The Other Books I Read in December 2019

Today’s blog post is a follow-up to last Monday’s post, https://janetswritingblog.com/2020/01/06/three-books-i-read-in-december-2019/. I hope within the six books I read in December, I’ve sparked an interest in you to read at least one of them. Reading is one of the joys of my life, and I enjoy sharing the books I read with my blog readers.


A Woman is No Man, by Etaf Rum

A Woman is No Man, by Etaf Rum

Maybe it’s just me, but I found the jumping back and forth from one decade to another confusing.

I hope all Arab families aren’t like this one with the emotional and physical abuse of women being carried on from each generation to the next. The book left me feeling like all Arab men beat their wives and no Arab men want their wives or daughters to be educated or think for themselves. In that respect, it was a very depressing book.

In an interview at the end of the book, Ms. Rum talks about her fear that the book will further the stereotype of Arab men as wife beaters, but she felt compelled to write from her own experience. My brain tells me that all Arab families aren’t like the one she described in her book, but it could easily leave that impression. I don’t want to stereotype Arabs or any other group of people, so I’ll try to take the book at face value as just an example. No ethnic group has a monopoly on domestic abuse.

Aside from the jumping back and forth in time, the writing was excellent and it held my attention once I got into my mind the year in which each chapter took place. The beginning of each chapter pulled me out of the story and I had to stop reading and mentally adjust to the generation being written about. Since nothing changed from one generation to the next, though, I suppose the year and generation didn’t matter.

All that said, though, I do recommend the book.


Beneath a Scarlet Sky

Beneath a Scarlet Sky, by Mark Sullivan

Like The Baker’s Secret, I’ve been meaning to read Beneath a Scarlet Sky for more than a year. I was initially drawn to the book by it’s brilliant red cover. I know they say to never judge a book by its cover, but in this case the book did not disappoint.

Based on the lives of real individuals who lived in Italy during World War II, this story gradually drew me in. Once I was “in,” I was “all in.” It is a story of espionage and reminds us that people who are spies aren’t necessarily ones we would readily assume were in that line of work. It is a story of people getting caught up in espionage even against their wills or life plans. It is a story of loyalty among friends and family, and the secrets that had to be kept for the greater good.

This was a book I hated to finish. Fortunately, the author included details at the end of the book that inform us of what happened to each of the characters after the war ended. I really appreciated how the author tied of all the loose ends, since these were real people.

If you’re looking for a World War II-era book to read that delves into the day in and day out lives of regular people, this is the book for you.


When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi

When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi

Aside from The Guardians and A Woman is No Man, all the books I read in December were ones that had been on my to-be-read list for quite a while. When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi, received a lot of good publicity when it was published in 2016. I didn’t read it then, but it was one of those book titles that nagged at me.

After bouncing around in several areas of study, Kalanithi is drawn to the field of medicine and neurosurgery in particular. He determines that there is more to medical science than facts. He discovers that relationships matter and that there is an important human aspect to medicine.

When Breath Becomes Air is a memoir written by Paul Kalanithi, a neurosurgeon who was diagnosed with cancer in the prime of his life and career. It is a gripping story of his feelings and physical hurdles as he battled stage IV metastatic lung cancer. The book was published after his death.

Although not an entirely upbeat book, it is a touching story of love, dedication, and the human spirit striving to overcome the worst of circumstances.


Since my last blog post

I read a blog post that offered advice about how to have a successful blog. (Success in blogging seems to be having thousands of readers and followers.) As I’ve read many times before, this post said I need to find my niche and blog only about that. It said I shouldn’t blog about this and that. Since I’m not an expert on any subject, though, for the foreseeable future I’ll continue to write about the books I read, history, and the things I learn about the art and craft of writing.

Thank you for sticking with me in spite of the fact that I don’t have a “successful” blog. If I hit on a topic occasionally that a few people find interesting, I’ll consider that my blog is successful. I’ve never been one to go along with the crowd.


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I just finished reading A Minute to Midnight, by David Baldacci, and have started listening to The Devil in the White City:  Murder, Magic and Madness and the Fair that Changed America, by Erik Larson. The introduction was intriguing. It will be interesting to see how I like the book. That probably depends upon how graphic the murder and madness are!

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

Thank you for reading my blog post. You have many things vying for your attention and your time, so I truly appreciate the fact that you took time to read my blog today.


Let’s continue the conversation

I’m always eager to know what you are reading. Feel free to share the titles of the books you’ve been reading and your thoughts about them.

Janet

Three Books I Read in December 2019

Once again, last month I read a good number of books and decided to split them up between my blog post today and my post next Monday.


