Other Books Read in December 2020

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

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

Then She Was Gone, by Lisa Jewell

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

Then She Was Gone, by Lisa Jewell

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

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

The Appeal, by John Grisham

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

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

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

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

Since my last blog post

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

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

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

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

Until my next blog post

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

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

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

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

Janet

Three Books Read in December 2020

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

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

Fifty Words for Rain, by Asha Lemmie

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

Fifty Words for Rain,
by Asha Lemmie

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

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

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

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

Sold on a Monday, by Kristina McMorris

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

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

Sold on a Monday,
by Kristina McMorris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isaac’s Storm, by Erik Larson

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

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

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

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

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

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

Since my last blog post

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

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

Until my next blog post

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

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

Wear a mask.

Count your blessings.

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

Janet

Favorite Books Read in 2020

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

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


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

And the Crows Took Their Eyes, by Vicki Lane

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

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

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

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

Code Talker, by Chester Nez with Judith Schiess Avila

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big Lies in a Small Town, by Diane Chamberlain

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

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

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

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

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

Since my last blog post

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

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

Until my next blog post

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

I hope you have rewarding creative time.

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

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

Janet

Books Read in November 2020

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


And the Crows Took Their Eyes, by Vicki Lane

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

And the Crows Took Their Eyes, by Vicki Lane

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

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

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

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

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


A Time for Mercy, by John Grisham

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

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


Since my last blog post

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

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


Until my next blog post

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

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

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

Janet

Other Books Read in October and an Election

I blogged last week about two books I read in October. Today’s blog post is about other books I read last month. Overall, it was a strange collection of books. I enjoy a wide range of books, but I’m especially drawn to historical fiction.

I started reading but didn’t finish And the Crows Took Their Eyes, by Vicki Lane and Stones from the River, by Ursula Hegi. I didn’t finish reading Vicki Lane’s book in October because it arrived at the end of the month. I didn’t finish the Ursula Hegi book because I had too many books to read, other distractions, and it had to go back to the library. You’ll have to wait for future blogs to learn what I thought of those and the other books I read in November, but I’ll go ahead and recommend And the Crows Took Their Eyes to anyone who enjoys historical fiction or American Civil War stories.

The Lions of Fifth Avenue, by Fiona Davis

After hearing Fiona Davis interviewed, I was eager to get on the public library’s waitlist for The Lions of Fifth Avenue. It took me a little while to “get into” this book but, once I did, I wanted to read on to see what happened next.

#libraries #NYCPublicLibrary
The Lions of Fifth Avenue, by Fiona Davis

As seems to be the trend in historical fiction today, the plot alternates between one era and another. I don’t like that format. I prefer to read a story in chronological order. I’m not sure what that says about me. The Lions of Fifth Avenue falls into that category. It switches back and forth between 1913-1914 and 1993.

The 1913-1914 story line interested me more than the other one so, after reading the first four chapters, I skipped all the 1993 chapters and read the remaining 1913-1914 chapters until I got to the end of the book; then, I went back to the fifth chapter and read bits and pieces of the 1993 parts of the book. I’m sure this isn’t the way in which the author expected me to read her book, but it worked for me.

In the “Author Note” at the end of the book, I learned that it was completely a fictional story with fictional characters. Ms. Davis explained that the New York City Public Library actually did have a seven-room apartment where the library superintendent’s family lived for several decades. Besides that, the book is fiction. It is a compelling story and I really wanted to get to the end to see who was stealing rare books from the library. Fortunately, that was revealed in the 1913-1914 thread of the book.

Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey, by Kathleen Rooney

I read about this book in an e-mail from Goodreads.com. The e-mail said, “If you loved A Gentleman in Moscow, you’ll loved Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey. Equal parts moving and charming, heartbreaking and funny, it will make you feel closer to humanity. Simply put, it’s a book that stays with you.” With that comparison and endorsement, I couldn’t wait to read the book.

#pigeons #CherAmi #WWI
Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey, by Kathleen Rooney

The story it was based on was new to me. It sounded interesting, so I checked out the e-book from the public library.

The story itself is impressive. Cher Ami was a homing pigeon that was much-celebrated in the 1920s and 1930s for its heroics during World War I. In fact, the bird was taxidermized after death and put on display in the Smithsonian Institution. Cher Ami was shot in the eye and lost a leg on her last mission. Even so, she completed that mission and lived for a couple of weeks afterward.

By finishing her last mission, Cher Ami saved the lives of almost 200 Americans.

Charles Whittlesey was from New York. Not attracted to guns, he nevertheless found himself shipping off for Europe when the United States entered World War I. Being the era that it was, he had to keep his homosexuality a secret. Whittlesey came home a war hero, but he struggled to adjust to life back in New York City. He purchased a one-way ticket on a ship and planned his own “burial at sea.”

The story itself is interesting, and I learned more about homing pigeons from the early chapters of this historical novel than I had before.

