Reading South Africa and South Carolina Novels

Since I had a lot to say about both of the novels I’ve finished reading so far in July, I decided not to wait until my August 7 blog post to tell you about them. One was set in South Africa during the Second Boer War. The other was set on an island in South Carolina in beginning in 2004. Quite a contrast in location and time!

The Lost History of Stars, by Dave Boling

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The History of Stars, by Dave Boling

One of the categories I chose for my 2017 Reading Challenge was to be sure to read a book that takes place on each of the seven continents. Without that being part of my personal challenge, chances are I would not have read The Lost History of Stars, by Dave Boling.

I’m amused at people who brag that they only read nonfiction. They think there is nothing to be learned from fiction. I used to fall into that category. I was a nonfiction snob, so my sister couldn’t believe it when I told her in 2001 that I was taking a fiction writing course.

I minored in history in college, but what little I learned about the Second Boer War has long since been forgotten. The Lost History of Stars is a novel about that 1899-1902 war in South Africa. It follows an Afrikaner family throughout the war. It is not a history of that war, and I admit that I still know few details of it; however, from reading this book I learned that the British burned the homes and farms of many Afrikaners and rounded up the women and children and put them in concentration camps. Disease and malnutrition were rampant in those camps.

From the inside flap of the book’s cover, I learned that “some 3,500 Afrikaner farmer-soldiers lost their lives. However, in the concentration camps, hastily assembled by the British forces to limit resistance among the general populace, the human toll was much higher:  it was there, while their husbands and fathers were away fighting, that more than 26,000 women and children died.” Take time to reread this paragraph and let the injustice set in.

It is interesting to me that the author, Dave Boling, was inspired to write this novel after learning that one of his grandfathers was a British soldier in South Africa during the Second Boer War. That must be the reason he wrote about a camp guard who did not wish to be there, finding it distasteful to be guarding women and children in a concentration camp.

The book is written with chapters alternating between the farm and the concentration camp. Some chapters took place in the concentration camp, and then the next chapter took place a year earlier on the farm. I would have preferred the book being written in chronological order, but that’s just my personal preference.

This is a story of family loyalty and the sheer strength of will to survive.

 

Grief Cottage, by Gail Godwin

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Grief Cottage, by Gail Godwin

Author Wiley Cash recommended the writings of Gail Godwin. She has had two novels published – Flora and Grief Cottage. I decided to read Grief Cottage first. It’s her new book.

Grief Cottage is set on an island in South Carolina in 2004 and partially in North Carolina in 2018. Eleven-year-old Marcus is an orphan who has been sent to South Carolina to live with his Aunt Charlotte. Charlotte is an artist and is used to living alone.

Marcus takes on the project of finding out the names of the couple and son who were lost when Hurricane Hazel hit 50 years ago in 1954. They were vacationing on the island and staying in what later became known as Grief Cottage when Hurricane Hazel hit. I thought the climax of the book would be when Marcus learned the names of those three people, but that happened less than halfway through the book.

Maybe it was just me, but I thought the story dragged in places and some information was repeated two or three times. That aside, I did enjoy the book.

Marcus’s mother had given him a picture of his father and promised to tell him his father’s name when he got older. She was killed in an automobile accident before that happened. It wasn’t until the last page of the epilogue (set in 2018) that Marcus learns the name of his father.

There are subplots that include such things as loggerhead turtle eggs and hatchlings, Charlotte’s paintings, alcoholism, and bullying. The plot takes a huge turn in the second half that I didn’t see coming. In case you haven’t read the book, I won’t say more.

I’ll probably read Gail Godwin’s other novel, Flora, after I check off a few more items on my 2017 Reading Challenge.

Until my next blog post

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

I hope each of you has a good book to read. I’m reading The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins for Rocky River Readers Book Club this month; The Midnight Cool, by Lydia Peelle; The Orphan’s Tale, by Pam Jenoff; and Bird  by Bird:  On Writing and Life, by Anne Lamont. (This is what happens when all the books you’ve been on the waitlist for at the public library come in at the same time!)

Excuse me while I get back to my reading.

Janet

You Must Read (Some of) These Books!

First, I wish all my fellow Americans a Happy Independence Day or Happy 4th of July tomorrow!

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Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

I read some good books in June, so I will share my thoughts about them in today’s blog post. You might want to read one or more of them.

