First, I wish all my fellow Americans a Happy Independence Day or Happy 4th of July tomorrow!
I read some good books in June, so I will share my thoughts about them in today’s blog post. You might want to read one or more of them.
The Stars Are Fire, by Anita Shreve
I was drawn to this novel by the title. I got on the waitlist for it at the library as soon as it was on order. The book was inspired by the wildfires in Maine in October, 1947. I didn’t know about those fires, so I learned something.
The book is suspenseful as it follows Grace, a young mother whose husband has gone to fight the fire. Suddenly, the fire is upon the small coastal town where they live and Grace is forced to run for her life with a child in tow. I don’t want to spoil the book, in case you haven’t read it. If you prefer to read “happy books,” this is not the book for you. Much of the story is dark, yet the reader can’t help but cheer for Grace as she overcomes tragedy. It was a page-turner for me.
The Things We Keep, by Sally Hepworth
As with The Stars Are Fire, by Anita Shreve, The Things We Keep, by Sally Hepworth, is not what I would call a “happy book.” Ms. Hepworth follows a 38-year-old woman, Anna, who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. The book chronicles Anna journey from diagnosis, through the months that she is very much aware of her diagnosis and the mental and physical deterioration that will be her future. Anna accepts her illness with humor as she adjusts to living in a residential facility where most of the other residents are decades older than she. The other young resident, Luke, befriends Anna, and the main plot of the book is their friendship, which grows into romantic love and how their relatives and the facility’s staff deal with that.
A subplot is about the widow of a businessman who loses everything and has to create a new life for herself and her young daughter. She takes a job at the facility where Anna and Luke live and gets more involved in their lives than the administrator wishes.
Although the subject matter of dementia is a frightening diagnosis, I found the book to be almost delightful due to Ms. Hepworth’s writing style. Each chapter was written from a different character’s point-of-view, which allows the reader to get into the head of Anna and to get a better understanding of what a person in the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease thinks – their feelings and emotions.
As someone with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME), I could identify with some of the issues Anna faced. I have memory problems and, when put on the spot, I have trouble formulating a comment or an answer to an unexpected question. When Anna talked about not being able to think fast enough to join in a conversation, I immediately identified with that. Ms. Hepworth let Anna articulate so well how it feels when by the time you formulate a comment, the conversation has moved on to something else. That was a paragraph that made my mouth drop open because I felt like the book was describing me. It was eerie to realize that some of my CFS/ME symptoms overlap some early Alzheimer’s Disease symptoms.
The Things We Keep, by Sally Hepworth, was June’s selection for Rocky River Readers Book Club. We had a good discussion about the book on June 26.
The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, by Elisabeth Tova Bailey
By the time I remembered to check this out from the public library, I’d forgotten how I’d heard about the book or why I wanted to read it. It had a catchy title, so I dived in. Lo and behold, the author, among other ailments, has Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
This is a unique book. It probably wouldn’t appeal to everyone, but I enjoyed it. It is the true story of the author’s months of being bedridden. One of her friends comes to visit one day and brings wild violets and a snail. The snail started out living in a flowerpot with the violets. Much to Ms. Bailey’s surprise, she developed quite an attachment to the snail.
She realized one day that she could hear the snail eating. One thing led to another, and the author was soon reading everything she could get her hands on about snails. She studied the habits of the snail and by so doing, along with her readings, learned a great deal about the species. In the course of reading the book, so did I! I had no idea there was so much to learn about snails.
Being a “country girl” for most of my life since birth, I have encountered many snails, but until reading this book I did not know that they have row-upon-row of teeth, their eyes are on the tips of their tentacles, they cannot hear, they have an acute sense of smell, and their one foot is called a gastropod. That’s just the tip of the iceberg so, if you’d like to know more about snails – and what it’s like to be bedridden with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, I recommend The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, by Elisabeth Tova Bailey.
Although I’ve been ill for 30 years, Ms. Bailey was able to articulate some of my feelings better than I have ever been able to in writing or verbally.
Camino Island, by John Grisham
John Grisham’s latest novel, Camino Island, is a little different from most of his novels. There’s still suspense and there are still bad guys, but the hero isn’t a lawyer this time. The story is about the underworld of those who deal in buying, selling – and sometimes stealing – rare books. The book takes place in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Florida, and France. The book held my interest, as all John Grisham books do. If John Grisham’s legal thrillers aren’t your “cup of tea,” you might want to give Camino Island a try. I think anyone interested in books will enjoy it.
And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer: A Novella, by Fredrik Backman
After liking A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman in May, I was eager to read another of his books. In June I read And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer: A Novella, by him. It is about a man with dementia, his son, and his grandson and how the man’s dementia affects his relationships with his son and grandson.
Perhaps it was just me, but I had some confusion keeping up with when we were in real life and when we were in the thoughts inside the man’s brain. For that reason, I had trouble getting into the book. The longer I read, though, the more I got out of it.
Detective Cross (a BookShot), by James Patterson
I wrote about a BookShot by James Patterson, Detective Cross, in my June 16, 2017 blog post, “What’s the Verdict on BookShots?” (What’s the Verdict on BookShots?) I read it out of curiosity. I wanted to know what a BookShot was like, and I’m one of the last people in the world to read a book by James Patterson. His books are known for their fast pace, and this BookShot was no different.
Mr. Patterson’s BookShots are designed to be read in one sitting. It took me longer than that because, as I’ve mentioned before, I am a slow reader. I guess you could say that a BookShot is longer than a short story and shorter than a novella, but don’t quote me on that. I’m no expert.
As I pointed out in my June 16 blog post, Mr. Patterson has long been a champion of children’s literacy, and his BookShots are an attempt to put short books in the hands of adults who might not otherwise pick up a book to read. I hope they accomplish that!
Put the Cat in the Oven Before You Describe the Kitchen: A Concise No-Bull Guide to Writing Fiction, by Jake Vander Ark
I must admit that I was drawn to this book by its title. I would never put a cat in an oven, but I just had to see what the author had to say about writing fiction. It was a humorous book, and it held my attention. The jest of it was that you need to get your reader’s attention before you start giving a lot of description.
Among other points, the author said if a minor character doesn’t have an effect on the main character, take them out of the story. I’m trying to keep that in mind as I rewrite the manuscript for The Spanish Coin. Another thing he said was, “You need to scare your protagonist and shock your audience.”
He also said that a writer should let the “protagonist determine the placement of the #$%! Moment.” (This is usually called the “inciting incident.”) He suggests to hit the reader with the inciting incident the moment the reader grasps what “normal” is for the protagonist. I picked up a few other tips from the book, but I don’t want to bore non-writers with the details. If you’re a beginning writer, you might look for this e-book yourself.
Until my next blog post
I hope you have a good book to read. If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time.