The book itself was quite disappointing. Some chapters are written from the pigeon’s point-of-view, while the other chapters are written from Charles Whittlesey’s viewpoint. I read one-third of the book before I started skipping over Cher Ami’s chapters.

Perhaps my mind isn’t creative enough to suspend belief and accept talking pigeons. To me, Cher Ami’s chapters read like a children’s book. I even stopped reading midway through the first chapter to see if I had checked out a Juvenile book by mistake. I hadn’t, so I tried to plow on. I soon concluded that I’d be better served by doing a little research about the story instead of continuing to read the conversations of talking pigeons.

One fact that the author conveyed via Cher Ami was probably more poignantly expressed by the taxidermized pigeon than could have been told by an objective narrator was the way in which the taxidermist chose to display the detail of the pigeon’s missing eye. Oddly enough, the taxidermist selected a glass eye of the wrong color for the bird’s missing eye. The taxidermized Cher Ami cleverly voices her disgust over the sloppy disrespect for detail and points out that it would have made a more accurate and impressive museum display to have presented the pigeon with its empty eye socket. After all, it was preserved with only the one leg that survived the war.

Cher Ami was one of more than 600 homing pigeons used by the US Army Signal Corps in France during World War I. An American battalion was surrounded in the Battle of Argonne Forest. They were under Allied fire and had no way but pigeons to get word out about their situation. On October 4, 1918, after other pigeons had been shot down in the effort, Cher Ami successfully delivered a message that saved almost 200 American lives. As noted above, she was shot twice in the process, but she kept flying to deliver her urgent message.

In that respect, Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey did what I expect historical novels to do: educate me. I appreciate that. I just didn’t enjoy the manner in which that education was delivered. The story enticed me to look for more information, which is something else I expect historical fiction to do.

Anxious People, by Fredrik Backman

Anxious People, by Fredrik Backman

I can’t honestly say I read this novel. I tried listening to it. The beginning held promise of an interesting tale about a bank robbery and a hostage situation. Perhaps it would have been more palatable in printed form. The irritatingly shrill voice of the female hostage real estate salesperson got on my last nerve early on. I tried to persevere but had to raise the white flag on this one. Sorry, Mr. Backman. I loved A Man Called Ove, but I just haven’t been able to stick with any of your other novels I’ve tried.

Since my last blog post

Photo credit: Element5 Digital on Unsplash.com

We’ve had a much-anticipated national, state, and local election since my last blog post. As I write this late on Saturday morning, it has just been announced that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have been elected US President-elect and US Vice President-elect. What a relief! We have elected a person of empathy as President, and we have finally elected our first woman and first person of color to be Vice President. The proverbial glass ceiling has been broken.

My country is divided. The division demonstrated by the 2016 election continues, but I pray the pendulum has begun to swing toward decency and respect. For more than 200 years, gracious concession speeches have been expected from the candidates not elected in the United States. True to his form and lack of character, our current President vows not to take the results of this election quietly or gracefully. He will, no doubt, continue to sow seeds of discord in our country and world. He has vowed to fight the outcome of this election in the courts. He continues to claim it was a rigged election. He threatened to proclaim that falsehood well in advance of Election Day.

I look forward to having a new US President on January 20, 2021 – a President and a Vice President who will try to heal our nation and lead us back into a position of respect and reliability on the world stage. We can once again be a beacon of hope. It won’t happen overnight, and it won’t be easy. It will take a while for the world to trust us again.

My faith in the American people has been somewhat renewed by the outcome of this election; however, it wasn’t won by a landslide. Nearly half the population voted to continue down the road we were on. It won’t be easy to convince them that those of us who voted for Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris are not the evil people our current President proclaims us to be. They have believed many lies about us and we are exhausted from the rhetoric of hate that has been directed at us from the White House for the last four years.

We are exhausted from four years of vitriol, but we are energized today by the hope of a new era in which we once again have a President who truly believes in God and doesn’t just give faith lip service; who believes in freedom of the press and doesn’t see journalists as enemies of the people; who believes in science and medicine; who is antiracist; who will not put immigrant children who cross the border from Central America in cages and deport their parents; who will strive to enact policies that will preserve our physical environment for ourselves and future generations; who will work for social justice in our country and the world; and who will work to repair our relationships with our long-term friends and allies around the world.

For the hurt and disappointment being felt today by some of my friends and relatives who disagree with me on everything I’ve written in this blog post, now you know how I felt after the 2016 election. You’re still my friends, and you’re still my relatives. I still love you. Please give President-elect Biden a chance to prove he’s not an agent of evil. He’s not going to defund the police. He’s not going to take away your guns. He’s not a socialist. He will be the President of all Americans. He does not see you as his enemy or an enemy of the people. He will not call you ugly names. He will not get on Twitter and go on hate-filled rants. He will not make fun of physically-disabled people. He will not freely make misogynistic statements about women.