The Stars Are Fire, by Anita Shreve

I was drawn to this novel by the title. I got on the waitlist for it at the library as soon as it was on order. The book was inspired by the wildfires in Maine in October, 1947. I didn’t know about those fires, so I learned something.

The book is suspenseful as it follows Grace, a young mother whose husband has gone to fight the fire. Suddenly, the fire is upon the small coastal town where they live and Grace is forced to run for her life with a child in tow. I don’t want to spoil the book, in case you haven’t read it. If you prefer to read “happy books,” this is not the book for you. Much of the story is dark, yet the reader can’t help but cheer for Grace as she overcomes tragedy. It was a page-turner for me.

The Things We Keep, by Sally Hepworth

As with The Stars Are Fire, by Anita Shreve, The Things We Keep, by Sally Hepworth, is not what I would call a “happy book.” Ms. Hepworth follows a 38-year-old woman, Anna, who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. The book chronicles Anna journey from diagnosis, through the months that she is very much aware of her diagnosis and the mental and physical deterioration that will be her future. Anna accepts her illness with humor as she adjusts to living in a residential facility where most of the other residents are decades older than she. The other young resident, Luke, befriends Anna, and the main plot of the book is their friendship, which grows into romantic love and how their relatives and the facility’s staff deal with that.

A subplot is about the widow of a businessman who loses everything and has to create a new life for herself and her young daughter. She takes a job at the facility where Anna and Luke live and gets more involved in their lives than the administrator wishes.

Although the subject matter of dementia is a frightening diagnosis, I found the book to be almost delightful due to Ms. Hepworth’s writing style. Each chapter was written from a different character’s point-of-view, which allows the reader to get into the head of Anna and to get a better understanding of what a person in the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease thinks – their feelings and emotions.

As someone with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME), I could identify with some of the issues Anna faced. I have memory problems and, when put on the spot, I have trouble formulating a comment or an answer to an unexpected question. When Anna talked about not being able to think fast enough to join in a conversation, I immediately identified with that. Ms. Hepworth let Anna articulate so well how it feels when by the time you formulate a comment, the conversation has moved on to something else. That was a paragraph that made my mouth drop open because I felt like the book was describing me. It was eerie to realize that some of my CFS/ME symptoms overlap some early Alzheimer’s Disease symptoms.

The Things We Keep, by Sally Hepworth, was June’s selection for Rocky River Readers Book Club. We had a good discussion about the book on June 26.

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, by Elisabeth Tova Bailey

By the time I remembered to check this out from the public library, I’d forgotten how I’d heard about the book or why I wanted to read it. It had a catchy title, so I dived in. Lo and behold, the author, among other ailments, has Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

This is a unique book. It probably wouldn’t appeal to everyone, but I enjoyed it. It is the true story of the author’s months of being bedridden. One of her friends comes to visit one day and brings wild violets and a snail. The snail started out living in a flowerpot with the violets. Much to Ms. Bailey’s surprise, she developed quite an attachment to the snail.

She realized one day that she could hear the snail eating. One thing led to another, and the author was soon reading everything she could get her hands on about snails. She studied the habits of the snail and by so doing, along with her readings, learned a great deal about the species. In the course of reading the book, so did I! I had no idea there was so much to learn about snails.

Being a “country girl” for most of my life since birth, I have encountered many snails, but until reading this book I did not know that they have row-upon-row of teeth, their eyes are on the tips of their tentacles, they cannot hear, they have an acute sense of smell, and their one foot is called a gastropod. That’s just the tip of the iceberg so, if you’d like to know more about snails – and what it’s like to be bedridden with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, I recommend The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, by Elisabeth Tova Bailey.

Although I’ve been ill for 30 years, Ms. Bailey was able to articulate some of my feelings better than I have ever been able to in writing or verbally.

Camino Island, by John Grisham

John Grisham’s latest novel, Camino Island, is a little different from most of his novels. There’s still suspense and there are still bad guys, but the hero isn’t a lawyer this time. The story is about the underworld of those who deal in buying, selling – and sometimes stealing – rare books. The book takes place in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Florida, and France. The book held my interest, as all John Grisham books do. If John Grisham’s legal thrillers aren’t your “cup of tea,” you might want to give Camino Island a try. I think anyone interested in books will enjoy it.

