Fictional Characters Can Take on Lives of Their Own

In the aftermath of January 6, 2021, today’s topic seems frivolous; however, life goes on and I’m trying to stay true to the purpose of my blog. I want to write about the reading and the writing of books. I don’t want to dwell on politics in my blog postings even though it dominates my thinking.

Happy Birthday, A.A. Milne!

Today is Alan Alexander Milne’s birthday, or to put it more accurately, this is the 139th anniversary of the birth of British author A.A. Milne. He was, of course, the creator of Winnie the Pooh. A stuffed bear Milne named Winnie the Pooh has entertained children and adults since the book by that name was published October 14, 1926.

Photo Credit: Annie Spratt on Unsplash.com

Did you know that Milne originally called Christopher Robin’s stuffed bear Edward? There’s an interesting World War I story there, if you want to look it up. There’s a connection with a black bear from Canada named “Winnie” for Winnipeg.

In addition to Winnie the Pooh, there are numerous other fictional characters that have taken on lives of their own. Here’s a short list: Superman, Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer, Mother Goose, Little Orphan Annie, Friar Tuck, Robin Hood, Atticus Finch, Nancy Drew, Harry Potter, Darth Vader, Hawkeye Pierce, Mary Poppins, Gandalf, The Joker, Forrest Gump, Frankenstein, Sherlock Holmes, Spider-Man, Bugs Bunny, James Bond, Cinderella, Mickey Mouse, Goofy, Snow White, The Hulk, The Grinch, Indiana Jones, Paul Bunyan, Spock, Archie Bunker, King Kong, Popeye, Charlie Brown, Big Bird, Yoda, Kermit the Frog, Shrek, Porky Pig, Lassie, and even the GEICO Geiko.

The list could go on and on. I’m sure I’ve overlooked some of the characters from the last decade or two that someone from a younger generation would readily name.

My point is that it takes great care and imagination to create a fictional character that will strike such a chord with the general audience that their name and/or image becomes an icon. As a writer, I can’t imagine creating such a character.

Did Harper Lee know in her gut that Atticus Finch would go down in history as the iconic wise father and lawyer that he was? I doubt it.

I’ve read that Mickey Mouse went through several revisions before Walt Disney settled on the iconic figure we think of today. Charles Schulz adjusted Charlie Brown’s features before developing the Charlie Brown we all know and love. No doubt, the same is true for many of the other characters listed above.

And which came first? The image or the character in words? I imagine there’s a combination of both in the above list.

Since my last blog post

On January 13, I started participating via Zoom in a discussion of Janet Given’s book, LEAPFROG: How to have a civil conversation during an uncivil era. Janet is a blogger friend of mine, and she invited me to join this group sponsored by the Lorain Historical Society in Ohio. The timing couldn’t be better. Too bad the entire American citizenry aren’t participating. In conjunction with this discussion on Zoom, I’m re-reading Ms. Givens’ book, one chapter per month. I invite you to read it, too. Until the group’s next Zoom meeting, I’m practicing listening.

Now that anyone 65 years old or older in the US is eligible to receive the Covid-19 vaccine, I’ve been checking my county’s online scheduling tool numerous times every day. I haven’t been able to grab an appointment yet, but I’ll persevere. In the meantime, yesterday I was able to schedule my two doses in March through one of our local hospital systems.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read or write. I’m listening to The Fix, by David Baldacci.

Make time to care for yourself during these stressful times.

Wear a mask out of respect for others.

Let’s all practice listening to each other. Really listening.

Janet

Other Books Read in December 2020

I saved two books I read in December for today’s blog post, not wanting to make last week’s post too long. One is a new novel and the other was from my to-be-read (TBR) list. I continue to add more books to my TBR than I check off. That’s just the way it is. My TBR hovers around 300, give or take 10-20 books. I need to ignore the number. Stressing over it isn’t beneficial.

The following two books transported me to England and Mississippi in December without leaving the Covid-19-free safety of my home.

Then She Was Gone, by Lisa Jewell

The first book I read by British author Lisa Jewell was The Family Upstairs in November 2019. I didn’t particularly enjoy listening to that book because one of the characters had a limited vocabulary. By that, I’m referring to the fact that the character used “the f-word” to such excess that I found it distracting. (Here’s the link to my blog post about the books I read in November 2019: Four Other Books I Read in November 2019.) Nevertheless, I decided to give Lisa Jewell another chance, so I listened to her new novel, And Then She Was Gone. I’m glad I did.

Then She Was Gone, by Lisa Jewell

Then She Was Gone is a cleverly-developed psychological thriller. A little girl disappears shortly after her tutor is let go. The little girl’s mother never gives up hope of finding her daughter. Many years later she is introduced to a young girl. She is the spitting image of her missing daughter. I was hooked by this story early on, and I wanted to see it through to the end. The longer I listened to this book, the more I was eager to see what would happen next.

Having a female predator made this novel different from the norm. We just don’t expect a woman to fill that role in real life or in fiction. Did the tutor have something to do with the little girl’s disappearance? If so, why did she do it? There are some surprises in the end that made me wish I had time to reread the book from the beginning to look for bits of foreshadowing I possibly missed the first time.

The Appeal, by John Grisham

This novel by John Grisham has been on my TBR for years. I finally got around to reading it. Actually, I listened to it. Michael Beck does such a good job recording John Grisham’s books, I’ve come to prefer to listen to his novels instead of reading the printed word.

