After a couple of months of not getting to read much for pleasure, February turned out to be just what I needed to get back in the habit of reading. My favorite genre, historical fiction, really came through for me last month.
The Diamond Eye, by Kate Quinn
I listened to this historical novel on CD. I was spellbound from disc one until the very end of disc 11. I yearn to write historical fiction so vividly. I long to captivate readers with fiction based in an era not their own. Kate Quinn has established herself as a master of the art and craft of writing historical fiction.
The Diamond Eye is based on a true story. Mila Pavlichenko lives in the part of the Soviet Union that is now Ukraine. She works at a library and adores her young son. When World War II transitions to the invasion of Russia by Nazi Germany, Mila does the unthinkable. She becomes a sniper for the Russian Army. And she excelled at it.
After her official kill count reaches 300, Mila becomes a national heroine and is sent on a tour of the United States to drum up support for the fight against Hitler. There, she meets President and Mrs. Roosevelt. Eleanor Roosevelt, seeing a bit of her own independent nature in the sniper, befriends Mila.
The book follows Mila through the war and how she constantly has to prove herself because she’s a woman and not automatically taken seriously. She’s called the usual names that men who are threatened by strong women call them.
It is a stunning novel and reminded me why I enjoy reading historical fiction. Yes, it’s fiction because conversations are imagined, but reading well-written historical novels is an enjoyable way to learn a lot of history.
The Home for Unwanted Girls, by Joanna Goodman
This is another gripping historical novel. I was so impressed by Saskia Maarleveld’s reading of The Diamond Eye, that I looked for other books she had recorded. That’s how I found The Home for Unwanted Girls. I thought that was an interesting way to find another good book!
The Home for Unwanted Girls is about an unwed mother in Quebec in the 1950s who is forced by her parents to give up her baby girl. The book shines a light on the ugly history of the orphanage system in Quebec at that time. When the orphanage is turned into an insane asylum and the orphans are forced to take care of the patients, the outcome for the girls seems hopeless.
This novel follows the life of one of those orphans and the 15-year-old mother who wanted desperately to keep her. The mother never gives up on finding her child, even though she is told the girl died.
The Escape Artist: The Man Who Broke Out of Auschwitz to Warn the World, by Jonathan Freedland
This book was spellbinding! It tells the stories of 19-year-old Rudolf Vrba and Fred Wetzler who did the impossible in April 1944. They escaped from Auschwitz! The book tells how Vrba studied the precision with which the Nazis conducted searches and exactly how long the guards searched when a prisoner was unaccounted for. He and Fred worked with two accomplices to plan the escape of Vrba ad Wetzler. Their two accomplices were to stay behind while Vrba and Wetzler escaped to take the truth of what was happening at Auschwitz out into the world.
It’s a fascinating read. It follows Vrba and Wetzler after their escape. The eye-opening part of the book was the aftermath of their escape. They testified and provided written descriptions of the horrors of Auschwitz. Their testimonies matched to the nth detail; however, their words and their physical conditions of malnutrition fell on deaf ears.
Winston Churchill didn’t want to bomb the rail lines going into Auschwitz because England bombed in the daytime. President Franklin D. Roosevelt didn’t want to bomb because it would be a diversion from plans. Jewish organizations in Europe refused to believe what was happening at Auschwitz because it was just too extreme. How can people do such things to their fellow human beings?
Along with the tragic murdering of Jews at Auschwitz, the fact that world leaders who had the power and where withal to do something about it in fact chose not to act is a gut punch.
My general takeaway from the book is that one’s life and future can be determined by someone else’s snap decision. Decisions were made on a whim by guards at Auschwitz every day that determined who lived, who died, and who escaped.
It’s a book that will haunt me.
Since my last blog post
I continue to try to get the word out about my second local history book, Harrisburg, Did You Know? Cabarrus History, Book 2.
I also continue to ask people to go to my website, https://www.janetmorrisonbooks.com and subscribe to my newsletter. Subscribers receive a free downloadable copy of my first historical short story, “Slip Sliding Away: A Southern Historical Short Story.”
Until my next blog post
I hope you have a good book to read. I know where you can get a good historical short story to read!
January was a month filled with distractions and frustrations. The redesigning of my website has gone more slowly than I had hoped, mainly because I’m not very computer savvy. There were answers to technical questions I couldn’t readily figure out.
Plus, I had to learn a lot of technology in January so I can enable readers to subscribe to my email list and receive a free ebook, That’s still a work in progress because the good people at the very well-known email marketing service I’m using required me to fill out a long survey before they can answer two of my three basic questions. At least, they seemed basic to me.
I’m still not sure I’ve figured out how to give away the ebook. Maybe I’ll have to just reward my subscribers with a link to it so they can purchase it on Amazon for 99 cents. At least that remains an option.
Bless their hearts, the folks at the very well-known email marketing service I’m using are more interested in such things as my top three goals, how many subscribers I’ll be downloading (right now, it looks like zero), and what software I anticipate “integrating” with them. I’ve already asked them about Zapier, but they can’t answer me until I fill out the survey and tell them the best time to call me. I thought my question about Zapier was a yes or no question. Apparently, I was wrong.
Due to my moderate hearing loss and the fact that I just prefer having answers in writing, I much prefer answers in writing. I wish I’d gone with ConvertKit. Perhaps there’s still that option – which I told the good people at the very well-known email marketing service in my last email to them on Friday.
On an equally frustrating note, the very well-known print-on-demand company that prints my books has also forced me to learn more technology than I ever wanted to know. However, even with my best efforts in responding to each of their emails and supplying them with 20+ digital photographs, all the order numbers, etc. more times than I can remember since January 5, I have now given up on ever being reimbursed for the 14 damaged books I received on December 21, 2022 because there was no packing material in the boxes.
I worked my way up to a supervisor, but she has chosen not to respond to my latest plea for a refund. I paid the cost of printing, tax, and shipping for those books but I can’t sell them. And who wants to give away a damaged book that has your name on it as the author?
Harrisburg, Did You Know? Cabarrus History, Book 1 is selling very well at Second Look Books in Harrisburg, but I dread all future shipments of it and of Book 2, which I hope to have published by April. It sort of takes the fun out of being an author.
(By the way, don’t bother to send the very well-known print-on-demand company that prints my books photos of the condition the box is in when you receive damaged author copies or a photo of the inside of the box showing the four inches of empty space in which your $25 books were allowed to bounce around in while they were in transit for 600 miles from Indianapolis because the company doesn’t want to know such things. You have the benefit of learning from my silly assumptions that someone in the company would want to know why so many of the books they print arrive at the author’s home in unsellable condition. But if they don’t have to issue a refund to the author, I guess they really don’t need to know what the books arrived damaged.)
I spent the entire month of January formatting Harrisburg, Did You Know? Cabarrus History, Book 2, trying my best to learn how to giveaway an ebook via a very well-known email marketing service, and attempting to get a refund from the company that prints my books for 14 unsellable copies of Book 1. That left very little time for reading for pleasure, but numerous opportunities for screaming.