And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer: A Novella, by Fredrik Backman

After liking A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman in May, I was eager to read another of his books. In June I read And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer: A Novella, by him. It is about a man with dementia, his son, and his grandson and how the man’s dementia affects his relationships with his son and grandson.

Perhaps it was just me, but I had some confusion keeping up with when we were in real life and when we were in the thoughts inside the man’s brain. For that reason, I had trouble getting into the book. The longer I read, though, the more I got out of it.

Detective Cross (a BookShot), by James Patterson

I wrote about a BookShot by James Patterson, Detective Cross, in my June 16, 2017 blog post, “What’s the Verdict on BookShots?” (What’s the Verdict on BookShots?) I read it out of curiosity. I wanted to know what a BookShot was like, and I’m one of the last people in the world to read a book by James Patterson. His books are known for their fast pace, and this BookShot was no different.

Mr. Patterson’s BookShots are designed to be read in one sitting. It took me longer than that because, as I’ve mentioned before, I am a slow reader. I guess you could say that a BookShot is longer than a short story and shorter than a novella, but don’t quote me on that. I’m no expert.

As I pointed out in my June 16 blog post, Mr. Patterson has long been a champion of children’s literacy, and his BookShots are an attempt to put short books in the hands of adults who might not otherwise pick up a book to read. I hope they accomplish that!

Put the Cat in the Oven Before You Describe the Kitchen:  A Concise No-Bull Guide to Writing Fiction, by Jake Vander Ark

I must admit that I was drawn to this book by its title. I would never put a cat in an oven, but I just had to see what the author had to say about writing fiction. It was a humorous book, and it held my attention. The jest of it was that you need to get your reader’s attention before you start giving a lot of description.

Among other points, the author said if a minor character doesn’t have an effect on the main character, take them out of the story. I’m trying to keep that in mind as I rewrite the manuscript for The Spanish Coin. Another thing he said was, “You need to scare your protagonist and shock your audience.”

He also said that a writer should let the “protagonist determine the placement of the #$%! Moment.” (This is usually called the “inciting incident.”) He suggests to hit the reader with the inciting incident the moment the reader grasps what “normal” is for the protagonist. I picked up a few other tips from the book, but I don’t want to bore non-writers with the details. If you’re a beginning writer, you might look for this e-book yourself.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time.

Janet

You Need to Read These Books!

I had another good month of reading in May. I’m on a roll for 2017! If I were a faster reader, I could devour more books. In the meantime, though, I’ll enjoy as many as I can.

A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman

I’m running out of superlatives for the books I’ve read this year. I kept hearing about A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman, so I got on the waitlist for it at the public library. It’s a popular book, so it took a while for my name to gravitate to the top of the list.

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I thoroughly enjoyed this book. At times outrageously funny and at times heartwarming and touching, it held my interest from start to finish. Ove is a 59-year-old man. I could see my father, my brother, and even myself in him. I could see myself in his late wife when he recalled how it drove him up the wall because she delighted in planning the details of a trip to the extreme. That’s me! Thank goodness I have a sense of humor! Poor Ove is at odds with the world and having trouble keeping up with the modern world. For the most part, he’s not even trying to keep up.

The author, Fredrik Backman, is from Sweden, where his books have gained much acclaim. I am amazed at how well the humor in this book translated so well from Swedish into English. Although I don’t speak or read Swedish, I don’t believe the book lost anything in the translation. I look forward to reading Mr. Backman’s other books.

Small Great Things, by Jodi Picoult

Maybe it’s because Mother’s Day was approaching when I was reading this book, or maybe the sentence would have struck me like a ton of bricks any time of the year. Ms. Picoult has an uncommon gift when it comes to writing. Her books tackle some of the most heart-wrenching issues of our day, and she has a wonderful way with words.

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I featured the following sentence in my Being the Balloon blog post on May 5, 2017:

“What it’s like to be the balloon, when someone lets go of the string.”   – from Small Great Things, by Jodi Picoult

The context of that sentence is that Ruth, the protagonist who is a seasoned labor and delivery nurse, a mother, and the widow of an American soldier killed in Afghanistan, reacts to the death of her mother with, “What it’s like to be the balloon, when someone lets go of the string.”