It feels good to be able to breathe again.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading Vicki Lane’s new historical novel, And the Crows Took Their Eyes. I’m listening to John Grisham’s latest novel, A Time for Mercy.

I hope you have productive creative time.

Please continue to wear a mask out of respect for others until this Covid-19 pandemic is over.

Janet

Books about The 1665-66 Plague and The 1918 Flu Pandemic

It was coincidental that I read a book about the Bubonic Plague of 1665-66 and the 1918 Influenza Pandemic during the same month. Since the two books are about similar topics, I decided to blog just about them today.

The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History, by John M. Barry

The title of this book is a misnomer. I tried listening to the MP3 version, which was almost 20 hours long. There was a brief introduction about the Influenza Pandemic of 1918, but the book soon started giving the history of medicine. I kept thinking we’d get back to the flu pandemic, but I gave up four and one-half hours into the book.

If you’re interested in the history of medicine, it’s an interesting book. I learned a lot about the state of the medical profession in the United States in the 1800s. It made me glad I was born midway through the 20th century.

Perhaps if I could have stuck with it, I would have learned more about the Influenza Pandemic of 1918. I stumbled upon an interview Jake Tapper of CNN did with the author, John M. Barry, a few months ago. Mr. Tapper raved over the book. The interview is quite interesting and makes me want to check out the book again and read on from where I left off. Here a link to the interview: https://www.cnn.com/2020/03/27/politics/interview-john-barry-great-influenza/index.html.

Year of Wonders, by Geraldine Brooks

#BubonicPlague #1665Plague #1666Plague
Year of Wonders, by Geraldine Brooks

Year of Wonders is a novel set during the Plague of 1666. Geraldine Brooks was inspired to write it after a visit to England in 1991. She saw a sign about Eyam (pronounced “eem”) in Derbyshire, northwest of London. The sign indicated that Eyam was “the Plague Village.” Intrigued, this historical novelist delved deeper and began her research into the Plague.

I listened to the downloadable audio book, which was read by the author. The main character is a maiden named Anna who does her best to survive the pandemic and help others in the community. In reality, two-thirds of the people in Eyam died of the Plague. That’s a percentage that’s impossible for me to get my head around. The Covid-19 pandemic has been frightening enough.

The book gets into some of the superstitions of the era. Some people thought the Plague was punishment from God. They resorted to self-flagellation and burning all their clothes and possessions as a sacrifice.

Death via the Bubonic Plague is an excruciating way to die: Fever as high as 106 degrees F.; lymph nodes turned into dying, hemorrhaging tissue; and thrombosis. The World Health Organization reports 1,000 to 3,000 cases per year. Although rare, it still occurs even in the United States. It can be treated today with antibiotics, but there is no cure for Bubonic Plague.

After listening to the book, I borrowed the e-book from the public library so I could more easily reread portions of the book. In particular, I wanted to read the Afterword. I was happy to also find a Readers Guide after the Afterword in the Kindle edition. In fact, I’m temped to read such features as “Author Notes, “Afterwords,” and “Readers Guides” before reading historical novels in the future.

In Year of Wonders, the Penquin Readers Guide at the back of the book on Kindle is titled, “An Introduction to Year of Wonders.” It might have been more useful at the beginning of the book.

The “Introduction” tells how the Age of Enlightenment in Europe started in the 1600s. The human circulatory system was charted, bacteria were identified, and the compound microscope was invented. It was the dawn of modern medicine in many ways.

In the novel, a minister in Eyam in 1665, Michael Mompellion, decided that God had sent the Bubonic Plague to punish the village. He called for the residents to voluntarily quarantine themselves in their valley and suffer the consequences of their sins.

The most puritanical among them took to self-flagellation. As the situation worsened, the people turned on each other.

The heroine of the novel, Anna Frith, raises the existential questions circling around the origins of the plague. Anna surmised that if the villagers spent less time wondering why God was punishing them and more time trying to figure out how the Plague was spread, there might be a better outcome.

Anna said, “We could simply work upon it as a farmer might toil to rid this field of unwanted tare, knowing that when we found the tools and the method, and the resolve, we would free ourselves, no matter if we were a village of sinners or a host of saints.”

The word “resolve” jumped out at me. If we just resolve to do what we need to do to minimize the spread of Covid-19 until a vaccine or cure can be found, maybe we’d have a better outcome. Maybe we would stop turning on each other and stop making mask wearing a political statement.

In the “Introduction,” author Geraldine Brooks is asked about her research for the book. She answered, “The written record of what happened in Eyam during the plague year is scant. Apart from three letters by the rector, no narrative account from the year itself actually exists. The “histories” that purport to record the facts were actually written many years later, and historians have found inconsistencies that cast doubt on their accuracy. Therefore, there was no way to write a satisfying nonfiction narrative.”