What I read in January 2023
However, when I wasn’t screaming, I read part of The Shadow Box, by Louanne Rice. It was the January book for the Rocky River Readers book club. Time ran out and I didn’t get to finish it.
I tried to read one chapter in Black Raven, by Ann Cleeves every night. Unfortunately, I only got to do that for three nights before the ebook went back to the public library.
I read Chasing the Ripper: A Kindle Single, by Patricia Cornwell. She wrote it in 2014 about her research about Jack the Ripper after her book, Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper – Case Closed was published. This 57-page Kindle Single was interesting even though I haven’t read her Portrait… book. Her Kindle Single is sort of a prelude to her 2017 book, Ripper: The Secret Life of Walter Sickert. The Kindle Single made me curious about the details Ms. Cornwell has pieced together lending credence to the theory that British artist Walter Sickert was indeed Jack the Ripper.
The other book I actually read in its very short entirety was The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse, by Charlie Mackesy. I can’t describe it better than the blurb on Amazon, so I’ll just quote it, in case you aren’t familiar with the wee book: “From the revered British illustrator, a modern fable for all ages that explores life’s universal lessons, featuring 100 color and black-and-white drawings.”
What I’d thought about blogging about today
An alternative subject for today was the 89th anniversary of the ratification of the 20th Amendment to the US Constitution. I hesitated to write about that, since just two weeks ago I blogged about the ratification of the 24th Amendment in #OnThisDay: The US Constitutional Amendment that Put an End to Poll Taxes. Plus, I couldn’t seem to set aside enough quiet time to refresh my memory about the 20th Amendment enough to blog about it. Please take time to Google it and refresh your memory. That’s all I had time to do.
Until my next blog post
I hope you have a good book to read. I’m listening to The Diamond Eye, by Kate Quinn. I’m thoroughly enjoying it, and I hope to have time to finish listening to it.
Take time to relax. If you figure out how to do that while dealing with this technologically-mishandled world, please let me know your secret.
And in all seriousness, I remind you and myself not to forget the freezing, suffering, weary, much-abused-by-Putin-and-his-henchmen, and terrorized people of Ukraine.
My problems don’t hold a candle to what the Ukrainians are dealing with 24/7. Remembering that helps put my concerns in perspective. Come to think of it, I have nothing to scream about.
“They” say a writer must read a lot if they aspire to be good at their craft. I can’t argue with that, but the last couple of months have not been conducive for me t,o get a lot of reading done. I’m learning that some months a writer has to concentrate on their writing and the business or being a writer. Otherwise, no one will know I’ve written anything.
I hope you’re not on book marketing overload from my recent blog posts and Facebook postings. There’s more to come for I have more projects in the works. You’ve been warned!
Since it’s the first Monday in the month, I’ll tell you about the books I read in December. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a novel in the bunch.
Threshold:Poems, by Ray Griffin
I received this book of poetry early in December. In such a busy month, I was grateful to have an excuse to steal away every night for some quiet moments to read poetry.
In this collection of poetry, Mr. Griffin touches on many facets of life. Some poems embrace the beauty of the natural world as it is observed and enjoyed today, and some stem from the writer’s reflections on a life well lived.
Many of those memories are also rooted in special times in the Appalachian Mountains and the beaches on the east coast of America, but there are also pieces that bring to life memories of trips in the western states and the unique wonders that part of the that area hold. There are sweet poems of the love of a life partner as well as verses that pay tribute to and bring to mind memories of departed parents. One poem reveals the poet’s feelings of guilt for not being with his parents when they died.
There are poems that express one’s feelings after a cancer diagnosis. There are poems about the current war in Ukraine and wars in the past.
This collection of heart-felt poems will pull at your heartstrings. Some bring a smile, while others bring a tear to your eye. However, the poet almost always brings you to a positive state of mind in the final lines of each. I regretted coming to the end of the book. I wanted more poems, but at least for the time being I’ll have to be satisfied with re-reading a few of the poems each day until Mr. Griffin graces us with additional verses from his heart.
Threshold is Ray Griffin’s third book of poetry. His second book, Winsome Morning Breeze, was published in 2020. Both books are available on Amazon or look for them or request them at your favorite bookstore. Here’s the Amazon link to Threshold: Poems by Ray Griffin: https://www.amazon.com/THRESHOLD-RAY-GRIFFIN/dp/B0BLQYMR11/.
Writing Vivid Dialogue: Professional Techniques for Fiction Authors, by Rayne Hall
I tend to have more trouble writing narrative than writing dialogue. At least that’s what I think. I found this book helpful, though.
One issue briefly addressed in this book was that of authenticity versus political correctness. When writing dialogue for someone in the 18th or 19th and even in the 20th century, some characters, to be authentic to their time and place, would use words that are offensive to our 21st century ears. This most often comes into play in racist remarks, but it is also an issue when writing the words of a character who is misogynistic. Should the writer shy away from such words because they are not politically correct today? That is something each writer has to decide for herself or himself.
The Battle of Cowan’s Ford: General Davidson’s Stand on the Catawba River and its place in North Carolina History, by O.C. Stonestreet IV
This little book about our regional history in the southern piedmont of North Carolina made me aware of some details about the Battle of Cowan’s Ford in the American Revolutionary War. I recommend it to anyone interested in the American Revolution or North Carolina history.
In case you didn’t know, General William Davidson was killed in the battle. The nearby town of Davidson and Davidson College are named for him.
When Duke Power Company created Lake Norman in 196_, the site of the battle was covered by the lake. As a tip of the hat to history, I suppose, Duke’s hydroelectric dam near the site of the ford and the battle was named Cowan’s Ford Dam. That’s little consolation to history buffs.
How to Write Short Stories and Use Them to Further Your Writing Career, by James Scott Bell
This book was a tremendous help to me in my writing career status. Until reading it, I planned to publish a book of four or five short stories in 2023. It was going to be my way of introducing you to my fiction writing.
A few months ago, I started reading advice for novice fiction writers that/which said I needed to give away my writing in order to attract readers. No one wants to be told to give away things they’ve worked hard to create. I’m no exception. However, in reading James Scott Bell’s book, I finally had an epiphany!
I started thinking in terms of making my historical short stories available free of charge as e-books. The more I researched my options and the length of the stories I’ve written, a new plan materialized. My current plan is to self-publish Slip Sliding Away as an historical novelette in February.
Mr. Bell’s book prompted me to look into Kindle Direct Publishing’s “Select” program. That program will give me the opportunity to publish Slip Sliding Away on Amazon for 90 days. The novelette will be free for five of those days and probably for 99 cents the other 85 days.
I will alert you to that publication and it’s five free days in a blog post in February, so stay turned!
Joy at Work: Organizing Your Professional Life, by Marie Kondo and Scott Sonenshein
You’re probably familiar with Marie Kondo’s bestseller, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.Joy at Work: Organizing Your Professional Life, is the third book in her “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” series.
Much of this book didn’t apply to my situation since I work at home and I’m basically my own boss. The main thing I took away from the book was how to go about tidying up my emails and my electronic and paper documents.