I highly recommend Small Great Things. In it, Ms. Picoult takes on the issue of race in America, and she has an uncanny talent for getting inside the skin of individuals from one end of that spectrum to the other in Small Great Things. The line that I focused on from the book in my blog on May 5 speaks to the humanity of us all.

In a nutshell, Small Great Things is about an African-American nurse in Connecticut who is barred from caring for the newborn infant of a white supremacist couple. Author Jodi Picoult masterfully writes from the point-of-view of the nurse, the white-supremacist father, and the white lawyer who defends the nurse. There is an explosive trial during which all kinds of raw emotions erupt. I think we all can learn some life lessons by reading and pondering Small Great Things, by Jodi Picoult!

The Hidden Life of Trees, by Peter Wohlleben

I kept hearing good things about this book, which had been translated into English from its original German. I finally got it from the public library, but with too many other books to read and a lot I was trying to learn about the craft or writing. Therefore, I only got 40% of the book read before I had to return it to the library for the next person on the wait list. I will definitely check it out again so I can finish it.

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The Hidden Life of Trees:  How They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World might not appeal to everyone, but I thought it was very interesting. That might be because I grew up and again live out in the country. My parents instilled an appreciation and respect for trees in us. We have a variety of trees in our yard – dogwood, pine, ash, poplar, cedar, several varieties of oak, mulberry, sycamore, black walnut, sweet gum, holly, persimmon, and maple.

I thought I knew a lot about trees until I started reading Peter Wohlleben’s book. I now know that there’s a whole world out there I can’t see or hear. The book explains how certain tree species work together and how other tree species work against one another. It talks about how trees pump water out of the ground. It talks a lot about fungi and how fungal networks underground help trees in numerous ways. It really is quite fascinating!

The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah

I highly recommend The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah. It is a historical novel about two sisters in France during the German occupation in World War II. The sisters cope with the occupation and resulting cruelties of war very differently.

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One sister joins the French Resistance and risks her life helping shot down Allied airmen across the Pyrennes and into Spain. The other sister’s nerves and wits are pushed to the limits as two German officers are billeted in her home. The book was inspired by a 19-year-old Belgian woman, Andrée De Jongh, who created an escape route out of Nazi-occupied France.

This book will pull on all your emotions. When the characters are cold and hungry – which was most of the time – you will feel cold and hungry, although I’m certain that I truly can’t imagine the level of hunger or fear the people who lived through the ordeal actually endured.

When we study World War II or hear stories about it, the emphasis is almost always on the battles. The Nightingale gives a paints a picture of life on the home front in France. It was this month’s book for discussion by Rocky River Readers Book Club. Everyone at our meeting had only praise for the book – how much it taught us and how well-written it was.

Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi

This historical novel is Yaa Gyasi’s debut as a fiction writer. It is different from any novel I’ve ever read. It is set in Africa. As part of my 2017 Reading Challenge I wanted to read a book set on each of the continents this year, so I was drawn to this novel. Unfortunately, I couldn’t finish reading it before it was due at the public library.

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Each chapter is about a different member of this family. It is about family ties and the horrible conditions in the slave trade. It puts a human face on slavery – a subject we tend to think of in terms of numbers and not the families that were torn apart in Africa. If I get a chance, I’d like to check this book out again.

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, by Lisa See

Like Homegoing and The Hidden Life of Trees, I didn’t get to finish reading The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane before it had to be returned to the library. I couldn’t renew any of the three books because there were people on the wait list. The part of The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane that I got read was fascinating in how it shed light on some of the superstitions held by the Chinese. I had no idea!

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The novel follows a young Chinese girl who is painfully aware from birth that she is not valued because she is female. Her family has to walk for hours to pick tea leaves for a meager amount of income. It is a difficult life. Her mother is the local midwife and she tells her daughter that she must follow in her footsteps in that occupation.

There is a ray of hope, though, because the girl’s teacher tells her that she can leave the harsh mountain environment and make something of herself. I look forward to checking the book out again in order to see how her life turns out!

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I have come to the conclusion this week that I am trying to read too many books and not spending enough time on my writing. My goal in June is to strike a happy medium.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time. I’m writing bios of my characters in the “new and improved” The Spanish Coin.

Janet

What I Read in April

The Heavens May Fall

I had missed knowing that Allen Eskens’ third book, The Heavens May Fall, was released in October. When I found out about it, I immediately got on the wait list for it at the public library. Mr. Eskens writes legal thrillers. This one did not disappoint, as it kept me guessing who the killer was.