Think you can't be fooled by a lair? Think again!
Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know, by Malcolm Gladwell

Talking to Strangers:  What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know, by Malcolm Gladwell

Mr. Gladwell’s book says most of us default to thinking strangers are truthful until they prove us wrong, but we are not good at discerning a lie. This can lead to disaster; however, if the majority of people assumed everyone is dishonest, that will have even worse outcomes. It’s an interesting thing to consider.

After reading a pre-publication excerpt from the book, I got on the waitlist for it at the public library. I was intrigued by the idea.

In the book’s introduction, Mr. Gladwell relates the tragic story of Sandra Bland, a young African American woman pulled over by a police officer in Texas in 2015 for not signaling a lane change. Things rapidly escalated and Ms. Bland committed suicide in her jail cell three days later.

The book includes an interesting example from Russian folklore. It seems there is a yurodivy or “Holy Fool” in Russian folklore who is a misfit, an outcast, sometimes seen as mentally-ill, but this person “has access to the truth.” Because he isn’t part of proper society, he tells the truth. He calls people out for lying. He is the modern-day whistleblower.

In Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” the child is the “Holy Fool” who blurts out, “Look at the King! He’s not wearing anything at all!” Everyone else sees that the emperor’s magical costume is nothing at all, but the king has been convinced it is a real outfit and everyone but the child is afraid to call the king out – or perhaps many of them have been hoodwinked just like the king.

We need “Holy Fools,” but we can’t all be “Holy Fools.” They see liars everywhere. If everyone operated that way, commerce and interpersonal relationships would cease.

I can’t succinctly summarize this book. Mr. Gladwell gives numerous examples to illustrate how we are fooled every day by strangers. We think we are too smart to be tricked by a liar, but we are all susceptible to it.

He gives many examples where intelligence agencies, diplomats, and governments have been tricked by strangers to an unbelievable extent. Examples include “The Queen of Cuba,” Bernie Madoff, the Jerry Sandusky case at Penn State University, an episode of the TV series “Friends,” the Amanda Knox case in Italy, the case of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain being completely fooled by the personality of Adolph Hitler, and several other such large-scale examples. Mr. Gladwell goes into great detail about each of the cases he cites in his book.

The average person’s response to these examples is, “That would never happen to me!” and “How in the world did they get fooled?” Before we jump to such a conclusion, though, we need to keep in mind that we, too, can be fooled by strangers (and by people we think we know well.)

Talking to Strangers:  What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know, by Malcolm Gladwell, is food for thought. It is a very interesting book.


The Guardians, by John Grisham

People convicted of crimes they didn't commit
The Guardians, by John Grisham

This much-anticipated latest legal thriller by John Grisham did not disappoint. The name of the novel comes from a loosely-organized organization that works to get out of prison individuals who were wrongly convicted of a crime. The protagonist is a lawyer who got involved in The Guardians after he became disenchanted with the judicial system.

The overriding theme of innocent people being railroaded by the judicial system and spending decades in prison or given the death penalty should make us all stop and think.

In this book, Mr. Grisham takes us to death row and even to a condemned prisoner’s last meal, when we know the prisoner is not guilty of the crime of which he was convicted. The book follows several such cases.


The Baker’s Secret, by Stephen P. Kiernan

The Baker’s Secret, by Stephen P. Kiernan

This novel had been on my to-be-read list for a long time. I’m glad I finally got around to listening to it. It’s a captivating story of Emma, a young French woman who is ordered to become the German kommandant’s baker during World War II and what she did to fool the kommandant and to help keep her fellow citizens alive during the German occupation of France.

The story of Emma is beautifully told as D-Day approaches. She lives in Normandy and has given up on the Allies ever coming to France’s rescue. I especially enjoyed the way the author describes D-Day and the days that followed through Emma’s eyes.

More so than most any other novel I’ve read, The Baker’s Secret brings to life the everyday lives and struggles faced by the regular people in the countries that were under foreign occupation and attack during World War II. Something this book brings out is the very real hunger experienced by the citizens of France during the war.

Cassandra Campbell does a great job reading the book for the CD edition.


Since my last blog post

The holiday season is nearing an end and it’s time to start a new year. I’m trying to be optimistic about 2020, but the events of the last several days makes that more difficult than it was just a week ago. I am, of course, referring to US-Iranian relations.


Until my next blog post

As I stated in my December 30, 2019 blog post, I will continue to seek a higher level of peace and contentment in 2020. I wish that for you, also.

