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

Three of the Five Books I Read in July 2020

July was a trying month for many of us, as the COVID-19 pandemic continued to infect and kill more and more people in the United States. Some of you reading this can breathe a sigh of relief because the worst of the first wave of the pandemic is over where you are.

With all the distractions in July, I found it difficult to concentrate enough to read much. Although I finished reading five novels, I started reading several other books and just couldn’t get into them. At least that got them off my To Be Read List. In today’s blog post, I’ll talk about three of the five books I read last month.

One of the books featured today was written by a prolific author, John Grisham. I’ve read 21 of his books. The other two are debut novels by Amy Jo Burns and Lauren Wilkinson.

Camino Winds, by John Grisham

Sequeal to Camino Island
Camino Winds, by John Grisham

I started July by reading John Grisham’s much-anticipated sequel to Camino Island (See You Must Read (Some of) These Books!.) Camino Winds did not disappoint. It continues with the same characters as Camino Island. We’re on an island in Florida with Bruce Cable, the man who owns and operates the little independent bookstore in the village. Mr. Cable has an interesting group of friends. Many of the people in this resort community are mystery writers.

There is a hurricane and a murder, and it takes the bookstore owner and all his friends to try to figure out who killed their friend. The guy who gets murdered is a lawyer, so there are any number of suspects.

Shiner, by Amy Jo Burns

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

To say fifteen-year-old Wren Bird lives in isolation would be a gross understatement. Her father is a self-proclaimed preacher who keeps boxes of poisonous snakes in the shed for the purpose of handling them in church. Wren’s mother does the best she can, but she lives under her husband’s thumb. They live miles from anyone else in West Virginia. They have no mailbox because Wren’s father doesn’t want them exposed to anything from the outside world.

This debut novel by Amy Jo Burns was recommended by one of the authors on Friends and Fiction on Facebook Live. Otherwise, I might not have heard of it. If I’d known in advance there would be so many references to snakes, I probably wouldn’t have given it a chance. It took me a while to get past the snakes, but the book was so compelling I kept reading.

There are a few other characters besides the Bird family. Wren is a determined young woman and she is not going to let that mountain, it’s snake handlers, or moonshiners (thus, the name, Shiner) keep her down. You will love Wren and want to read the entire book to see what unfolds.

I highly recommend this one!

American Spy, by Lauren Wilkinson

American Spy, by Lauren Wilkinson

American Spy is Lauren Wilkinson’s debut novel. (No wonder my TBR list keeps growing!) I listened to this book. It is written in the form of a letter an American spy, who just happens to be a black woman, writes to her children to explain how and why the major events in her life and theirs came about.

I was intrigued by the novel being written in the form of one long letter. Especially since I was listening to the book, it felt like the author had written the letter to me – or was telling me her story. Somewhere along the way, I started forgetting that it was a letter, but I would remember for a short while before going back to feeling like someone was telling me a story.

American Spy was published early in 2019 and has received excellent ratings and rave reviews. It’s different from any other spy novel I’ve read.

Since my last blog post

I’m embarrassed to say that I did not work on my novel for 15 months. I’ve read books about writing and blogs about writing, but it’s been 15 months since I make changes in the manuscript. I was shocked when I figured this out! By concentrating on reading and studying books about the art and craft of writing fiction, I have neglected by fiction writing. Three weeks ago, I finally got back into the book and I’ve had a wonderful time getting reacquainted with all my characters.

I love to read, and I have a huge list of books I want to read; however, it is time for me to stop hiding behind my reading list and get back to doing the nitty-gritty work of polishing scenes and making my characters more memorable. If I miss posting on my blog one week, it will be because I’m either writing fiction or I’m sick. Assume it’s because I’m writing and didn’t get a blog post written.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have one or more good books to read. I’m listening to The Butterfly’s Daughter, by Mary Alice Monroe on Playaway while I take my daily walks. I’m reading We Wear the Mask: 15 True Stories of Passing in America, edited by Brando Skyhorse and Lisa Frazier Page, but it’s fine print and is going slowly although extremely interesting and eye-opening. I’m reading The Secrets We Kept, by Lara Prescott on my Kindle.

If you’re a writer or other artist, I hope you make time to hone and practice your craft.

Please wear a mask to protect those around you from the virus. Stay safe. Stay well. We’re all in this together.

Janet

Three Other Books Read in June 2020

In last Monday’s blog post, I wrote about three of the books I read in June. Today, I write about three other books I read last month.

The Splendid and the Vile, by Erik Larson

Having read and liked Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness and the Fair that Changed America in February, I was eager to read his new book, The Splendid and the Vile. I listened to The Splendid and the Vile and thoroughly enjoyed it.