The minister/rector in the novel, Michael Mompellion is based on William Mompresson, the minister in Eyam at the time of the plague. Ms. Brooks said, “There is nothing in the factual record to suggest that he behaved other than honorably throughout the village’s terrible ordeal.”

William Mompresson had a maid who survived the Plague, so Ms. Brooks chose her to be the narrator of Year of Wonders. Her inspiration for Anna Frith’s transformation from a probably quiet maid to becoming a leading force against the Plague were the Kurdish and Eritrean women she had reported on while a journalist.

In answering another question about her research for the novel, Ms. Brooks responded, “The unique thing about Eyam’s quarantine was that it was voluntary. I was able to find no other examples of such communal self-sacrifice. In London… the houses of plague victims were sealed and guarded, locking in the well with the ill, with no one to bring food, water, or comfort of any kind.”

The ending of the novel wasn’t believable to me. I decided to read some reviews of the book to see if others agreed with me. I discovered that the book has received many five-star reviews, but more than a handful of two-star reviews due to its implausible ending. Some reviews even suggest that you stop reading while you still think its an excellent book. Just skip the ending which transports Anna Frith from England into another country. The ending seemed contrived.

Since my last blog post

The transition from summer to fall temperatures, along with a day of tropical warmth and humidity thrown in thanks to the remains of Hurricane Zeta, has wreaked havoc with my fibromyalgia. (And people wonder why I have Seasonal Affective Disorder in the fall and winter!)

The limb that fell out of the oak tree in the front yard was so large and loud that a neighbor called to check on us. She said it sounded like a gun shot. We thought maybe it was another earthquake until the light from my flashlight revealed the source of the noise. That was the night before what was left of Hurricane Zeta ripped the top off one of our maple trees. It landed on top of the oak limb. That happened while we had gone to our basement out of an abundance of caution and waited out part of the five-hour power outage. Covid-19 pandemic or not, there’s never a dull moment.

As health, electricity, and motivation allows, my sister and I continue to proofread my Harrisburg, Did You Know? book manuscript. Recent computer corruption has caused us to proofread some 80 pages a second time. I haven’t figured out yet how five days of backing up to the external hard drive saved everything except the corrections made on those 80 pages. Two steps forward, and three steps back seems to be the way of things in 2020.

Until my next blog post

I will anxiously await the outcome of the elections here in the United States. Uncertain days lie ahead as baseless threats of voter fraud have been hurled from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue long before tomorrow’s election day. It remains to be seen how ugly things will get post-election. I’ve never had uneasiness like this on the day before a presidential election in America. We’ve never had a sitting president stir up unfounded doubts about our electoral process leading up to an election before in our nation’s history.  

I hope you have one or more good books to read and peace and quiet that’s conducive to reading.

I hope your creativity will find a voice or other outlet this week. Find your passion.

Wear a mask! It’s a small thing we’re being asked to do for the overall public good.

Have you read either of the books I wrote about today? If so, what were your impressions of them? I’d like to know.

Janet

Other Books I Read in September 2020

My blog last Monday was about Code Talker, by Chester Nez. Here’s the link to it: Navajo Code Talker Chester Nez. Today’s post is about the other books I read in September. I hope you’ll find at least one that is of interest to you.


Leaving Time, by Jodi Picoult

Leaving Time, by Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult is known for tackling hard issues. Leaving Time is about a young woman’s search for her mother who has been missing for 10 years. Jenna was three years old when her mother disappeared, so she is surprised to learn that her father never filed a missing person’s report. Her father is now in a facility for patients with dementia, so he’s not able to give Jenna any reliable answers.

Jenna’s mother was a well-known elephant expert, so Ms. Picoult deftly weaves into the story facts about elephants’ memories and grieving rituals. After piecing together the death of an unidentified woman coinciding with the time her mother disappeared, Jenna tracks down the former police detective who worked on the case. The case was never solved. The former detective reluctantly agrees to help Jenna.

Jenna eventually seeks the help of a psychic. The psychic is also reluctant to help the 13-year-old Jenna because her gift of “second sight” has waned. It turns out the psychic has her own backstory.

Leaving Time was published in 2014. It is not one of my favorite Jodi Picoult novels. I listened to it on Playaway from the public library while I walked each day. That’s probably not the optimal way to listen to any book, so my mode of listening possibly influenced my less-than-stunning impression of the book.


Last Mission to Tokyo: The Extraordinary Story of the Doolittle Raiders and Their Final Fight for Justice, by Michel Paradis

Last Mission to Tokyo, by Michel Paradis

This book was recommended by John Grisham, and that influenced my decision to read it. I listened to about 25% of it and put it aside. I found it difficult to follow on CD, so then I checked out the e-book. It was much easier to keep up with the various characters, especially the ones with Japanese names.