The Appeal deals with a number of trials and appeals. The main one is an appeal filed after a jury in Mississippi finds a chemical company guilty of causing a cluster of cancer cases. The owner of the company decides to “purchase” a seat on the Mississippi State Supreme Court.

This book shines a bright light on the problems that can be created by making judgeships elected positions. When a judge is put in the position of needing to raise money for his or her campaign, it opens the door for all kinds of corruption. Mr. Grisham usually has a point he wants to get across, and I believe that was the one that stood out in The Appeal.

There is also a moral dilemma revealed near the end of the book.

Since my last blog post

Since my last blog post, insurrectionists and domestic terrorists stormed the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. I’m so angry and stunned that I’m still searching for words to attempt to describe how I feel. I’ve tried very hard the last four years not to make comments about politics in my blog posts; however, what happened last Wednesday, January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC was done at the direction and encouragement of Donald J. Trump, Sr., the sitting president of the United States of America.

It was a failed coup. There is no punishment for Trump and his enablers that is equal to their crimes.

The United States Capitol Photo credit: Ajay Parthasarathy on unsplash.com

I can almost forgive the people who voted for Trump in 2016. With time, maybe I’ll be able to completely forgive them. For the people who voted for him again in November 2020, you knew exactly what you were voting for and you got it on January 6. Unfortunately, we all got it on January 6—and we didn’t deserve it. As a Christian, I’m supposed to forgive you. Let’s just say I’m a work in progress. May God have mercy on my soul. May God have mercy on you.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read or a good one to write – or both.

Make time to do something you’re really passionate about. For me, that’s writing.

Wear a mask, and get the Covid-19 vaccination as soon as you’re eligible. That’s still a few weeks or months away for me.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog post today.

Janet

Three Books Read in December 2020

This is the first Monday of the month, so it’s time for me to blog about the books I read in December. Through the books I read in December, I traveled to Mississippi, Japan, Texas, Pennsylvania, and England. The beauty of reading is that you can see the world without ever leaving your easy chair. In December, I traveled the world without running the risk of catching Covid-19.

I don’t claim to be a book reviewer. Book reviewers have rules or guidelines they should follow. I don’t follow those guidelines; I just share my thoughts about the books I read. Below are my thoughts about the books that took me to Japan, Pennsylvania, and Texas in my easy chair in December.

Fifty Words for Rain, by Asha Lemmie

As usual, I checked out too many books from the public library at one time and didn’t get this one finished before it disappeared from my tablet and returned to that public library in the sky! I immediately got back on the waitlist for it. It was two or three weeks before I got to check it out again. That isn’t the ideal way to read a book, but Fifty Words for Rain had enough of a hold on me that I definitely wanted to finish it.

Fifty Words for Rain,
by Asha Lemmie

The second time around, I got the MP3 audio version of the book. Since it had been several weeks since I’d read the first half of the book, I decided to listen to it from the beginning. Although familiar, listening to the novel made the story fresh and new for me, and I was soon hooked on it again.

The place is Japan. The time is 1948. The background for the novel is that a woman from a well-to-do family of pre-war royalty had a baby girl nick-named Nori that was fathered by an American GI. Considering the anti-American sentiments that the Japanese held immediately after World War II, that was bad enough; however, to make matters worse for Nori, her American soldier father was of African descent. In a country like Japan, where there has been little mixing of the races over the centuries, this mixed-race girl was an outcast.

Nori’s mother drops her off outside her parents’ estate, never to return. Nori has to introduce herself to her grandparents. To say they aren’t pleased with the situation would be a gross understatement. Being dropped off at the grandparents’ home is literally just the beginning of this story of abandonment, prejudice, concealment, physical abuse, freedom, prostitution, the human spirit, hope, obligation, and family ties.

This debut novel by Asha Lemmie is beautifully-written. I look forward to Asha Lemmie’s second novel – whatever it is or whenever it’s written and published.

Sold on a Monday, by Kristina McMorris

The spark of inspiration behind this novel was a photograph that appeared in a 1948 magazine. It was a photograph of a sign that read: “Children for Sale.” That, the book’s title, and the book’s cover prompted me to add Sold on a Monday to my to-be-read list in 2018, the year it was published. In reviewing my TBR list last month, I decided it was time to read it. I checked out the MP3 of the book to listen to on my tablet.

Just like with Fifty Words for Rain, by Asha Lemmie, I knew Sold on a Monday, by Kristina McMorris deserved a second chance. I kept falling asleep while listening to Sold on a Monday – to the point that it made no sense. This is not a reflection on the book. It’s a reflection on what can happen when you have chronic fatigue syndrome and you want to sleep 24 hours-a-day.

Sold on a Monday,
by Kristina McMorris

The novel went back to the library, but the premise of the book wouldn’t let me go. I checked out the MP3 version again and gave it my full attention. It is a multi-layered book that takes you on a journey at break-neck speed. No wonder I couldn’t make sense of it the first time I slept through parts of it! If you skip a page or let your mind wonder for a few minutes, you’ll miss something important to the plot. There is not an unnecessary word in the whole book.

Ms. McMorris set the novel in Philadelphia early in the Great Depression. A newspaper reporter just can’t quite land that elusive story that will make his career. He takes a picture of a little boy and girl with a sign that reads, “Children for Sale.” The reporter makes a series of bad decisions, but he eventually becomes obsessed with tracking down the children. There are more twists and turns to this story than I could possibly comment on here – plus, that would spoil the book for you.