I hope you have a good book to read. I’ve just started A Minute to Midnight, by David Baldacci.

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

Thank you for reading my blog post. You have many things vying for your attention and your time, so I truly appreciate the fact that you took time to read my blog.


Let’s continue the conversation

What are you reading? Have you read an especially powerful or enjoyable book recently?

I look forward to your feedback.

Janet

Four Other Books I Read in November 2019

After reading seven books (and parts of a couple others) in November, It soon became obvious that I needed to split the seven read books up between two blog posts. Last week’s blog, https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/12/02/i-stretched-my-reading-horizons-in-november/ was about three of the books I read last month. Today’s post covers the other four.


The Water Dancer, by Ta-Nehisi Coates

#HistoricalFiction #UndergroundRailroad
The Water Dancer, by Ta-Nehisi Coates

This historical novel combines history with a touch of fantasy. The main character, Hiram, is a slave who was fathered by a Virginia plantation’s white master. Early in the book, while Hiram is a young boy, the author tells much of Hiram’s story from the point-of-view of Hiram knowing his father’s white son is his half-brother. I found that to be an intriguing way to introduce Hiram and to explore his feelings and mindset. It made me stop and think about how that reality must have felt like for slaves who had to live in situations where that was true.

In The Water Dancer, Hiram has some supernatural powers that he inherited from his slave ancestors. Those powers come in handy in his later life when he is part of the workings of the Underground Railroad. Being the child of the white master, he has a unique opportunity to study under a white tutor – who just happens to be part of the Underground Railroad.

Before reading The Water Dancer, I thought slaves had to find their own way to safe houses on the Underground Railroad after escaping. In The Water Dancer, many slaves were actually chosen by workers and agents on the Underground Railroad to be helped to escape and travel north to freedom. People involved in the Underground Railroad in The Water Dancer forged identification papers and other documents to assist slaves.

I want to learn more about the workings of the Underground Railroad after reading The Water Dancer.


Heads You Win, by Jeffrey Archer

I don’t know why, but this is the first book I’ve read by Jeffrey Archer. It certainly won’t be the last! I enjoyed listening to Heads Your Win on CD while I muddled my way through a fibromyalgia flare.

#SovietUnion #HistoricalFiction
Heads You Win, by Jeffrey Archer

This novel got a little long for me, but I found the premise of the book clever and intriguing. It starts in 1968 Soviet Union. Alexander’s father is murdered for trying to organize a trade union. Alexander and his mother flee to the docks where they must decide whether to be smuggled onto a ship heading to America or one heading to England.

At this point, the plot splits into two scenarios. One assumes they get on the ship to America, and it follows Alexander’s business life in pizza parlors. Through a friend, he gets involved in the underworld of priceless art. The other scenario assumes Alexander (a.k.a., Sasha) and his mother get on the ship to England where Alexander gets involved in politics.

The story alternates between Alexander and Sasha and illustrates just how much in our lives can depend on “the luck of the draw.” Alexander and Sasha both wonder from time-to-time how their lives would have turned out differently if they’d chosen “the other crate” at the dock.

In checking reviews of Heads You Win, I discovered reactions all across the spectrum. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a book get reviews so evenly spread between one, two, three, four, and five stars.

Many reviews state that the ending of the book confused them. I’ll add myself to that category. Someone I thought was dead, apparently wasn’t. And then the very last sentence in the book is one many readers say they didn’t see coming.


The Family Upstairs, by Lisa Jewell

This was the first book I’ve read by Lisa Jewell. The Family Upstairs is a psychological thriller. It might have been easier for me to follow in written form, but I listened to it on CD. The repeated use of the “f-word” might have been easier to take in written form, too. I guess some people have a limited vocabulary and talk like that all the time. This appears to be the case with one of the characters.

#FamilySecrets #FamilyDynamics
The Family Upstairs, by Lisa Jewell

Twenty-five years ago, police found the parents dead in their home. All their children were missing except for their 10-month-old daughter who was found unscathed. The baby is adopted and her name becomes Libby Jones. She knows nothing of her biological family. Fast-forward 25 years and Libby receives a letter informing her that she has inherited the mansion in Chelsea that had belonged to her parents.

Libby learns who she was, and her long-lost siblings start coming out of the woodwork. This isn’t my type of book. I found it to be very strange.


Selected Poems, by Carl Sandburg

I borrowed this book from the public library early in the month and enjoyed reading ten pages of Carl Sandburg’s poetry each day until I finished it. There were poems I was familiar with along with many that I’d never read. I’d forgotten how raw Carl Sandburg’s poetry was.