The early part of the book is quite interesting. It is the story of the Doolittle Raiders in World War II and how Doolittle and his “raiders” worked tirelessly to get the B-25 bombers down to a low enough weight and high enough speed that they could launch off an aircraft carrier with just enough fuel to complete their bombing missions in Japan and get to China where Chiang Kai-shek had promised them a landing strip.

That part of the book really grabbed my interest, but I soon discovered that the bulk of the book was about the trials of the Japanese who tortured the captured Doolittle Raiders. That didn’t interest me as much, although I can see how it would keep an attorney like John Grisham spellbound.

I don’t mean to leave a negative response to this book. It’s merely a matter of interest. It is an extremely well-researched book. There are more than 100 pages of footnotes.

If you’re not familiar with the heroics of the Doolittle Raiders, the early part of the book gives an excellent overview of their training and what they accomplished against all odds.


The Book of Lost Names, by Kristin Harmel

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

Kristin Harmel’s new novel, The Book of Lost Names, was “right down my alley.” It is a beautifully-written historical novel inspired by the unsung heroes in France and Switzerland during World War II who risked their lives to try to smuggle Jewish children and adults out of France and to freedom in Switzerland as Germany was relentless in rounding up Jews for forced labor and the gas chambers.

Ms. Harmel has done extensive research about the World War II era, and this is evident in her writing. In The Book of Lost Names, she weaves a story of intrigue and personal loss through the protagonist, Eva Traube Abrams. I liked Eva from the beginning and pulled for her throughout the book. (As a writer, I strive to create such a protagonist!)

The personal losses Eva endures are huge and every time you think she’s going to find happiness, there is another twist in the story. She inadvertently of falls into the role of forging government documents for herself and other Jews while she and her mother are in hiding.

Eva works tirelessly to perfect her skills. In the process, though, she is driven by the need to leave a record of the children’s real names. Many of them are too young to remember their true identities or the names of their parents.

Eva and her fellow-forger, Remy, develop a code through which to record the children’s names in an old nondescript book on the shelf in the secret church library in which they do their work in a tiny French village hidden in the mountains. Eva and Remy use the Fibonacci sequence to code the names in the pages of the book.

Eva and The Book of Lost Names will stay with me for a long time. I love historical fiction for the way it entertains and educates me.

It was coincidental that I read Code Talker, by Chester Nez and The Book of Lost Names, by Kristin Harmel during the same month.

One by One, by Ruth Ware

One by One, by Ruth Ware

This is the fifth novel I’ve read by Ruth Ware, a British author. She is a modern-day master of suspense. In fact, David Baldacci has called her “The Agatha Christie of our generation.”

In One by One, Ms. Ware gives us a 21st century story of office colleagues going on a weeklong retreat at a French ski resort. There’s a snowstorm. There’s an avalanche. Communications are down, which is ironic because these people work for a tech startup in London.

The relaxing retreat is immediately thrown into chaos when a shareholder proposes a buyout. Tensions grow as rescue grows more and more unlikely. It’s cold. Food is running out. And the retreat participants are knocked off, one by one. Can you figure out who the killer is? #OfficeRetreatGoneBad

I was a little disappointed in this book, but I’ll read Ruth Ware’s next novel anyway. Since I wasn’t enthralled by three of the five books I read in September, perhaps it was my frame of mind and not the quality of the books that is to blame for my less-than-stellar impressions of the books.

Since my last blog post

I’m rounding up the photographs to include in my book of local history newspaper articles, Harrisburg, Did You Know? A couple of pictures and the cover are all that are still to be done to complete this book of historical tidbits from Township One and Harrisburg, North Carolina.

Instead of becoming more accustomed to my new daily schedule due to my dog’s diabetes diagnosis, it felt like all my fatigue caught up with me this past week. To quote a Pennsylvania Dutch saying, “My get up and go got up and went.”

There are many projects vying for my attention, but I am tired and I lack motivation. I think I’ll blame the pandemic. I think most of us have pandemic fatigue. Those of us living in the United States also have political campaign fatigue.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read.

If you’re a writer or other artist, I hope you have satisfying creative time this week.

Now that flu season is coming to the northern hemisphere in addition to the on-going Covid-19 pandemic, please wear a mask. Not wearing a mask shouldn’t be a political statement; it merely tells me that you really don’t care about anyone but yourself. I’m probably “preaching to the choir” because the people who refuse to wear a mask because of their political or religious convictions probably don’t read my blog.

Thank you for your time.

Janet

Navajo Code Talker Chester Nez

I read five books in September, but Code Talker, by Chester Nez made such an impression me that I decided to just write about it today. I’ll blog about the other books I read last month in next week’s blog post.

Code Talker, by Chester Nez with Judith Schiess Avila

Code Talker, by Chester Nez with Judith Schiess Avila is a wonderful book! It is a memoir written by one of the original 29 Navajo Code Talkers of World War II. The irony is that a language the US Government tried to eradicate ended up saving the US in World War II.