The crux of the novel is to show how a bad decision by an individual can have dire and tragic ramifications for other people.

The story that was the inspiration of this book reminded me of an incident that happened to a couple of friends of mine a decade or so ago. They went on a mission trip to a Native American reservation in the western part of the United States. A mother on the reservation offered to sell them her son. I was jarred by the story when my friends told me, and the thought of it still jars me today.

Isaac’s Storm: A Man, A Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History, by Erik Larson

This history of the deadly hurricane that all but wiped out Galveston, Texas in September 1900 was written in 1999, but the book just recently came to my attention. I’m becoming quite an admirer of writer Erik Larson. He writes history that reads like fiction. He gets into the nitty-gritty details that most history books skip over.

It was believed in meteorological circles at the turn of the 20th century that hurricanes were unlikely to hit the Texas coast. Combine that delusion with the lack of radar systems we depend on today, and you have the makings of a perfect storm.

Isaac’s Storm, by Erik Larson

Isaac Cline of Galveston thought he knew all there was to know about hurricanes. He didn’t think Galveston would ever be hit by a hurricane.

Cuba had warned the United States that a strong hurricane was heading into the Gulf of Mexico, but arrogance made US weather officials more than hesitant to take advice from Cuba. With black storm clouds approaching and huge waves crashing, many people went out to see what was happening along the oceanfront. Children delighted in playing the water as streets several blocks from the ocean filled with water. Businessmen went about their day as if nothing ominous was bearing down on their city.

The hurricane slammed into Galveston with virtually no warning, killing more than 6,000 and possibly as many as 10,000 people. Nearly a century before hurricanes were rated by intensity or named, the Galveston hurricane would easily be considered a Category 4 storm today.

It remained a ferocious storm all the way across the US, wreaking havoc in the Midwest. It brought hurricane force winds to cities such as Chicago and Buffalo. A steamship was almost sunk by the storm on Lake Michigan. Telegraph service across the Midwest and northeastern US was severely crippled with so many telegraph poles blown down. The storm continued on across Prince Edward Island and spun across the North Atlantic, sinking 16 ships. It was last witnessed as it made its way into Siberia.

Erik Larson researched newspaper accounts, letters written by Isaac Cline, telegrams, US Weather Bureau records, and the memories of the hurricane survivors.

To read about two of Erik Larson’s other books, follow this link to my February 3, 2020 blog post, Three Books I Read in January 2020 when I read The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness and the Fair that Changed America and this link to my July 27, 2020 blog post, Three Other Books Read in June 2020 when I read The Splendid and the Vile. All three of his books that I’ve read are shining examples of creative nonfiction.

Since my last blog post

I started the new year by decluttering. It was time to go through file folders and discard, recycle, or shred a lot of paper. The biggest pile was for the shredder. It felt good to get rid of some papers in order to make room for, you guessed it, more papers. This is never going to end. In my dreams, I’m a minimalist, but only in my dreams.

And that new baby cousin arrived on January 2 – a healthy boy. It was great to hear some good news.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read or write.

I hope you have lots of creative time to do the things you really enjoy.

Wear a mask.

Count your blessings.

Look for my blog post next Monday when I’ll tell you about the other books I read in December.

Janet

Did I Find Contentment and Peace in 2020?

I’m glad we don’t know what the future holds. If we did, most of us would have approached the year 2020 with uncommon dread. I entered the year with what I thought was reasonable positivity. My last blog post in 2019 was one in which I stated a goal of finding contentment and peace in 2020. Here’s the link to that post: Contentment and Peace in 2020.

After writing that post for December 30, 2019, I typed the title for today’s post in my editorial calendar to remind myself to evaluate the progress I made in 2020 in finding contentment and peace.

Could it be I picked the wrong year to seek contentment and peace?

Photo Credit: Kelly Sikkema on unsplash.com

Did I Find Contentment in 2020?

Am I content? That’s a loaded question. Am I content with my life? If so, does that mean I’ve settled for whatever my life looks like? That’s not how I choose to look at it. Writing to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul wrote (Phil. 4:12-13), he encouraged the Christians there to rejoice in the Lord no matter their circumstances.

It has been a stressful year in many respects – the broken leg in January, the pulmonary embolism in February, the death of a high school classmate and friend in Belgium that same day, 13 weeks of not being able to put any weight on my right leg followed by months of rehabilitation and recovery, the death of a dear lifelong friend in July, my dog’s diabetes diagnosis in August, a planned beach trip in September had to be cancelled due to the pandemic, the tendon problem in my wrist (ongoing), my fibromyalgia flared big time in October when summer transitioned into fall, a dear cousin’s cancer diagnosis in November, a US presidential election in November that seems to never end, and tooth sensitivity that led to a root canal in November.

Oh, and there was a pandemic. There was and is the Covid-19 pandemic. When history books are written, 2020 will stand out as a troubling year in the entire world.

I have a good life, though. In 2020, I never wondered where my next meal was coming from. I had a roof over my head every day. I had access to the medical attention I needed. I have friends. I have the world’s best sister and wonderful family a couple of hundred miles away. How could I be anything but content?

Looking back over my December 30, 2019, blog post, did I get my To-Be-Read List under control? No. In fact, that list on my Goodreads.com account has grown from 302 to 318.