Reading this collection of his poetry brought to my attention more than ever before just how far removed his retirement home in the mountains of North Carolina was from the rough and tumble life in Chicago that he wrote about so eloquently.


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading A Woman is No Man, by Etaf Rum.

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

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog.

If you enjoy my blog posts, please share that on social media and with your real life friends. Don’t be shy about telling others about my blog!


Let’s continue the conversation

I’m always interested to know what you’re reading. What are you reading or what have you read recently that you’d recommend to others?

Janet

I stretched my reading horizons in November

The books I read in November took me to Auschwitz, Barcelona, Boston, Philadelphia, a plantation in Virginia, and a gulag in Siberia. Today I’ll write about three of the seven books I read in November. Four of the seven were written by authors that were new to me.


The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafόn

This author was recommended to me by my cousin, Jerome Williams. Actually, he recommended celebrated Spanish novelist Señor Zafόn’s latest book, The Labyrinth of Spirits. It being the fourth and final book in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series, I thought it best that I read the first book in the series first – The Shadow of the Wind.

The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

When I read reviews of The Shadow of the Wind, I discovered people either raved about it or hated it. People who didn’t like it wrote scathing reviews. Author Kristin Hannah gave it five stars on Goodreads.com and author Diana Gabaldon gave it four stars on that same website. I tend to trust Jerome’s judgment and that of Ms. Hannah and Ms. Gabaldon, so I downloaded the MP3 edition of the book onto my tablet.

I was immediately drawn into the book with its beautiful description of books! In fact, it was the author’s wit and descriptive language are what I liked most about the book. The book continued more off-color language than books I usually read, but the language suited the characters. I mention this, in case you are overly-offended by such language. You might not want to read it, if that’s the case.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed listening to the book and laughed out loud on numerous occasions. I wish I had mastered Spanish in high school and college so I could read The Shadow of the Wind in its original language.

What is the book about? It’s a coming of age tale that begins with a ten-year-old boy, Daniel. His father, a bookseller, takes him to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. This secret “library” of endless shelves and twists and turns houses rare books – books that have been forgotten. Daniel is instructed to select a book to save. He chooses The Shadow of the Wind, by Julian Carax.

Daniel is obsessed with finding out everything he can about Julian Carax and, in particular, why his books weren’t well-known. This obsession leads Daniel into a string of dangers and a host of characters. It is believed his copy of The Shadow of the Wind is the last surviving copy of Julian Carax’s book because someone is methodically stealing and burning copies of the book. We eventually find out about the sad life of Julian Carax.


The Dutch House, by Ann Patchett

I started reading The Dutch House, by Ann Patchett and immediately liked it. Not far into it, the CD edition became available at the public library and I switched to listening to the novel. It was read by actor Tom Hanks. I should say, it was read to perfection by Tom Hanks.

The Dutch House, by Ann Patchett

The Dutch House is a novel about a dysfunctional family. The breaking point is when the mother leaves and doesn’t come back. There are two children. Maeve is the older of the two and is very protective of her younger brother, Danny. The story is told from Danny’s viewpoint from his childhood and well into his adulthood.

Things spiral downward when Maeve and Danny’s father remarries and brings his new wife and her two small daughters into The Dutch House. There are many layers to this novel as all the family dynamics are explored, as well as how the individuals who worked at the house played into the scenario.

The house in which Maeve and Danny lived as young children is called The Dutch House because it was built by a couple from the Netherlands. It is a grand house and it is as important in the story as any of the characters. The house is, in a way, the main character.

Although the overall plot is a sad and tragic tale, there are moments of humor which Tom Hanks presents as only he can. Reading the book is enjoyable, but I highly recommend the CD edition. That might be a first for me!


Cilka’s Journey, by Heather Morris

This historical novel left me in awe of the real-life Cilka as well as the author. You may recall that I read The Tattooist of Auschwitz, by Heather Morris, in October of last year. Here’s a link to the blog post in which I wrote about that historical novel:  https://janetswritingblog.com/2018/11/05/many-good-books-read-in-october/. That book really made an impression on me, so I jumped at the chance to read Ms. Morris’ new novel.

Cilka’s Journey, by Heather Morris

In Cilka’s Journey, the author expands on the life of a teenage girl being held at Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp in her earlier novel. Ms. Morris is a master of historical fiction and makes me wonder if I have what it takes to write in that genre.

Cilka spent three years in captivity at Auschwitz-Birkenau. At the end of World War II in Europe, [SPOILER ALERT:  instead of being set free by her Russian liberators she is charged with sleeping with the enemy (which was not by choice!) and is sentenced to 15 years in a gulag in Siberia!]