Navajo “Right Way Balance”

Early on in the book we’re told that Mr. Nez was a staunch believer in the traditional ways and beliefs of the Navajos. In the core of those beliefs is the “Right Way Balance” which calls for a balance between individuals and between the individual and the world.

Even though the United States government tried to take the Navajo culture and language out of him from an early age, his family ingrained in him the language and all aspects of their culture and heritage. Although the United States government and policies inflicted on the Navajos and other native peoples should have made him bitter, after December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, he was eager to join the Marines and fight for his country.

Mr. Nez tells about his childhood. He tells that his mother was one of the Navajo forced to march 350 miles from Fort Defiance to Fort Sumner in New Mexico. That was after they’d been burned out and forced to surrender to Kit Carson and taken to Fort Defiance.

Mr. Nez writes about the Great Livestock Massacre, which he witnessed. That incident alone, should have made him hate the United States government. It was the gruesome slaughter of millions of sheep and cattle belonging to the Navajo.

When he was forced to go off to boarding school, a missionary told the school administrators that his name was Chester Nez. He was no longer allowed to use his clan’s name. He tells about being made to learn English and to speak only that language at school. This was seen as an insult and a punishment at the time; however, without a fluency in both languages, he couldn’t have become a Code Talker. All the Navajo Code Talkers had to be fluent in both languages in order for the project to work.

The Unbreakable Code

There were skeptics, but time after time the Code Talkers proved their inestimable value in the United States’ war effort against Japan. The outcome of the war in the Pacific theatre was very much in question the Navajo Code Talkers arrived on the scene. They went through intensive training in complete secrecy from their fellow Marines and the public. Developing the code was totally up to those 29 men.

The Japanese had been able to break every code the US military had tried. The situation was becoming desperate. The Battle of Savo Island was the worst defeat in the history of the US Navy. The Marines on Guadalcanal figured they were next. They felt like sitting ducks. But the Navajo Code Talkers arrived with the 1st Marine Division and the prospects for the US began to change for the good.

Mr. Nez tells about the old “Shackle” code, which “was written in English, encoded via a coding machine, and sent. Then the receiving end decoded the message, again via machine, and wrote it out in English. It took an hour to transmit and receive the test messages. When the same messages were transmitted and received in Navajo – with the men themselves acting as coding machines – it took only forty seconds for the information to be transmitted accurately.”

The above quote minimizes the complexity of the Navajo Code, but I hope you will read this book and find out the intricacies of how the code was developed. The training for the code talkers was intense. It was astounding how complicated, accurate, and fast the Navajo Code worked. It, no doubt, saved the lives of thousands of American military personnel.

All Over the Pacific

Mr. Nez’s book follows his service on New Caledonia, Guadalcanal, Bougainville, back to Guadalcanal for additional training for the planned assault on Guam, then on to Guam, Peleliu (a battle that General Roy Geiger called the worst battle of the South Pacific), Angaur (where some Navajo Code Talkers were loaned to the Army), then “back to the bloodbath on Peleliu,” and then back to Guadalcanal to train for Iwo Jima.

The description of the maze of underground tunnels filled with Japanese soldiers on Iwo Jima filled Mr. Nez with dread, but the surprise of his life came when his name was called. He was informed that he had “made his points.” Marines were “awarded points for each island invaded and wrested back from the Japanese.” He had earned more than enough points to be sent home.

After the War

Returning to the US was another bit of a culture shock for Mr. Nez. He was a proud Marine and war veteran when he returned to the US in 1945 but, because he was a Native American, he wasn’t granted the right to vote in New Mexico until 1948.

He was sworn to secrecy about what he had done in the war. He was sworn to secrecy about the Navajo Code Talkers. His family would have been so proud of what he had done in the war, but he could not tell them. By the end of World War II, 400 Navajos had served as Code Talkers. Thirteen of them were killed in action.

The last third of the book is about Mr. Nez’s life after World War II, including the nightmares he had about Japanese soldiers and what finally made them stop. The Navajo Code Talkers’ Dictionary is printed in the book’s appendix.

Information about the Navajo Code was declassified in 1968. The military decided they wouldn’t need to use it again. At last, the Code Talkers were free to talk about what they did in World War II.

Since my last blog post

Formatting my Harrisburg, Did You Know? collection of local history newspaper columns was intimidating, but I’ve been surprised at how smoothly it’s going. I’m adding photographs today. I can’t wait to have the e-book ready to publish! Then, I’ll work on the paperback edition!

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I suggest you try to find a copy of Code Talker, by Chester Nez.

If you’re a writer or other artist, I hope you have productive creative time.

Thank you for reading my blog. We all have busy schedules, so I appreciate the time you took today to read this blog post.

Please wear a mask out of respect for others during this Covid-19 pandemic. You could be contagious and not know it.

Janet

Books Read in August 2020

Reading in August was a bit of a challenge. Lots of things were going on within the family and I was distracted. Nevertheless, I did finish reading or listening to several books.