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

This nonfiction book reads like fiction, and I mean that as a compliment. It doesn’t read like a history book. Erik Larson has a way of doing that. If you aren’t a fan or student of history – specifically World War II era – you might not enjoy The Splendid and the Vile as much as I did.

It follows Winston Churchill and his family and friends. His teenage daughter, Mary, plays an important role as she gives us a glimpse of how a teenage girl would perhaps react to the London Blitz. She very much just wanted to be a teenager.

Mr. Larson weaves a fascinating story of Mr. Churchill and his associates. Being Prime Minister of Great Britain, he was in a position to make friendships and acquaintances with people of power. There were some connections he had with Americans that I hadn’t been aware of. Churchill’s son was a constant source of concern, along with the son’s wife, to put it mildly.

Murder in Rat Alley, by Mark de Castrique

If you’re a mystery fan, you might want to check out Murder in Rat Alley, by Mark de Castrique. This is the seventh book in his Sam Blackman series, but you don’t need to have read any of the earlier books in the series to enjoy this one. If Mark de Castrique is a new author for you, this is a good novel to start with.

#MurderInRatAlley
Murder in Rat Alley, by Mark de Castrique

Set in Asheville, North Carolina and the Pisgah Forest area, Iraq War veteran and amputee Sam Blackman is a private investigator. His side kick and love interest is Nakayla Robertson. When a body is discovered on the grounds of the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute, Blackman is called in to unravel a decades old mystery.

When they get too close to solving the murder, their lives are in more danger than they even imagine.

This novel gives interesting background information about the former space program monitoring facility that now collects weather data. It also brings in the flavor of the Asheville music scene. It is sprinkled with the humor that keep Sam and Nakayla together and which balances their private lives with the serious work they do.

If you like a good mystery and want to mentally escape to the North Carolina mountains, give Murder in Rat Alley a try.

The Engineer’s Wife, by Tracey Enerson Wood

The Chief Engineer for the design and construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, William Roebling becomes quite ill during the years it took to build the bridge. His wife, Emily, had taken a deep interest in his work and started studying his engineering books.

The day comes when William is no longer physically able to go to the worksite. Emily starts going in his place and takes on more and more responsibility for the construction of the bridge.

This is a work of historical fiction based on a bit of truth, but the majority of the novel is indeed fiction. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, but I was somewhat disappointed to read in the author notes at the end of the book that so much of it was fiction.

I still recommend it as a good read, but you might want to read the author’s notes before reading the book instead of afterwards like I did. For instance, P.T. Barnum plays a major role in the novel, but it turns out he was probably no more than an acquaintance of the Roeblings.

My apologies to the author, Tracey Enerson Wood, for not being able to insert an image of her book in my blog post today. This is her debut novel. I can’t wait to see what she writes next!

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 good creative time this week.

Stay safe. Stay well. Wear a mask out of respect for other people until the Covid-19 pandemic is under control.

Janet

Three Books Read in June 2020

A variety of events threw my blog off schedule this month. If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know that on the first or sometimes first and second Mondays of the month I write about the books I read the previous month. In July, I had to split my “Books Read in June 2020” blog posts into two installments. The first installment is posted today. The second installment will follow next Monday, if my computer cooperates.

June came with a host of good books to read. After being closed for nearly three months due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the public libraries in our area reopened for patrons to pick up books they had on reserve. I got on the waitlists specifically for MP3 books I could download to my tablet and for newly-released books “on order,” so I could be assured of checking out new books that had not yet been in circulation.

Of course, when the library system reopened for pick-up service only, I had six books to pick up immediately. Some months are overloaded with good reads, and June was definitely in that category. It was a wonderful “problem” to have!

I hope my remarks about these books will pique your interest. Perhaps you’ll discover an author you’ve never read before – or a new book by an author you like. I don’t consider myself a book reviewer. I think true book reviewers have some rules to follow. I just enjoy sharing what I think and what I learn from some of the books I read.


The Book of Lost Friends, by Lisa Wingate

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

Lisa Wingate showed us in Before We Were Yours that she has a talent for taking a little-known fact from history, thoroughly researching it, and writing a novel that educates and entertains. The Book of Lost Friends is another such book.

In the years following the American Civil War, former slaves tried to reconnect with their relatives and friends. The slavery culture often tore families apart by parents and their children and brothers and sisters often being sold to different masters. Ms. Wingate discovered that the Methodist denomination offered a place in one of its newspaper-like publications where people could post information about a relative or friend they wanted to reconnect with. Those published notices adopted the name, “Lost Friends.”

The Book of Lost Friends follows two plot lines. One is in Louisiana in 1875 and introduces us to Hannie, a former slave; Juneau Jane, her illegitimate Creole half-sister, and Lavinia, the heir to a plantation now in shambles. The three women head for Texas. Along the way, Hannie becomes hopeful that she will find her long lost mother and eight siblings.