It remains to be seen if I’ll follow through and put those recommendations into practice. I need to give it a try.
#OnThisDay: As a result of the oil crisis that started in 1973, the US Congress enacted the 1974 Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act. The act imposed a 55 mile-per-hour speed limit nationwide in an effort to decrease gasoline usage. It was not well received.
Since my last blog post
I’ve formatted more than 62,000 words for Harrisburg, Did You Know? Cabarrus History, Book 2. It’s on schedule for self-publication on Amazon later this month. Watch for an announcement.
As usual, I enjoyed reading a variety of books in October. By reading my blog post today, I hope you’ll discover a new book or new author to add to your TBR (To Be Read list.) There’s something here for almost everyone.
Under the Southern Sky, by Kristy Woodson Harvey
Right off the bat, this novel got into the hot button topic of frozen embryos. Parker’s wife, Greer, with whom he’d frozen those embryos has died of cancer.
Their marriage appeared to be a match made in heaven. Amelia, the proverbial girl next door during their childhoods, is a reporter researching frozen embryos for a story.
Will Amelia and Parker get together? Can Amelia overcome the idea in her head that Greer was perfect? Surely, she can’t compete with Parker’s memory of his perfect deceased wife. Or can she?
When Amelia approaches Parker with her idea of being the surrogate to give birth to one or more of those frozen embryos how will he respond? How will their families react? How will Greer’s father react?
I enjoyed the frozen embryos aspect of the novel. The on again, off again friendship and romance of Amelia and Parker was sappier than what I like to read, but that’s just me. The dynamics of their relationship are complex and they have to grapple with a lot of emotional baggage.
If you’re looking for a southern beachy story with a hefty dose of what happens to forgotten or abandoned frozen embryos, I think you’ll love this novel by Salisbury, North Carolina native Kristy Woodson Harvey.
I read this novel for the October 24th meeting of Rocky River Readers Book Club at Rocky River Presbyterian Church. We had a good discussion. Everyone read the entire book, which is a good sign. We were in agreement that the ending was predictable, but it was a good book club selection.
The Second Husband, by Kate White
This is a murder mystery with a chilling twist. Did Emma’s second husband kill her first husband?
Emma’s 37-year-old husband is killed in an alley in the Soho section of New York City. The crime is not solved.
A few months later, Emma meets Tom through a work connection. They marry. Life is good. In fact, it’s perfect until the day a police detective shows up to ask some leading questions.
Suddenly, Emma feels like she’s Suspect #1 in Derrick’s murder. But she knows she’s innocent. She didn’t kill him and she didn’t hire a hitman.
I think this novel would be a good choice for a book club.
Your First 1,000 Copies, by Tim Grahl
I give this nonfiction book about marketing for writers 10 stars on a scale of 1 to 5. I took copious notes. There are so many pointers in this book for someone in my position as I’m anticipating releasing several books in the coming 12 months.
Mr. Grahl has helped many authors launch their books. He’s been through the process enough times and recently enough that he knows what works and what doesn’t work. If you’re a writer hoping to publish a book – whether via the traditional publisher route or by self-publishing – you can benefit from reading this book.
Distant Flickers: Stories of Identity and Loss
Eight writers contributed short stories for this special anthology about identity and loss.
Other authors featured in Distant Flickers are Donna Koros-Stramella, Keith Madsen, Carol LaHines, Jim Metzner, Joyce Yarrow, Rita Baker, and Amy E. Wallen.
Distant Flickers grew out of a spark of inspiration provided by a group of writers known as Telltale Authors. Each story ties into the subtitle. The topics are varied. There are secrets, loss, and identity issues. Each author writes in a way to pull you into the story. Soon you find yourself empathizing with the main character.
The name of that group gives me a perfect segway into the name of the other book of short stories I read in October….
Tell Tale, by Jeffrey Archer
Since I’m putting together a book of historical short stories, I’ve wanted to get back to reading more short stories. I need to get a handle on just what makes a good short story, right?
Although Jeffrey Archer is better known for his novels, I wanted to read some of his short stories. I found his stories in Tell Tale to be very entertaining.
My favorite stories in the collection were “The Road to Damascus,” “Who Killed the Mayor?” and “The Holiday of a Lifetime.”
Mr. Archer used a clever literary device in “The Holiday of a Lifetime.” He wrote three different endings for the story and encouraged the readers to select the one they preferred. What fun!
Until my next blog post
Thank you for taking the time to read my blog post today!
I hope you have a good book to read and will find time to read it. If you have nieces, nephews, children, or grandchildren, it’s important for them to know you enjoy reading. They want to be like you.
If you live in the USA, vote tomorrow, unless you voted early. Our very democracy is on the ballot.
In addition to the three novels I blogged about last week, in September I read three other novels and one nonfiction book. It’s my pleasure today to blog about those four books. I hope at least one of them will appeal to you enough that you’ll decide to read it. Support your local public library and your local independent bookstore!
The New Neighbor, by Karen Cleveland
I read Need to Know, by Karen Cleveland in March 2018 and blogged about it in my April 2, 2018 blog post, More March 2018 Reading. I really enjoyed that novel, so I don’t know what it took me more than four years (has it really been four years since 2018?) to read another of her books.
The New Neighbor is a spy thriller. The main character and most of her neighbors on a quiet cul-de-sac work for the CIA. She’s been trying to identify and take down a spy who is working against the United States for 18 years of her career. The code name for this person is “The New Neighbor,” so it’s a constant play on words throughout the book – Is the new neighbor the actual new neighbor on the cul-de-sac, or is it one of her long-time neighbors and friends on the cul-de-sac, or is it someone who lives who knows where, or is it …?
I look forward to reading another of Karen Cleveland’s novels as soon as I pare down my current reading list. She is a former CIA Analyst.
Switchboard Soldiers: A Novel of the Heroic Women Who Served in the US Signal Corps in World War I, by Jennifer Chiaverini
This historical novel made me aware of the first women to serve in the United States Army. It was World War I and General John Pershing needed efficient telephone operators who were fluent in both English and French to serve throughout France – including the front lines.
It was taking male soldiers one minute to connect a call. That was unacceptable, so General Pershing did a radical thing. He put out a call for qualified female telephone operators. More than 7,600 women responded. The women could connect a phone call in ten seconds.
They proved themselves just as qualified and dedicated as any male American soldiers and were credited in helping the Allies win World War I. It’s a shame their story hasn’t been told for more than a century, but author Jennifer Chiaverini has down a wonderful job telling us their story now.
I learned in the Author Notes at the end of the book that, although they were considered soldiers in the US Army during World War I, took the oath of office, were issued uniforms, had to go through the rigorous gas mask training, had to obey all rules and regulations of the US Army, etc. – after the war they were not considered military veterans and were not eligible for any veterans’ benefits until 1977 when President Jimmy Carter proclaimed them to be veterans. Of course, by then fewer than 60 of the 7,600 women were still alive to enjoy any of the benefits.
In Listening Well, Ms. Morris writes a lot about her life. She grew up in New Zealand and now lives in Melbourne, Australia. She writes about her growing up years as a way to tell us about the elders in her family and how they – especially her great-grandfather – taught her to listen.