I think I shouldn’t push myself so much in the future. It’s gotten to the point that I feel guilty if I’m not reading! I want reading to be the pleasure it’s intended to be, so I’m adjusting my expectations. I reminded myself this isn’t a contest. The person who reads the most books doesn’t necessarily win.

With that introduction, let’s jump into the books I read or tried to read in August.

We Wear the Mask: 15 True Stories of Passing in America, by Brando Skyhorse and Lisa Frazier Page

#WeWearTheMask
We Wear the Mask: 15 True Stories of Passing in America, by Brando Skyhorse & Lisa Page

This is an enlightening book. It has nothing to do with the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s about a completely different kind of mask.

It’s 15 first-hand stories of the experience of “passing” in America as something one is not. To give you the overall flavor of the book, I’ll briefly give you the topic of each of the 15 stories:

A Mexican-American is forced by his mother to pass as an American Indian;

A Cuban Jewish lesbian tells how many of her fellow Cubans were surprised to be considered black (or “colored” in the vernacular of the early 1960s) when they arrived in the US;

A man’s half-Chinese great-grandfather changed his name twice in order to pass as white. It was more than 100 years before his descendants found out they had Chinese ancestors;

A black man was mistaken as a server at the National Book Awards banquet and realizes that one’s attire cannot counteract people’s prejudices and assumptions;

A brown woman started passing as a Puerto Rican at the age of seven when her family moved to Italian-dominant Staten Island, NY because the Italians were confused over her skin tone. She was called derogatory Asian names while her teachers made the assumption that she was Puerto Rican;

A man passed as white until he retired. Then, he moved back to his home community of darker relatives. He wasn’t totally accepted;

A white woman marries a black man and they have children; she moves to a nice retirement community in Mexico and keeps her bi-racial children a secret from her new friends… until those adult children come to her funeral; and

A transgender man passing as a woman and learning what it’s like to be an attractive woman and being hit on by creepy men and being subjected to everything from violence to unwanted catcalls to always having to be aware of one’s surroundings.

There are also stories of homosexuals passing as straight, poor people passing as wealthy, and even wealthy people passing as poor.

This is the kind of book you can pick up and read a small section of when you have a few minutes. I enjoyed reading just one story a day.


The Secrets We Kept, by Lara Prescott

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

This is a fascinating novel! It’s the story of how the United States set out in the 1950s to smuggle art, music, and literature into the Soviet Union and, specifically, how women typists in the CIA were instrumental in carrying out the mission.

President Eisenhower knew the US lagged behind the Soviet Union in the space and nuclear races. Here’s a quote from the novel that puts it in a nutshell: “They had their satellites, but we had their books. Back then we believed books could be weapons, that literature could change the course of history.”

The US wanted to emphasize to the everyday Soviet citizens how their government censored and persecuted the Eastern-bloc’s finest artists. They started by sending up weather balloons that would burst behind the Iron Curtain, raining down pamphlets.

Then, they started mailing books into the Soviet Union. Then, at the suggestion of one of the female typists, they started gluing the covers of non-controversial books like Charlotte’s Web and Pride and Prejudice to the covers of banded books. The ultimate objective was to smuggle in copies of Dr. Zhivago, by Russian author Boris Pasternak.

Reading Dr. Zhavigo would open the everyday Soviet citizens’ eyes to what had happened between the Russian Revolution of 1905 and World War II. The book had been banned in all Eastern-bloc countries because it was considered subversive.

This is a story of espionage that will have you cheering, especially for the women who are the unsung heroes of the CIA.


The Story of a New Name, by Elena Ferrante

Book 2, follows My Brilliant Friend
The Story of a New Name, by Elena Ferrante

After reading My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante in July, I looked forward to this second book in a series of four novels by Ms. Ferrante. Maybe it was just my mindset or my being distracted by wanting to work on my own novel, but The Story of a New Name did not hold my attention. I listened to almost half of the book (which is more of a chance than I normally give a book I’m not really enjoying) before I sent it back to the library. I found the two friends, Lila and Elena, more interesting as children than as adults.

This book has received good reviews, so I think it just wasn’t the right time for me to try to read it.


The Butterfly’s Daughter, by Mary Alice Monroe

#MonarchButterfly
The Butterfly’s Daughter, by Mary Alice Monroe

I’ve been intending to read a book by Mary Alice Monroe for years and finally got around to it. I listened to The Butterfly’s Daughter on Playaway while I walked every day. As I understand is true of Ms. Monroe’s novels, the reader could tell she did extensive research about the monarch butterfly before writing this book. Each chapter is prefaced with a sentence or two of monarch butterfly facts, and other information about the species is woven throughout the book.

I immediately liked the main character and I was really pulling for her on her cross-country trek through the US and into Mexico to her homeland of her grandmother where the monarchs overwinter. It was an engaging story. A bonus was that, at least on the Playaway edition I listened to, the author was the narrator.


