Three Novels I Can’t Wait to Tell You About!

I read some interesting and thought-provoking books in September. In today’s blog post, I’ll share my reactions to three of the novels I read. I hope you’ll be inspired to add one or more of them to your reading list.


Dragonfly Escaping, Noor’s Story: Book One, by Raya Khedker

Dragonfly Escaping: Noor’s Story: Book One, by Raya Khedker

I learned about this novel through the Jennifer Tar Heel Reader book blog. After reading Jennifer’s review of the book, I went on Twitter to find out a little more about the author.

On Twitter I found a discussion about the book’s cover. I chimed in that I liked the cover, and the author and I enjoyed several days of messaging to one another about the struggles of writing and publishing.

The story immediately grabbed my attention and I knew I was hooked and would have to keep reading to find out what happened to Noor Zulfiker. Noor is bound in an arranged marriage to Rajat, an older man who is a physician and her parents think will be quite a catch for their daughter. But Noor is in love with a young man named Chirag Jagdev. Chirag isn’t rich and his financial future isn’t potentially as bright as the doctor’s.

There is physical abuse, so very soon the reader really starts pulling for the teenage Noor and hoping Rajat gets his comeuppance.

This book shines a light on the emotional and physical abuse the women in India are subjected to by men. Noor is abused from all directions and desperately wants to leave India. It is raw and unrelenting in this first novel of a planned series about Noor.

If you like exotic locations, Dragonfly Escaping takes place in New Dehli and Lima over a span of 1979 to 1992, with connections and references to Spain and Canada thrown in for interest.

If you aren’t put off by reading about an abusive relationship, I recommend this novel by Raya Khedker. It’s her debut novel and it was released in January 2022. Lo and behold, Dragonfly Hunting: Noor’s Story: Book Two, was released last week – on September 27 – so I’m already playing catch-up!

I look forward to whatever Raya Khedker and Noor have in store for us in Book Two.

Raya Khedker was born in India and currently lives in the United States.


In an Instant, by Suzanne Redfearn

In an Instant: A Novel, by Suzanne Redfearn

This novel is written through the eyes of Finn, a 16-year-old girl. Spoiler alert: She’s alive in the beginning of the book but is soon dead. Probably 95% of the book is told through Finn’s eyes and ears as she moves about at will and reports how everyone reacts to her death and the other related events. It is a clever format.

The story is compelling. It delves into each person’s reaction to the incident that takes Finn’s life. It’s about family dynamics, friendships, and how individuals react to a traumatic situation. Each of us knows how we think or hope we’d react in a given circumstance, but do we truly know how we’d react when push comes to shove?

On the negative side, I had to suspend disbelief throughout a sizeable segment of the book as, although all the characters were in a situation of total darkness, they were able to move about and see everything clearly.

Also, I think the author gave Fen a vocabulary and level of understanding that a typical 16-year-old doesn’t have. And, speaking of vocabulary, I find the overuse of expletives offensive and it cheapens the writing. This becomes especially noticeable when one is listening to a book. It was excessive and pulled me out of the story. John Grisham is a reasonably successful novelist even though it is his policy and practice to not use curse words or raunchy language in his books. If John Grisham can have a lucrative writing career without using foul language, perhaps others should follow his example.

I thought the Easter dinner scene was forced. Why would a family that showed absolutely no religious inclinations suddenly put a tremendous emphasis on a traditional Easter ham dinner?

All that said, I reiterate that In an Instant is a gripping story and the premise of a person’s spirit being able to continue to roam the earth and see and hear intimate conversations and activities of family and friends is a bit unsettling and gives much food for thought.


The Midnight Library, by Matt Haig

The Midnight Library, by Matt Haig

When Nora Seed “decides to die,” she finds herself in The Midnight Library. Her school librarian from long ago is there to explain to Nora that The Midnight Library isn’t exactly the afterlife. It’s an endless library of books – each one giving you the chance to undo your regrets and do something different. It’s between life and death. Disgusted at first to be there, Nora eventually appreciates the opportunities it provides.

The novel involves the theory or idea of parallel universes and allows Nora to move from one life to another and experience or re-experience an occupation or family situation.

The lesson this novel teaches is that every decision we make has an outcome. A different decision at any given time could have changed the course of our lives.

I didn’t know what to expect when I checked out the book on CD. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to it to see what Nora’s next experience would be and how it was all going to turn out for her.

The only irritation I felt in listening to the book was the fact that the British reader pronounced “library” the way the English do, turning this three-syllable word into a two-syllable word.” It’s like fingernails on a chalkboard to me. If you’re too young to understood the analogy, I’m afraid I can’t help you.


Since my last blog post

Here in the southern piedmont of North Carolina, it rained sideways all day on Friday and felt more like winter than autumn as what was left of Hurricane Ian passed through after making its third landfall near Georgetown, South Carolina. We came through it unscathed, though, and for that I’m relieved and thankful.

I’ve been working on my genealogy. I knew that three of my 16 g-g-g-grandmothers were Neelys. Last week I found their father’s will and discovered they were sisters. I guess that means I’m my own cousin. Small gene pool here in the 1700s!


Until my next blog post

My heart goes out to all the people severely affected by Hurricane Ian in Cuba, all over Florida, and the east coast of the US.

Today I’m excited to begin taking a three-day online workshop about writing a book series. It’s sure to help me as I continue to work on The Heirloom and its sequel, The Doubloon.

I hope you have a good book to read this week.

Don’t forget the brave people of Ukraine.

Janet

This Week: An Additional 5 Book Bloggers

Last week my blog was about five book bloggers I follow. I promised to highlight more such book reviewers in the coming weeks. Today’s blog post is about five other online book reviewers.

As with last week’s list, I selected these five in random order. I hope at least one of them will appeal to you enough that you’ll start following it.


Photo by Florencia Viadana on Unsplash

LizGauffreau.com

At https://lizgauffreau.com/, you will find book reviews as well as a variety of other blog posts and information. Liz is a writer and blogger who lives in New Hampshire. As you can tell from her blog topics, she’s not a full-time book review blogger. I’ve included her on this list, though, because she sometimes reviews fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.

Her website is well-organized. You can click on her blog posts by month, or you can click on her Fiction Book Reviews, her Nonfiction Book Reviews, or her Poetry Reviews.

Here’s the link to one of her recent book reviews: #bookreview: Village Teacher – Elizabeth Gauffreau (lizgauffreau.com), in which she reviewed Village Teacher, by neihtn (Nguyen Trong Hien).

If you’re a fan of short stories, here’s a head’s up. Two of Liz’s short stories will be in the new anthology, Distant Flickers: Stories of Identity and Loss. It’s set for release on October 1. Look for it wherever you buy your books. If your local independent bookstore and public library haven’t ordered copies, ask them to consider doing so.


Photo by John-Mark Smith on Unsplash

Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

As you can guess from the name, Smorgasbord Blog Magazine is an online magazine that covers just about everything. It also covers just about everything very well.

Sally Cronin is the powerhouse behind this online magazine. I marvel at the variety of topics Sally tackles. She not only reviews books. She also reviews music and does excellent posts about popular music from different decades. She also has a post once a week that offers four or five cartoons. As you can see, there’s something for everyone in Smorgasbord Blog Magazine.

You’re reading this, though, because my post today is supposed to be about book bloggers. Here’s the link to one of Sally’s recent book reviews: Smorgasbord Book Reviews – #Historical #1920s Jazz Baby by Beem Weeks , in which she reviewed Jazz Baby, by Beem Weeks.

