More March 2018 Reading

March brought a return of cooler weather than we had in February in North Carolina. It also brought a stack of good books. I blogged about some of them last Monday (Some March Reading), and today I’m blogging about the rest of those that I read last month.

Four Short Stories:  In Need of Assistance, Saving the Unicorn, Faerie Blues, and Trophy Hunting, by Chris Andrews

Four Short Stories: In Need of Assistance, Saving the Unicorn, Faerie Blues, and Trophy Hunting — by Chris Andrews

Science fiction and fantasy are not my reading genres of choice, but Chris Andrews and I connected with each other in the blogosphere as two struggling writers. (Actually, I’m struggling. I’m not so sure about Chris.) We live in different hemispheres but I have learned a great deal from him about writing. He recently published an e-book of four short stories and I was eager to read them.

“In Need of Assistance” leads off the short story collection. Well written and suspenseful, this person (me) who never reads sci-fi got pulled into the story and thought it ended too soon. In other words, I wanted to know what happened next.

The second story in this e-book is “Saving the Unicorn.” It is about a magician who travels 4,000 years back in time to free the last unicorn…. or is it?

“Faerie Blues” is the third story in Chris’ book. The identity of the faerie is a surprise.

The fourth and last story in the book is “Trophy Hunting.” This story is survival of the fittest with a twist.

Following the four short stories are the first seven chapters of Chris’ novel, Divine Prey, which is due for release in May 2018.

The Atomic City Girls, by Janet Beard

The Atomic City Girls, by Janet Beard

This historical novel was inspired by the creation of Oak Ridge, Tennessee during World War II and the top-secret work carried on there in the development of the atomic bomb.

Ms. Beard invented characters from all walks of like and guides the reader to like most of them and identify with them as much as is possible for we who live in a different time. I liked that she included the black people as well as the white people who lived and worked at Oak Ridge because, as much as they had in common, their housing and treatment by the US Army was quite different. It was in the racially segregated South and the book stands as witness to the prejudice and unequal treatment that existed legally at that time.

The author included not only Christians but an atheist and a Jewish physicist. This book’s cast of characters runs the gamut from redneck bigot to the Jewish scientist whose family had surely died in Germany during the War. True to the history of the facility at Oak Ridge, some characters are poorly educated while others are highly educated, but the emphasis is on the everyday people who worked there and did not know what they were working on.

Ms. Beard follows each character and through them she allows the reader to experience World War II on the home front in the USA and through the stress and struggles of the people who worked in complete secrecy at Oak Ridge. She brings to life the inevitable inner conflicts experienced by some of the scientists who worked there and at Los Alamos, New Mexico as they were simultaneously excited by the physics of the atomic bomb and yet horrified by the realities of what the unleashing of such a weapon would mean and the suffering it would cause for thousands of innocent people.

I never had really thought about how conflicted some of those scientists must have felt. I’d also never given much thought to how many thousands of people worked at Oak Ridge and the majority not knowing they were working on developing an atomic bomb until the day the first one was dropped on Hiroshima.

Need to Know, by Karen Cleveland

Need to Know, by Karen Cleveland

This is a debut novel by Karen Cleveland. It has received rave reviews from highly-respected authors, so I was eager to read this espionage thriller. After having read it, all I can say is, “Wow!”

Written by a former CIA analyst, this novel has a female CIA analyst working in a division studying Russia and looking for Russian sleeper cells in the USA. I don’t want to spoil the story for you, so I’ll just say her marriage and work ethic are tested to the limit.

This novel will make you wonder who you can trust. It is the story of betrayal on many levels, and it will keep you turning pages and wishing you didn’t have to stop to eat, sleep, or work. If you like to read espionage thrillers, you will love this book.

A Piece of the World, by Kristina Baker Kline

A Piece of the World, by Christina Baker Kline

We’re all familiar with Andrew Wyeth’s most famous painting, “Kristina’s World.” This historical novel is based on the imaginary life of the woman lying in a semi-prone position in the grass on the hillside below the house in that painting.

The author, who also wrote The Orphan Train, did a beautiful job developing the characters in A Piece of the World. They were so believable, the reader will forget the book is fiction. The woman in the painting, Kristina, becomes increasingly disabled due to an unknown condition affecting her legs. She lives in the grey clapboard house on the hill as depicted in the painting. Unable and unwilling to empathize with their daughter, Kristina’s parents do little to try to get her help.

Drawn to the feel and essence of the old house, Andrew, the son of artist N.C. Wyeth comes and asks if he can paint. He sketches and paints Kristina’s brother, but the brother has little patience for posing so Kristina becomes his most consistent model. He continues his work for years.

Kristina falls in love, but is it with Andrew? I’ll leave that for you to discover if you choose to read the book.

Another Ocean to Cross, by Ann Griffin

Another Ocean to Cross by Ann Griffin
Another Ocean to Cross, by Ann Griffin

After reading Ann Griffin’s guest blog post on Writers in the Storm about how to or how not to use family history in your fiction (, I pre-ordered her debut historical novel, Another Ocean to Cross. I followed her blog and she, subsequently, followed mine.

In Another Ocean to Cross, Ann Griffin weaves a compelling story about 18-year-old Renata Lowenthal, a Jewish woman desperate to escape Germany in 1938 as Hitler makes life ever-more tenuous for the Jewish population. Renata is an artist and her gentile boyfriend is in the military. He has to leave Munich, but he is smuggling Renata’s renderings of the Third Reich’s mistreatment of Jews to journalists in Switzerland.