The other plot line is in Louisiana in 1987 and introduces us to a teacher, Benedetta Silva, who is trying to make history and literature come alive for her high school students. Seen as “an outsider,” “Benny” works to make her way in a small town on the Mississippi River. She is appalled at the poverty many of her students live in. Warned to stay away from a certain abandoned plantation house, curiosity gets the best of Benny. What she finds hidden in that house could change her life and the lives of her students forever.

One of the things I liked in the book was the “Negativity Rule” “Benny” enforced in her classroom. Under that rule, if a student spoke negatively about another student, the student in the wrong had to say three positive things about the other student. The author’s use of this rule to illustrate that it takes three times the work to undo the damage done by a negative is a lesson we could all learn.


The Man from Spirit Creek, by Barbara Kyle

#BarbaraKyle #TheManFromSpiritCreek
The Man from Spirit Creek, by Barbara Kyle

I never win anything, so I was shocked when I received an email from book coach and author Barbara Kyle telling me I had won a copy of her new novel, The Man from Spirit Creek on Audible! I had just picked up six library books that afternoon that had been held for me – some since a couple of days before the libraries had to close on March 15 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. I had just started listening to The Book of Lost Friends, by Lisa Wingate, but I was tempted to go ahead and start listening to Barbara Kyle’s book.

I took an online writing course taught by Barbara Kyle a couple of years ago, and I’d meant ever since then to read one of her novels. She lives in Canada and The Man from Spirit Springs is set in Alberta.

Ms. Kyle’s novel puts the reader smack-dab in this western Canadian province. She weaves the geography and geology (oil) of this prairie land into the story so well that you can taste the dust in your mouth and smell the rotten eggs smell of “sour” gas. This present-day story gets into the nitty-gritty of the clash between ranchers and big oil. It’s full of suspense, betrayal, revenge, family ties, the love between two sisters, and the romantic loves of both of them.

Liv Gardner is the attorney for Falcon Oil, the oil and gas company she and her fiancé, Mickey Havelock, own in Houston, Texas. Someone is sabotaging their rigs in Alberta. Liv goes to Spirit Creek, Alberta under the guise of having a temporary job with a lawyer there as she tries to figure out how to get the saboteur to give up his tactics and sell out to them.

The saboteur is sheep farmer Tom Wainwright. His beef with Falcon Oil? He blames Falcon’s “sour” gas, which is released 24/7, for his wife’s miscarriages and eventual death and for the miscarriages and deaths of many of his sheep.

Even as Liv and Mickey plan their wedding, Liv gets personally involved with Wainwright in spite of the fact that she went to Alberta to stop his efforts to ruin Falcon Oil. She discovers his human-side and lets her heart overtake her good sense. There’s a murder. Wainwright is arrested. But is he the killer? And will Liv and Mickey get back together?

You’ll love all the twists and turns in this contemporary Canadian western novel of suspense. It transported me all the way to Alberta for several days. What better way to “get away” during this pandemic than to curl up with a very engaging book?


How to Be An Antiracist, by Ibram X. Kendi

#Antiracist #HowToBeAnAntiracist #IramXKendi
How to Be an Antiracist, by Ibram X. Kendi

There are many eye-opening things to take from Ibram X. Kendi’s book, How to Be An Antiracist, but the most important lesson I learned from reading it is the difference being “not racist” and “antiracist.” I’ve been guilty of saying, “I’m not a racist.” It’s possible I’ve even said, although I hope I haven’t, “I’m not a racist, but….” “But” says, “Oh yes you are!”

In the words of Mr. Kendi in his book, “What’s the problem with being ‘not racist?’ It is a claim that signifies neutrality…. The opposite of racist isn’t not racist it is antiracist.”

Mr. Kendi anticipates the reader asking, “What’s the difference?” That’s what I wanted to know. In the introductory pages of his book, he eloquently answers that question. In fact, if you don’t want to or don’t have time to read the entire book, I recommend you read the introduction. You might not agree with it. It might not change your mind but, if you’ll read it with an open and curious mind, it will definitely give you something to think about.

What’s the difference between “not racist” and “anti-racist?” Mr. Kendi explains it as follows:  “One endorses either the idea of a racial hierarchy as a racist or racial equality as an antiracist. One either believes problems are rooted in groups of people as a racist or locates the roots of problems in power and policies as in antiracist. One either allows racial inequalities to persevere as a racist or confronts racial inequities as an antiracist. There is no in-between safe space of not racist. The claim of not racist neutrality is a mask for racism.”

He goes on to say that “color-blindness” and “not a racist” means you fail to see race and you fail to see racism. Something I got from the book was to claim you don’t see race is disrespectful of people of another race. We need to recognize race and not pretend it doesn’t exist or that we don’t notice it. We need to celebrate it for what it is.