She recommends that we all practice listening actively and then she sets about to give practical tips of how to listen to elders and how to listen to children. She also encourages us to listen to ourselves and trust ourselves because if we can trust ourselves and be a friend to ourselves, we can be a good friend to someone else.
She writes about listening to Lale Sokolov, the tattooist of Auschwitz, and what an honor it was to listen to him.
Ms. Morris says that all too often we listen to someone only to think of what we can say and how we can turn the conversation about us and not the other person.
This is a good read. I imagine most of us can learn something from it.
Second Street Station: A Mary Handley Mystery, by Lawrence H. Levy
I wanted to read this book because it is a categorized as historical mystery. I read about 60% of it. It was a bit of stretch for there to be a female detective in the 1890s, but I was willing to suspend disbelief and go along with it.
It was a bit of a stretch to think of Thomas A. Edison being a criminal, but I kept reading. Where the wheels fell off the wagon for me, though, was when Mary Handley was able to watch the trajectory of ricocheting bullets and roll out of their way.
Since there had been no reference to Mary Handley having such superpowers, I felt completely pulled out of the story at that point. I read a few more pages and decided to move on to other library books that were needing my attention. It suddenly felt like historical fiction meets sci-fi.
If the book had been publicized as such, that would have been fine – and probably would make an interesting genre; however, that wasn’t a direction I expected “historical mystery” to take. I’ve since read several reviews online that were also thrown off by this part of the novel.
All that being said, though, I hesitate to be critical of a novel since I’ve yet to publish one of my own. I have much to learn about writing historical fiction. If you enjoy historical mysteries, give Second Street Station a try and let me know what you think of it. I’d like to be proven wrong in my assessment.
Since my last blog post
I took a free 3-Day online “How to Write a Series” course offered by Carissa Andrews of The Author Revolution. It was very helpful. And did you hear me say it was free? It will probably be offered again next year, so if you aspire to write a book series, I recommend you check out The Author Revolution online.
The historical fiction series I’m working on just might be five books instead of four. Book 2, The Doubloon is written and put away. Book 1, The Heirloom is my work in progress. Books 3-5, The Betrayal, The Revolution, and The Banjo are in various states of being outlined. My body is telling me I should have started this project decades ago.
I continued to format the local history newspaper articles I wrote from 2006 through 2012 for publication as two Kindle books. Look for future announcements about Harrisburg, Did You Know?- Book 1 and Harrisburg, Did You Know? – Book 2.
I started working through the video modules in Tim Grahl’s “Launch a Bestseller” course last week. The modules have already helped me understand the marketing tasks I need to do beginning seven to nine months before I publish my first novel.
In terms of marketing, I’ll have to condense some of those early tasks into just a couple of months or so for Harrisburg, Did You Know? – Book 1 and The Aunts in the Kitchen.
Me thinks I have too many irons in the fire!
Until my next blog post
Today I start taking the five-week online “Sticky Blogging – Master Class: “Attract Your True Fans” Course. Who knows? Perhaps in the coming weeks and months I’ll write better blog posts. Maybe I’ll come up with more interesting and eye-catching post titles.
I hope you have a good book to read.
Remember the brave people of Ukraine, the grieving people of Uvalde, and the devastated people of Florida.
I read some interesting and thought-provoking books in September. In today’s blog post, I’ll share my reactions to three of the novels I read. I hope you’ll be inspired to add one or more of them to your reading list.
Dragonfly Escaping, Noor’s Story: Book One, by Raya Khedker
I learned about this novel through the Jennifer Tar Heel Reader book blog. After reading Jennifer’s review of the book, I went on Twitter to find out a little more about the author.
On Twitter I found a discussion about the book’s cover. I chimed in that I liked the cover, and the author and I enjoyed several days of messaging to one another about the struggles of writing and publishing.
The story immediately grabbed my attention and I knew I was hooked and would have to keep reading to find out what happened to Noor Zulfiker. Noor is bound in an arranged marriage to Rajat, an older man who is a physician and her parents think will be quite a catch for their daughter. But Noor is in love with a young man named Chirag Jagdev. Chirag isn’t rich and his financial future isn’t potentially as bright as the doctor’s.
There is physical abuse, so very soon the reader really starts pulling for the teenage Noor and hoping Rajat gets his comeuppance.
This book shines a light on the emotional and physical abuse the women in India are subjected to by men. Noor is abused from all directions and desperately wants to leave India. It is raw and unrelenting in this first novel of a planned series about Noor.
If you like exotic locations, Dragonfly Escaping takes place in New Dehli and Lima over a span of 1979 to 1992, with connections and references to Spain and Canada thrown in for interest.
If you aren’t put off by reading about an abusive relationship, I recommend this novel by Raya Khedker. It’s her debut novel and it was released in January 2022. Lo and behold, Dragonfly Hunting: Noor’s Story: Book Two, was released last week – on September 27 – so I’m already playing catch-up!
I look forward to whatever Raya Khedker and Noor have in store for us in Book Two.
Raya Khedker was born in India and currently lives in the United States.
In an Instant, by Suzanne Redfearn
This novel is written through the eyes of Finn, a 16-year-old girl. Spoiler alert: She’s alive in the beginning of the book but is soon dead. Probably 95% of the book is told through Finn’s eyes and ears as she moves about at will and reports how everyone reacts to her death and the other related events. It is a clever format.
The story is compelling. It delves into each person’s reaction to the incident that takes Finn’s life. It’s about family dynamics, friendships, and how individuals react to a traumatic situation. Each of us knows how we think or hope we’d react in a given circumstance, but do we truly know how we’d react when push comes to shove?
On the negative side, I had to suspend disbelief throughout a sizeable segment of the book as, although all the characters were in a situation of total darkness, they were able to move about and see everything clearly.
Also, I think the author gave Fen a vocabulary and level of understanding that a typical 16-year-old doesn’t have. And, speaking of vocabulary, I find the overuse of expletives offensive and it cheapens the writing. This becomes especially noticeable when one is listening to a book. It was excessive and pulled me out of the story. John Grisham is a reasonably successful novelist even though it is his policy and practice to not use curse words or raunchy language in his books. If John Grisham can have a lucrative writing career without using foul language, perhaps others should follow his example.
I thought the Easter dinner scene was forced. Why would a family that showed absolutely no religious inclinations suddenly put a tremendous emphasis on a traditional Easter ham dinner?
All that said, I reiterate that In an Instant is a gripping story and the premise of a person’s spirit being able to continue to roam the earth and see and hear intimate conversations and activities of family and friends is a bit unsettling and gives much food for thought.
The Midnight Library, by Matt Haig
When Nora Seed “decides to die,” she finds herself in The Midnight Library. Her school librarian from long ago is there to explain to Nora that The Midnight Library isn’t exactly the afterlife. It’s an endless library of books – each one giving you the chance to undo your regrets and do something different. It’s between life and death. Disgusted at first to be there, Nora eventually appreciates the opportunities it provides.