No matter what the world throws at Renata, she meets the challenge.

The descriptions in this book are vivid and draw on all the senses. Being about the Jews who escaped to Egypt, this book enlightened me about an aspect of World War II that I hadn’t known much about.

Renata struggles to convince her parents that it is imperative that they get out of Germany and try to get to Palestine before it’s too late to escape. The tale Ms. Griffin spins will keep you turning the pages of this book and staying up at night to read just one more chapter. I will not give more details because you will want to read this novel and I don’t want to take away any suspense for you. It will take you and Renata to some surprising locations.

Reading Like a Writer:  A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them, by Francine Prose

In case your eyes have glazed over, I’ll save my comments about this book until next Monday’s blog post.

Since my last blog post

I have continued to read about writing and study areas I need help with. I have worked on my outline for The Spanish Coin, the working title for what I hope will be my first novel.

One of my readers reported difficulty in getting my comments section below to work. If you have trouble with it, too, please send me a message through the contact form/newsletter sign-up sheet below. I’m sorry for any inconvenience.

My blog steadily attracts more readers and followers, which is gratifying. One new reader and follower, Neil, also signed up for my sometime-in-the-future newsletters. Thank you, Neil.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Last Child, by John Hart, so I’ll be ready to read The Hush in a few weeks.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time

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12 thoughts on “More March 2018 Reading

  1. You’re welcome, Chris. I plan to read the first 7 chapters of Divine Prey later this month in preparation for the arrival of the entire book on my Kindle on May 4th. I hope it sells well!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hello Janet. You say you’re reading to improve your writing. What specifically are you reading? What problem or shortcoming in your writing are you trying to remedy? Now remember that a novelist (or poet, dramatist, etc.) doesn’t have to be good at every aspect of composition, only the core essentials.

    The Atomic City Girls sounds great. I was once entertaining the possibility of working there

    Best wishes

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hello, David. I’m primarily reading historical fiction, since that’s what I’m drawn to and that’s what I want to write. I read it and other good fiction to see how published writers develop characters, pace a plot, turn a phrase, weave in description and backstory, etc. I need to learn all I can about all these aspects of writing and more. I want to be as good as possible on all aspects. I don’t want a weakness in any area to keep me from getting published.

    All that said, I’m well aware that I need to start spending more time writing and less time reading. Otherwise, the novel never gets written.

    The Atomic City Girls was a good read. I’m on the waitlist at the public library for what sounds like a similar book, The Radium Girls, by Kate Moore.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Janet,
    This morning I’ve been working on my next post, which will be about the need of writers (and painters, actors, dancers, etc.) to have a clear voice that develops a relationship of intimacy with the audience and communicates the creative’s personality, disposition, sensibility, etc. I have the feeling you, in your quest for high excellence in writing, might find it useful. I interrupted the writing because I wanted to comment on your response to me.

    I’m impressed with your ambitious approach to improving your skills in anticipation that doing so will improve your chances of success. I wish you all the best in that. For many years I have–and still do–like you, looked to models for help. I am not a writer whose plots are the main thing, as I think you are. I’m more interested in creating moods, so I look to stylists, like Joseph Conrad.

    You’re doing the right thing. More power to you, Janet

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi David,
    Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I look forward to reading your next post. I’m sure I will gain something by reading it. I read some good advice several days ago that developing a relationship with one’s readers is more important than just accumulating number of followers. That was refreshing, because I seem to be bombarded daily with spins on how to drive more readers to my social media platforms.

    As always, thanks for your words of encouragement.



  6. I’m reading Lolita now. It’s well written but ugh. I’m trying to sprinkle in a little classic reading so this qualifies. I just last week finished I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara and was so freaked out to hear this morning that the killer in this book was caught yesterday! Michelle died two years ago and finding this guy was her life’s work.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi Alison, That is sort of creepy that you just finished reading I’ll Be Gone in the Dark! I’m so glad that creep finally got caught! I haven’t read the book. I haven’t read Lolita either. Not sure I’d get through it. Your comment about Lolita brings to mind my experience this month. I’m a fan of John Hart’s novels, so I had eagerly anticipated the release of his new book, The Hush. It was a sequel to The Last Child (for which he won the Edgar Award) — which I enjoyed. But The Hush went in a totally strange paranormal direction. I was determined to read the whole book, but it took me three weeks! It really took the fun out of reading for a while. I’m already struggling with how to address it in my May 7 blog post about the books I read in April. I normally either don’t comment on or just offer vague comments about books I didn’t enjoy, so my May 7 blog post will be a little awkward.

    Thank you so much for your feedback!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I always finish a book once I start and I totally have been in that place where it takes 3 weeks to finish and it’s a chore. Lolita is captivating like a True Crime series would be but he is narrating the details of how he became a child predator and normalizing his behavior. It just makes me feel awful. A good biography of a comedian must be my next book. I have not read John Hart but will put Last Child on the list.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I used to think I had to finish any book I started reading. I joined a book club around eight years ago. At the first meeting, the moderator gave each of us a reader’s bill of rights. Number One on the list was, “You don’t have to finish the book.” That was very freeing for me. Now I rarely keep reading a book if it doesn’t grab me fairly early on.

    The biography of a comedian might be a good next choice for both of us! LOL!

    Liked by 1 person

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