Last week I learned that Mr. Eskens’ fourth book, The Deep Dark Descending, will be released on October 3, 2017. It continues the story of homicide detective Max Rupert. I look forward to it!

Where I Lost Her

T. Greenwood was a new author for me. I read her 2016 novel, Where I Lost Her. It is about a woman, Tess, and her husband from New York who go to rural Vermont to visit friends. One night, while driving alone, Tess sees a little girl standing in the road. She stops to help, but the girl runs away into the woods.

When a search turned up nothing and there are no reports of a missing child, local officials begin to doubt Tess. Added to the lack of evidence is the fact that Tess and her husband have gone through unsuccessful fertility treatments and Tess is desperate to have a child. Locals label her a trouble maker from outside.

Tess knows what she saw, though, and she continues to search for the little girl even though that search puts her in incredible physical danger. I’ll probably read other books written by Ms. Greenwood.

The Mother’s Promise

Sally Hepworth was another new author for me in April. I read her 2017-released novel, The Mother’s Promise. The book follows a single mother, Alice, and her teenage daughter, Zoe, who has no social graces or self-confidence. Alice has promised to always be there for Zoe, but a diagnosis of ovarian cancer tears their world apart.

As Alice’s illness progresses, Zoe gradually gains confidence and begins to take a more active part in her classes. A cast of minor characters move this story through some surprising twists and turns. I found myself really caring about Alice and Zoe.

In Order to Live:  A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom

In spite of my memory problems, a book that will stay with me for a long time is In Order to Live:  A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom, by Yeonmi Park. Written in 2015, this nonfiction book is a memoir of a young woman who was born in and grew up in North Korea. Reading the harrowing story of Ms. Park’s childhood of hunger, governmental brainwashing, escape to China, and eventual escape to South Korea will have you turning the pages to find out what happens next.

This is a story of personal strength, the love of a family, and the will to live. Ms. Park’s story is one that is so far removed from my own experience, I had to keep reminding myself that it wasn’t fiction. I highly recommend this book to everyone, especially during this time of high tension between the United States and North Korea.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time.

Janet

R is for Reading Challenge

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My 2017 Reading Challenge

This is the 18th day of the A to Z Blog Challenge, so I decided to give a status report on my 2017 Reading Challenge. I have completed the following 12 of the 28 categories in my challenge, which I announced on my blog on December 27, 2016 [https://janetswritingblog.com/2016/12/27/reading-challenge-for-2017/.]

  1. A nonfiction book
  2. A novel by a North Carolina author
  3. A biography, autobiography, or memoir
  4. A book that might change my mind
  5. A book just for fun
  6. The second book in a series of which I’ve read the first book
  7. A book of short stories
  8. A book published in 2017
  9. A book about the craft of writing historical fiction
  10. A Nobel Prize winner
  11. A political thriller, and
  12. A sequel to a book I’ve read

In addition, I’ve made good progress toward completing #4 on my challenge – “Books by 12 authors I’ve never read.” I’ve read nine already.

Number 5 on my challenge is “A novel set in each of the seven continents.” I’ve read eight books set in North America and four set in Europe. I’m currently reading a novel set in Australia.

With the year almost one-third behind us, I feel like I’m on track to meet my 2017 Reading Challenge. It’s been fun, and I look forward to more good books in the coming months.

Read the USA Reading Challenge

I’m also hoping to meet the “Read the USA” reading challenge sponsored by the Mint Hill Branch of the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. I’ve read novels set in New Jersey, Minnesota, Oregon, and Vermont.

Friends of the Harrisburg Library Reading Challenge

I’ve completed only two of the 12 categories in Friends of the Harrisburg Library Reading Challenge.  There’s a lot of duplication between it and my own reading challenge, so I think I might meet that challenge by the end of the year, too.

Are you participating in a reading challenge this year? How are you doing? Are you enjoying your challenge or do you find it too confining?

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time.

Janet

The Authors I Read in March

Today is the first day of the 2017 A to Z Blog Challenge. The challenge is for a blogger to blog on 26 specific days in the month of April. If that weren’t enough, there is a big caveat:  Each day’s blog must be based on the next letter of the English alphabet in chronological order. Therefore, today’s blog has to have something to do with the letter “A.”