The novel involves the theory or idea of parallel universes and allows Nora to move from one life to another and experience or re-experience an occupation or family situation.
The lesson this novel teaches is that every decision we make has an outcome. A different decision at any given time could have changed the course of our lives.
I didn’t know what to expect when I checked out the book on CD. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to it to see what Nora’s next experience would be and how it was all going to turn out for her.
The only irritation I felt in listening to the book was the fact that the British reader pronounced “library” the way the English do, turning this three-syllable word into a two-syllable word.” It’s like fingernails on a chalkboard to me. If you’re too young to understood the analogy, I’m afraid I can’t help you.
Since my last blog post
Here in the southern piedmont of North Carolina, it rained sideways all day on Friday and felt more like winter than autumn as what was left of Hurricane Ian passed through after making its third landfall near Georgetown, South Carolina. We came through it unscathed, though, and for that I’m relieved and thankful.
I’ve been working on my genealogy. I knew that three of my 16 g-g-g-grandmothers were Neelys. Last week I found their father’s will and discovered they were sisters. I guess that means I’m my own cousin. Small gene pool here in the 1700s!
Until my next blog post
My heart goes out to all the people severely affected by Hurricane Ian in Cuba, all over Florida, and the east coast of the US.
Today I’m excited to begin taking a three-day online workshop about writing a book series. It’s sure to help me as I continue to work on The Heirloom and its sequel, The Doubloon.
There are lots of good books out there. Today’s blog post is about four of the eight books I read last month. In case you missed it, last Monday I blogged about the other four in Four of Eight Books Read in August 2022.
The Librarian Spy, by Madeline Martin
This novel follows two women during World War II. One is involved in the French Resistance. The other one is a librarian from the Library of Congress in Washington, DC who has been sent to Lisbon, Portugal to help secure and copy newspapers from the cities under Germany’s control. The copies are sent to the US to help the Allies’ cause in the war.
The chapters alternate between Ava’s story and Elaine’s story. My only complaint is that as soon as I was invested in one’s story, the next chapter would begin and I had to switch mental gears to the other one. I don’t like that in a novel, but it seems to be the trend now in historical fiction. Otherwise, Ava and Elaine each have compelling stories and you’ll want to cheer them on.
I was immediately invested in each of the two main characters as soon as I read their opening chapters. The deeper into their stories you get, the more you are anxious (not eager, but anxious) to see what happens to them next.
This novel made me stop and think about the danger both women were in all the time. They had to guard their words at all times because they never knew when a stranger – or even an acquaintance – nearby might overhear something that could aid the enemy.
I can’t imagine living under that level of stress not just for days or weeks on end but for years on end. Not only that, but they were living the war on a daily basis and had no way of knowing when it would end. That’s a luxury we have when reading historical fiction. We know the exact day and sometimes the very hour at which a war will be declared over.
I purchased this ebook some months ago and finally got around to reading it. I’m so glad I did. It is a collection of short stories, some of which grew out of Susan Gabriel’s novels.
Hoping to publish short stories myself, I was curious to see the book’s layout. Also, I hadn’t read any of Ms. Gabriel’s novels, so I was eager to find out about her writing style and to discover her writer’s “voice.”
And what a writer’s “voice” she has! If you enjoy southern fiction, you’ll love how Ms. Gabriel writes. Her voice, especially in “The Secret Sense of Wildflower,” comes through so strongly that I can still hear it in my head days after finishing the book. It’s told through the eyes of a young girl who has witnessed too much in her life, but tells the story with a wit, bluntness, and insight that I loved.
She even used the idiom, “as all get out” in that last story in the book, which couldn’t help but make me laugh out loud. You might recall my blog post about that idiom from March 29, 2021: #Idiom: As All Get Out.
The book includes an introduction in which Ms. Gabriel writes about how she was determined to never write southern fiction. I had to smile at that. There are nine stories of varying lengths, so it is an easy book to read if you can only find a few minutes at a time for a book; however, you’ll find yourself turning the page to see what the next story is and, before you know it, you’ve read three more stories.
The short stories in this book were varied in topic. “Reunion at the River” was about seven women who had been abused by the same man several decades ago and how they gather at the secluded mountain home of one of their number every year for a reunion and attempt to heal.
As a southern short story writer wannabe, I gained valuable ideas from this book about how to create an ebook of short stories. I don’t have published novels to draw on like Ms. Gabriel had, but I love the way she pulled the stories together and ended the book with information about her other books, her desire to get feedback from her readers, and her all-important contact links.
Subtract: The Untapped Science of Less, by Leidy Klotz
Jan Edmiston, General Presbyter of the Presbytery of Charlotte, recommended this book in her July 8, 2022 blog, https://achurchforstarvingartists.blog/2022/07/08/books-im-loving-this-summer/. Edmiston’s takeaway from reading the books was, “Why this book can change the culture: We in the Church (and world) have been taught that being better means adding things. Sometimes we are better when we subtract things.”
In the book, Mr. Klotz pleads with us to stop thinking of subtraction as a negative thing. Sometimes less is better. When you’re attempting to declutter your life, your home, your email in-box, the landscape, or even the atmosphere – the air we breathe, couch it in words that don’t have negative implications.
He gives examples throughout the book. One of the simple ones that stuck with me was when he and his young son were building a bridge with Legos. One of the bridges pillars was taller than the other. Human nature usually prompts us to add to the shorter pillar to make them even; however, his toddler son removed one of the blocks in the taller pillar.
Mr. Klotz encourages us to adopt that approach in all aspects of our lives. Another example he mentioned several times is the editing that writers must do. Fiction writers are told to make every word count. Make every sentence earn its keep. Edit out words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs – even scenes – that don’t move the story forward. That’s a painful thing to do!
He also encourages us to focus on people. Focus on the things that will improve lives. The winner isn’t the person with the most stuff at the end of life.
L.E.A.P.F.R.O.G.: How to hold a civil conversation in an uncivil era, Third Edition, by Janet Givens, M.A.
Janet Givens has come out with a third edition of her book, L.E.A.P.F.R.O.G.: How to hold a civil conversation in an uncivil era, and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to improve their skills of having a difficult conversation.
Be it a difficult conversation with a friend or a stranger, a relative or an employer or employee this book will help you have a more productive dialog.
The goal of this book is not to tell you how to convert the other person to your way of thinking, but rather to help you go into a conversation with an open mind and genuine curiosity about why the other person sees a particular issue or situation differently than you.
In addition to reading books and writing, I’ve worked on genealogy. I’ve also blown the dust off the local history newspaper columns I wrote from 2006 through 2012. It’s amazing how much I’ve forgotten since 2006. I hope people will enjoy reading my articles as much as I’ve enjoyed rereading some of them this week.
Since 2012 I’ve wanted to put all the articles into a book. I’m typing them in Word and formatting them ready to download the document into Atticus. Atticus is the writing software I’m using that will enable me to export the document ready for electronic publication on Amazon.
The cover is still holding up publication of the cookbook my sister and I are compiled for electronic publication.