Mr. Kendi addresses his own racism in the book and how people of any race can be racist. As he states in the book’s introduction: “This book is ultimately about the basic struggle we’re all in: The Struggle to be fully human and to see that others are fully human.” He describes antiracism as “an unlit dirt road.” It’s not easy to find one’s way on an unlit dirt road. He calls on all of us to look at power and policy. He says, “We know how to be racist. We know how to pretend to be not racist. Now let’s know how to be anti-racist.”

The big picture that made a lasting impression on me was that to be anti-racist is to stand up and speak out when you see injustice. To sit idly by, is to be complicit. As long as you see yourself as “not a racist,” you give yourself permission to sit idly by and ignore evil because you think it doesn’t affect you.

People of various religion and no religion read my blog around the world. I’m a Christian.  I think Jesus Christ is calling on Christians to call out injustice when we see it. I’m pointing to myself. I’ve been guilty of sitting idly by, turning the other way, keeping my mouth shut because I didn’t want to cause an argument or hurt someone’s feelings. I am, by nature, a quiet person. My voice often gets drowned out by louder voices and more assertive people. It is my challenge now to stop being “not racist” and start being “anti-racist” as I feel I’m being called to be.

(Since I listened to the audio edition of the book, I hope I got all the quotes right. My apologies to Mr. Kendi if I made any errors.)


Until my next blog post

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

I hope you have quality creative time, if you’re a writer or other artist.

I hope you stay safe and well. I hope you wear a mask to protect others.

Janet

Poetry Book Arrives at Perfect Time

If you haven’t told your best friend how much you love them recently, call or write them a note and tell them now. Tomorrow might be too late.

Perhaps you noticed my weekly Monday blog post never showed up last week. My nearly life-long friend, Kay Jewett Nalbone, died on Sunday. Although not unexpected, it was difficult to accept.

When you’ve been friends for 57 years and shared each other’s joys and struggles, you have a bond. What it boils down to is that I no longer have a friend with the same memories I have.

Another long-time friend from my graduate school days, Ray Griffin, didn’t know Kay and was not aware of her declining condition. It was serendipitous that Ray’s new book of poetry arrived in the mail on Monday. If ever I needed a collection of poems to sit down with and relax, it was Monday and Tuesday.

The name of Ray’s book is Winsome Morning Breeze: A Collection of Sonnets and Tanka. It is available online or you can request it at your favorite independent bookstore. It is beautifully illustrated with watercolors by Marti Dodge.

Many selections in Ray’s book resonated with me for different reasons. Having lost two good friends since February, the last two lines of “I Was a Fool” on page 21 has special meaning for me:

“To live one’s life most fully and with zest,

One must not ever let the moment rest.”

“On Dragon’s Tail” on page 19, on the other hand, brought a smile to my face as Ray eloquently wrote about his experience of driving the portion of US-129/TN-115/NC-115 in the Appalachian Mountains known as The Dragon’s Tail due to its 318 curves in 11 miles. It is a favorite of motorcycle and sports car enthusiasts and a fun drive for those of us who love to drive in the mountains. What fun!

Photo by Jordan Whitt on Unsplash

And here’s a lovely turn of phrase from Ray’s sonnet, “Fallen Leaves” on page 109: “I feel as though I am within a large kaleidoscope.”

“Daughter” on page 107 brought tears to my eyes as Ray recalls the birth of his and Ida’s daughter 31 years prior. I remember sitting on the floor and playing with their precious daughter when she was just four or five years old.

Ray and I studied political science and public administration. He had a successful 26-year career as a city manager. He is now an adjunct professor of politics in Virginia. His poems, “Barbara Jordan” on pages 85-87 and “I’m But an Old Man” on pages 73-79 are as heartfelt as any pieces in the book. I could hear Barbara Jordan’s distinctive voice from the Watergate hearings as I read the poem he named after her.

I hope I’ve shared just enough from Winsome Morning Breeze: A Collection of Sonnets and Tanka, by Ray Griffin to whet your appetite. It will be a book I will reach for often. I will read it over and over, and I believe you will, too.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading Shiner, by Amy Jo Burns and We Wear the Mask: 15 True Stories of Passing in America, edited by Brando Skyhorse and Lisa Frazier Page.

If you’re a writer or other artist, I hope you have productive creative time during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Be safe. Be well. Wear a mask in respect for other people.

Don’t be shy. Share my blog!

Janet

Books Read in May 2020

To have had 31 days, the month of May passed leaving me feeling like I didn’t read very much. Actually, I read a lot. There were several books I started but didn’t finish. That’s what left me feeling as if I didn’t read much. There are always more books to be read than I have time to read. What a fortunate situation!