Sally blogs from Ireland. Her almost daily blog posts are always entertaining.


Photo by Henry Be on Unsplash

Amorina Rose’s Blog

Barbara Strickland is the voice behind Amorina Rose’s Blog. Barbara’s website address is https://brstrickland.com/. She is an author as well as a blogger. Through her website you can access her blog archives.

May, June, and July Chilling with Books Corner 2022, being real and finding inspiration – Barbara Strickland – Author & Blogger (brstrickland.com) is a good example of one of her blogs about books and other things, such as movies she’d been watching. In it, she also reviews the historical novel, The Wedding Dress Sewing Circle, by Jennifer Ryan.

Barbara is of Italian and Australian ancestry. She holds a Bachelor of Education degree with TESOL (English as a Second Language) qualifications. She’s had a varied career and enjoys music, dance, art, and literature. She’s in the editing stages of her second novel.


Photo by Gülfer ERGİN on Unsplash

Linda’s Book Obsession

Linda Zagon is the book reviewer behind Linda’s Book Obcession. She is a retired teacher with a massive book collection, including signed first editions.

Reviewing books is Linda’s hobby. She is a Top Reviewer on NetGalley and has also reviewed books on Facebook, Goodreads, LibraryThing, Twitter (as @peachyteach), Amazon (as teachlz) and BookBrowse.

You can find her current and past book reviews on her website, https://lindasbookobsession.blog/. She has been known to blog twice in one day about two different books.

Go to her website and click on her September 22, 2022 blog post in which she gives a rave review of The Child Between Us, by Alison Ragsdale.


Photo by Ed Robertson on Unsplash

Portobello Book Blog

Joanne is passionate about books, and it shows in her book reviews on https://portobellobookblog.com/. She especially likes contemporary fiction and historical fiction but also enjoys a good love story, according to the bio on her website.

There, you can easily scroll down through a list of her recent blog posts. Each one includes an opening paragraph or two from the post. Just click on “more” if you want to continue reading one of them. You can also click on any of give option at the top of her landing page. One of them is “Book Reviews, A to Z.” That will give you a drop-down menu where you can click on her book reviews from any year back to 2015 and get a list of the books she reviewed that year in alphabetical order by the authors’ last names. You can tell by the lengthy lists that Joanne is a voracious reader.

Her site also includes author interviews.

Go to Joanne’s website, https://portobellobookblog.com/, and I suggest you click on her September 20, 2022 blog post in which she reviewed The Dead Romantics, by Ashley Poston. I suggest you click on that one because through it you can read the first chapter of Ashley Poston’s novel. What can beat that in a book review?


Since my last blog post

Last week I mentioned that I’d run into a bit of a roadblock on the cover I wanted for the cover of the e-book I’m working on. I was discouraged, but things opened up this past week. I was contacted by the son of the deceased artist whose painting I wanted for the book cover. He couldn’t have been more accommodating! What a relief! I literally cried tears of joy after talking to him.

I’m still formatting my local history newspaper column articles for that book, Harrisburg, Did You Know? – Book 1. I’ll keep you posted as I reach publication.


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read and an enjoyable hobby.

Find the good in the coming week. I’ll look for you back here next Monday. Please tell your friends about my blog.

Don’t forget the courageous people of Ukraine and the grieving people of Uvalde.

Janet

Do you know about these 5 book bloggers?

There are some book bloggers whose posts I read regularly to get ideas for books to read. Sometimes they review books I’ve read and it’s interesting to see if I agree with their reviews or what they picked up on that I missed. Usually, they review books I haven’t read, for many professional book reviewers receive advance copies before a book is released to the public. This isn’t the case for all book bloggers.

Today I’m writing about five of the book bloggers I follow. Perhaps some of them will be new to you. In the coming weeks, I’ll blog about other book bloggers I follow. I’ve chosen these in random order.


Photo by Susan Q Yin on Unsplash.

Jennifer Tar Heel Reader

Going to Jennifer’s website, you can peruse her blog topics and get a feel for the type books she reviews. Although I haven’t heard her say, she is obviously a creative and talented person in her own right. The photographs she includes with her book reviews are always elegant and inviting. Take a look for yourself on her website where you can read any of her past blog posts/reviews simply with a click. She’s been blogging book reviews since May 4, 2018. From the title of her blog, I believe she lives in the same state where I’ve lived my entire life – North Carolina.

Here’s a link to one of her recent book reviews: https://jennifertarheelreader.com/2022/06/30/dragonfly-escaping-by-raya-khedker-bookreview-tarheelreader-thrdragonflyescaping-rayakhedker-suzyapbooktours-dragonflyescaping-blogtour/. After reading Jennifer’s review, I added Dragon Fly Escaping to my TBR (To Be Read) list.

Jennifer’s website is https://jennifertarheelreader.com/.


Photo by hannah grace on Unsplash

Sandy’s Book a Day Blog

Sandy is a top reviewer on Goodreads and reviews as Sandyj21 on Amazon. As you can tell from the title of her blog, she’s a voracious reader. To give you an example, she read or listened to 22 books in July! (I do well to read that many books in six months!) Here’s a link to one of her recent blog posts: The Lost Girls of Willowbrook by Ellen Marie Wiseman – Sandy’s Book a Day Blog (wordpress.com).

Sandy, like the other book bloggers I follow, offers honest assessments of the books she reviews. In this particular one, she explains why she had trouble getting her head around the abuse at Willowbrook because, thankfully, her own experience working in such a facility was nothing like that portrayed in the book. The Lost Girls of Willowbrook is also on my TBR.


Photo by Ed Robertson on Unsplash

What Cathy Read Next

Cathy amazes me with the number of books she reads and reviews. Last time I looked, she’d read 122 books so far in 2022.  She has a great website and book review blog. You can go to her website, What Cathy Read 2022 – What Cathy Read Next… (wordpress.com) and click on a number of choices, such as “What Cathy Read in 2022” or “What Cathy read in 2016” and every year in between.  Then, each book title is clickable and you can read her review of it.

Occasionally, Cathy attacks her TBR (To Be Read List) and blogs about a few books on her list. She goes through a process to decide which ones to leave on her TBR and which ones to delete. I need to do that myself! Here’s an example of one of her “Down the TBR Hole” blog posts: Down the TBR Hole #25 – What Cathy Read Next… (wordpress.com).

Cathy has an MA in English and appreciates good fiction, especially historical fiction and literary fiction.


Photo by hannah grace on Unsplash

Emma B Books

Emma reviews lots of thrillers and mysteries, but she also is known to have reviewed memoirs and other genres. By going to her home page, EmmabBooks.com – Book Reviews by Emma b Books, you can click on the image of any one of 18 books she’s recently reviewed.

Emma’s website is well-organized. You can click on “Home,” “Nonfiction,” “Fiction,” “Audiobooks,” “5*Related Books,” “Blog,” “About,” and “Contact.”

Each of those buttons has a drop-down menu to make any search easy. If you’d like to receive email notices when Emma posts a new review on her blog, there’s a fill-in format form on her website. If you’re a WordPress blogger, you can opt to receive her posts on your feed.

Emma is British by birth and now lives in the beautiful Austrian Alps.


Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash.

FictionFan’s Book Reviews

This reviewer reads a wide range of genres and blogs about books she likes and books she didn’t like so much. Her interests run the gamut from politics and history to vintage horror. (Come to think of it, maybe those aren’t actually on two ends of the spectrum!) Here’s the link: http://FictionFan’s Book Reviews – Reviews of books…and occasional other stuff. (wordpress.com).