August turned out to be one of those months when many books I’d been on the waitlist for at the public library all became available at the same time. I had to scramble to read and listen to so many books in a month. I guess it was a good thing August had 31 days.
Today’s blog post is about four of the eight books I read last month. I’ll blog about the other four next Monday.
The German Wife, by Kelly Rimmer
The basis of this novel is “Operation Paperclip,” although that secret US intelligence program isn’t mentioned by name until the author’s note at the end of the book.
I listened to this historical novel on CD. I almost gave up on it after the second of 11 discs because I felt like as soon as I became invested in Sofie’s story, I was yanked into Lizzie’s story. I found the random switching from Lizzie’s 1930s in the Dust Bowl days in Texas to Sofie’s 1950s in Huntsville, Alabama to Sofie’s 1930s in Berlin to Lizzie’s 1950s in Huntsville, Alabama more than a bit disorienting.
That said, a couple more discs into the book, I couldn’t stop listening.
One thread that runs throughout the novel is how people can justify their actions (or inactions) in the name of keeping themselves or their families safe. How many times in history and perhaps in our own lives does the excuse, “I was just following orders” come into play?
Another thread in the book is prejudice and discrimination. Family dynamics play heavily in the book. One of the characters is a World War II veteran suffering from what was then called battle fatigue but is now known as posttraumatic stress disorder. His sister, Lizzie, tries her best to help him, but in the process she enables him.
I found the book’s description of the horrors of the dust storms in the US during the 1930s to be so realistic that I felt like I was choking as Lizzie’s family tried in vain to keep the dust out of their house.
Sofie’s abiding friendship with Mayim, a Jewish woman, is a part of the story that will stay with me. It reminds us that there were Germans who were friends with Jews and whose hearts were broken by what the Nazis did to them. I’d like to think I wouldn’t have turned my back on Jewish friends – and Jewish strangers – if I’d been in Sofie’s place. But how easily humans can be brainwashed! We’re seeing it in our own country now.
The book shines a light on how German rocket scientists were brought to the United States after World War II to help develop NASA’s space program. I was aware of this, of course, but I’d never stopped to think about the interpersonal logistics of the Germans’ being accepted by the Americans so soon after the war. The fact that some of those German scientists had been complicit in Nazi war crimes was swept under the rug, as their pasts were erased by the US government to make it possible for them to work for the US space program.
In Ms. Rimmer’s author’s note at the end of the book, she explains how she, an Australian, learned about this piece of history in a roundabout way in a park in New South Wales. The fact that she learned about “Operation Paperclip” in 2019 and has already researched and written this novel, is amazing.
If you want to learn more about “Operation Paperclip” – the secret US intelligence program that brought more than 1,600 German scientists and engineers to America between 1945 and 1959 so they could work for the US government, do an online search for it and then follow up at your local public library.
The Lord is My Shepherd: Healing Wisdom of the Twenty-Third Psalm, by Harold S. Kushner
Many years ago I read Rabbi Harold S. Kushner’s book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People. Although Rabbi Kushner is Jewish and I’m a Christian, I found that book insightful and reassuring. It echoed many of my core beliefs. God didn’t promise us a carefree life. He promised to be with us.
When I found Rabbi Kushner’s book, The Lord is My Shepherd: Healing Wisdom of the Twenty-Third Psalm on CD for sale at a book sale at the public library, I was sad that it had been weeded from the collection. I had myself to blame, though. I’d never checked it out. Perhaps no one had checked it out in years and, therefore, it needed to be removed from the library shelf to make room for a new book. I was eager to read it, so I bought it – probably for fifty cents.
That was months ago, and I finally got around to listening to it. I enjoyed hearing the book read by the author. It was only four discs. I listened to the entire book over a two-day period.
In the book, Rabbi Kushner wrote about the Twenty-Third Psalm, line by line. He is a student of the Psalms and I appreciated his perspective. I like it when a Bible scholar tells me the nuances of the original Hebrew in which the Old Testament books were written. Rabbi Kushner did that numerous times throughout this book.
Being a Christian, I didn’t agree with what Rabbi Kushner had to say about the coming of the Messiah, but it was interesting to hear his Jewish perspective. Also, I believe that God created everything from nothing. Rabbi Kushner believes that everything already existed and God created order out of the chaos.
In The Lord is My Shepherd: Healing Wisdom of the Twenty-Third Psalm, Rabbi Kushner repeatedly revisits the theme that God doesn’t promise us a carefree life; He promises to be with us. On that, Rabbi Kushner and I agree.
Now that I’ve listened to this book, I plan to donate it to Goodwill where someone else can acquire it and ponder the Twenty-Third Psalm along with Rabbi Kushner.
Cold, Cold Bones, by Kathy Reichs
I really enjoyed listening to Cold, Cold Bones, by Kathy Reichs. It had the suspense we’ve come to expect in her novels with the added bonus of references to many locations in and around Charlotte.
Concord, the Appalachian Trail, and even Robeson County got mentioned. Of course, they were all mispronounced on the CD audio recording of the book, but that’s to be expected. I’m sure the reader wasn’t from North Carolina.
There were numerous clues given, and each one took me down another rabbit hole. All the time, though, I knew in the end Ms. Reichs would connect the dots and show how each thread came together.
The layers of this novel were revealed much like one peels layer after layer from an onion. Ms. Reichs certainly has pacing down pat. It kept me guessing who the chief villain was and what the common thread of each incident was until the very end.
This was a very entertaining read, and makes me eager to read another Kathy Reichs novel. The last novel of hers that I’d read was way back in May 2020. In my June 1, 2020 blog post, Books Read in May 2020, I wrote about her novel, A Conspiracy of Bones.
I don’t know why I waited two years to read another of her books. In case you aren’t familiar with Kathy Reichs, she is an adjunct professor of anthropology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She is a highly-regarded forensic anthropologist who splits her time between Charlotte and Montreal. The television series, “Bones” was loosely-based on her life and ran for 11 seasons from 2005 until 2016.
The Many Daughters of Afong Moy: A Novel, by Jamie Ford
I’ve enjoyed the other novels I’ve read by Jamie Ford, but I found this one difficult to follow. It’s received rave reviews. The writing is outstanding, but I found the jumping back and forth between centuries (past, present, and future) and the five points-of-view hard to follow.
I listened to nine of the 11 discs of this book on CD. I found the voice of one of the readers very irritating to my southern ears and the range in volume from soft to yelling was equally irritating to me as I have hearing loss and I was often listening to the book after I’d gone to bed.
All that said, the basis of the novel is a fascinating topic: epigenetics. It began with the first Chinese woman who came to America and how she became a spectacle due to her bound feet. She suffered physical and emotional pain as a result of this ancient Chinese tradition that crippled girls and women and kept them under the thumb of male society. The novel follows generations of her female descendants who carried her emotional scars.
Epigenetics is an interesting topic of study. There is debate about whether emotional traits and emotional traumas are passed from generation to generation through DNA or through a family’s traditions and oral history.
If you want to read my comments about one of Jamie Ford’s earlier books, Love and Other Consolation Prizes, go to my July 17, 2017 blog post, Reading South Africa and South Carolina Novels. I must have read Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet before I started blogging about the books I read. It was good, too.