Did I cut back on my weekly blog? No. I considered decreasing the number of blog posts, but I couldn’t get excited about doing that. For now, it’s still every Monday.

Did I “get my novel on the road to publication” in 2020? No. I’m afraid it has been neglected in 2020 as I pursued other writing opportunities. Neglected, but not forgotten.

Did I make time for all my hobbies? No. I made a little time to work on genealogy but my other hobbies fell by the wayside. I thought on December 30, 2019, that making time for my hobbies would lead to peace and contentment in 2020.

Motivation was harder to come by in 2020 than I anticipated.

Did I Find Peace in 2020?

For purposes of this goal and its evaluation I’m referring to inner peace.

I broke my leg, but it has almost completely healed. Thanks to modern medicine and an on-the-ball hospital emergency room doctor, my pulmonary embolism dissolved. Even though I could only get around with the use of a walker for 13 weeks, I did have access to a walker and my left leg was good and strong. I’m retired, so I could stay at home. I share a home with my sister, and she and our dog took great care of me.

I will forever miss the two friends I lost, but I know they’re both in a better place and I’ll see them again.

Our dog has access to some of the best animal veterinary care on the planet. He is doing splendidly again!

I took advantage of my fibromyalgia flare in October to get back into one of my favorite hobbies – genealogy.

On Christmas Eve, my cousin received the best report possible following her cancer surgery. She is a very strong and determined person. She will beat cancer.

Another cousin’s first baby was due last week in California but, apparently, it’s heard about this year and doesn’t want to have anything to do with 2020. I can’t blame it. I am excited beyond words over this much-anticipated event!

The last four years have been a contentious time in our country. November 3 finally came and it was Election Day! There were several nail-biter days. Really. I chewed off three fingernails. We are more polarized politically than any other time in my life. It has been an ugly time that I hope never to experience again. The election continues to be a source of ugliness from the man who lost the presidential election. How embarrassing for the US! Better days and years lie ahead of us, though, starting on January 20, 2021 – Inauguration Day in Washington, DC.

December came with the Covid-19 pandemic still growing daily in the US and other countries around the world, so I continued to stay at home as much as possible. However, scientists worked around-the-clock in 2020 and developed more than one Covid-19 vaccine in record time! In the coming year, it is hoped that these vaccines will get the pandemic under control. I will patiently await my turn.

Photo Credit: Daniel Schludi on unsplash.com

My fractured leg in January caused me to miss a haircut appointment. Ditto for the blood clot in my lung in February. In March, the pandemic closed the beauty shops. I decided to take this opportunity to let my hair grow longer to see how I liked it. My experiment lasted until the day before yesterday, when I finally raised the white flag and got my hair cut. It’s very short again – and I love it! I won’t have to do that experiment again.

My sister and I went to the church one day and the pastor videoed our lighting the third Advent candle. The video was incorporated into the Facebook Live broadcast of the December 13 worship service. It was a joy to be in the sanctuary again and to see it decorated with greenery and poinsettias for the Advent Season. Due to my broken leg, I hadn’t been in the sanctuary since January 26. It was wonderful to be included in the worship service, even if on video.

I’ve enjoyed listening to the music of the Christmas Season, and the lights and ornaments on our Christmas tree have lifted my spirits. We might just leave it up until next Christmas. And I will continue to listen to Christmas music for a while.

This year of hibernation allowed me to plunge into the world of self-publishing. I learned how to format an e-book and I anticipate publishing the 174 local history columns from 2006 through 2012 in the coming months. I started writing historical short stories with another self-published book in mind.

I have a renewed purpose in life through my writing, and that has truly brought me joy during an otherwise dark and daunting year. I found that I’m happiest when I’m writing.

Okay. What’s the verdict? Did I find peace and contentment in 2020?

Photo Credit: Mar Cerdeira on unsplash.com

In many ways, I did. I’m fairly content with my life, but I’m not settling for the way it is. I’m not giving up on my dreams. I want to publish my Harrisburg, Did You Know? book of history columns. I want to publish a collection of my historical short stories. I want to see my historical novel in print. I want to quilt. I want to get all our genealogy notes together in a form that my niece’s and nephew’s descendants can make sense of their family history. I want to play the dulcimer. I want to read more books. If only I had the energy to pursue all my interests!

I think I learned some patience in 2020. I have a new appreciation for peace and quiet. I’m fortunate to have a slower pace of life now. Except for feeding the dog and administering his shots every 12 hours, I’m not on much of a schedule. Most days I get to do what I want to do, and most people in the world don’t have that luxury. Of course, it helps that I prefer to spend time at home, and retirement makes that possible.

In spite of all the mishaps in my life and the sadness that accompanies the pandemic, 2020 wasn’t such a bad year after all. My sister and I have not had Covid-19 or any other life-threatening medical diagnoses, except for my blood clot. We still have the love of family and friends. I have truly been blessed this year and throughout my life.

I know, more than ever before in my life that, as the Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome in Romans 8:38-39, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

What do I want in 2021?

I want to be a better person in 2021. I want to remember the words of Romans 8:38-39 every day. I want to take Micah 6:8 to heart and “act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with [my] God.”

I want the same things I wanted in 2020: peace and contentment. And that’s my wish for you in the coming year, too.

Janet

Who said the world would end today?