The website is well-organized, with 15 categories at the top for you to choose from. Each one has a drop-down menu to assist you in your search. There’s even a “Movie of the Book” button. Other buttons have drop-down menus in which you can search by book title or author.

This reviewer is from Scotland and is one of Amazon UK’s Top 500 Reviewers.


Since my last blog post

I’ve been working on genealogy and reading books. I listen to books on CD and read print books as well as e-books.

Speaking of e-books… I’m formatting the local history columns I wrote for Harrisburg Horizons newspaper from 2006 through 2012 in preparation for putting them into two e-books. I’ve run into a bit of a roadblock on the cover I wanted, so it’s time to figure out Plan B.


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I hope you’ll check out the book bloggers I blogged about today.

Don’t work all the time. Take time out for family and friends.

Remember the people of Ukraine and Uvalde, and count your blessings.

Janet

The Other Four Books Read in August 2022

There are lots of good books out there. Today’s blog post is about four of the eight books I read last month. In case you missed it, last Monday I blogged about the other four in Four of Eight Books Read in August 2022.


The Librarian Spy, by Madeline Martin

The Librarian Spy, by Madeline Martin

This novel follows two women during World War II. One is involved in the French Resistance. The other one is a librarian from the Library of Congress in Washington, DC who has been sent to Lisbon, Portugal to help secure and copy newspapers from the cities under Germany’s control. The copies are sent to the US to help the Allies’ cause in the war.

The chapters alternate between Ava’s story and Elaine’s story. My only complaint is that as soon as I was invested in one’s story, the next chapter would begin and I had to switch mental gears to the other one. I don’t like that in a novel, but it seems to be the trend now in historical fiction. Otherwise, Ava and Elaine each have compelling stories and you’ll want to cheer them on.

I was immediately invested in each of the two main characters as soon as I read their opening chapters. The deeper into their stories you get, the more you are anxious (not eager, but anxious) to see what happens to them next.

This novel made me stop and think about the danger both women were in all the time. They had to guard their words at all times because they never knew when a stranger – or even an acquaintance – nearby might overhear something that could aid the enemy.

I can’t imagine living under that level of stress not just for days or weeks on end but for years on end. Not only that, but they were living the war on a daily basis and had no way of knowing when it would end. That’s a luxury we have when reading historical fiction. We know the exact day and sometimes the very hour at which a war will be declared over.


Grace, Grits and Ghosts: Southern Short Stories, by Susan Gabriel

Grace, Grits and Ghosts: Southern Short Stories, by Susan Gabriel

I purchased this ebook some months ago and finally got around to reading it. I’m so glad I did. It is a collection of short stories, some of which grew out of Susan Gabriel’s novels.

Hoping to publish short stories myself, I was curious to see the book’s layout. Also, I hadn’t read any of Ms. Gabriel’s novels, so I was eager to find out about her writing style and to discover her writer’s “voice.”

And what a writer’s “voice” she has! If you enjoy southern fiction, you’ll love how Ms. Gabriel writes. Her voice, especially in “The Secret Sense of Wildflower,” comes through so strongly that I can still hear it in my head days after finishing the book. It’s told through the eyes of a young girl who has witnessed too much in her life, but tells the story with a wit, bluntness, and insight that I loved.

She even used the idiom, “as all get out” in that last story in the book, which couldn’t help but make me laugh out loud. You might recall my blog post about that idiom from March 29, 2021: #Idiom: As All Get Out.

The book includes an introduction in which Ms. Gabriel writes about how she was determined to never write southern fiction. I had to smile at that. There are nine stories of varying lengths, so it is an easy book to read if you can only find a few minutes at a time for a book; however, you’ll find yourself turning the page to see what the next story is and, before you know it, you’ve read three more stories.

The short stories in this book were varied in topic. “Reunion at the River” was about seven women who had been abused by the same man several decades ago and how they gather at the secluded mountain home of one of their number every year for a reunion and attempt to heal.

As a southern short story writer wannabe, I gained valuable ideas from this book about how to create an ebook of short stories. I don’t have published novels to draw on like Ms. Gabriel had, but I love the way she pulled the stories together and ended the book with information about her other books, her desire to get feedback from her readers, and her all-important contact links.


Subtract: The Untapped Science of Less, by Leidy Klotz

Subtract: The Untapped Science of Less, by Leidy Klotz

Jan Edmiston, General Presbyter of the Presbytery of Charlotte, recommended this book in her July 8, 2022 blog, https://achurchforstarvingartists.blog/2022/07/08/books-im-loving-this-summer/. Edmiston’s takeaway from reading the books was, “Why this book can change the culture: We in the Church (and world) have been taught that being better means adding things. Sometimes we are better when we subtract things.”

In the book, Mr. Klotz pleads with us to stop thinking of subtraction as a negative thing. Sometimes less is better. When you’re attempting to declutter your life, your home, your email in-box, the landscape, or even the atmosphere – the air we breathe, couch it in words that don’t have negative implications.

He gives examples throughout the book. One of the simple ones that stuck with me was when he and his young son were building a bridge with Legos. One of the bridges pillars was taller than the other. Human nature usually prompts us to add to the shorter pillar to make them even; however, his toddler son removed one of the blocks in the taller pillar.

Mr. Klotz encourages us to adopt that approach in all aspects of our lives. Another example he mentioned several times is the editing that writers must do. Fiction writers are told to make every word count. Make every sentence earn its keep. Edit out words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs – even scenes – that don’t move the story forward. That’s a painful thing to do!

He also encourages us to focus on people. Focus on the things that will improve lives. The winner isn’t the person with the most stuff at the end of life.


L.E.A.P.F.R.O.G.: How to hold a civil conversation in an uncivil era, Third Edition, by Janet Givens, M.A.

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

Janet Givens has come out with a third edition of her book, L.E.A.P.F.R.O.G.: How to hold a civil conversation in an uncivil era, and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to improve their skills of having a difficult conversation.

Be it a difficult conversation with a friend or a stranger, a relative or an employer or employee this book will help you have a more productive dialog.

The goal of this book is not to tell you how to convert the other person to your way of thinking, but rather to help you go into a conversation with an open mind and genuine curiosity about why the other person sees a particular issue or situation differently than you.

For more details about this new third edition of the book, please read my August 22, 2022 blog post, L.E.A.P.F.R.O.G. by Janet Givens


Since my last blog post

In addition to reading books and writing, I’ve worked on genealogy. I’ve also blown the dust off the local history newspaper columns I wrote from 2006 through 2012. It’s amazing how much I’ve forgotten since 2006. I hope people will enjoy reading my articles as much as I’ve enjoyed rereading some of them this week.

Since 2012 I’ve wanted to put all the articles into a book. I’m typing them in Word and formatting them ready to download the document into Atticus. Atticus is the writing software I’m using that will enable me to export the document ready for electronic publication on Amazon.

The cover is still holding up publication of the cookbook my sister and I are compiled for electronic publication.

I’ll keep you posted on both projects.


Until my next blog post

Don’t forget to read my September 5, 2022, blog post, Four of Eight Books Read in August 2022, in case you missed it.

I hope you have a good book to read.

Spend time with family and friends.

Remember the people of Ukraine, Uvalde, Highland Park….

Janet

Four of Eight Books Read in August 2022

August turned out to be one of those months when many books I’d been on the waitlist for at the public library all became available at the same time. I had to scramble to read and listen to so many books in a month. I guess it was a good thing August had 31 days.

Today’s blog post is about four of the eight books I read last month. I’ll blog about the other four next Monday.