Cilka is a natural-born caregiver and learns the nursing profession while a prisoner. She lives a life of unbelievable loss, suffering, and abuse before being allowed to return to her native Czechoslovakia in the 1950s. (Czechoslovakia is, of course, now the Czech Republic.)

It is historical novels like this that remind me that I have lived a charmed and sheltered life compared to millions of other people in the world. I highly recommend Cilka’s Journey. I listened to it on CD. It was beautifully-read by Louise Brealey and contains lots of background information and an interview with the author at the end.

Lale Sokolov, the real-life Auschwitz survivor we learned about in The Tattooist of Auschwitz, said of Cilka, “She was the bravest person I ever met.”


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading Nothing More Dangerous, by Allen Eskens and listening to Talking to Strangers, by Malcolm Gladwell.

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

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog.

If you enjoy my blog posts, please share that on social media and with your real life friends. Don’t be shy about telling others about my blog!


Let’s continue the conversation

I’m always interested to know what you’re reading. Please tell me in a comment.

Janet

How to Visit Scotland, Aspen, Atlanta, Kentucky, Virginia, Syria, Turkey, and England in a Month by Never Leaving Home!

The books I read in October took me on a virtual world tour!

I’m a newsaholic, and October was packed with “breaking news” here in the United States every day. It was a juggling act for me to keep up with the news, write my blog posts, and read as many books as I could. I hope my remarks about the books I read last month will pique your interest in one or more of the books or authors.

I had such a pleasant time reading books in October that I had to break my blog post into two posts. In case you missed it, here’s a link to last Monday’s post: https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/11/04/a-new-favorite-novel/.


One Mile Under, by Andrew Gross

One Mile Under, by Andrew Gross

This 2015 environmental thriller by Andrew Gross started with a mysterious death in Aspen, Colorado and morphed into the story of a rural/farm area where a fracking operation had moved in, promised the residents more money than they could make farming under the current drought conditions. Andrew Gross’ serial protagonist Ty Hauck is drawn into the murder mystery by his niece, Danielle.

I’ve given away enough of the story to maybe interest you in reading the book. Is there a connection between a rafter’s death on the river and the growing conflict between the residents and the fracking company? Water – clean water – becomes a valuable commodity pitting residents against the fracking company, citizens against citizens, and citizens against the local government.

Other books I’ve read by Andrew Gross include The One Man, see https://janetswritingblog.com/2016/12/06/what-i-read-in-november/; The Sabateur, see https://janetswritingblog.com/2017/10/09/more-great-september-reads/; and The Fifth Column, see https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/10/07/thrillers-and-a-dark-novel-i-read-last-month/.


Layover, by David Bell

Layover, by David Bell

Layover, by David Bell, is based on the premise that a businessman who travels by air a lot in his work strikes up a conversation with a woman who is also traveling through the Atlanta airport. In a couple of hours they become romantically involved – or, at least the man does.

That’s when things start deteriorating. He changes his flight and follows the woman to her destination. Of course, this has trouble written all over it. He can tell the woman is running away from something, but she won’t tell him what it is. Then, she disappears.

If I tell you the rest of the story, it will spoil the book for you. Suffice it to say a dead body is involved, and everyone isn’t who you think they are.


The Turn of the Key, by Ruth Ware                

The Turn of the Key is the third thriller I’ve read by Ruth Ware. The others were The Woman in Cabin 10, see https://janetswritingblog.com/2016/10/04/what-i-read-in-september/ , and The Death of Mrs. Westaway, https://janetswritingblog.com/2018/10/01/fiction-nonfiction-read-in-september-2018/ see.) She has written five novels.

The Turn of the Key, by Ruth Ware

In The Turn of the Key, a young woman in England quits her nursery school job in order to accept a position as a nanny to three children in a remote, isolated area in the Scottish Highlands. The description had me at “isolated area in the Scottish Highlands.” That’s all I needed to know.

Little does Rowan Caine know when she accepts the nanny job, she is entering a nightmare.

The book is written in the form of a letter that Rowan writes from prison to the lawyer she desperately wants to defend her in court. A child is dead, and Rowan is charged with murder.

This novel is unputdownable. It’s a tragic story on many levels and speaks to the dysfunction so prevalent in our society. There is nothing uplifting about this novel, so just know that ahead of time if you think you might want to read it. I’m not necessarily drawn to such novels, but I don’t avoid them either. I had to keep reading this one in order to find out which little girl was murdered and who murdered her. There was an additional twist to Rowan’s background that isn’t revealed until near the end. Maybe I’d slow, but I didn’t see it coming!