Since my last blog post

Lightening fried our computer modem, which put a crimp in my style for several days. We’re getting into a routine for caring for our newly-diagnosed diabetic dog. 


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read.

If you’re a writer or other artist, I hope you have productive creative time.

As the Covid-19 pandemic drags on in the US, please wear a mask out of respect for other people, even if you feel fine. Several of my cousins have been battling the virus for weeks already.

Covid-19 is real, in spite of what the current resident of the White House says.

Janet

Two Other Books I Read in July 2020

Today’s blog is about two very different novels I read last month. In case you missed last week’s blog post about the other three books I read in July, here’s the link to that post: Three of the Five Books I Read in July 2020.

I like historical fiction because it lets me escape to another place and time. One of today’s books transported me to Washington, DC and the Midwest in the second half of the 19th century, while the other novel took me to Naples, Italy in the 1950s.


Mrs. Lincoln’s Sisters, by Jennifer Chiaverini

Mrs. Lincoln’s Sisters, by Jennifer Chiaverini

I knew that Mary Todd (Mrs. Abraham) Lincoln had some mental illness problems, but this novel shines a light on her illness and how it affected her only surviving son and her four sisters. It demonstrates how family members can become estranged when there is mental illness in their midst and how siblings and children (even adult children) can be shut out and left feeling helpless to get the sick relative the help they need. It was true in the 19th century. Sadly, it is still true.

The Todd sisters had always been close and relied upon one another even as adults. The American Civil War caused rifts in their relationships, as one or more of their husbands were part of the Lincoln Administration while the husband of another sister was in the Confederacy.

Mrs. Lincoln attempted suicide in 1875. Her sisters try to let bygones be bygones, even though she has slighted each of them on occasion. After spending time in an asylum, Mrs. Lincoln is determined to never return. She was a very resourceful woman. She would walk out of one facility she was in, hail a taxi, and go to pharmacies to try to get drugs.

She had a volatile relationship with her son, and her mental illness was demonstrated in the way she gave and withheld things from him.

It is the second novel I’ve read by Jennifer Chiaverini, the first being Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker.


My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante

My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante

I heard that The Story of a New Name, by Elena Ferrante, was good, so I got on the waitlist for it at the library. Then, I discovered it was the second book in her Neapolitan Series, so I got on the waitlist for the first book, My Brilliant Friend. It took a bit of juggling and pausing my hold on The Story of a New Name so I could read My Brilliant Friend first.

My Brilliant Friend is beautifully translated from Italian into English by Ann Goldstein. The prose is lovely.

My Brilliant Friend has been made into a TV series on HBO, but I have not seen it. The book follows two young girlfriends (Lila and the narrator, Elena) from their meeting at the age of 10 through their adolescent years. Elena sees Lila as more intelligent than herself. This prompts Elena to try to do everything Lila does to the extent of “copying” how she does everything. It is a complex story of women’s friendships and power. Lila and Elena’s lives reflect life in Naples, Italy in the 1950s.

There are four books in Ms. Ferrante’s Neapolitan Series of novels.


Since my last blog post

Yesterday morning at 8:07 a.m. EDT, a magnitude 5.1 earthquake occurred near Sparta, North Carolina and was felt here. I live about 100 miles from Sparta. I was sound asleep at the time and the shaking of my bed woke me up.  We don’t have a lot of earthquakes of that magnitude in North Carolina. In fact, this was the strongest one in the state since a 5.2 near Asheville in 1916.

A good thing that has resulted from the changes we’ve all had to make in our lifestyles due to the pandemic is the new opportunities people like me have to watch and listen to authors on Facebook Live and Zoom. A special weekly thing I’ve become addicted to at 7pm Eastern Time on Wednesdays is a conversation among five novelists. Look online (friendsandfiction.com) for “Friends and Fiction.”

Authors Mary Alice Monroe, Mary Kay Andrews, Kristin Harmel, Kristy Woodson Harvey, and Patti Callahan Henry meet virtually every Wednesday evening to discuss reading and writing. Most weeks they have a guest author join them. From the website you can click on “Podcasts” and watch several of their earlier programs. It’s a great way to forget about the pandemic for an hour.

I’m still working my way through C.S. Lakin’s book and accompanying workbook that share the title, The 12 Key Pillars of Novel Construction as I continue to polish my historical fiction manuscript tentatively titled The Doubloon or The Spanish Coin.


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. If you’ve never tried listening to an audio book, I suggest you give that a try. I’ve surprised myself this year and found downloadable audio books to be my format of choice. You don’t have to worry about getting Covid-19 germs from another library patron.

If you are a writer or other type of artist, I hope you get to immerse yourself in your craft this week.

Be safe. Be well. Wear a mask out of respect for other people. We’re all in this together.

Janet