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
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
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.
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
I started July by reading John Grisham’s much-anticipated sequel to CaminoIsland (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
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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/.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
The two books are The Immoral Majority: Why Evangelicals Chose Political Power over Christian Values, by Ben Howe and LEAPFROG: How to hold a civil conversation in an uncivil era, by Janet Givens, M.A.
I read Ben Howe’s book first. It addressed something that has dumbfounded me: How can Christians come down on opposite ends of the spectrum about Donald Trump? How do many evangelicals continue to support him when his speech, Tweets, and actions are in total contrast to the teachings of Jesus Christ?
I took copious notes while reading The Immoral Majority and thought I’d write a blog post about it. Then, I read LEAPFROG, by Janet Givens. I was immediately struck by how the two books could work together. This is probably the longest blog post I’ve written. If the topic interests you, I hope you’ll have time to read it.
The Immoral Majority: Why Evangelicals Chose Political Power over Christian Values, by Ben Howe
In the introduction to this nonfiction book author Ben Howe relates a story from 2012 when the Chick-Fil-A restaurant chain came under attack for its charitable foundation’s support of several organizations the Huffington Post labeled as anti-gay. Mr. Howe and a gay friend set out to make a video to show that Chick-Fil-A was a good company that did not discriminate against anyone due to their sexual orientation.
About the same time, a man in another state went to a Chick-Fil-A restaurant with video camera in hand to prove that Chick-Fil-A was a horrible company. A video he made of an exchange with the employee at the drive-through window went viral. Ben Howe more or less led a campaign to give that man “what he deserved.” The result of the campaign resulted in the man losing his job and having trouble finding employment for years to come.
In telling that story, Mr. Howe concludes: “It’s not really whether the punishment fits the crime; it’s more about the decisions of those who react to the crime and whether they are carrying out justice or simply joining the wrongdoer in being wrong.”
He asks the reader to imagine what happens when you put millions of self-righteous people together. An echo chamber develops.
“This is a book about what happens when the people who believe they have the moral high ground find themselves on the low road.” ~ Ben Howe
Feeling under attack, evangelical Christians in the United States had to decide whether to cling unflinchingly to Biblical principles or to act “according to Christ’s example.” As a group, they clung to principles and turned their backs on Christ’s example. The result was the election of Donald Trump in 2016.
Mr. Howe theorizes that the shift started with Jerry Falwell, Jr.’s January 2016 endorsement of Trump for US president. Although a few evangelical leaders spoke out against Trump, Falwell held sway over the majority. Just as Jerry Falwell, Sr. had helped launch the “Moral Majority” movement in 1980, his son was instrumental in urging evangelical Christians to support Trump in 2016.
The difference was, in 1980 Christians were encouraged to influence politics, but in 2016 Christians were, in Mr. Howe’s words, “being forcefully changed by politics.” In his campaign, Trump played on people’s fears. He told Christians they were being persecuted by the government and the Internal Revenue Service, and he promised to put an end to it.
People like Dr. Ben Carson maintained that Trump was a chess pawn in God’s hands and we needed faith that God knew what He was doing. Franklin Graham also took the pragmatic approach, saying God had always used imperfect people to work out His plans.
Trump campaigned as the one and only person who could save America. He mocked (and continues to mock) people who follow Christ’s admonition that we should pray for our enemies. By offering such counter-Christian ideas, Trump was able to win the U.S. presidency via the Electoral College, even though he did not win the popular vote.
In his book, Mr. Howe presents a chronology of how the old “Moral Majority” lost their way and set their sights on the political power Trump promised them instead of the power, grace, and eternal life Jesus Christ promised them. They somehow – which still puzzles me – fell for Trump’s showmanship and voted for him by the millions. He was that new shiny object that sounded so appealing to so many.
Mr. Howe says the real shift happened on June 20, 2016 when Trump “held a meeting with a thousand value-centric conservative leaders.” Endorsed at the meeting by such respected Christian leaders as Mike Huckabee, Dr. Ben Carson, and Dr. James Dobson, Trump was able to silence his evangelical naysayers and capture the hearts and minds of enough Christians to put himself in the White House.