Once in a while, someone proclaims that the world is going to come to an end on a certain date. It turns out that today is one of those days.

School attendance and the Miranda Rights

I was on a jury in the early 1970s for a public school truancy case. The case ended up being thrown out of court because it came to light that the county school system’s truant officer (probably called something like “attendance facilitator” today) failed to read the children’s mother her Miranda rights. (Bear with me. This story directly relates to today’s blog topic.)

For those of you in countries other than the United States, in 1966 the US Supreme Court ruled in Miranda v Arizona that a police officer must tell a suspect they’re about to question that they have the right to remain silent, anything they say can and will be held against them in a court of law, they have the right to a lawyer and for that lawyer to be present while they’re being questioned, and the government will provide a lawyer for them if they can’t afford one.

Photo credit: Scott Umstattd on unsplash.com

The mother had kept her children out of school for several months, but now the county had to start over in its effort to get those children back into the classroom. The reason the mother was not letting her children go to school was because she belonged to a religious group that believed the world was going to come to an end on a specific date in the near future and, therefore, her children didn’t need an education.

And then, there was 12:00:01 a.m. on January 1, 2000

Photo credit: Claudio Schwarz on unsplash.com

Those of us of a certain age remember all the hoopla over January 1, 2000. Computers were predicted to crash. Life as we knew it would end because the computers invented in the 1900s weren’t capable of anticipating the year 2000. There would be no electricity. Our phones wouldn’t work. Our clocks would stop. Well, January 1, 2000 arrived with the usual New Year’s fireworks, etc. and life continued.

Photo credit: Sid Ramirez on unsplash.com

Predictions based on Natural Disasters and Wars

The current Covid-19 pandemic has prompted some people to predict the imminent end of the world. They might be right and the joke might be on me, but I’m reminded that there have been pandemics, earthquakes, floods, wars, and hurricanes all throughout world history. Why would anyone think the Covid-19 pandemic is the event that will knock Earth off its axis?

Photo credit: Michael Marais on unsplash.com

In the spirit of full transparency, I’ll start by saying I don’t believe a human being can know the date that the world will come to an end. I believe that only God knows. It’s not something I have to worry about. I don’t want to know the day or the hour. It would make me live my life differently and, probably, not for the good. But I digress.

That brings us to December 21, 2020

It came to my attention early this month that on December 21, 2020, Saturn and Jupiter would be the closest to each other that they’ve been in some 800 years. Cool! I wish I had a telescope to view this with. I’ve been watching those two planets with the naked eye for a couple of weeks, and it’s been interesting to see two such bright objects near each other in the sky.

Planet Jupiter.
Photo credit: Michael Sambycwkpo on unsplash.com

It wasn’t until December 10 that I became aware that some people were predicting that this interesting and rare astronomical event was a sure sign that the world would end today. I chuckled about it. If you’re reading this, I was apparently right to chuckle. If I was wrong, …. Poof! It’s been nice knowing you. Thank you for reading my blog all these years. It’s been fun. I wasted my time planning future blog post topics. On the bright side, I’m glad I made that dental appointment for December 23 instead of early December. I saved myself a bunch of money.

If you and I are still here

If you and I are still here, whew! We’re safe until the lunatic fringe chooses the next date for the world’s demise.

I hope you have a good book to read or write.

I hope you have rewarding creative time this week.

Keep wearing your mask.

The Nativity

Merry Christmas to my fellow Christians on December 25th.

Janet

Favorite Books Read in 2020

A friend recently called and asked me to recommend a good book to her. This is akin to asking someone to name their favorite child. There’s never one definitive answer. My first inclination was to tell her about the last book I read, And the Crows Took Their Eyes, by Vicki Lane; however, I didn’t know her tastes in reading well enough to recommend a book with such a vivid and harsh title.

I looked back over the 50+ books I’ve read this year, and soon came up with quite a list of books to recommend to Kathy. I hoped by adding brief descriptions, she’d be able to choose one or more books she’d enjoy. I half-jokingly told her my list might make it into my blog in a couple of weeks. Here it is, in no particular order, in case you need a recommendation for a good book to read or give a friend.


And the Crows Took Their Eyes, by Vicki Lane – Historical fiction at its best! Based on true Civil War story of neighbor against neighbor in Madison County, NC. Some gory parts, but the story is gripping and the writing is excellent. For a little more about this book, please read my December 7, 2020 blog. Here’s the link: Books Read in November 2020­­­­­.

And the Crows Took Their Eyes, by Vicki Lane

A Time for Mercy, by John Grisham – Grisham’s new legal suspense novel. A teen kills his mother’s abusive boyfriend. Will the teen get the death penalty?

The Book of Lost Names, by Kristin Harmel – First book I’ve read by her, and I was very impressed. Story of children being smuggled into Switzerland to escape the Nazis. A woman develops a way to code their names so they won’t be lost to history.

A coded list of names of Jewish children smuggled out of France.
The Book of Lost Names, by Kristin Harmel

Code Talker, by Chester Nez – Memoir by one of the World War II Navajo Code Talkers. Fascinating story!

Code Talker, by Chester Nez with Judith Schiess Avila

The Butterfly Daughter, by Alice Monroe – This novel weaves the annual journey of the monarch butterflies from Mexico to the US with a young woman who wants to make the trip to the place in Mexico where her grandmother (or was it her mother?) grew up near the place where the butterflies overwinter. Many twists and turns in this story.