The books I chose to read in May were all over the place. Three of them turned out not to be what I expected, which is always disappointing.

A Conspiracy of Bones, by Kathy Reichs

This is Kathy Reichs’ latest novel and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Set in Mecklenburg and Lincoln counties in North Carolina and Lake Wylie, South Carolina, the book features Reichs’ well-known protagonist, forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan.

A Conspiracy of Bones, by Kathy Reichs

Temperance is at odds with the new Mecklenburg County medical examiner. Against the medical examiner’s wishes and orders, Temperance pursues the case of a body found in Lincoln County. There are gory details about the state of the body, but the story line concentrates on who killed the man and why.

In the process of solving the crime, Temperance faces bodily harm and attempts on her life. She has a knack for going where she shouldn’t go and getting into all sorts of situations. Fairly early on, Temperance suspects the larger case involves child pornography. Is she correct, or is this a red herring Ms. Reichs included just to throw us off track?

Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese

After listening to this book for three hours and having 21 more hours remaining – and reading a synopsis of it – I decided I couldn’t concentrate long enough to listen to the rest of it. The synopsis revealed a plot that sounded better suited for a series of books. I just couldn’t finish it.

Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese

The prose was vivid, explicit, beautiful, and at times humorous. During the Covid-19 pandemic, it was just another book I couldn’t concentrate enough to see it through.

Big Lies in a Small Town, by Diane Chamberlain

After Cutting for Stone, this book was a delight. It is the eighth book I’ve read by Diane Chamberlain. I’m tempted to say it’s my favorite of the eight, but that might just be because I just finished it.

Big Lies in a Small Town, by Diane Chamberlain

Set in Edenton, North Carolina in 1940 and 2018, it is a story of racial discrimination, rape, child neglect, trust, jealousy, revenge, and love.

Ms. Chamberlain weaves an intriguing tale of a woman coming from “up North” to paint a large mural on the wall of the post office in Edenton. There is backlash because a local male artist had applied for the job. When a local black high school student is invited by the artist to assist her in the project, tongues in the small town wagged.

Decades later, an artist who is serving a prison term for a crime her boyfriend committed is chosen to get early parole if she will restore the mural. This leads to the discovery of several bizarre aspects of the mural. The restoring artist sets out to find out what became of the original artist and why she included the strange items and images in the mural. Add to this the suspense of an almost impossible deadline for the restoration and opening of an art museum, and you have the ingredients for a beautifully written mystery.

Writing Vivid Plots:  Professional Techniques for Fiction Authors (Writer’s Craft Book 20), by Rayne Hall

This book probably won’t interest you unless you are learning the craft of fiction writing. If you are a student of fiction writing, though, I recommend the book.

Writing Vivid Plots helped me in two specific ways. It explained the important differences in plotting a serial and a series. It also had a short chapter about the difference in plotting a novel and plotting a short story.

By the way, a serial is a story broken into different installments that should be read in order. A series is a group of books having the same characters but which usually stand on their own and can be read in any order.

Long Bright River, by Liz Moore

As often happens lately, I can’t remember what prompted me to get on the waitlist for this book at the public library. I don’t know what I was expecting, but this wasn’t it. How it had been described to me must have left something out. A true representation of the book wouldn’t have led me to want to read it.

Long Bright River, by Liz Moore

This is Liz Moore’s fourth novel and the first of hers I’ve read. The book is well-written. In fact, listening to it held my attention. What I wasn’t prepared for, though, was the way the book left me feeling hopeless against the drug abuse problem in our world.

Michaela “Mickey” Fitzpatrick is a Philadelphia police officer. She tires of all the murders in her district. It seems that most of prostitutes. Every time another murder call comes in, she holds her breath for fear that this time it was her sister, Kacey. Their childhoods weren’t happy. There was little love in the family. The two sisters, once so very close, went their separate ways.

The overriding story is that of family drama, but it’s all wrapped up in the opioid crisis. I never lost interest in the book, as I wanted to know what happened to Kacey. Also, there was Mickey’s son, Thomas. Or was he her son? In the end there was some hope that Kacey would stay clean and never start using drugs again, but it left me with scant hope.

This novel left me rather depressed about the outlook for Kacey, Mickey, and the two children they had between them in the end. In that respect, the book is probably a true reflection of family life when a member is addicted to drugs. It’s also a true reflection of how every member of a family is affected when one member is abusing drugs – and what an empty feeling is left when that person dies as a result of their addiction.

I’m glad I listened to the book. After I finished listening to it, I read a review in which the writer talked about how confusing it was to try to read a book with no quotation marks. Ditto that for me. I wouldn’t have stuck with a physical copy of the book.

Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett

Having read State of Wonder, The Dutch House, and Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, I looked forward to reading Commonwealth, her novel published in 2016. Commonwealth never drew me in. I was listening to it, which I think probably made it more difficult for me to keep all the characters straight.

Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett

I couldn’t identify with any of the characters, so I never felt invested in the story. It started in California at a christening party where every one got drunk. This is not my life experience, so right off the bat I couldn’t identify with these people. Then, it jumped 50 years later with all the same family members, including a raft of cousins.

The book just didn’t appeal to me. I listened to it for three and a half hours but wasn’t motivated to listen to another seven hours.

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, by Lisa See

It amazes me how time passes. If someone had asked me when I started reading The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, by Lisa See, but had to return it to the public library before I got even halfway through it, I would have guessed, “Sometime last year.” The joke is on me, though, for when I looked back through my blog posts to see if I referenced reading part of this book, I was stunned to find that it was exactly three years ago! In my blog post on June 2, 2017, I commented that the book had fascinated me “in how it shed light on some of the superstitions held by the Chinese.” Here’s the link to that post: https://janetswritingblog.com/2017/06/02/you-need-to-read-these-books/.

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, by Lisa See

I also wrote in that blog post: “The novel follows a young Chinese girl who is painfully aware from birth that she is not valued because she is female. Her family has to walk for hours to pick tea leaves for a meager amount of income. It is a difficult life. Her mother is the local midwife and she tells her daughter that she must follow in her footsteps in that occupation. There is a ray of hope, though, because her school teacher tells her that she can leave the harsh mountain environment and make something of herself. I look forward to checking the book out again in order to see how her life turns out!”

Three years later, I checked out the MP3 edition of the book and listened to it on my tablet. There is so much more to the book than my first impressions. I can’t believe it took me three years to return to it. Although the early part of the book was familiar to me, I listened to it from start to finish.

This is a rich story that follows Li-Yan throughout her life. She is intellectually gifted, but life places many stumbling blocks in her path. She falls in love and has a child – a girl. Having a child out of wedlock in China in 1995 was taboo, and out of shame Li-Yan puts her baby in a cardboard box along with a tea cake and leaves the box near an orphanage.

Li-Yan’s life continues to be full of strife, but she never stops loving her baby and wondering where she is and what her life is like. Learning that she was adopted by an American couple and raised in the United States, she could only hope she had a good life.

The novel also follows the life of Li-Yan’s baby, now named Haley. Through an interesting turn of events, Haley becomes interested in tea, which leads her back to her homeland.

My description of The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane is woefully inadequate. The novel is described on Lisa See’s website, http://www.lisasee.com/books-new/the-tea-girl-of-hummingbird-lane/, as “A powerful story about two women separated by circumstance, culture, and distance, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane is an unforgettable portrait of a little known region and its people and a celebration of the bonds of family.”

Since my last blog post

Civil unrest has erupted in cities all over the United States in response to last Monday’s death of Mr. George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis, Minnesota police officer who used excessive force against Mr. Floyd which resulted in Mr. Floyd’s death. I am sad, and I am angry. I believe that most law enforcement officers are good people, but there is a growing problem in America of white police officers using excessive force against people of dark skin. It is indicative of a deep-seated racial prejudice.

The events of this past week and conversations I’ve had with other bloggers and friends on Facebook have been eye-opening. I know that some of my Facebook friends – many of whom I have known since first grade – are prejudiced. They have shown their true colors since Donald Trump was elected president in 2016, and it has surprised and saddened me to learn these things about the people I thought I knew. I have come to realize that the America that I was taught as a young student to see as “a melting pot” is not a melting pot at all. It never was. It is a myth that has been perpetuated for more than 200 years.

America is at a crossroads. We each have a choice to make. Are we going to bury our heads in the sand and pretend we are fine and everyone around us is fine? Or are we going to stand up for the abused? When we see injustice, are we going to turn our heads and keep silent? If so, nothing will ever change. Until those of us with lighter skin recognize that we have benefited and profited from our white privilege, nothing will change. Until we speak up against injustice, nothing will change.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read.

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

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

Stay safe. Stay well. Wear a face mask as a show of respect for others.

Let’s continue the conversation OR Our call to action

Examine your life, as I will continue to examine mine. Ask yourself if you truly see others as your equal. Examine your beliefs and look for the myths among them. After taking an honest inventory of your “philosophy of life,” take action. Register to vote. Write letters to your elected officials – local, state, and national – and tell them where you stand. Tell them the changes you want to see. Tell them what bothers you about the status quo. Perhaps more importantly, even during this Covid-19 pandemic, reach out to people who don’t look like you. Find common ground from which you can begin an honest conversation.