The German Wife, by Kelly Rimmer

The German Wife, by Kelly Rimmer

The basis of this novel is “Operation Paperclip,” although that secret US intelligence program isn’t mentioned by name until the author’s note at the end of the book.

I listened to this historical novel on CD. I almost gave up on it after the second of 11 discs because I felt like as soon as I became invested in Sofie’s story, I was yanked into Lizzie’s story. I found the random switching from Lizzie’s 1930s in the Dust Bowl days in Texas to Sofie’s 1950s in Huntsville, Alabama to Sofie’s 1930s in Berlin to Lizzie’s 1950s in Huntsville, Alabama more than a bit disorienting.

That said, a couple more discs into the book, I couldn’t stop listening.

One thread that runs throughout the novel is how people can justify their actions (or inactions) in the name of keeping themselves or their families safe. How many times in history and perhaps in our own lives does the excuse, “I was just following orders” come into play?

Another thread in the book is prejudice and discrimination. Family dynamics play heavily in the book. One of the characters is a World War II veteran suffering from what was then called battle fatigue but is now known as posttraumatic stress disorder. His sister, Lizzie, tries her best to help him, but in the process she enables him.

I found the book’s description of the horrors of the dust storms in the US during the 1930s to be so realistic that I felt like I was choking as Lizzie’s family tried in vain to keep the dust out of their house.

Sofie’s abiding friendship with Mayim, a Jewish woman, is a part of the story that will stay with me. It reminds us that there were Germans who were friends with Jews and whose hearts were broken by what the Nazis did to them. I’d like to think I wouldn’t have turned my back on Jewish friends – and Jewish strangers – if I’d been in Sofie’s place. But how easily humans can be brainwashed! We’re seeing it in our own country now.

The book shines a light on how German rocket scientists were brought to the United States after World War II to help develop NASA’s space program. I was aware of this, of course, but I’d never stopped to think about the interpersonal logistics of the Germans’ being accepted by the Americans so soon after the war.  The fact that some of those German scientists had been complicit in Nazi war crimes was swept under the rug, as their pasts were erased by the US government to make it possible for them to work for the US space program.

In Ms. Rimmer’s author’s note at the end of the book, she explains how she, an Australian, learned about this piece of history in a roundabout way in a park in New South Wales. The fact that she learned about “Operation Paperclip” in 2019 and has already researched and written this novel, is amazing.

This is the fourth novel of Kelly Rimmer’s that I’ve read. In case you’re interested in reading or re-reading what I blogged about the other three books, please visit my September 9, 2019 post, #BringBackOurGirls, my October 7, 2019 post, Thrillers and a Dark Novel I Read Last Month, and my July 12, 2021 post, 4 Other Books I Read in June 2021.

If you want to learn more about “Operation Paperclip” – the secret US intelligence program that brought more than 1,600 German scientists and engineers to America between 1945 and 1959 so they could work for the US government, do an online search for it and then follow up at your local public library.


The Lord is My Shepherd: Healing Wisdom of the Twenty-Third Psalm, by Harold S. Kushner

The Lord is My Shepherd: Healing Wisdom of the Twenty-Third Psalm, by Harold S. Kushner

Many years ago I read Rabbi Harold S. Kushner’s book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People. Although Rabbi Kushner is Jewish and I’m a Christian, I found that book insightful and reassuring. It echoed many of my core beliefs. God didn’t promise us a carefree life. He promised to be with us.

When I found Rabbi Kushner’s book, The Lord is My Shepherd: Healing Wisdom of the Twenty-Third Psalm on CD for sale at a book sale at the public library, I was sad that it had been weeded from the collection. I had myself to blame, though. I’d never checked it out. Perhaps no one had checked it out in years and, therefore, it needed to be removed from the library shelf to make room for a new book. I was eager to read it, so I bought it – probably for fifty cents.

That was months ago, and I finally got around to listening to it. I enjoyed hearing the book read by the author. It was only four discs. I listened to the entire book over a two-day period.

In the book, Rabbi Kushner wrote about the Twenty-Third Psalm, line by line. He is a student of the Psalms and I appreciated his perspective. I like it when a Bible scholar tells me the nuances of the original Hebrew in which the Old Testament books were written. Rabbi Kushner did that numerous times throughout this book.

Being a Christian, I didn’t agree with what Rabbi Kushner had to say about the coming of the Messiah, but it was interesting to hear his Jewish perspective. Also, I believe that God created everything from nothing. Rabbi Kushner believes that everything already existed and God created order out of the chaos.

In The Lord is My Shepherd: Healing Wisdom of the Twenty-Third Psalm, Rabbi Kushner repeatedly revisits the theme that God doesn’t promise us a carefree life; He promises to be with us. On that, Rabbi Kushner and I agree.

Now that I’ve listened to this book, I plan to donate it to Goodwill where someone else can acquire it and ponder the Twenty-Third Psalm along with Rabbi Kushner.


Cold, Cold Bones, by Kathy Reichs

Cold, Cold Bones: A Temperance Brennan Novel, by Kathy Reichs

I really enjoyed listening to Cold, Cold Bones, by Kathy Reichs. It had the suspense we’ve come to expect in her novels with the added bonus of references to many locations in and around Charlotte.

Concord, the Appalachian Trail, and even Robeson County got mentioned. Of course, they were all mispronounced on the CD audio recording of the book, but that’s to be expected. I’m sure the reader wasn’t from North Carolina.

There were numerous clues given, and each one took me down another rabbit hole. All the time, though, I knew in the end Ms. Reichs would connect the dots and show how each thread came together.

The layers of this novel were revealed much like one peels layer after layer from an onion. Ms. Reichs certainly has pacing down pat. It kept me guessing who the chief villain was and what the common thread of each incident was until the very end.

This was a very entertaining read, and makes me eager to read another Kathy Reichs novel. The last novel of hers that I’d read was way back in May 2020. In my June 1, 2020 blog post, Books Read in May 2020, I wrote about her novel, A Conspiracy of Bones.

I don’t know why I waited two years to read another of her books. In case you aren’t familiar with Kathy Reichs, she is an adjunct professor of anthropology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She is a highly-regarded forensic anthropologist who splits her time between Charlotte and Montreal. The television series, “Bones” was loosely-based on her life and ran for 11 seasons from 2005 until 2016.


The Many Daughters of Afong Moy: A Novel, by Jamie Ford

The Many Daughters of Afong Moy, by Jamie Ford

I’ve enjoyed the other novels I’ve read by Jamie Ford, but I found this one difficult to follow. It’s received rave reviews. The writing is outstanding, but I found the jumping back and forth between centuries (past, present, and future) and the five points-of-view hard to follow.

I listened to nine of the 11 discs of this book on CD. I found the voice of one of the readers very irritating to my southern ears and the range in volume from soft to yelling was equally irritating to me as I have hearing loss and I was often listening to the book after I’d gone to bed.

All that said, the basis of the novel is a fascinating topic: epigenetics. It began with the first Chinese woman who came to America and how she became a spectacle due to her bound feet. She suffered physical and emotional pain as a result of this ancient Chinese tradition that crippled girls and women and kept them under the thumb of male society. The novel follows generations of her female descendants who carried her emotional scars.

Epigenetics is an interesting topic of study. There is debate about whether emotional traits and emotional traumas are passed from generation to generation through DNA or through a family’s traditions and oral history.

If you want to read my comments about one of Jamie Ford’s earlier books, Love and Other Consolation Prizes, go to my July 17, 2017 blog post, Reading South Africa and South Carolina Novels. I must have read Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet before I started blogging about the books I read. It was good, too.