It was the format and not the prose in which The Many Daughters of Afong Moy was presented that didn’t appeal to me. I’ll still look forward to Jamie Ford’s next novel.
Since my last blog post
It’s been a strange week with some unexpected tasks and distractions. I continue to read more than write because those library books are still piling up. It’s a nice problem to have and I’m grateful to live in a country and a region with such vast free public library resources.
The arrival of September was a rude awakening. How is it that summer flies by and winter drags on and on? My Seasonal Affective Disorder is already rearing its ugly head, so I must strive to get and keep a positive attitude.
Until my next blog post
I hope you have so many books at your fingertips that you can’t decide what to read next.
Life is short. Spend time with family and friends, and make time for a hobby.
Don’t forget the people of Ukraine, Uvalde, and Highland Park, etc
As the American society becomes increasingly polarized on politics, racial justice, abortion, gun rights, public education, and free speech on social media, this is a book we can all benefit from reading. You can benefit even more by discussing the book with a group.
The book I’m referring to is the Third Edition of L.E.A.P.F.R.O.G.: How to hold a civil conversation in an uncivil era, by Janet Givens. Ms. Givens is a sociologist and Gestalt psychotherapist.
Although my opening paragraph referred to the polarization of America, this book is intended to help people have any difficult conversation, whether it’s a disagreement you’ve had with your spouse or co-worker, a difference of opinion over a belief with a fellow church member, a conversation you need to have with a family member in the grips of substance abuse, or an honest discussion you want to have about a larger issue with a group, this book will help you get there.
How I learned about the book
Janet Givens and I had connected through our blogs. I was pleased last year when she invited me to participate in a Zoom group to read and discuss an earlier edition of the book. It was a small group – Ms. Givens, six others from across the United States, and me.
Ms. Givens told us up front that she wanted to make some changes in the book and publish a new edition. She wanted our input. It was a wonderful experience to be in such a group. We bonded through our monthly virtual meetings and I miss them now that the purpose that brought us together is completed.
In appreciation for our involvement, Ms. Givens sent each of us a copy of this year’s new edition. I’ve neglected to follow up with a review of the book for several months, for which I’m embarrassed. The best excuse I can concoct is that life and numerous library book due dates I was up against constantly took my attention away from L.E.A.P.F.R.O.G. It’s a poor excuse. I apologize, Janet. (By the way, I was known as “the other Janet” in the small group of eight.)
This Third Edition of L.E.A.P.F.R.O.G.: How to hold a civil conversation in an uncivil era has a completely new introduction. Sometimes I’m tempted to skip a book’s introduction, but please be sure to read this one. You’ll learn why Ms. Givens wrote the book, how she envisioned it being used, and she asks several questions for you to consider before launching into the meat of the book.
It used to be Americans could agree to disagree with each other over various issues, but that has become the exception rather than the rule. In this “uncivil era” it can seem impossible to civilly discuss issues with someone with whom you hold differing views.
That’s the backdrop for the book. The title is an acronym for Listening, Empathy, Assessment, Perspective, Facts: Forget them for now; Respect, Observation, and Gratitude. Each of those gets its own chapter. The chapters should be read in order for it is in that order in which one should approach any “difficult conversation.”
Ms. Givens is quick to point out in the introduction that one shouldn’t go into such a conversation with the purpose of converting the other person to their way of thinking. Something our Zoom group discussed on several occasions was the need for both/all parties discussing a difficult or divisive topic to be genuinely curious about why the other person has an opinion not like their own.
In her acknowledgements at the back of the book, Ms. Givens indicated that the Zoom group was instrumental in the birth of her “Perspective” chapter and in the reworking of the “Respect” chapter. Let’s look at those chapters.
The fourth chapter in the earlier editions of the book was titled “Paraphrase.” Readers were encouraged to listen to the other person with empathy, assess their own state of mind to make sure they were mentally in the right place to have the conversation, and then paraphrase what they thought they heard the other person say.
In this new edition, Ms. Givens replaced “Paraphrase” with “Perspective.” (You’ll also notice in earlier editions most of the chapter titles were action words like Listen, Empathize, Assess, Paraphrase, and Observe. The new chapter titles are mostly nouns, such as Listening, Empathy, Assessment, Perspective, Facts: Forget them for now, Respect, Observation, and Gratitude.) They’re presented more as concepts instead of calls to action.
In the “Perspective” chapter, Ms. Givens invites us to think about perspective – ours and the other person’s. In doing that we will probably listen more carefully to the other person and maybe see the other person’s perspective. I might not change my mind by listening to your perspective, but I might gain a level of understanding of why you think what you think and even a clearer understanding of my own thinking.
The ”Perspective” chapter also addresses unconscious bias. For instance, an experience we had in childhood can affect how we see an issue today. You don’t need to use that as an excuse though. Once we recognize a bias, we can change.
In the reworked “Respect” chapter, Ms. Givens enlightens the reader to think of respect as something each individual deserves because that’s the foundation of society. Respect isn’t something to be meted out after we’ve judged the other person.
She addresses “othering” – the “us versus them” mindset. One way to move toward genuinely respecting the other person is to tell them you hear them and you think you understand. Then, look for what you have in common. Find something positive to say.
A call to action
I hope my blog post today will prompt you to look for L.E.A.P.F.R.O.G.: How to hold a civil conversation in an uncivil era, Third Edition wherever you purchase books. You can also order it from the author at https://janetgivens.com/. I also recommend that you request that your local public library system purchases the book. Ask for it at your local independent bookstore if you don’t see it on the shelf.
Rare is the person who can’t benefit from reading it. Putting into practice the ideas Ms. Givens presents in her book will surely result in a more civil exchange of ideas within the United States or wherever you live – even if it’s just one person at a time.
Since my last blog post
I was struggling with a short story I was writing. It just wasn’t coming together. I did some brainstorming and the pieces finally felt into place. I hope to self-publish a collection of my historical short stories. I’ll keep you posted on my progress on that project.
I’ve completed my work to-date on two branches in my family tree. My sister helped me figure out these two lines. Both lines had some squirrelly dates and connections. We’re more than ready to move on to another family line and hope for less confusion!
Work has slowed on our The Aunts in the Kitchen family cookbook. I keep procrastinating getting the photograph made for the cover of the e-book. I can’t make it myself.
Our computer guy came and got our margins corrected in Word. It’s frustrating for a writer to not be able to set one-inch margins, especially since that’s the default setting. I’m back in business now typing my short stories and formatting them in Word ready to download into Atticus. I’m a happy camper once again!
I’m trying to participate on Twitter again, with limited success. If you’d like to follow me, I’m @janetmorrisonbk. (Think Janet Morrison book.) Just don’t expect me to Tweet every day or comment on what you post in a timely manner. I’m terrible at social media.
Until my next blog post
I hope you have a good book to read or listen to. I’m reading The Librarian Spy: A Novel of World War II, by Madeline Martin and Booth, by Karen Joy Fowler. I have other books checked out and two more ready to be picked up at the library. I can’t read fast enough!
Life is short. Spend time with family and friends, and make time for a hobby.
Don’t forget the people of Ukraine, Uvalde, and Highland Park, etc. and the people in Kentucky whose lives have been turned upside down by flooding.
Suddenly, it’s the first Monday in August! Summer months fly back too quickly for me. (I’m not a fall or winter person.) Today’s blog post is about the books I read in July. I hope my comments will prompt you to read one or more of them.
I try to always point out that I’m not a book reviewer. I just like to share my thoughts about some of the books I read. I don’t follow any book review guidelines. I don’t receive books for review. I get 99.9% of my books from the public library. I’m not beholding to any of the authors I mention – or to any publishers. Reading is just part of my journey as a writer.
The Foundling, by Ann Leary
This novel is based on an experience of the author’s grandmother. It’s Ms. Leary’s fourth novel, but the first one of hers that I’ve read.
Set in 1927, The Foundling is the story of two women who grew up in the same orphanage.
As an adult, one of them is falsely accused of being “simple-minded” and is incarcerated in a facility for such women of child-bearing age. They’ll all be released when they can no longer have a child. The “reasoning” behind that policy is that a simple-minded woman will pass on her mental deficiencies to her children.
As an adult, the other woman gets a job working in the facility where her long ago childhood friend is being held against her will.
The female worker is determined to get her friend released because she knows she shouldn’t be in the facility. Along the way, the worker befriends a newspaper reporter who has always wanted to write an exposé about the facility.
At times, I found the worker to be too gullible, but I was completely drawn into the story and had to keep reading to find out what happened in the end.
Life is Like a Bowl of Cherries: Sometimes Bitter, Sometimes Sweet, by Sally Cronin
I finally got around to reading one of her books. Life is Like a Bowl of Cherries: Sometimes Bitter, Sometimes Sweet is a delightful collection of Sally’s stories. They run the gamut from humorous to sad and bittersweet. I enjoyed each one and found it impossible to choose a favorite.
It’s not the only book of yours I’ll read, Sally! I promise!
Sparring Partners, by John Grisham
This latest book by John Grisham is a collection of three novellas. By definition, a novella is longer than a short story and shorter than a novel.
If you do an online search for guidelines about word counts, you’ll find there’s no ironclad publishing industry agreement. Trust me. I’ve tried to find definitive guidelines. I tend to give more credence to Brian A. Klems, the online editor for Writer’s Digest magazine than to some of the other sources. Mr. Klems said a short story is 1,500 to 30,000 words; a novella is 30,000 to 50,000 words; and a novel is 55,000 to 300,000 words. As you can see, there’s a lot of leeway in there.
That being said, I don’t know the word counts of Mr. Grisham’s novellas in Sparring Partners. The title of the book is a clue that each of the novellas is about lawyers.
The first one is the longest of the three novellas. It’s about a lawyer who steals settlement money from clients and then abandons his family and flees the United States. He’s had no contact with anyone for years. The plot gets quite involved. A local reporter is determined to unravel the mystery of the lawyer’s disappearance. Rumors swirl about the lawyer’s whereabouts and there’s speculation he has returned to the area. His wife is dying of cancer. One of their two daughters wants to talk to him. Is he being investigated or have the authorities just written him off?
The second novella is called “Strawberry Moon.” It was my favorite of the three, which probably qualifies me as a proverbial “bleeding heart liberal.” It is a touching story about a young man who is in the wrong place at the wrong time as a young teen and ends up on death row. That’s where he’s been for 15 years and he’s scheduled to be executed tonight.
Mr. Grisham has a knack for getting across his philosophy about a moral issue in his books – something that novice authors are advised to avoid. I love how Mr. Grisham is able to pull it off and remain one of America’s most prolific authors. The moral issue he tackles in “Strawberry Moon” is capital punishment. He also conveys the importance of books and how books (and a person who gets books into the hands of a death row prisoner) can have a profound impact on a prisoner.
“Strawberry Moon” brought me to tears – which a story rarely does.
The third novella in Sparring Partners is about a young man who enters a hospital for relatively routine surgery and leaves the hospital paralyzed. A lawyer wants to make a big splash by winning a tremendous settlement from the hospital for his client.
I had trouble getting into this novella and completely lost interest in the plot when it came to light that there was a snake in someone’s house. It was after midnight when I got to that part of the story. Not good! I didn’t read the rest of the story. Just sayin’.
I highly recommend the first two novellas in Sparring Partners. I’ve heard that Mr. Grisham enjoyed writing this format, so maybe he’ll write more novellas for us. I hope so – as long as he leaves the snakes out!
Gray Mountain, by John Grisham
It was coincidental that I read two books last month by John Grisham. That can happen when you’re on the waitlist at the public library for multiple books by one author. Murphy’s Law sometimes kicks in, and you get both books at the same time.
When I logged into my Goodreads.com account to list this novel on my “Currently Reading” list, I discovered that I’d already read the book and given it four stars. The funny (and slightly frightening thing) is that I have no recollection of having read the book.
The “up” side of that is that I got to enjoy it all over again. With absolutely no memory of the plot, every twist, turn, and development was a surprise.
In true Grisham fashion, this legal thriller grabbed my interest from the beginning and never let me go. It took me back to the dark economic days of 2008 with the failures of huge financial institutions and the uncertainly of the time.
The book follows Samantha Cofer from the day she is laid off by a large financial institution in New York City and given the option of working for a short-listed nonprofit organization for free for one year. The reward would be that she might get a job again with the company that laid her off.
Samantha signs on with a nonprofit in southwestern Virginia’s coal country and is introduced to the underbelly of big coal companies and the way in which they rape the Appalachian Mountains and leave wildlife and people in dire straits and in worse conditions than they were before strip mining started destroying mountains from the top down with the resulting debris cutting off streams and the resulting slurry behind forever – or until a dam breaks and it crashes down the mountains to pollute the water, destroy homes, and wreck peoples’ lives.
I listened to Gray Mountain on a Playaway device while I took my daily walks. Some days I walked longer than planned, because I wanted to keep listening to the book. Books can be good for your physical health, as well as good for your mental health.
I highly recommend the book… even if you’ve read it. Or, especially if you’ve read it but forgotten all about it.
Since my last blog post
My sister and I have been busy compiling family favorite recipes and typing them in my new Atticus writing software program. We hope to publish them! I’ll keep you posted on our progress toward that goal.
I’ve also been organizing my thoughts toward publishing some historical short stories. One I’m considering writing has led me to early 18th century research about Essex County, Virginia – a place one of my ancestors lived in the early 1700s.
My historical novels are on the back burner but not forgotten as I turn my immediate attention to things I can start publishing on a smaller scale.
Until my next blog post
Keep reading! I hope you have at least one good book to read.
Make time for family, friends, and a hobby.
Start writing a journal or a book. You know you have a book in you that’s begging to come out!
Don’t forget the people of Ukraine, Uvalde, or Highland Park, etc.
Also, add to that list the people of eastern Kentucky as well as the wildfire areas in the western United States. Do what you can.