Burying the Bitter: A Boutique Series Short, by Tonya Rice

I “met” Tonya Rice online recently. We follow each other on Twitter and we follow one another’s blogs. Her blog about books, reading, and writing is “Front Porch, Sweet Tea, and a Pile of Books.” You might want to check in out. Here’s the link: https://tonyarice.wordpress.com/.

You might want to look for her short, Burying the Bitter: A Boutique Series Short on Amazon.com. It retails for $2.99 but, the last time I looked, it was available for free on Kindle. She also has a paperback book that includes this Burying the Bitter: A Boutique Series Short and other stories.

Ms. Rice’s other novels in the Boutique Series are Without Your Goodbye: A Novelette and Grand Opening: A Boutique Series #1 – A Novella, which I look forward to reading.

Burying the Bitter: A Boutique Series Short, by Tonya Rice

Ms. Rice’s Boutique Series stories and novels are set in her hometown of Richmond, Virginia. Burying the Bitter introduces us to Eveline, who grew up in Richmond and now lives in Atlanta. She is called home for Uncle Neville’s funeral. She and her female cousins are not enamored with this highly-thought of uncle because he molested them when they were young. Eden’s Jolie Boutique comes into play as that is where last minute clothing for the funeral must be purchased. An old love interest from high school days, Dodge Mallory, just happens to attend the funeral, and he and Eveline become reacquainted. I’m sure Dodge will show up again in Ms. Rice’s books and stories that follow this one.

After the funeral, Eveline confronts her mother about the sexual abuse she and her cousins suffered at the hands of Uncle Neville 20 years ago. How will her mother react?


The Beekeeper of Aleppo, by Christy Lefteri

The Beekeeper of Aleppo, by Christy Lefteri

I was intrigued by the title of this book when I first heard about it. It was an interesting book, and it held my attention. The Beekeeper of Aleppo follows and man and his wife who have to flee Aleppo, Syria after the man’s livelihood of beekeeping and selling honey is destroyed and his wife is blinded by the bomb blast or the trauma of the bomb blast that kills their son. She is an artist, so losing her eyesight signaled the end of her career.

The novel follows the couple as they struggle to get to Great Britain where they plan to seek asylum. They go through many life-threatening events and stay in countless refugee camps as they cross Turkey and Greece in their effort to get to England.

The author has first-hand experience in the region working with refugees, so she is able to write with authority about the experiences such people endure. The people in this book were just average everyday people whose lives were torn apart by war. What surprised me in the book was the fact that some of the refugees had cell phones and were able to email relatives occasionally.


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m listening to Heads You Win, by Jeffrey Archer after having several days that I didn’t get to read anything.

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

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog.


Let’s continue the conversation

Have you read any of the books I talked about today? I’d love to know what you liked or didn’t like about them. What are you reading this week?

Janet

A New Favorite Novel?

A New Favorite Novel?

What a great time I had reading books in October! Many books are published in the fall of the year. I’d been on the waitlist for months for some of those books as well as others. Of course, they all became available at the same time. “Too many books, too little time” kicked in big time!

Today’s blog post is about what is possibly my new favorite book and one of the other books I read in October. My blog post next Monday will catch you up on the other books I read last month.

The Stationery Shop, by Marjan Kamali

I can’t say enough about this book! It just may be my new favorite novel. This is a story that will stay with me forever. It is a tragic story in many ways, but oh how lovely! I listened to it on CD. Mozhan Marno did a superb job reading it.

The Stationery Shop, by Marjan Kamali

This historical novel takes us back to 1953 in Tehran, Iran. There is a chance meeting between a young man and a young woman in a stationery shop where books are also sold. Since the young man’s mother has already selected the woman she wants her son to marry, she is none too happy when he announces his plans to marry this woman of lower economic status he met at the stationery shop.

Marjan Kamali includes just enough 20th century Iranian history to set the stage for this story of love, betrayal, and a never-ending love between two people. You will discover connections between different characters as you read. It is a rich book, beautifully written.

I’m eager now to read Marjan Kamali’s debut novel, Together Tea, and I can’t wait to see what she writes for us next!


The Ragged Edge of Night, by Olivia Hawker

This book was a big surprise. I read that Olivia Hawker had a new book, One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow, coming out on October 8. I’m on the waitlist at the library for it. One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow sounded interesting, so I looked to see what else she had written.