It was the format and not the prose in which The Many Daughters of Afong Moy was presented that didn’t appeal to me. I’ll still look forward to Jamie Ford’s next novel.


Since my last blog post

It’s been a strange week with some unexpected tasks and distractions. I continue to read more than write because those library books are still piling up. It’s a nice problem to have and I’m grateful to live in a country and a region with such vast free public library resources.

The arrival of September was a rude awakening. How is it that summer flies by and winter drags on and on? My Seasonal Affective Disorder is already rearing its ugly head, so I must strive to get and keep a positive attitude.


Until my next blog post

I hope you have so many books at your fingertips that you can’t decide what to read next.

Life is short. Spend time with family and friends, and make time for a hobby.

Don’t forget the people of Ukraine, Uvalde, and Highland Park, etc

Janet

#Idiom: They must have let the bars down

I like to mix things up with a range of topics on my blog. When thinking about an idiom to write about today, I thought of a saying my father often said. Much to my surprise when I started researching it, I discovered… nothing.

I’m left not knowing if this saying was original with my father or perhaps it was so specifically local to our community that it didn’t make it into any books of idioms. I think this is the first time I’ve searched for something online and come up empty.

Nevertheless, I’ll write about it today and speculate about its origins. This promises to be my shortest blog post ever.

“They must have let the bars down.”

Have you ever heard that said? Do you have a clue what it means?

My father would say this if he drove up to a stop sign and there was so much traffic coming that he had to wait an inordinate amount of time before he could turn onto or cross the street.

This was a confusing thing to hear as a child. Not wanting to show my ignorance, though, I didn’t ask what he meant by that.

Photo by Derek Lee on Unsplash

It was something my father said so many times that it’s permanently ingrained in my head. When I come to a stop sign and there is so much traffic coming that I have to wait more than a little while to make my turn, “They must have let the bars down” flows through my brain and I can’t help but smile.

Photo by Monika Kubala on Unsplash

I think it was sometime after my father died that the saying came to mind and I asked my mother what it meant. Her explanation was that it referred to the letting down of the bars or gate keeping cows in an enclosure or pasture. With the bars let down (or pushed aside or the gate opened) the cows would likely see they had an escape route and break loose.

Photo by Jinen Shah on Unsplash

On a trip to Scotland, my sister and I were reminded as the saying. More than once, we saw where there were heavy iron bars in the ground the width of a gate or opening in a fence. Unable to get a steady footing on the bars, which were several inches apart, a cow would not be able to get to the opening and escape the pasture but a tractor, truck/lorry, or car could drive across and get through.

Our father grew up on a farm that in fact was a dairy farm during his teenage years. Did his father and older brothers utilize such bars in any of their pastures? Or perhaps he’d seen them used for that purpose elsewhere. Or maybe it was just a way of saying a gate made of iron bars had been opened to let the cows out of one enclosure to be led to another.

It’s too bad I didn’t have enough curiosity at the time to ask my father what he meant and whether he’d heard the expression used by others.

Is that it?

Is that it? Is that all there is?

That’s all I have for you.

If you’ve ever heard the saying and have a different explanation of it, please let me know.

Until my next blog post

Thank you for reading my blog

Keep reading good books.

Spend time with family, friends, and a hobby.

Perhaps above all, ask the older people in your life those questions you’ve put off asking. Ask them the questions you’ll wish someday that you had asked them because one day it will be too late. That day could be tomorrow.

Remember the people of Ukraine, Uvalde, Highland Park, ….

Janet

L.E.A.P.F.R.O.G.: How to hold a civil conversation in an uncivil era, Third Edition, by Janet Givens

As the American society becomes increasingly polarized on politics, racial justice, abortion, gun rights, public education, and free speech on social media, this is a book we can all benefit from reading. You can benefit even more by discussing the book with a group.

The book I’m referring to is the Third Edition of L.E.A.P.F.R.O.G.: How to hold a civil conversation in an uncivil era, by Janet Givens. Ms. Givens is a sociologist and Gestalt psychotherapist.

L.E.A.P.F.R.O.G.: How to hold a civil conversation in an uncivil era, by Janet Givens, M.A.

Although my opening paragraph referred to the polarization of America, this book is intended to help people have any difficult conversation, whether it’s a disagreement you’ve had with your spouse or co-worker, a difference of opinion over a belief with a fellow church member, a conversation you need to have with a family member in the grips of substance abuse, or an honest discussion you want to have about a larger issue with a group, this book will help you get there.

How I learned about the book

Janet Givens and I had connected through our blogs. I was pleased last year when she invited me to participate in a Zoom group to read and discuss an earlier edition of the book. It was a small group – Ms. Givens, six others from across the United States, and me.

Ms. Givens told us up front that she wanted to make some changes in the book and publish a new edition. She wanted our input. It was a wonderful experience to be in such a group. We bonded through our monthly virtual meetings and I miss them now that the purpose that brought us together is completed.

In appreciation for our involvement, Ms. Givens sent each of us a copy of this year’s new edition. I’ve neglected to follow up with a review of the book for several months, for which I’m embarrassed. The best excuse I can concoct is that life and numerous library book due dates I was up against constantly took my attention away from L.E.A.P.F.R.O.G. It’s a poor excuse. I apologize, Janet. (By the way, I was known as “the other Janet” in the small group of eight.)

New introduction

This Third Edition of L.E.A.P.F.R.O.G.: How to hold a civil conversation in an uncivil era has a completely new introduction. Sometimes I’m tempted to skip a book’s introduction, but please be sure to read this one. You’ll learn why Ms. Givens wrote the book, how she envisioned it being used, and she asks several questions for you to consider before launching into the meat of the book.

It used to be Americans could agree to disagree with each other over various issues, but that has become the exception rather than the rule. In this “uncivil era” it can seem impossible to civilly discuss issues with someone with whom you hold differing views.

That’s the backdrop for the book. The title is an acronym for Listening, Empathy, Assessment, Perspective, Facts: Forget them for now; Respect, Observation, and Gratitude. Each of those gets its own chapter. The chapters should be read in order for it is in that order in which one should approach any “difficult conversation.”

Ms. Givens is quick to point out in the introduction that one shouldn’t go into such a conversation with the purpose of converting the other person to their way of thinking. Something our Zoom group discussed on several occasions was the need for both/all parties discussing a difficult or divisive topic to be genuinely curious about why the other person has an opinion not like their own.

In her acknowledgements at the back of the book, Ms. Givens indicated that the Zoom group was instrumental in the birth of her “Perspective” chapter and in the reworking of the “Respect” chapter. Let’s look at those chapters.

Perspective

The fourth chapter in the earlier editions of the book was titled “Paraphrase.” Readers were encouraged to listen to the other person with empathy, assess their own state of mind to make sure they were mentally in the right place to have the conversation, and then paraphrase what they thought they heard the other person say.

In this new edition, Ms. Givens replaced “Paraphrase” with “Perspective.” (You’ll also notice in earlier editions most of the chapter titles were action words like Listen, Empathize, Assess, Paraphrase, and Observe. The new chapter titles are mostly nouns, such as Listening, Empathy, Assessment, Perspective, Facts: Forget them for now, Respect, Observation, and Gratitude.) They’re presented more as concepts instead of calls to action.

In the “Perspective” chapter, Ms. Givens invites us to think about perspective – ours and the other person’s. In doing that we will probably listen more carefully to the other person and maybe see the other person’s perspective. I might not change my mind by listening to your perspective, but I might gain a level of understanding of why you think what you think and even a clearer understanding of my own thinking.

The ”Perspective” chapter also addresses unconscious bias. For instance, an experience we had in childhood can affect how we see an issue today. You don’t need to use that as an excuse though. Once we recognize a bias, we can change.

Respect

In the reworked “Respect” chapter, Ms. Givens enlightens the reader to think of respect as something each individual deserves because that’s the foundation of society. Respect isn’t something to be meted out after we’ve judged the other person.

She addresses “othering” – the “us versus them” mindset. One way to move toward genuinely respecting the other person is to tell them you hear them and you think you understand. Then, look for what you have in common. Find something positive to say.

A call to action

I hope my blog post today will prompt you to look for L.E.A.P.F.R.O.G.: How to hold a civil conversation in an uncivil era, Third Edition wherever you purchase books. You can also order it from the author at https://janetgivens.com/. I also recommend that you request that your local public library system purchases the book. Ask for it at your local independent bookstore if you don’t see it on the shelf.

Rare is the person who can’t benefit from reading it. Putting into practice the ideas Ms. Givens presents in her book will surely result in a more civil exchange of ideas within the United States or wherever you live – even if it’s just one person at a time.

Since my last blog post

I was struggling with a short story I was writing. It just wasn’t coming together. I did some brainstorming and the pieces finally felt into place. I hope to self-publish a collection of my historical short stories. I’ll keep you posted on my progress on that project.

I’ve completed my work to-date on two branches in my family tree. My sister helped me figure out these two lines. Both lines had some squirrelly dates and connections. We’re more than ready to move on to another family line and hope for less confusion!

Work has slowed on our The Aunts in the Kitchen family cookbook. I keep procrastinating getting the photograph made for the cover of the e-book. I can’t make it myself.

Our computer guy came and got our margins corrected in Word. It’s frustrating for a writer to not be able to set one-inch margins, especially since that’s the default setting. I’m back in business now typing my short stories and formatting them in Word ready to download into Atticus. I’m a happy camper once again!

I’m trying to participate on Twitter again, with limited success. If you’d like to follow me, I’m @janetmorrisonbk.  (Think Janet Morrison book.) Just don’t expect me to Tweet every day or comment on what you post in a timely manner. I’m terrible at social media.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read or listen to. I’m reading The Librarian Spy: A Novel of World War II, by Madeline Martin and Booth, by Karen Joy Fowler. I have other books checked out and two more ready to be picked up at the library. I can’t read fast enough!

Life is short. Spend time with family and friends, and make time for a hobby.

Don’t forget the people of Ukraine, Uvalde, and Highland Park, etc. and the people in Kentucky whose lives have been turned upside down by flooding.

Janet

My Brush with Fame

After blogging about a heavy and complicated topic last week – the Wilmot Proviso – I decided to give my readers and myself a break this week. Let’s have some fun today with my brush with fame.

Do you remember a suspenseful television series from a decade ago that was filled with political intrigue? The name of the show was “Homeland.”

Before it was named. I had my brush of fame in it as an “extra.”

Most of the show’s early seasons were filmed in Charlotte. A segment was to be filmed at Avondale Presbyterian Church on Park Road because it resembled a New England church sanctuary.

Photo from Avondale Presbyterian Church website.

The production people wanted a full sanctuary for the filming of a funeral scene. An email went out to the churches in the Presbytery of Charlotte, part of the Presbyterian Church USA. The secretary at Rocky River Presbyterian Church sent out a notice to inform members of the congregation that extras were needed for the filming on August 12, 2011.

My sister and I had never considered doing anything like that, but it sounded interesting and exciting. We were advised to wear appropriate clothes for a funeral. We weren’t going to be paid, but lunch would be available.

We had nothing better to do that day, so off we went. It turned out to be a learning experience and one of those incidents that people who know me would probably be surprised to know.

Upon arrival, we were herded into the church’s fellowship hall. We sat with strangers around round tables. It was immediately time to “hurry up and wait.”

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

After several hours, we were led into the sanctuary. Sound and lighting were tested. I can’t remember now if the stars of that episode of the show, Claire Danes and Damian Lewis, were involved in our first visit to the sanctuary.

We were told in no uncertain terms to memorize where we were sitting because later in the day we’d have to arrange ourselves exactly in the same place and in the same order. That was a bit stressful when you’re sitting on a church pew in a sanctuary you’ve never been in before and all the walls are covered in plastic to control the lighting.

It must have been at that point that we were served lunch. I can’t remember what it was, but I never turn down a free meal.

After that, we were left to just hang out in the fellowship hall. I’ve never had good timing. I took a minute to take a bathroom break. When I came back to the fellowship hall, my sister and a man we’d only met that morning were gone. The remaining extras at our table told me that someone came and asked them to go outside for the shooting of another scene.

This man had irritated us all morning, and now Marie was stuck being with him for filming outside. He was a loud know-it-all and we’d wished we could move to another table. Even so, I was a little envious because Marie was at least getting to do something, but I mostly pitied her for having to spend more time with this obnoxious man.

Marie and her new “husband” eventually returned to the fellowship hall. They’d had to walk together up the sidewalk leading to the church entrance over and over and over and over as if arriving for the funeral. Marie looked shell shocked and feared people would think they were an actual couple.

A little while later, we were instructed to return to the sanctuary. (All this time I’d been playing over in my head the clues I’d tried to detect that would help me sit exactly where I had earlier.)

As soon as everyone seated themselves where they’d sat that morning, members of the production crew started pointing and saying, “You. You, go sit over there. And you. You go sit over there.” This drill went on for a while until I’d completely lost sight of Marie and I was nowhere near where I’d started. I hoped she wasn’t being paired off with “obnoxious man.”

I liked where I ended up. I was near the aisle, and Claire Danes stood just feet away from me while she waited for her cue to walk forward. We even made eye contact while we waited. It was probably because I looked like a deer caught in headlights.

Photo by Avel Chuklanov on Unsplash

Filming finally started. Damian Lewis eulogized his deceased best friend from the Army. Over and over and over and over again. Claire Danes eventually got to walk up the aisle (over and over again) to her appointed seat.

In the middle of Damian Lewis’ eulogy, an actor portraying another of their Army buddies as noisily as possible dropped his crutches. The sound was quite startling to those of us in the audience who didn’t have a clue what was happening. That quite loud segment was filmed over and over again.

At one point, they were filming as if we were all sad and talking among ourselves about how sad it was that this Army veteran had died. It was hard to keep from laughing as we turned to the complete strangers sitting next to us and were instructed to quietly make specific comments about how tragic the whole thing was. By then it was late in the day and most of us were a bit sorry we’d volunteered for this unknown television show that probably would never even air.

“Homeland” did air. It was a successful series that lasted eight seasons. Marie and I watched almost every episode. It was fun to pick out local sights in the various episodes during the first several years when it was filmed in the Charlotte area. There was the staged explosion at Marshall Park in downtown Charlotte and even a scene at a small mom and pop motel in Mt. Pleasant here in Cabarrus County. And, of course, there was the episode that included the funeral at Avondale Presbyterian Church.

When the episode aired, we learned that Damian Lewis’ character had in fact murdered the man we heard him eulogizing.

It turned out that Marie and I were both seated so near the back of the sanctuary that we couldn’t even pick out ourselves in the crowd when the episode aired. Much to Marie’s relief, the entire segment of her and “obnoxious man” walking arm-in-arm to the church ended up on the cutting room floor.

Photo by GR Stocks on Unsplash

Nevertheless, we know we were in Season 1 Episode 6 (“Good Soldier”) of “Homeland” and in the process we learned that it can take eight hours to film a two-minute segment of a television show. I don’t know how actors stand it.

We came to like the part Mandy Patinkin played in the series and regretted that we didn’t get to see him during our day of hurry up and wait.

It was more than a bit out of character for Marie and me, but we were glad we did it. It wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, but parts of it were fun and it gave us a whole new appreciation for the tedium actors must endure.

Since my last blog post

I continue to work on the family cookbook, The Aunts in the Kitchen. It’s time to figure out the cover and write the bios for each of the aunts.

I also continue to work on my genealogy.

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Librarian Spy: A Novel of World War II, by Madeline Martin.

Until my next blog post

Find time for family, friends, and a hobby.

Don’t forget the people of Ukraine, Uvalde, and Highland Park, etc. and the people in Kentucky whose lives have been turned upside down by flooding.

Janet

#OnThisDay: The Wilmot Proviso of 1846

“The what?” you say. I must admit I’m guilty, too. I had to look it up.

In a nutshell, the Wilmot Proviso of 1846 was a failed attempt in the US Congress to ban slavery in the western territories the US obtained as a result of the Mexican-American War. It was just this type action that paved the way for the American Civil War in 1861.

Photo by Tasha Jolley on Unsplash

The proviso was named for David Wilmot, the Congressman from Pennsylvania who introduced it on August 8, 1846. The proviso was a rider on a $2 million appropriations bill three months into the Mexican-American War. The bill passed in the House of Representatives but failed in the Senate.

Some background

Photo by Edgar Moran on Unsplash

Perhaps in the southwestern US states, the Mexican-American War is taught in elementary and high schools, but it was my experience in North Carolina that the two-year war in the 1840s was just mentioned in passing. Or perhaps I just wasn’t paying attention. Anyway, I had to do some research to find the details of the Wilmot Proviso.

The Missouri Compromise of 1820 prohibited slavery in the remaining Louisiana Territory above the 36th parallel, 30 north latitude line. The “compromise” was that Missouri was admitted to the Union as a slave state at the same time Maine was admitted as a free state.

Photo by Ray Shrewsberry on Unsplash

The controversy over the annexation of the Republic of Texas enters into the story, as did New Mexico and California, which had been captured by the US during the Mexican-American War. After substantial land area gains by the US early in the war, Congress started setting its sights on more expansion from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

Slavery was a hot button issue and Democrats and Whigs (the two main political parties in the US at that time) tried to keep it out of national politics. There was no way to avoid it, however. It was the proverbial “elephant in the room.”

Photo by Library of Congress on Unsplash

There was disagreement within the Democratic Party over the way Martin Van Buren had been denied the party’s nomination for US President in 1844 when southern delegates uncovered an old convention rule that required a nominee to receive a two-thirds vote by delegates. (I didn’t take time to thoroughly research that. I’m sure there’s more to the story than meets the eye.)

More and more over time, the Mexican-American War was more popular in the southern states than in the northern states. It was seen by many in the south as a way to gain more territory where slavery would be accepted.

Back to the Wilmot Proviso

President James K. Polk sent a request to Congress for $2 million to boost negotiations with Mexico to end the war. That was on Saturday, August 8, 1846. Congress was scheduled to adjourn two days later. A special night session was arranged by the Democrats so the request could be considered.

Photo by Library of Congress on Unsplash

Rules mandated that debate be limited to two hours. No one member of Congress could speak for more than ten minutes. A Polk supporter and friend to many southerners, David Wilmot was selected to present the bill to help ensure its passage.

The following language was included in the proviso that would apply to all territory the United States would acquire from Mexico by virtue of any peace treaty: “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall ever exist in any part of said territory, except for crime, whereof the party shall first be duly convicted.”

The Senate took up the House bill and there was a push to pass it with the exception of the Wilmot Proviso. The Democratic politicians thought the House would then be forced to pass the bill without the proviso due to the bewitching midnight hour when Congress had to adjourn.

Senator John Davis, a Massachusetts Whig, schemed that he would speak on the floor of the Senate so long that the Senate would have to vote on the bill as written because it would be too late to return the bill to the House of Representatives.

Does anyone know what time it is?

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

In a twist of fate (or by design?), there was an eight-minute difference in the official clocks of the Senate and the House. The clock in the House struck midnight before Davis could call for the vote in the Senate. The 1846 session of Congress had adjourned without full passage of the $2 million bill.

Proponents introduced the bill again in 1847 as a $3 million bill, but it had the same results. There were efforts to resurrect the proviso in 1848 as part of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, but those efforts also failed.

The Wilmot Proviso would have effectively made the 1820 Missouri Compromise null and void.

What happened about slavery in the western territories/states?

California’s constitution banned slavery, so it was given statehood as a free state in 1850. Nevada was admitted to the Union as a free state in 1864. The US. acquired New Mexico and Utah in 1848, and slavery was legal in those territories until slavery was banned in all US territories in 1862.

How did Texas play into this?

My research about the Wilmot Proviso prompted me to delve into the history of Texas. The Republic of Texas was annexed by the United States and granted statehood in 1845 – just months before the debates over the Wilmot Proviso began. I knew there were slaves in Texas. We just recently celebrated Juneteenth, marking the anniversary of the slaves in Texas finally being told they were free.

I learned that there were African slaves in Texas as early as 1529. Texas joined the United States as a slave state. Slavery was a deciding factor in the annexation of the Republic of Texas while James K. Polk was US president.

Photo by Vivian Arcidiacono on Unsplash

Therefore, since Texas was already a US state prior to the debate over the Wilmot Proviso of 1846, slavery in Texas wouldn’t have been affected by the proviso, had it passed. It would have only pertained to territories the US gained as a result of the Mexican-American War.

What a difference one action or inaction can make

My research last week brought to mind how nations evolve and how peoples’ lives can turn on a dime with decisions made by governments. What if the Wilmot Proviso had passed in 1846 (or 1847 or 1848?) What if Texas had not been a state in 1846? What if the US had not won the Mexican-American War? What if the South had won the Civil War? What if African slaves had never been brought to North America? What if America had been defeated in the American Revolutionary War? What if Germany and Japan had won World War II?

How different world history would be if just one of those decisions or wars had gone the other way!

Aftermath of the Wilmot Proviso

If nothing else, the Wilmot Proviso brought to light how divided the United States was between the North and the South. The Democrats and Whigs were both split by regional loyalties.

Neither party wanted to vote on the issue of slavery, but the vote on the Wilmot Proviso pulled the cover off and began to lay bare the true division within the country. What had begun some 70 years earlier as an experiment in democracy was now under more pressure than ever and would ultimately be tested in a civil war just 15 years later.

Photo by Juan Manuel Merino on Unsplash

Even with the end of that civil war, the issue of race relations in the United States would not be settled and, sadly, remains a point of conflict to this day. It is still “the elephant in the room” – that difficult conversation we still struggle with in our society today.

Since my last blog post

As you might guess, I spent several hours researching the Wilmot Proviso and condensing my findings into a somewhat digestible blog post. You’re probably saying, “That was more than I wanted to know about the Wilmot Proviso.” I felt the same way as the history got increasingly complicated.

With the Wilmot Proviso out of the way, I turned my focus to working on my family cookbook project, my historical short stories, and some reading.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’ve already read a one this month and I’m ready to share my thoughts about it in my September 5 blog post.

Life is short. Make time for friends and family.

If you don’t have a hobby, find one.

Don’t forget the people of Ukraine, Uvalde, and Highland Park, etc. and the people in Kentucky whose lives have been turned upside down by flooding.

Janet

Books Read in July 2022

Suddenly, it’s the first Monday in August! Summer months fly back too quickly for me. (I’m not a fall or winter person.) Today’s blog post is about the books I read in July. I hope my comments will prompt you to read one or more of them.

I try to always point out that I’m not a book reviewer. I just like to share my thoughts about some of the books I read. I don’t follow any book review guidelines. I don’t receive books for review. I get 99.9% of my books from the public library. I’m not beholding to any of the authors I mention – or to any publishers. Reading is just part of my journey as a writer.


The Foundling, by Ann Leary

The Foundling, by Ann Leary

This novel is based on an experience of the author’s grandmother. It’s Ms. Leary’s fourth novel, but the first one of hers that I’ve read.

Set in 1927, The Foundling is the story of two women who grew up in the same orphanage.

As an adult, one of them is falsely accused of being “simple-minded” and is incarcerated in a facility for such women of child-bearing age. They’ll all be released when they can no longer have a child. The “reasoning” behind that policy is that a simple-minded woman will pass on her mental deficiencies to her children.

As an adult, the other woman gets a job working in the facility where her long ago childhood friend is being held against her will.

The female worker is determined to get her friend released because she knows she shouldn’t be in the facility. Along the way, the worker befriends a newspaper reporter who has always wanted to write an exposé about the facility.

At times, I found the worker to be too gullible, but I was completely drawn into the story and had to keep reading to find out what happened in the end.


Life is Like a Bowl of Cherries: Sometimes Bitter, Sometimes Sweet, by Sally Cronin

Life is Like a Bowl of Cherries: Sometimes Bitter, Sometimes Sweet, by Sally Cronin

This is an e-book I purchase several years ago. It landed on my TBR and there it stayed. I follow Sally Cronin’s blog and she follows mine. Please check out one of her posts from yesterday. ( https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/2022/07/31/smorgasbord-posts-from-my-archives-memoir-waterford-ireland-history-the-colour-of-life-the-shop-and-bakery-family-1840s-1940s-by-geoff-cronin/).

I finally got around to reading one of her books. Life is Like a Bowl of Cherries: Sometimes Bitter, Sometimes Sweet is a delightful collection of Sally’s stories. They run the gamut from humorous to sad and bittersweet. I enjoyed each one and found it impossible to choose a favorite.

It’s not the only book of yours I’ll read, Sally! I promise!


Sparring Partners, by John Grisham

Sparring Partners, by John Grisham

This latest book by John Grisham is a collection of three novellas. By definition, a novella is longer than a short story and shorter than a novel.

If you do an online search for guidelines about word counts, you’ll find there’s no ironclad publishing industry agreement. Trust me. I’ve tried to find definitive guidelines. I tend to give more credence to Brian A. Klems, the online editor for Writer’s Digest magazine than to some of the other sources. Mr. Klems said a short story is 1,500 to 30,000 words; a novella is 30,000 to 50,000 words; and a novel is 55,000 to 300,000 words. As you can see, there’s a lot of leeway in there.

That being said, I don’t know the word counts of Mr. Grisham’s novellas in Sparring Partners. The title of the book is a clue that each of the novellas is about lawyers.

The first one is the longest of the three novellas. It’s about a lawyer who steals settlement money from clients and then abandons his family and flees the United States. He’s had no contact with anyone for years. The plot gets quite involved. A local reporter is determined to unravel the mystery of the lawyer’s disappearance. Rumors swirl about the lawyer’s whereabouts and there’s speculation he has returned to the area. His wife is dying of cancer. One of their two daughters wants to talk to him. Is he being investigated or have the authorities just written him off?

The second novella is called “Strawberry Moon.” It was my favorite of the three, which probably qualifies me as a proverbial “bleeding heart liberal.” It is a touching story about a young man who is in the wrong place at the wrong time as a young teen and ends up on death row. That’s where he’s been for 15 years and he’s scheduled to be executed tonight.

Mr. Grisham has a knack for getting across his philosophy about a moral issue in his books – something that novice authors are advised to avoid. I love how Mr. Grisham is able to pull it off and remain one of America’s most prolific authors. The moral issue he tackles in “Strawberry Moon” is capital punishment. He also conveys the importance of books and how books (and a person who gets books into the hands of a death row prisoner) can have a profound impact on a prisoner.

“Strawberry Moon” brought me to tears – which a story rarely does.

The third novella in Sparring Partners is about a young man who enters a hospital for relatively routine surgery and leaves the hospital paralyzed. A lawyer wants to make a big splash by winning a tremendous settlement from the hospital for his client.

I had trouble getting into this novella and completely lost interest in the plot when it came to light that there was a snake in someone’s house. It was after midnight when I got to that part of the story. Not good! I didn’t read the rest of the story. Just sayin’.

I highly recommend the first two novellas in Sparring Partners. I’ve heard that Mr. Grisham enjoyed writing this format, so maybe he’ll write more novellas for us. I hope so – as long as he leaves the snakes out!


Gray Mountain, by John Grisham

Gray Mountain, by John Grisham

It was coincidental that I read two books last month by John Grisham. That can happen when you’re on the waitlist at the public library for multiple books by one author. Murphy’s Law sometimes kicks in, and you get both books at the same time.

When I logged into my Goodreads.com account to list this novel on my “Currently Reading” list, I discovered that I’d already read the book and given it four stars. The funny (and slightly frightening thing) is that I have no recollection of having read the book.

The “up” side of that is that I got to enjoy it all over again. With absolutely no memory of the plot, every twist, turn, and development was a surprise.

In true Grisham fashion, this legal thriller grabbed my interest from the beginning and never let me go. It took me back to the dark economic days of 2008 with the failures of huge financial institutions and the uncertainly of the time.

The book follows Samantha Cofer from the day she is laid off by a large financial institution in New York City and given the option of working for a short-listed nonprofit organization for free for one year. The reward would be that she might get a job again with the company that laid her off.

Samantha signs on with a nonprofit in southwestern Virginia’s coal country and is introduced to the underbelly of big coal companies and the way in which they rape the Appalachian Mountains and leave wildlife and people in dire straits and in worse conditions than they were before strip mining started destroying mountains from the top down with the resulting debris cutting off streams and the resulting slurry behind forever – or until a dam breaks and it crashes down the mountains to pollute the water, destroy homes, and wreck peoples’ lives.

I listened to Gray Mountain on a Playaway device while I took my daily walks. Some days I walked longer than planned, because I wanted to keep listening to the book. Books can be good for your physical health, as well as good for your mental health.

I highly recommend the book… even if you’ve read it. Or, especially if you’ve read it but forgotten all about it.


Since my last blog post

My sister and I have been busy compiling family favorite recipes and typing them in my new Atticus writing software program. We hope to publish them! I’ll keep you posted on our progress toward that goal.

I’ve also been organizing my thoughts toward publishing some historical short stories. One I’m considering writing has led me to early 18th century research about Essex County, Virginia – a place one of my ancestors lived in the early 1700s.

My historical novels are on the back burner but not forgotten as I turn my immediate attention to things I can start publishing on a smaller scale.


Until my next blog post

Keep reading! I hope you have at least one good book to read.

Make time for family, friends, and a hobby.

Start writing a journal or a book. You know you have a book in you that’s begging to come out!

Don’t forget the people of Ukraine, Uvalde, or Highland Park, etc.

Also, add to that list the people of eastern Kentucky as well as the wildfire areas in the western United States. Do what you can.

Janet