The irony is that Hillary Clinton, Trump’s opponent in the 2016 presidential race, was and is a practicing Methodist. Trump supporters somehow believed that Trump was elected because God is in power; however, the same people believed the world would end if Clinton were elected. I can’t get my head around their belief that the all-powerful God would delight in Trump’s election but that same God would be held powerless if Hillary Clinton were elected.
All this and I’ve only touched on the introduction and first chapter of Mr. Howe’s book. I admit that I just skimmed through the rest of the book.
In subsequent chapters Mr. Howe writes about such topics as how Trump has been compared to King Cyrus of Persia in the 6th century B.C; people who criticized President Trump’s character; the influence of social media in the vitriol in today’s politics; the belief of many Trump supporters that you’re either pro-choice or you’re pro-Trump – there’s no middle ground; political correctness; desire for revenge; racism and the perception of racism; us against them; abortion; gun policy; defense of the indefensible; excusing the inexcusable; separation of church and state; and choosing between immoralities/the lesser of two evils.
On page 161, Mr. Howe states: “By directly defying their stated desire, ignoring the character of Donald Trump, and creating a ‘Christian’ culture that has become divisively self-interested and bitterly self-righteous, these leaders have taught their flocks to value the things of the world, rather than the things of Christ.”
And on page 205: “There simply is no pulling of a lever in a voting booth that will deny God His purpose when He pursues it, nor is there any pulling of the lever that will earn His allegiance to your ‘side.’”
Mr. Howe concludes that God will accomplish His plan regardless of who the U.S. president is. I agree.
“If you wish to be all that Donald Trump and his ilk are not, then the greatest service you could do for the world is to love them despite themselves. Love doesn’t require agreement. It doesn’t require compromise. It doesn’t require surrender or shedding of values. It only and ever required the simple truth that we are stuck together. And if things are going to get better, you cannot wait for others to do it first.” ~ Ben Howe
In the current political climate in the United States, the loudest voices to the “far right” seem to think, “If you don’t agree with me politically, you have no right to live.” This must stop!
LEAPFROG: How to hold a civil conversation in an uncivil era, by Janet Givens, M.A.
“If it is our desire to live in a civil society, we must be willing to engage in a dialogue with those with whom we disagree.” ~ Janet Givens, M.A.
Ms. Givens titled her book LEAPFROG — an acronym of four verbs, Listen, Empathize, Assess, and Paraphrase that help us listen, while the nouns Facts, Respect, Observation, and Gratitude “guide us as we present our ideas in a way that will increase the likelihood that we will also be heard.”
Ms. Givens dedicated a chapter to each of the four verbs and four nouns. In a nutshell, here are snippets from the chapters about Assess, Facts, and Respect:
Assess – Ms. Given wrote, “Assess, as I’m using it here, simply means ‘pause and think’ while you ask yourself, “Is this a conversation I am able to have at this time?’ This is more important than you realize.” Are you and the other party coming to the conversation with curiosity and compassion?
Facts – Ms. Givens wrote, “… since understanding is our goal, we must ignore facts. For now. They have their place in any conversation, of course, but first, receptivity, a willingness to hear them, must exist. On both sides.” She gives “a question to ponder before moving on” at the end of each chapter. At the end of the chapter about facts she wrote: “Think back to your last political conversation. Or, your last Town Hall meeting. Or, your last family feast that ended badly. What went wrong?”
Respect – I love Ms. Givens’ chapter about respect. She wrote, “When we forget our common humanity, we create a chasm between us that is hard to bridge. Respect serves as a bridge to cross that chasm,” while “blame lets us abdicate responsibility for our discomfort by putting it on the other.” We’re all biased, whether we realize it or not.
In conclusion, Ms. Givens wrote about human beings’ need for social interaction. She calls difference “the source of all creativity. Indeed, think of difference as the beginning of all learning, Then, consider a disagreement as a difference of opinion that creates an enlightening and stimulating mystery, one which can be solved, together.”