I listened to her first book, The Ragged Edge of Night, on CD. It was beautifully written, and I learned from the notes at the end of the book that it was based on a true story from Ms. Hawker’s husband’s family. It was beautifully read by Nick Sandys and the author, Olivia Hawker.

The Ragged Edge of Night, by Olivia Hawker

This book contained some of the most moving and beautiful prose of any novel I’ve read. The premise of the book is that Elisabeth Herter, a widow with three children, is looking for a man to help her with the responsibility of raising her three children. Along comes Anton Starzmann, a former Franciscan friar who has been stripped of his occupation and his school by the Nazis in 1942 Germany.

Elisabeth and Anton start corresponding. They meet in person and agree to marry. Anton cannot father children due to an injury, but that suits Elisabeth just fine. They will marry, be companions, and raise her children. These are desperate times.

That’s the plot, and it’s a beautiful story. What struck me about The Ragged Edge of Night was how Olivia Hawker wrote Anton’s gut-wrenching fear that Hitler and the Nazis were entrenched until the end of time so beautifully that I was brought to tears. Through her writing, Ms. Hawker put me in Hitler’s Germany. Even though I knew Hitler was brought down in the end, she put me in 1942 when I had no way of knowing that.

That’s what good historical fiction does. It puts you in the story and in the time and place, so you don’t know what the future holds.

I wish I could quote extensively from the book in order to give you the true flavor of the prose, but I’ll settle for the following few sentences from Anton’s point-of-view as he implores God to help him make sense of what is happening in Germany in 1942. This prose I found so beautiful is in chapter six. Here’s a chopped-up transcript from that chapter:

“The bells will ring, even after The Reich has fallen. Everything that is in me that is sensible, everything that is rational can’t believe it’s true. The Reich will never fall…. But when in moments of quiet, in my stillness of despair, I dare to ask what yet may be…. Christ Jesus, I always believed you were merciful, but this is a monstrous cruelty to make me dream of a time when evil may fall…. I cannot help but know it, against all sense, I believe somewhere beyond the ragged edge of night, light bleeds into this world.”

From Chapter 6, The Ragged Edge of Night, by Olivia Hawker

I hope those six sentences I pulled out of a long prayer I transcribed from the CD entice you to read the book. Writers are advised to put the reader in the scene. This, to me, is a prime example of just that.

My only criticisms of the CD are (1) Every time the children in the story spoke, it was at full blast and (2) Some of the audio segments were longer than 30 minutes. The wide range of volume is an irritating and uncomfortable situation for people who are hearing-impaired. The excessively long audio segments present a problem on some CD players. More than once when I couldn’t listen to the end of a segment, I had to listen to the entire segment a second time in order to get to the end of it.


Since my last blog post

A fibromyalgia flare has knocked the props out from under me as we transition from summer into winter. (I think we often just skip right over fall here in North Carolina.) Eye pain has forced me to listen to books more than read them.

As you know, listening to books is not my reading format of choice. It’s going better than I expected, though. In fact, I believe listening to the CD recording of The Ragged Edge of Night possibly gave me a richer reading experience than I would have had if I’d read the words myself. That astounds me and gives me a new appreciation for audio books.

I want to read The Stationery Shop and The Ragged Edge of Night again. It’s rare that I find a book that I want to read a second time.


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m listening to Heads You Win, by Jeffrey Archer­­­­­­­­­­­­­­.

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

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog. Don’t be shy – share this blog post on social media.


Let’s continue the conversation

I’m always interested to know what my blog readers are reading. Please share that in the comments below or on my social media platforms.

Janet

Thrillers and a Dark Novel I Read Last Month

In my first blog post each month I usually write about the books I read the previous month. This month is no different. I’ve read and enjoyed many historical novels this year. My second favorite genre is thrillers. In September I got to read two newly released historical thrillers. I hope you’ll find at least one book in the following list that you’d like to read.

One Good Deed, by David Baldacci

2019 #thriller by #Baldacci
One Good Deed, by David Baldacci

I decided to read David Baldacci’s latest thriller, One Good Deed, because it’s been quite a while since I read one of his books. This was a good one for me to choose, because Baldacci introduces a new protagonist in this novel. Aloysius Archer is a World War II veteran and has just been released from prison after serving a term for a crime he did not comment.

Archer is a good-hearted man who, for various reasons, continues to make bad decisions throughout the book. His heart is always in the right place, though, so the reader forgives him for those poor choices and pulls for him to come out on top and not end up in prison again. He befriends a detective, Irving Shaw, who immediately sees the traits in Archer that would make him a good detective.

There are a few murders and a couple of people disappear along the way, but Archer never gives up on finding the truth – even when it means he must accept the fact that he is easily suckered in by a pretty face. It’s a real page-turner that I read in one weekend. Those of you who know it sometimes takes me two months to read a book will appreciate what a high compliment that is for One Good Deed.

Before I Let You Go, by Kelly Rimmer

Two sisters. One baby. An impossible choice.
Before I Let You Go, by Kelly Rimmer

I listened to Before I Let You Go, by Kelly Rimmer on CD. It was a dark story about how one sister dealt with her sister’s drug addiction. It is a timely subject, and the book demonstrates how very difficult tough love is.

For me, the book repeatedly brought to mind a case of drug addiction in my family and how one lethal overdose can leave a family in a dark pit that is perhaps impossible to climb out of. The subject matter wasn’t pleasant to read, but the bonds of family were well demonstrated.

The storyline of this novel includes the birth of an innocent baby. The infant has to go through painful withdrawal before it can become healthy enough to thrive.

Someone Knows, by Lisa Scottoline

A secret kept by #teens.
Someone Knows, by Lisa Scottoline

I really wanted to like this novel, but it was just too much work for me. The story is told from 10 points-of-view. I couldn’t keep that many main characters straight in my mind.

The plot line might appeal more to a young adult audience because it revolves around some mistakes made by a group of teens and the secret they have to live with.

The Fifth Column, by Andrew Gross

A #thriller about #NaziSympathizers in the US in #1939.
The Fifth Column, by Andrew Gross

The Fifth Column is Andrew Gross’ latest thriller. The name of the novel comes from “the fifth column” meaning a group inside a larger group that supports an outside group or country. In this instance, the Fifth Column was the Nazi-sympathizers in the United States as World War II raged in Europe.

Mr. Gross takes you back to February of 1939 when more than 20,000 Nazis and Nazi sympathizers in khaki uniforms and waving Nazi flags gathered for a rally at Madison Square Garden in New York City. I hadn’t known about that, so I learned something right off the bat from the book’s introduction.

This novel tells the story of America’s hesitancy to get involved in World War II. Memories of “The Great War”/”The War to End All Wars”/World War I were still fresh from just a decade before. Some saw President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” programs as socialism. The much-celebrated American pilot Charles Lindbergh voiced pro-Nazi opinions. Germany was bombing London and stories of the abuse and murder of Jews in Europe were spreading across the Atlantic. Jews in New York City were being harassed. Families could go to Nazi-sponsored camps in New Jersey and on Long Island where children were taught the Nazi salute and Nazi doctrine. It was a time when people increasingly didn’t know whom they could trust.

The Fifth Column, by Andrew Gross rests on that background. It is a story brought to life by the author. The protagonist, Charlie Mossman, gets in over his head when he stands up for a Jewish bar owner when a group of Nazi thugs come into his establishment to make fun of him. Someone is killed and Charlie goes to prison.

When Charlie comes home from prison, his wife has created a new life for herself. Charlie soon becomes suspicious that his wife and young daughter’s neighbors in the apartment building are German spies. He goes to great lengths to find evidence to support his hunch.

The plot thickens after Charlie has a chance meeting with Noelle, a graduate student from France. Noelle says she knows people who can help Charlie. This seems too good to be true. Is it?

Although the plot unfolds in a predictable way, I enjoyed the book. The CD edition is read by Edoardo Ballerini. I continue to surprise myself by enjoying some audio books.

Since my last blog post

Yesterday afternoon I had the privilege of attending a birthday party for a man celebrating his 100th birthday. He is a mild-mannered man who fought in World War II and has been active in his church his entire life. He has inspired countless people to get involved in Habitat for Humanity by the example he has set for the last 40 years. It’s not often I am invited to a “Happy 100th Birthday” party! Happy 100th Birthday, Mr. William King McCachren, Sr.!

I continue to work my way through Chris Andrews’ writing “how-to” book, Character and Structure:  An Unholy Alliance. To read about that book, read my last blog post, https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/09/30/character-and-structure-by-chris-andrews/ and/or visit Mr. Andrews’ website, https://www.chrisandrews.me/.

Late in August, I purchased an online writing course by C.S. Lakin, “Emotional Mastery for Fiction Writers.” The link to that course sat on the back burner until several days ago. I think the course and Mr. Andrews’ book will dovetail nicely and help me to be a better fiction writer. I hope to finally start the C.S. Lakin course this week.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Stationery Shop, by Marjan Kamali and Layover, by David Bell.

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

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog.

Let’s continue the conversation

What are you reading? What have you read recently that you’d recommend to others?

Janet