The Secrets We Kept, by Lara Prescott – Story of how the CIA tried to fight the Cold War with Russia by using the novel Dr. Zhivago. Trying to win the cold war with literature. Who knew? Dr. Zhivago couldn’t be published in Russia, so the US was determined to smuggle it out.

The CIA and Dr. Zhavago
The Secrets We Kept, by Lara Prescott

We Wear the Mask: 15 True Stories of Passing in America, edited by Brando Skyhorse and Lisa Page – These stories opened my eyes to the many ways people put up a false front they present to the public in order to pass as something they aren’t. Some of these I’d never thought about before.

Mrs. Lincoln’s Sisters, by Jennifer Chiaverini – As the title indicates, it’s about Mary Todd Lincoln’s sisters and their relationships with each other and with her. It goes into more detail than I’d read before about Mary Todd Lincoln’s mental illness and drug abuse.

Shiner, by Amy Jo Burns – Except for the fact that I’m terrified of snakes and the main character’s father is a snake-handling self-proclaimed preacher, I really enjoyed this book. It’s Amy Jo Burns’ first novel, and I can’t wait to see what she gives us next! Very well written and suspenseful.

Debut novel by Amy Jo Burns
Shiner, by Amy Jo Burns

The Splendid and the Vile, by Erik Larson – This is a nonfiction book about Winston Churchill that reads like a novel. I found it interesting to learn about the personal connections he had with some of the wealthy people in America. Last week, Bill Gates named it as one of the five books he recommends from 2020.

#TheSplendidandtheVile #ErikLarson
The Splendid and the Vile, by Erik Larson

The Man from Spirit Creek, by Barbara Kyle – This is a contemporary Canadian western suspense. Takes place in Alberta. Has to do with oil rigs and sabotage. More light-hearted reading, though, than some of the other books I’ve listed.

The Book of Lost Friends, by Lisa Wingate – This is a fascinating novel based on something I knew nothing about from the history of the South after the Civil War. It’s about black families trying to reconnect with relatives and friends they were separated from due to slavery. Notices of “Lost Friends” were put in some newspapers. This book sheds light on a post-slavery topic I’m embarrassed to say I’d never really given much thought to. Shame on me!

#LisaWingate #TheBookOfLostFriends
The Book of Lost Friends, by Lisa Wingate

Big Lies in a Small Town, by Diane Chamberlain – Diane Chamberlain is becoming one of my favorite authors. She lives in NC. This novel takes place in Edenton, NC in 1940 and 2018 and is about race relations and outsiders and jealousy. An intriguing story.

Big Lies in a Small Town, by Diane Chamberlain

Call the Nurse: True Stories of a Country Nurse on a Scottish Isle, by Mary J. MacLeod – Delightful true stories of a nurse whose family moves to a remote island in Scotland and, due to her experience as a nurse, she pretty much becomes the doctor on the island.

The Last Train to London, by Meg Waite Clayton – This novel takes you to Germany in 1938. Through several real people, Ms. Clayton weaves a suspenseful story of the Kindertransport effort through which 10,000 Jewish children were saved from certain death in Nazi Germany. Those 10,000 children were taken by train from Germany to The Netherlands and from there to England. It’s based on the real Vienna Kindertransport effort led by Geertruida Wijsmuller-Meijer of Amsterdam, who had begun rescuing smaller groups of children as early as 1933.

The rescue of Jewish children from Nazi Germany
The Last Train to London, by Meg Waite Clayton

LEAPFROG: How to Hold a Civil Conversation in an Uncivil Era, by Janet Givens – The letters stand for Listen, Empathize, Assess, Paraphrase, Facts, Respect, Observation, and Gratitude. It would be good if every American read this book during these polarized times. Or perhaps that difficult conversation you need to have with a relative or friend isn’t about politics. Maybe it’s about race. No matter what that important conversation is about, this book will give you stable, non-threatening ground to stand on as you approach the other person. Or maybe you tend to come across too forceful in your daily dealings with co-workers and need a little help navigating your workday. Good advice in this book. Easier said than done, though.

LEAPFROG: How to hold a civil conversation in an uncivil era, by Janet Givens, M.A.

Since my last blog post

Thank you, Kathy, for prompting me to make the above list!

I’ve dabbled in genealogy research a little. It’s always vying for my attention. I’ve worked on a couple of historical short stories. It’s fun when I can combine my family history research with my fiction writing!

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading……

I hope you have rewarding creative time.

I hope you wear a mask in public or otherwise when around people with whom you don’t live. Just think how much better our lives will be this time next year, if we all just do the commonsense things to slow the spread of the Covid-19 virus.

Look back over the books you read in 2020. What were your favorites? I’d like to hear from you.

Janet

Books Read in November 2020

As has become my routine, my first blog of the month is about the books I read the previous month. I read a couple of good books in November, so I’m eager to tell you what I thought about them. As sometimes happens, more than one book with difficult topics presented themselves at the same time. This was a month of unpleasant topics, but the writing was excellent.


And the Crows Took Their Eyes, by Vicki Lane

You must read this book! It is historical fiction at its best.

And the Crows Took Their Eyes, by Vicki Lane

The name of this historical novel might be a turn-off for some people but, if you are a true fan of historical fiction, you must read this book. If you desire to learn more about the American Civil War, you must read this book. Vicki Lane has done a masterful job of weaving the story of the war in the mountains of North Carolina through the voices of five point-of-view characters.

This is a story that the history books rarely mention. If it’s mentioned, it is glossed over and allotted one sentence. I remember reading references in history textbooks such as, “Brother turned against brother” and “Neighbor turned against neighbor.”

Those descriptions of what actually happened in places like Madison County, North Carolina, don’t hold a candle to the depth of hate and evil that took place there. And the Crows Took Their Eyes, by Vicki Lane, puts flesh and bones, horror, heartache, and names on such mundane statements that you’ll find in history books.

Ms. Lane’s novel is based on a true story, and four of her five main characters were real people. It is not pleasant reading, but it is artfully written. The suspense slowly builds until unspeakable evil takes place. And the Crows Took Their Eyes is the perfect title for this tale of hate and revenge.

Oh, how I wish I could write historical fiction like Vicki Lane does!


A Time for Mercy, by John Grisham

I listened to this latest legal thriller by John Grisham. Michael Beck always does an outstanding job reading Mr. Grisham’s novels for the audio editions. He outdid himself on this one with the numerous accents. And Mr. Grisham outdid himself with some gut-wrenching courtroom testimony.

A Time for Mercy gets into some tough subjects. A boy kills his mother’s abusive boyfriend. To give more details here would be revealing too much, and I don’t want to spoil the book for you. It is a gripping story with many layers. I highly recommend it.


Since my last blog post

I finished writing a couple of historical short stories. I now have five stories completed and six others in various stages of planning and researching. Maybe I’ll get a collection of short stories published in 2021.

It has been refreshing to spend more time writing lately. I realized that I am happiest when I’m writing.


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading Fifty Words for Rain, by Asha Lemmie.

I hope you have quality, imaginative, and satisfying creative time, no matter where your creative interests lie.

Wear your mask and try to stay well until we all get through the Covid-19 pandemic.

Janet

Happy Birthday, Mark Twain!

Today marks the 185th anniversary of the birth of Samuel Longhorn Clemens, who wrote under the pen name Mark Twain.

Mark Twain has been a favorite author of mine since my first introduction to Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn in elementary school. I loved the humor. I loved the honesty. I loved the way he wrote like people talked. Decades later, those are still the things I love about his writing. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court is another favorite novel of his.

A selection of Mark Twain books

Years ago, I enjoyed how actor Hal Holbrook brought Mark Twain alive on the stage and TV. When vacationing in New York a few years ago, I enjoyed visiting Elmira, where Twain lived. There was a live portrayal of him there, which was excellent. I still have those memories and the plastic souvenir cup from my visit.

Perhaps even more than his novels, I like many of Mark Twain’s quotes. It was through his little snippets or sayings that his humor really came through. Here are a few of my favorites:

“It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.”

“A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.”

“If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”

“A person who won’t read has no advantage over the person who can’t read.”

“Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”

“When your friends begin to flatter you on how young you look, it’s a sure sign you’re getting old.”

Since my last blog post

The Covid-19 pandemic has worsened here in the United States. I’m thankful for all the people who work in healthcare facilities and other essential workers who risk exposure to the virus every day so the rest of us can have the services we need. I’m fortunate that I can stay home most of the time.

I finished reading a splendid new historical novel by Vicki Lane. Get your hands on a copy of And the Crows Took Their Eyes. Don’t let the title scare you off, but be aware that the book is not about a pleasant subject. It is, however, masterfully written. It sheds light on a part of North Carolina history that has received too little attention in the history books. It brings to life the horrors of neighbors taking opposite sides in the American Civil War. I read it slowly and savored the writing. Look for more about this book in my blog post on December 7, 2020.

My sister and I had some productive time one day as we continued to proofread my manuscript for Harrisburg, Did You Know? Stay tuned for progress reports.

My root canal went well last Monday, and I was able to enjoy turkey, dressing, and gravy on Thanksgiving Day.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read and a challenging one to write, if you’re a writer.

Be creative. Find what you’re passionate about and make time to do it. Find a way to make a living doing it. I wish I had.

Wear a mask.

Janet

A Different Kind of Thanksgiving Day this Year

Thursday will be a different kind of Thanksgiving Day for most of us in the United States. It is traditionally a holiday filled with tradition, overeating, and relatives. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, this year we’ve been advised not to get together with people who don’t live in our household.

The passage of time has changed my Thanksgivings. I have no particular memories of Thanksgiving celebrations when I was young. When I was in elementary school, I learned about the pilgrims and how the American Indians shared their food with the European settlers. They gave thanks for surviving through the year.

I didn’t have living grandparents, so I have no memories of going “over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house we go,” but I sang the song with my classmates anyway. That song comes to mind every Thanksgiving.

Photo Credit: Alison Marras on unsplash.com

My mother didn’t like cooking a turkey, so we usually had chicken. The school I attended had an annual turkey dinner as the major fundraiser of the year on the day before Thanksgiving, so that was when we got to eat turkey and dressing.

When I was a teenager, my older brother and his wife lived out-of-state. They came home for Thanksgiving, and my sister and I gradually persuaded our mother to cook a turkey. My brother dictated that Thanksgiving Day was the perfect day for us to rake leaves. It didn’t matter how cold it was, it was on his list and he was here, so that’s what we did. It sort of turned Thanksgiving into a day to be dreaded instead of one to be looked forward to with great anticipation.

Then, there was the Thanksgiving my father was in the hospital for tests and that Saturday received his multiple myeloma diagnosis. The next day I had to head back to college. I didn’t know if he’d still be alive when I came home for Christmas. It was a bleak winter.

After my parents’ deaths, Thanksgiving took on a whole new look. Instead of our brother and his family coming here from out-of-state, my sister and I traveled to Georgia for the weekend. After one trip in grid-locked traffic on Interstate 85 that doubled our normal driving time, we decided to just stay in North Carolina for future Thanksgivings. It took us several years to find our new Thanksgiving tradition.

Several friends and relatives invited us to join them for their traditional 40-50 person Thanksgiving get togethers. I’m afraid we insulted some of them when we declined their invitations. We appreciated their efforts to include us, but we prefer a quiet day.

We discovered the all-you-can-eat Thanksgiving meal at a buffet restaurant. This was much easier and less stressful than cooking a turkey and all the go-with-its for two people. We’d found our new Thanksgiving tradition! It lasted two years.

This year, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, there are no all-you-can-it buffets. We are left to our own devices. Do we remember how to cook a turkey? Do we remember how to make cornbread dressing? And what about the giblet gravy? That was tricky even during the best of times.

Photo Credit: Priscilla Du Preez on unsplash.com

Thursday my sister and I will sit down to a meal together and give thanks to God for all the many blessings He has bestowed on us all our lives. Like the early settlers in Massachusetts, we are thankful we’ve survived the year. We are more fortunate in material things such as food and shelter than most people in the world. We are blessed to live where we live and have all that we have. We are fortunate to have family living near and far away. We have friends. We live in peace and quiet. What else could anyone want?

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read, or a good book to write.

I hope you have enjoyable creative time.

I hope you have a nice day on Thursday, even if you live in another country and don’t celebrate Thanksgiving Day.

We can all be thankful that a Covid-19 vaccine will eventually be available and this pandemic will come to an end someday.

Janet

Autumn in North Carolina

My blog last Monday started out in the fairly safe area of my take on three books I read (or attempted to read) in October, but then it migrated into the dangerous territory of the 2020 Presidential election in the United States. I probably lost a few readers over my comments, but maybe I gained some new ones. I said what was on my heart.

Today’s topic takes a lighter and less divisive turn. I had trouble settling on a subject for today’s blog post, so I turned to my friend Google for ideas. Among them were politics, religion, recipes, book reviews, inspiration, bacon, pets, self-help, and marital advice.

Since I wrote about politics and touched on religion last week, I immediately marked those items off the list. Even though I like to cook and love to eat, I’m trying to steer away from turning this into a recipe blog. I’m not a book reviewer; I just write my thoughts about the books I read. (Yes, there’s a difference. Book reviews should follow some rules; my comments never follow any rules.) I’m holding “inspiration” in reserve for a few more minutes. Next on the list is bacon. Now there’s a topic I could sink my teeth into. <groan!> Pets are near and dear to my heart, but I’m not sure you want to know that much about my dog. I’m not qualified to write a self-help article, and I’m certainly not qualified to offer marital advice.

That leaves inspiration.

<Crickets…..>

Oh, I know! It’s autumn here in North Carolina. I hope you enjoy some photographs I took last week before several days of rain and flash flooding (thanks to Tropical Storm and formerly Hurricane Eta.)

The maple, hickory, sweet gum, and dogwood trees, and the sassafras sprouts in my yard have been gorgeous this fall! Maple trees are my favorite, but I also love the unique color that sassafras leaves turn this time of year.

Sassafras

This has been a year of way more than average rainfall here, and most of us have lost count of the tropical storms. So far, it’s been one of the warmest Novembers on record but, if the abundance of acorns on and under the oak trees are any indication, we’re in for a cold winter. Among the surprises this November have been four blooms on one of our Buttered Popcorn Daylilies and one of our camellias is blooming. The daylilies usually stop blooming by August and the camellias usually bloom in February or March. Here are photos I took on November 13!

Since my last blog post

The pain in my left wrist has been diagnosed. It will be in a brace for six weeks in an effort to avoid surgery. It’s 2020, so I couldn’t have expected anything less. On the bright side, it’s not my dominant hand.

I’ve worked for hours on a genealogy project. It mainly consisted of writing creatively about some relatives I knew and some I didn’t know. All writing is good practice for me, even if it’s not fiction. The brace slows down my writing and greatly increases my typing errors.

With the drama of the US Presidential election sort of behind us (well, not really, but enough is enough!), my sister and I got back to proofreading my Harrisburg, Did You Know? book manuscript. Proofreading 350 pages is tedious work. (Spell-check will catch only a fraction of your mistakes and can actually lead you astray.)

I spent several happy hours reading some old newspapers online and looking for tidbits about local history.

I enjoyed reading when I could catch time here and there, and I spent more time than I should have doing jigsaw puzzles on my tablet. I tell myself it’s good for my brain and hand-eye coordination. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

I listened to some uplifting music by Pentatonix, Peter Holmes, the Avett Brothers (from here in Cabarrus County!), Natalie Grant, and Whitney Houston.

Until my next blog post

Keep calm and carry on.

I hope you have a good book to read.

I hope you have creative time that brings you and others joy.

Thank you for wearing a mask to protect others during this Covid-19 pandemic.

Janet