2017 A to Z Challenge Badge
Blogging from A to Z Challenge Badge 2017

Since my first blog each month is about the books I read in the preceding month, I’ve tweaked my usual post title to read, “The Authors I Read in March” instead of the usual, “What I Read in March.” Without further ado, let’s get to those authors and their books. I had a rewarding month of reading in March!

Tears We Cannot Stop:  A Sermon to White America

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One of the categories I included in my 2017 Reading Challenge was to read a book that might change my mind. Tears We Cannot Stop:  A Sermon to White America, by Michael Eric Dyson definitely fit the bill. Reading this nonfiction book still haunts me four weeks later. Page after page, it drove home to me how those of us who are white in America take for granted our white privilege. It even goes farther than that. For the most part, we aren’t even aware of our white privilege.

An example is that, as a small child, I was told by my parents that if I ever got separated from them out in public to look for a police officer. I was told that police officers were my friend. A police officer would always help me. It has taken me to middle age to recognize that children of color in America are not told that. Their parents and grandparents have not been able to trust law enforcement officers, so they cannot be told to automatically trust such people in authority.

If I am driving and see a police car in my rear view mirror, my eyes immediately drop to the speedometer even if I’m fairly certain I’m not speeding. For a split second, I’m afraid I might be doing something wrong. “Afraid” is probably too strong a word. It’s just a fraction of a second when I think I might get a speeding ticket, but with a glance at the dial on the dashboard I’m reassured that I’m not breaking any laws and I am perfectly safe. It is impossible for me to put myself in skin of a darker shade than my Scots-Irish heritage gave me. The emotions a person of color must feel when being approached by a police officer is something I cannot identify with because I am Caucasian.

These are just two examples. The roots of this problem run deep into the foundations of our country. Tears We Cannot Stop:  A Sermon to White America, by Michael Eric Dyson made me think about these issues in more depth than I had otherwise been forced to think about them. Just by being born with white skin in America has given me privileges that I have been oblivious to all my life. It is that white privilege itself that has made my oblivion possible.

It’s not enough for me to be aware of my white privilege. It is my responsibility to work for social justice.

Michael Eric Dyson is a sociology professor at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. This is the first one of his books that I’ve read. I wanted to read it after seeing him interviewed by Tavis Smiley on PBS.

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir

The Chilbury Ladies' Choir book cover

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, by Jennifer Ryan is a 2017 novel that is getting much-deserved praise. I gravitated to it because it is a work of historical fiction. Set in the early days of World War II in England, it is a story of how a group of women found their voices and their strengths after all the able-bodied men in the village were called away to fight the Nazis. Each of the women came about this epiphany in her own way and at her own pace. Subjects such as abortion, black market dealings, and the British class system are among the topics woven into this novel.

A native of Kent, England, author Jennifer Ryan lives in the United States. Her earlier career was as a nonfiction book editor. She wrote The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir in the form of letters and documents, much in the vein of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer. Like that 2008 novel, the characters I met in this debut novel by Jennifer Ryan will stay with me for a long time.

The Magdalen Girls

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The next book I read in March was The Magdalen Girls, by V.S. Alexander. It is not the kind of book I would say I enjoyed; however, the story was compelling and I had trouble putting it down. I will be haunted by the characters in this novel. It is a dark tale based on the homes for “wayward girls” in Great Britain in the 1960s and beyond. This story is based specifically in 1964.

The Magdalen Girls paints a painful picture of the nuns who ran this particular convent and “home” (“prison” would be more accurate!) for girls and women deemed too much of a temptation for boys and men. As with any good work of fiction, just when the reader thinks things can’t possibly get worse for 16-year-old Teagan and her fellow “Magdalens,” things get progressively worse until this reader can scarcely stand to turn to the next page. The Mother Superior/Sister Anne is hiding a secret that is tearing her to pieces. Unfortunately, her way of coping with her own demons is to heap abuse upon the girls and young women under her care.

Upon entering the confines of the convent, the girls are stripped of their dignity and their identities. They are assigned new names and are never to refer to themselves or others again by their birth names. The book shines a bright light on the double standard held worldwide that girls and women must always live to a higher standard than boys and men and bear the punishment even when the male is an adult and the female is a minor.