She then lists her concerns about where our society is heading if we continue to be at such odds politically like we have not been since the American Civil War.
Ms. Givens asks many questions for our consideration throughout the book and at the end of her book. I think most people would benefit from reading LEAPFROG: How to hold a civil conversation in an uncivil era. I’ve just hit a few high points in my blog post. For more information about Ms. Givens’ work or to contact her, go to https://janetgivens.com/.
How the two books helped me
I approached The Immoral Moral Majority: Why Evangelicals Chose Political Power over Christian Values, by Ben Howe with the following mindset: I’m a Christian, a member of the Presbyterian Church (USA), and I have been guilty of being critical of Christians who continue to support Donald Trump. I wanted the book to explain their rationale to me. I’m still trying to understand it.
While I was still contemplating the theories, Mr. Howe gave in his book, I read LEAPFROG: How to hold a civil conversation in an uncivil era, by Janet Givens, M.A., and it really opened my eyes and made me evaluate my opinions.
It helped me see that I tend to listen to the cable news channels I agree with. When I read or listen to “the other side” I approach them with a biased ear and eye. Ms. Givens’ book helped me acknowledge my biases. Overcoming those biases is a work in progress.
If you disagree with my politics, that is your right. I respect your right to disagree; I just don’t understand it. As an American and a Presbyterian I will defend your right to believe what you believe and vote as you feel led to vote. That doesn’t mean I understand how you got there. When the Trump presidency is over, I hope we, as Americans, will once again be able to agreeably disagree.
In the current political climate in the United States, the loudest voices to the “far right” seem to think, “If you don’t agree with me politically, you have no right to live.” This must stop!
I still haven’t had that difficult conversation with anyone whose political views are far from mine, but I will read and re-read Ms. Givens’ book so I’ll be better-equipped to Listen, Empathize, Assess, and Paraphrase when that opportunity presents itself. I’ll have that conversation someday, when the other person and I are ready to approach it with Facts, Respect, Observation, and Gratitude.
Since my last blog post
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, my next appointment with my orthopedic doctor has been rescheduled for a week later, which means I’ll have 13 weeks without putting any weight on my right leg instead of 12. I’m disappointed but that’s a small price for me to pay.
Until my next blog post
Please rest your eyes. If you read this lengthy blog post of mine today, you need to rest your eyes.
I hope you have a good book to read.
I hope you have some creative time.
I hope you stay safe and well. It has been a year like most of us have never seen before and it will, no doubt, continue to be so. I hope you will find something positive to do as we all journey through this pandemic.
Let’s continue the conversation
Have you read either of these two books? How did they affect you? Have you acknowledged your biases? Have you had that difficult conversation with someone? How did it go? Has the COVID-19 pandemic changed your thinking about politics and your fellow citizens whose views are very different from yours?
Looking back over the list of books I read in March makes me realize how March 1 seems like a lifetime ago. The world has changed so much since then. It’s difficult to even remember what “normal” was. What a blessing it was, though, for me to have books to help me through the last five weeks of this Coronavirus-19 pandemic.
As days and weeks passed, I found it progressively difficult to concentrate. How about you?
Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love, by Dani Shapiro
This book caught my attention by having “genealogy” in the title. Genealogy is one of my hobbies.
As the title indicates, this book is a memoir. Dani Shapiro grew up thinking her father was her father and her mother was her mother, and her half-sister was her half-sister. A DNA test she took at the age of 54 rocked her world. Her biological father was someone other than the Daddy who had loved and raised her.
Although firmly believing or more accurately, knowing, she was Jewish, Ms. Shapiro had throughout her life defended that fact because her fair complexion and blue eyes made her look more Swedish than Jewish.
In this poignant memoir, Dani Shapiro takes you on a rollercoaster ride as she seeks answers to her questions of “Who?”, “Where?”, and “Why?” as she feels like her entire life has been a lie. The DNA test linked her to a man who had a 98% chance of being her first cousin.
Without spoiling the book for you, I’ll close by saying that Ms. Shapiro searched for her biological father’s identity, but she was beyond relieved when the 93-year-old sister of her father (the father who raised her) listened to her story and still embraced her as her niece.