If you want some tips about how to have that difficult conversation, I recommend LEAPFROG: How to hold a civil conversation in an uncivil era, by Janet Givens. I wrote about this book in my blog post on April 13, 2020, https://janetswritingblog.com/2020/04/13/leapfrog-and-the-immoral-majority/.

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

Janet

A Variety of Books Read in April 2020

When April ended last Thursday, I was surprised to find that I’d read seven books during the month. Whether it was a result of the pandemic or the tedium of the last weeks of the 13 weeks I couldn’t walk, I don’t know. I just know I couldn’t seem to concentrate to read or listen to much fiction. I had better luck reading nonfiction books.

If you’ve read my blog for a while, you know that I get most of my books from the public library. The public libraries here closed suddenly in mid-March. Some books I wanted to read were not available from the public library in downloadable form. Waitlists for e-books filled up quickly as people realized it would be weeks or months before they could once again check out physical books.

What I discovered last month was that, in addition to reading books about the craft of writing, it was a good time to tackle my to-be-read (TBR) list. That list is made up of several hundred books I didn’t read when they were published. Some of the books on the list are books I realized months or years after their publication that I had become interested in them.

I read seven books in April. Here are my thoughts about them.


Sycamore Row, by John Grisham

I finally got around to listening to Sycamore Row, by John Grisham. What a treat! It was entertaining and funny.

A humorous legal thriller by John Grisham
Sycamore Row, by John Grisham

This book takes us back to the fictional Ford County, Mississippi that Mr. Grisham first wrote about in A Time to Kill. Sycamore Row is a story of inheritance, family greed, a non-relative who inherits everything in Seth Hubbard’s will, and some questionable lawyers. Everyone in town gets interested after it is revealed that Mr. Hubbard’s estate exceeded $20 million.

The path to justice in Sycamore Row runs from Mississippi to Alaska and back to Mississippi. There are surprised witnesses and in the end the reader learns the significance of the sycamore tree.


The Silent Patient, by Alex Michaelides

The Silent Patient, by Alex Michaelides had been on my to-be-read (TBR) list since I heard all the hype about it when it was published last year. This was reinforced when the movie adaptation was publicized. Yet, I didn’t read it until a couple of weeks ago. Or, rather, I listened to it. I regretted not reading it earlier.

The Silent Patient, a psychological thriller by Alex Michaelides
The Silent Patient, by Alex Michaelides

The silent patient is Alicia, who murdered her husband, Gabriel, and immediately stopped talking. The narrator throughout most of the novel is Theo, a psychoanalyst who sets out to help Alicia.

In the midst of Theo’s quest to get Alicia to talk – and ultimately, to tell why she killed her husband, Theo discovers vulgar emails his wife of nearly nine years has exchanged with another man.

The Silent Patient was Alex Michaelides’ debut novel. This psychological thriller will keep you turning pages (or speeding up the rate at which the audiobook is being read to you.”

Alicia is a famous artist in London. Her new-found notoriety as a killer makes the price of her paintings skyrocket as she is safely tucked away in a secure facility being analyzed. As the story unfolds, the focus transitions from Alicia to Theo himself and his psychological state. He visits his former therapist, Ruth, who guides Theo through his own feelings of inadequacy. She encourages him to leave his wife.

Then Alicia becomes the temporary narrator in Part 2, Chapter 13. She reveals how much she hates the rifle Gabriel inherited from his father. She describes the days leading up to her shooting Gabriel five times.

A new twist to the story is revealed. At this point, you’re only halfway through The Silent Patient. A lot is packed in this book of only 336 pages (or less than nine hours of listening.)

In case you haven’t read it, I won’t spoil the rest of the story for you.


Everything Happens for a Reason:  And Other Lies I’ve Loved, by Kate Bowler

I read a little about this book online and immediately got on the waitlist for the ebook at the public library.

The author, Kate Bowler, was raised an Anabaptist in a section of Manitoba, Canada containing numerous Mennonite communities. She learned early on that Jesus lived and taught the virtues of a simple life. Around the age of 18, Ms. Bowler started hearing about the “prosperity gospel” that many televangelists were preaching. It seemed that everyone was being attracted to this new idea that Jesus wants His followers to be wealthy.

Ms. Bowler describes the “prosperity gospel” as follows: “The prosperity gospel is a theodicy, an explanation for the problem of evil. It is an answer to the questions that take our lives apart:  Why do some people get healed and some don’t?….The prosperity gospel looks at the world as it is and promises a solution.”

In her mid-twenties, Ms. Bowler interviewed “the prosperity gospel’s celebrities” and then wrote a history of the movement. What she found was that the prosperity gospel encourages its leaders to buy private jets and mansions. What she also found were people seeking a way to escape the lives they were living. Some wanted the high life, but most wanted relief from some kind of pain.

Something else Ms. Bowler found was that a part of her sought an escape, even as she cringed at the guarantees the prosperity gospel made. She came to believe God would make a way for her and hardships would merely be detours; however, she no longer believes that.

As a new mother, Ms. Bowler was diagnosed with cancer, and she was told, “Everything happens for a reason” and “God is writing a better story” until she didn’t want to hear it again. It made her feel like everyone had a theory about why she had cancer.

“I wish this were a different kind of story. But this is a book about befores and afters and how people in the midst of pain make up their minds about the eternal questions:  Why? Why is this happening to me? What could I have done differently? Does everything actually happen for a reason? If I accept that what is happening is something I cannot change, can I learn how to let go?” – Kate Bowler

I sort of got mired down in the details in rest of the book and eventually lost interest in finishing it. I could not identify with all her “Why me?” thoughts and questions. I’ve had my share of physical problems, but I’ve never asked God, “Why me?” I tend to think, “Why not me?” Jesus never promised us a perfect life. He promised to be with us throughout our lives, no matter what happens.

Kate Bowler teaches at the Duke Divinity School.


The Whistler, by John Grisham

In my blog post on April 6, 2020, https://janetswritingblog.com/2020/04/06/eight-books-i-read-in-march-2020/ , I said, “A John Grisham novel has never disappointed me.” That statement probably still holds. I listened to The Whistler in April, but I didn’t get “into” it like I have the other Grisham books I’ve read. Let’s just say it was probably my fault and not Mr. Grisham’s.

The Whistler, by John Grisham

Much of April I seemed weighed down mentally by all the news about the coronavirus-19 pandemic. Many days I had trouble concentrating enough to read. I was trying to listen to The Whistler during one of those reading slumps. I would probably enjoy it more if I read it or listened to it during normal times.


Revolutionary Characters: What Made The Founders Different, by Gordon S. Wood

I minored in history in college, and this book reminded me of a history text book. In other words, it told me more than I wanted to know about each of the men the author sees as founders of America. Each chapter was about a different man, and one of them surprised me. I would have liked the book better if Mr. Wood had included several women.

Revolutionary Characters: What Made The Founders Different, by Gordon S. Wood

I’m planning to write a blog post on June 29 about some of the founders of America, so I’ll save my other comments about this book until that time.

I won’t hold you in suspense until then, though. The founder I was surprised to find on Mr. Wood’s list of eight men was Aaron Burr.

Stay tuned for more on this topic in a couple of months, just before the 4th of July.


Writing Vivid Settings: Professional Techniques for Fiction Authors, by Rayne Hall

I’m sure many of you couldn’t care less about the techniques fiction authors use to write vivid settings. If you’re a fiction fan, you just want the settings in the books you read to be so vivid that they put you there.

I took copious notes from this book, and I believe I learned more than a few things that will improve my writing skills. The book addresses ways to include all the senses in one’s writing, varying sentence structure, using weather for intensity, light to set mood, and detail for realism – but not too much detail, and using similes for world building – but not too many of them. The book gets into deep point-of-view, opening scenes, fight scenes, scary scenes, love scenes, night scenes, indoor scenes word choice, and research.

I highly recommend this book for anyone learning to write fiction.


Fiction Pacing: Professional Techniques for Fiction Authors, by Rayne Hall

I also found this book by Rayne Hall to be helpful. In it, she addresses varying the pace throughout a novel. She writes about how the length of sentences and paragraphs can either speed up the action or slow it down. Even word length enters into that, along with how to craft dialogue.

The book talks about how to use (and not use) techniques like flashbacks and memories, euphonics, strong verbs, and descriptions to control the pace in fiction.

Ms. Hall has written numerous writing craft books and I look forward to reading more of them.


Since my last blog post

X-rays last week showed good healing of my fractured tibial plateau so, after 13 long weeks, I was finally allowed to start putting some weight on my right leg. I feel like I’d been set free! I can now go anywhere my walker and I can go. I haven’t tried steps yet! It’s great to be able to go outside, even if we are still under a state-at-home order in North Carolina. I’m thrilled just to be able to walk outside!

Until my next blog post

Read a good book, if you have the luxury of time and concentration. I’m currently listening to A Conspiracy of Bones, by Kathy Reichs.

Be creative. If you are a writer or other artist, I hope you have productive creative time.

Stay safe and well. Listen to the medical professionals. We’re all in this together. The life you safe might be mine!

Let’s continue the conversation

If you’ve read The Whistler, by John Grisham, what did you think about it?  What have you read lately that you would recommend to the rest of us? Have you supported an independent bookstore recently? If you want to give a shout-out to an independent bookstore, feel free to do so in the comments below or the comments on my Facebook page when I post this blog post later today.

Thanks for stopping by!

Janet