V.S. Alexander’s next novel, The Taster, due out in January, 2018, is about one of the women who had to taste Adolf Hitler’s food in order to ensure that he wasn’t being poisoned. I’ll be on the wait list for it as soon as it shows up in the public library’s catalog. That’s just how good Ms. Alexander’s writing was in The Magdalen Girls. It wasn’t a pleasant read for its subject matter, but the writing was so vivid that I felt like I was imprisoned at the convent along with Teagan, Nora, Lea, and all the others.

Right Behind You

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The next book that rose to the top of my wait list at the public library was Right Behind You, by Lisa Gardner. Although this is her seventh and latest (2017) installment in her Quincy and Rainie FBI profiler thrillers series, it is the first book I’ve read by Ms. Gardner. This novel made me want to read more of her books. Perhaps I should go back and read the first book in this series, The Perfect Husband, which was published in 2004.

Right Behind You is the frightening tale of a brother and sister who are separated from each other into numerous foster homes after the murder of their father. The girl is nurtured by loving foster parents, while the boy is not so fortunate. He never receives the psychological care and support he needs as a result of his father’s gruesome death. That propels him onto a path of trouble, violence, and the over-riding guilt of not being able to protect his little sister.

I don’t want to reveal other details of the book, in case you haven’t read it yet but wish to do so.

One of my objectives when I created my 2017 Reading Challenge was to read many authors I had not read before. That’s what prompted me to look for a book by Lisa Gardner. I can recommend her to other readers now. I’ll read more of her novels as time allows. “So many books! So little time!”

Chasing the North Star

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For the March meeting of Rocky River Readers Book Club, each member of the group was asked to read any book of their choice written by Robert Morgan. I’ve read a number of novels by this North Carolina author, in addition to Boone:  A Biography, which is a biography of Daniel Boone. For book club, I read Morgan’s latest novel, Chasing the North Star.

A slave on a plantation in South Carolina, Jonah runs away on his 18th birthday. The book follows Jonah and a female runaway slave, Angel, on their dangerous trek north to freedom. At times, the story got slowed down with details of the tree branches encountered as one runs through the woods. That aside, I soon became invested in both Jonah and Angel as I cheered them on and tried to will them to reach Pennsylvania, New York, and Canada.

Robert Morgan will be the guest speaker at the public library in Concord, North Carolina on Saturday, April 22, 2017. It was in preparation for that author event that Rocky River Readers chose to read books by him in March. I look forward to hearing Mr. Morgan talk about his writing.

My next blog post

My next blog post is scheduled for Monday, April 3, and it must have something to do with the letter, “B.”

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. (I’m reading The Heavens May Fall, by Allen Eskens.) If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time.

Janet

 

What I read in February 2017

I surprised myself by reading seven books in the short month of February. I’m having a good time reading a variety of books this year and stretching my subject matter a little.

The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead

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The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead, was the first book I read in February. It had been on my reading list since last summer. After having been on the wait list for it at the public library for weeks, it just happened to rise to the top and come to my Kindle Fire the day before I finished reading Glory Over Everything, by Kathleen Grissom in January https://janetswritingblog.com/2017/02/03/what-i-read-in-january-2017/. While I was still in an Underground Railroad frame of mind, I got to read Mr. Whitehead’s book. As with Glory Over Everything, I highly recommend The Underground Railroad. Both books were well-researched and well-written – just what fans of historical fiction love.

In Search of Mockingbird, by Loretta Ellsworth

In Search of Mockingbird was a huge switch in gears for me. I’d read about the book and, although it was a YA (Young Adult) novel, I was intrigued by the premise. It was worth checking out from the public library just to see how a YA book is written and to see how Ms. Ellsworth developed the story.

Erin runs away from home on the eve of her 16th birthday. She is angry with her father for waiting until that day to give her the diary that her late mother write. Erin’s favorite book is To Kill a Mockingbird and her heart’s desire is to meet Harper Lee. The diary reveals that Erin’s mother, who died when Erin was one week old, aspired to be a writer. Erin wants to be a written, too. The revelation that her mother wanted to be a writer and also loved To Kill a Mockingbird – along with her anger that her father waited 16 years to tell her about the diary – propel Erin to runaway from home in Minnesota and buy a bus ticket to Monroeville, Alabama to try to meet Harper Lee. Along the way she befriends some interesting people and learns some valuable lessons even while she teaches those new and older acquaintances some life lessons.