Part III of the book reveals some surprising things about the Farris Institute in Philadelphia where Ms. Shapiro’s parents went for infertility treatments.
Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett
Having read State of Wonder and The Dutch House, by Ann Patchett, and knowing that her 2001 novel,Bel Canto, had received much acclaim, I was eager to check it off my to-be-read list.
Based on the 1996 hostage situation at the home of an ambassador in Peru, Bel Canto is a novel with a host of characters. They’re in Peru for a birthday party honoring Katsumi Hosowaka, a prominent Japanese businessman who just happens to be a big fan of opera singer Roxane Coss. Ms. Coss was performing at the party.
Peruvian officials are trying their best to influence Hosowaka to build an electronics factory in their country. It turns out Hosowaka does not intend to build a factory there. He just wants to hear Roxane Coss sing.
The party and concert are going well for a while, but then armed terrorists burst into the banquet hall and demand to speak with the Peruvian president.
The president is home watching soap operas on TV and refuses to talk to the terrorists. Since the terrorists are already in big trouble, they have nothing to lose by staying at the party and holding the attendees hostage.
The story unfolds from there. The Red Cross negotiates the release of the women – except for Ms. Coss. One of her musicians dies from not having insulin.
As happens in many hostage situations, relationships develop between the terrorists – many of whom are teens or younger – and their captives. In fact, a romance develops between Hosowaka and Coss, as well as between Gen. Watanabe and Carmen, a young female terrorist.
A sense of normalcy develops as many of the hostages adjust surprisingly easily to their new daily reality which is radically different from their former lives. (Sounds a lot like our new normal, doesn’t it?)
Does the Peruvian government eventually take control of the situation? I won’t address that, in case you want to read the book.
Ann Patchett was awarded the Orange Prize for Fiction and the PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction for Bel Canto.
Call the Nurse: True Stories of a Country Nurse on a Scottish Isle, by Mary J. MacLeod
I was drawn to this book because it is set in the Scottish Hebrides. Though set on an unidentified island, the stories transported me back to Lewis and Harris, two islands that I visited in the Outer Hebrides in the 1990s.
The stories are humorous and sad. They reflect how in many ways people are the same all over the world, yet islanders are by nature and necessity a little different.
The book begins with Ms. MacLeod, her husband, and their two sons vacationing on the island and deciding to sell their home in England and move to the island. The house they managed to purchase (after being approved by the factor and members of this remote community) is beyond rustic.
The native islanders are slow to embrace incomers. Outsiders are eyed with suspicion. Ms. MacLeod gradually gains the confidence of the residents as she serves as nurse. This includes using psychology in some cases as she is thrown into some different situations..
I could picture these people and the stark landscape through Ms. MacLeod’s descriptive writing and my own travel experience.
It brought to mind a Gaelic term used on the Isle of Lewis which translates to “white settlers” in English. It has nothing to do with races or the color of one’s skin. Any non-Isle of Lewis native who moves to the island is considered a “white settler.” At least, that’s the way it was in the 1990s.
Winter Garden, by Kristin Hannah
After enjoying The Nightingale and The Great Alone, by Kristin Hannah, I expected to like Winter Garden. It turned out not to be what I expected.
The premise of the novel is that the owner of a large orchard is dying. His two adult daughters, who have nothing in common except their parents, meet to try to make some decisions about the future of the family business. Neither of them have ever gotten along with their mother who now displays many signs of mental illness.
I listened to half of this book before throwing in the towel. I’m slightly curious about how things turned out, but not curious enough to listen to six or seven more hours of cussing and arguing. It just wasn’t what I expected from Kristin Hannah. It was published in 2010, a few years before Ms. Hannah found her true writing voice and talent in The Nightingale.
The Litigators, by John Grisham
After deciding to suspend all the physical books I had on request at the public library, due to the fear of bringing COVID-19 germs into the house (and before the public library here closed to the public on March 16, 2020, I downloaded an MP3 version of The Litigators, by John Grisham. A John Grisham novel has never disappointed me.
