stubbs and Bernadette ($4.99 each)

The Dinosaur and the Dragon Lady, The Death of Patsy McCoy, The Back Porch, The Bumbler's Apprentice ($2.99 each)

Of these, the one of most interest to me is Lightning of Her Own, which is volume 1 of "The Bugfall Trilogy" (the other two volumes have not yet been written, and the author is uncertain whether they will be). Here is the Amazon description:

When the aliens landed seventy-two years ago, the first thing they did was turn off the power.
Then they ran for the hills.
The aliens themselves killed very few people, but riots, looting, disease, natural disasters and the sheer brutality of a harsh life that no one had lived for generations have reduced the population of Earth to a few tiny handfuls, scattered among the abandoned ruins of a lost civilization. Now word has come to Amarylla’s father, the chief civil engineer of the Federal Republic of New York, that an unknown man in the far northern plains may hold the key to turning the lights back on. 
But when Amarylla sets out with her father to find this mysterious man, she is a just young girl whose life has been filled with operas and riding lessons and needlework, a young girl schooled only in the history of fashion, classical philosophers, and the proper navigation of knives and forks at a state dinner. A young girl totally unprepared for the raw edges of life beyond the walls, totally unprepared for the closeness of a young guard named Marlowe, totally unprepared for danger.
Can she become what she needs to be? Can she learn what she needs to know? Can she grow up in time, or will this alien dystopia kill her?
Sounds like this book could attract and hold my attention.

For more about Levi Montgomery and his work, you can visit his blog: http://www.levimontgomery.com .