The Getaway Car, by Ann Patchett

This is a delightful book in which Ann Patchett humorously tells what she has learned about the craft and art of writing. She is quick to caution that every writer must find his own writing process, but she tells what she has done that worked and what did not work. I found myself highlighting many of her experience gems. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and I know I will refer back to it often to reread the sentences and paragraphs I highlighted.

Nothing Gold Can Stay:  Stories, by Ron Rash

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This collection of 14 short stories by Ron Rash was a delight. When my book club read his novel, Serena, several years ago, I was the only person in the group that liked it. I haven’t enjoyed any of his other novels as much. Since one of my goals in 1027 is to read a short story every week, I decided to check Nothing Gold Can Stay out of the public library.

I haven’t read many short stories in a long time, and I was pleasantly surprised by my journey back into them. If you like authentic Appalachian Mountains fiction, I think you’ll like this collection of stories.

The 13th Target, by Mark de Castrique

This political thriller presents a cloak-and-dagger scenario about the Federal Reserve and its far-reaching power and influence within and outside the USA. Published in 2012, it weaves together the timely concerns of terrorism and the financial crisis in the USA. Mr. de Castrique keeps the reader guessing who knows what and who the “good guys” and “bad guys” are. Russell “Rusty” Mullins, a former Secret Service agent, is the protagonist Mr. de Castrique introduces in The 13th Target.

The Singularity Race, by Mark de Castrique

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This is Mark de Castrique’s second political thriller. If you follow my blog, you’ll recall that he and this book were the topic of my blog post on February 28 https://janetswritingblog.com/2017/02/28/author-visit-from-mark-de-castrique/. Mr. de Castrique was the guest speaker at the February meeting of Rocky River Readers Book Club on February 27.

The Singularity Race  stands alone, but you might want to read The 13th Target first in order to meet the main character, Russell “Rusty” Mullins. In The Singularity Race, the former Secret Service agent gets involved in an artificial intelligence case in which someone is trying to kill a Chinese computer expert visiting the USA.

The Secret Language of Dogs, by Victoria Stilwell

I am a dog lover from before I can remember. There is a black-and-white photo of a two- or three-year-old Janet crying her eyes out while burying her face in the thick fur of her brother’s collie named Pal. I am told that Pal was my go-to guy any time I got my feelings hurt. My life has been blessed and enriched by a wonderful line of family dogs, so I was drawn to this book.

Among other things, I learned the following from reading The Secret Language of Dogs:

  1. When my dog is smelling something and refusing to come to me, he’s not being obstinate; he’s on brain overload.
  2. Dogs are not color blind; they can see shades of green and blue.
  3. A dog has much better peripheral vision than a human.
  4. A dog’s vision is typically around 20/75, which means a dog must be 20 feet away from something in order to see what a human with 20/20 vision can see at a distance of 75 feet. (No wonder my dog can’t see the deer I’m pointing to in the backyard!)
  5. A dog has 1,700 papillae (taste buds), while a human has 9,000. (Maybe that helps explain a dog’s ability to eat another animal’s poop!)
  6. Although a dog’s fully-developed hearing allows it to hear at a frequency of 45,000 hertz – more than twice the frequency heard by humans – puppies are deaf when born.
  7. Like humans, most dogs have a lateral preference, meaning they have a dominant right or left paw. (Who knew? I’d certainly never thought about that, even though I’ve had many dog companions throughout my life. The last dog that adopted me appears to be right-pawed.)
  8. Oh — and the secret language of dogs? I learned that when my dog goes belly-up, he’s not asking for a tummy rub; he’s saying, “I want to be left alone!” Oh dear!

Other reading

In addition to the above books, I read at least one poem every day. Poets such as Robert Louis Stevenson; Elizabeth Barrett Browning; Carl Sandburg; George Darley; Robert Burns; William Wordsworth; William Shakespeare; and Ella Wheeler Wilcox.

I also read The Gospel of Mark and half of The Gospel of Luke. I feel like my blog readers are holding me accountable on reading a chapter in the Bible every day. I’ve tried many new years to do that, but I’ve never made it all the way through 365 days. This year, so far, so good!

What have you read lately?

I’m interested to know what you are reading or have read recently. Feel free to leave a comment or connect with me on social media.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time.

Janet

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