The Litigators is an entertaining novel about two bumbling attorneys who create the “boutique” law firm of Finley & Figg in Chicago. Published in 2011, this legal thriller is hilarious! It was perfect timing for me to read it during these uncertain COVID-19 times.
Finley & Figg think they’ll hit the big time and make a boatload of money handling a class action lawsuit against a cholesterol reduction drug manufacturer.
I read A Minute to Midnight, by David Baldacci in January and wrote about it in my February 3 blog post, https://janetswritingblog.com/2020/02/03/three-books-i-read-in-january-2020/A Minute to Midnight is Baldacci’s latest book and the second in his Atlee Pine series. I enjoyed A Minute to Midnight and was eager to read Long Road to Mercy in order to get more backstory about Atlee Pine.
The name of the book comes from a traumatic event in Atlee Pine’s childhood when someone broke into the bedroom of Atlee and her sister, Mercy, in the middle of the night and kidnapped and murdered Mercy. Atlee works for the FBI in a small office in Arizona. She has dedicated her life to tracking down Mercy’s killer in order to find out why he did it and why he took Mercy and not Atlee.
It’s great to see a female protagonist in a legal thriller!
The Immoral Majority: Why Evangelicals Chose Political Power over Christian Values, by Ben Howe
I read this book because I wanted to know the answer to that question. I’ll write about it in my blog post next week.
Leapfrog: How to Hold a Civil Conversation in an Uncivil Era, by Janet Givens, M.A.
This is an enlightening book that guides the reader through a systematic way to prepare for and have a conversation with someone with whom he or she disagrees. It’s aimed at those difficult conversations that we don’t know how to have with our friends and relatives whose political views, for instance, are in total conflict with your own views.
It was serendipitous that I read the Ben Howe book referenced above and the Janet Givens book in the same month.
Tune in to my blog post next week to read my thoughts on these two books.
Since my last blog
I continue to make one faux pas after another on my Android tablet. On Wednesday, I put an advertisement for my blog on my church’s Facebook page by mistake. That was embarrassing. It took me a while to figure out how to delete the post.
No doubt, no one at my church was surprised at my Wednesday mistake. A couple of weeks ago I tuned into Facebook Live for the first time. I inadvertently broadcast a live view of my lap and the inside cover of my tablet for 11 seconds. I did eventually figure out how to delete that. A little bit of computer knowledge is a dangerous thing!
On the positive side, I got involved with the Masks for Front Line Heroes Facebook group – a local group that started here in the Harrisburg, North Carolina community. I can’t sew right now, but I raided my stash of 100% cotton fabric and sewing supplies to donate to the people who are making masks for local medical personnel to use when their N95 masks run out. It gave me a good feeling to know I was making a tangible contribution to the fight against the Coronavirus-19 pandemic!
Until my next blog post
I hope you are safe, well, and able to practice social distancing. It looks like we’re in for some rough weeks and months ahead here in the United States.
I hope you have a good book to read. I’m listening to Sycamore Row, by John Grisham. I’m taking the opportunity the pandemic has provided to work on my lengthy to-be-read list.
If you’re a writer or other artist, I hope you’re being creative.
Please stay at home if your job allows that. Follow the rules, if not for yourself, do it for the rest of us. You can do this. I’ve been confined indoors at my house since January 27 except for doctor’s appointments and that February 26 return to the hospital. After being confined for 10 weeks, my advice to others is, “Make the best of it. We’re all in this together.”
Post three photos of just yourself and write a short caption beneath each about why you chose that photo.
Nominate seven women for the Fix Her Crown Award, women who lend a helping hand to the woman whose crown seems too heavy, who appreciate the sister who dares to be her own glorious self, who raise strong young women, who smile at the sister journeying alone and walk alongside her for a time, who stand with the sister whose crown has been knocked off her head time after time and women who shine as their own beautifully unique selves.
Link to the blogs of the seven nominees.
Here are three photos of me:
That’s enough about me. Here are the women, in random order, I nominate for the Fix Her Crown Award: