Two Thought-Provoking Books in August

August was a month for me to finish several books I had checked out earlier but not had time to finish reading before their library due dates. I finished reading two of them. Not a huge number in the scheme of things, but I really enjoyed both of them and was glad to check off a couple of books that have been on my Want to Read list for a long time.

Fascism:  A Warning, by Madeleine Albright

FascismAWarning
Fascism: A Warning, by Madeleine Albright

I sort of put myself in a jam by telling my blog readers in May that I was reading Fascism:  A Warning, by Madeleine Albright. Then, I mentioned again in July that I was reading it. Alas, I didn’t finish reading it in July. It’s not a fast read because it delves into such a serious and timely subject. In July, I described the book as being “chilling.” That’s still the best word I can think of to sum up how the book made me feel.

I wish Madeleine Albright had written my history textbooks. Her command of history coupled with a very readable writing style combine to make this an unsettling read.

If your political leanings are to the far right, you probably won’t want to read this book. I hope that won’t deter you, though. Read it with an open mind and your eyes might be opened to see some indicators in today’s America that will give you pause.

Ms. Albright seamlessly gives the history of Fascists and would-be Fascists throughout the world in the 20th century and up to the present day. The facts just flow through her words. That said, though, it was a slow read for me. The book is packed with history. Many of the details she includes were unknown to me. I read and reread chapters. She addresses the economic and political factors that create an incubator for Fascist movements.

I’ll share four quotes from the book here.

“Consider that, of the people celebrating their sixteenth birthday this year, almost nine in ten will do so in a country with a below-average standard of living.” ~ from Fascism:  A Warning, by Madeleine Albright

“In a true democracy, leaders respect the will of the majority but also the rights of the minority – one without the other is not enough.” ~ from Fascism:  A Warning, by Madeleine Albright

 “Good guys don’t always win, especially when they are divided and less determined than their adversaries. The desire for liberty may be ingrained in every human breast, but so is the potential for complacency, confusion, and cowardice.” ~ from Fascism:  A Warning, by Madeleine Albright

“This generosity of spirit – this caring about others and about the proposition that we are all created equal – is the single most effective antidote to the self-centered moral numbness that allows Fascism to thrive.” ~ from Fascism:  A Warning, by Madeleine Albright

A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles

AGentlemanInMoscow
A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles

I started reading A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles last October! It’s a wonderful book, so I’m at a loss to explain why I didn’t finish reading it until last month. I think I indicated in an earlier blog that I just couldn’t “get into it.” That comment brought at least one reply of surprise. It boiled down to, “How can anyone not like this book?”

I agree with that sentiment now. It is a wonderful novel, charmingly-, humorously-, and delightfully-written while giving the flavor of Russia in the years after the Bolshevik Revolution. It is about a Russian Count who is put under house arrest at the Metropol Hotel in Moscow and how he makes the best of his situation. He befriends a young girl who shows him all the nooks and crannies in the hotel. He eventually got a job in the hotel’s restaurant after it came to light that he knew wines and could be of use in the restaurant.

The book follows Count Rostov’s life into the 1950s. When he first moved into the attic of the grand Metropol Hotel right after the Bolshevik Revolution, he determined to make the best of his situation. He could not imagine the life he would have or the people who would come into his life there over the next decades.

My description doesn’t begin to do justice to A Gentleman in Moscow, so I recommend that you read it. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did.

Since my last blog post

I’ve received many comments on last Monday’s blog post. Thank you for the conversation! Sadly, I did not get back to work on my historical novel. Too many interests are pulling me in too many directions!

Until my next blog post

I need to increase my time on social media, since I’ve essentially ignored my social media plan for Twitter and Pinterest for several weeks. I also plan to make time to work on genealogy.

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m almost through reading The Death of Mrs. Westover, by Ruth Ware, and I’m reading The President is Missing, by Bill Clinton and James Patterson.

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

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog. I appreciate it! I welcome your comments

I invite your comments below. Have you read Fascism: A Warning or A Gentleman in Moscow? Share your thoughts. Have you read any good books lately?

Let’s continue the conversation.

Janet

Some Good Summer Reading

The first Monday of August has suddenly arrived, so it’s time for me to tell you about the books I read in July. I read a variety of books, including fiction and nonfiction.

Under the Skin, by Vicki Lane

Under The Skin
Under the Skin, by Vicki Lane

I purchased this book a couple of years ago after reading Vicki Lane’s first four books in her Elizabeth Goodweather Appalachian Mysteries. If you follow my blog, you know I get my books almost exclusively from the public library. Library books keep piling up and causing me to postpone reading the books I own. I bought the paperback edition of Under the Skin at a wonderful independent bookstore in Asheville, NC. I dare you to go into Malaprop’s Bookstore & Cafe and leave without buying at least one book. It’s a great bookstore, but I digress.

When July came, I decided I was going to read Under the Skin, even if it meant returning a library book unread. In this book, Elizabeth Goodweather is visited by her sister who convinces her to attend séances at a nearby spa. The sister is hoping to make contact with her deceased husband. All sorts of problems pop up as it becomes clear that the sister is being stalked.

Chapters more or less alternate between this present-day tale and a story about two sisters at the same historic spa in the mountains of North Carolina in the 1880s. The present-day story held my interest more than the 19th century tale, but that’s just my personal observation.

You can read all about Vicki Lane’s books on her website, http://www.vickilanemysteries.com/ and you can follow her on https://www.goodreads.com/.

 My Beautiful Broken Shell, by Carol Hamblet Adams

My Beautiful Broken Shell
My Beautiful Broken Shell: Words of Hope to Refresh the Soul, by Carol Hamblet Adams

My Beautiful Broken Shell was recommended to me by my librarian sister. It is a small book about how most seashells get tossed about and broken, but so do we humans. The author encourages us to embrace our brokenness.

I’m broken in many ways and sometimes I’m more than a little rough around the edges.

Educated:  A Memoir, by Tara Westover

Educated
Educated: A Memoir, by Tara Westover

This is an entertaining memoir of a woman who was raised by strict Mormon parents in the middle of nowhere in Idaho. Her father is bipolar, and Ms. Westover does an excellent job of getting across to the reader just how unnerving being the child of a person with that malady can be. Tara’s mother reluctantly becomes a midwife at her husband’s insistence. The occupation gradually “grows on her” and she seems to like it.

I don’t want to give away too much of this true story. Suffice it to say that Tara goes from being “no-schooled” at home to attain amazing things in education.

Words We Carry:  Essays of Obsession and Self-Esteem, by D.G. Kaye

Words We Carry
Words We Carry: Essays of Obsession and Self-Esteem, by D.G. Kaye

I referred to this little book in my July 16, 2018 blog post, Words We Carry and White Privilege. That post probably left you with an overall good impression of the book. Although I liked the premise of the book, the latter part of the book came across to me as bordering on being Pollyanna while also being conflicting. The author writes about the importance of being your authentic self while recommending that you just put on some make up and act like everything is just fine.

Her parting message struck me as being akin put a smile on your face and a have positive outlook. That takes an enormous amount of energy for people with a chronic physical illness or depression.

Mysterious Tales of Coastal North Carolina, by Sherman Carmichael

Mysterious Tales of Coastal North Carolina
Mysterious Tales of Coastal North Carolina, by Sherman Carmichael

This is a newly-published book from The History Press. I found it in the New Books Section at the public library.

The 170-page book is a collection of ghost stories from the 200-mile coast of the state along with a number of true accounts of ships being torpedoed and sunk by German U-boats during World War II.

I was familiar with a few of the ghost stories but most were new to me. The author did a good job of including just enough historical background about most of the places and stories. Each of the stories is one to three pages, making this a book that’s easy to pick up when you only have a few minutes to read.

I think I’ll purchase a copy to take along with me on my next trip to the coast.

A Bigger Table:  Building Messy, Authentic, and Hopeful Spiritual Community, by John Pavlovitz

A Bigger Table
A Bigger Table: Building Messy, Authentic, and Hopeful Spiritual Community, by John Pavlovitz

Whether or not you agree with John Pavlovitz’s politics or his ideas for how to make church more responsive and Christ-like, I think you’ll find that his writing makes you think outside the box.

That said, Mr. Pavlovitz says a lot of things in his book, A Bigger Table:  Building Messy, Authentic, and Hopeful Spiritual Community, that I needed to hear and ponder. Much of what Mr. Pavlovitz said in this book brought to mind the recent capital campaign at Rocky River Presbyterian Church. That campaign was called “Growing God’s Table.”

We already had a sanctuary. We already had a building housing Sunday School rooms, offices, and an inadequate fellowship hall. What we needed was an expansion of our building that would incorporate more classrooms, an elevator to serve the old building as well as the expansion, and most of all — a much larger fellowship hall.

The new fellowship hall has made it possible for us to have monthly community free meals and other activities to which the public is invited. We’re growing God’s table at Rocky River Presbyterian Church, but we still have a long way to go. We are a work in progress. Mr. Pavlovitz’s book opened my eyes to even more possibilities.

Mr. Pavlovitz calls out Christians who are so busy “doing church” activities that they sometimes forget that forming relationships with people is the most important thing we should be doing. Sometimes we treat one another badly and sometimes we fail to treat strangers with the love and compassion demonstrated by Jesus Christ. We all need to make the table bigger. God’s table is big enough for everyone.

I purchased this ebook several months ago after following the author’s blog for quite some time. His blog, Stuff That Needs To Be Said (https://johnpavlovitz.com/,) is always thought-provoking.

Since my last blog post

I spent some time with long-time friends who were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary in Raleigh, NC. It was good to get away for several days, make some new friends, and reconnect with some people I hadn’t seen in a long time.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m trying to finish reading several books I started in July. You’ll find out in my September 3 blog post how that went.

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

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog. I appreciate it! I welcome your comments

Have you read any good books lately?

Janet

Words We Carry and White Privilege

I happened upon a book of essays by D.G. Kaye. I wasn’t familiar with her body of work, but I found her honesty and writing style to be appealing.

Words We Carry
Words We Carry: Essays of Obsession and Self-Esteem, by D.G. Kaye

The full title of the book is Words We Carry: Essays of Obsession and Self-Esteem. The subtitle alone wouldn’t have prompted me to give the book a chance, but the main title intrigued me.

I was reminded of the Tim O’Brien book, The Things They Carried about the things the US soldiers carried with them in the Vietnam War. Although vastly different in setting, Mr. O’Brien’s collection of short stories and Ms. Kaye’s collection of essays lead you into an examination of the experiences you carry throughout your life.

Reading this book triggered some long-buried memories and brought me to some unexpected realizations.

In the “Vanity:  Where Does it Begin?” section of Words We Carry, Ms. Kaye’s following words resonated with me and made me stop and contemplate how some events and physical conditions in my formative years affected my very personality.

“Name calling, teasing, feelings of inadequacy compared to others, or growing up in an environment filled with discord can all mark the beginnings of our insecurities. Whatever our reasons, they tend to follow us through life, sometimes unknowingly, and these feelings grow into negative character traits.” ~ D.G. Kaye in Words We Carry: Essays of Obsession and Self-Esteem

Let that sink in for a minute.

I did not grow up in “an environment of discord,” and for that I am grateful. I grew up in a happy, loving home. I was completely secure within my family.

Another quote

“Our minds are delicate gateways to our egos. Just as a certain song or a waft of a familiar scent may trigger a happy memory, our minds also retain painful memories of ridicule or embarrassment. Those unhappy remembered memories are sometimes difficult to let go.” ~ D.G. Kaye in Words We Carry: Essays of Obsession and Self-Esteem

A speech impediment & crooked teeth

When I was a toddler, my temporary teeth emerged in all the wrong places in my mouth. Hence, I could not speak to be understood by anyone other than my parents and siblings.

I recall the frustration of not being understood. I knew what I was saying and to my ears my pronunciation and enunciation sounded perfect. Being asked to repeat myself over and over again was confusing and maddening when I was too young to know that I had a speech impediment, and it was embarrassing after I started to school and came to know that I was different from the other children.

I was rescued, though, by two advantages that the time, place, social class, loving parents, and white privilege afforded me.

Something that surprises me now is that even in 1959 the local school system employed a speech therapist. Mrs. Mitchell was wonderful! She visited the various schools in the system on what I suppose was a weekly basis.

There were several of us who were allowed to leave our regular classrooms for 30 minutes or so to work with Mrs. Mitchell. She sent instructions home with us so our parents could help us practice changing the way we used our tongues to form certain sounds.

Speech therapy & white privilege

As I wrote the previous paragraphs, I was struck by the realization that I probably had access to free in-school speech therapy because of my race. Today it’s called white privilege. Until I was in the seventh grade, white students and black students in our county had to attend different schools.

This fell under the US Supreme Court ruling in 1896 in the case, Plessy v. Ferguson. It mandated “equal but separate” schools for the two races, although the “equal” part was never enforced. The landmark US Supreme Court case in 1954, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka declared separate schools for the races to be unconstitutional; however, it was 1965 before the schools in our county started the desegregation process.

The ways in which I was rescued from my speech impediment and the frustration, embarrassment, and teasing it produced were both a by-product of white privilege.

Orthodontia

The other tangible thing that rescued me from what would otherwise have been a life doomed to not being able to speak to be understood was orthodontia.

Considering that orthodontics was established as a dental specialty in 1899, the fact that I was fitted with braces on my teeth in 1957 amazes me.

Dr. P.C. Hull, Jr. was my orthodontist, and I adored him. His waiting room in The Doctors Building on Kings Drive in Charlotte was a bit small but nevertheless included an aquarium — or a fish tank — in the vernacular of the times. I’d never seen tropical fish before, and I was fascinated. But I digress.

Dr. Hull proposed to experiment on me. He theorized that if he could straighten my temporary teeth, my permanent teeth would maybe absorb the roots of my temporary teeth and follow them into proper alignment. It was worth a try, so I wore braces from the age of four until it was time for me to start losing my baby teeth.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t losing my baby teeth. They weren’t even getting loose. Although nicely aligned by the age of six or seven, most of my temporary teeth had to be pulled by the dentist because they retained their long roots, and my permanent teeth came in all over the place.

Cutting to the chase

To make a ten-year-story of orthodontics short, I wore braces off and on until my teenage years, my only breaks coming when my temporary teeth had to be pulled.

I’m sure my parents sacrificed financially in order for me to wear braces, but that sacrifice made all the difference in my life. Being able to have straight teeth along with speech therapy ultimately made it possible for me to attend college and graduate school and pursue a career.

In conclusion

White privilege — which I was blissfully unaware of until middle age — made it possible for me to have free in-school speech therapy and, doubtless, made it possible for me to have access to orthodontic care in North Carolina in the 1950s-1960s.

Perhaps there were speech therapists in the racially-segregated “equal but separate” public schools for people of color at that time, but I doubt it. Perhaps there were black orthodontists or white orthodontists in Charlotte who would take black children as patients, but I doubt it.

I realize now just how fortunate I was to grow up in America’s middle class which meant although it was a financial struggle for my parents to pay for my braces, not being poor made it possible for them to even consider making that sacrifice.

The braces and speech therapy made it possible for me to escape the teasing, frustration, and embarrassment of those childhood years of not being able to speak clearly, but Ms. Kaye’s book, Words We Carry made me realize how the name calling and teasing, etc. probably resulted in some negative character traits in me.

Perhaps I would have been shy even if I’d had perfect teeth and impeccable pronunciation, but Words We Carry prompted me to reflect on the ramifications of some early childhood experiences. I still carry feelings of inadequacy even as a 65-year-old. I suppose we all do.

Let’s all be mindful of the things we say and do that are hurtful to others — especially to children. Even if they rise above and appear to cope well with the teasing and name calling, they will carry those words with them for the rest of their lives.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading A Bigger Table:  Building Messy, Authentic, and Hopeful Spiritual Community, by John Pavlovitz.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time. I didn’t work on my novel last week, but I enjoyed writing today’s blog post.

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

I look forward to your comments about today’s post and some of the words you carry.

Janet

 

Books I Read in June 2018

A couple of weeks ago, it looked as if I would have no books to write about from my reading in June. As I blogged last week in Reading is not a contest!, reading is not a contest, but it was a competition of sorts I’d inflicted upon myself.

Every year I wanted to read more books than the one before. I was signing up for more annual reading challenges than I could easily complete. The good thing about reading challenges is that they prompt me to read books I wouldn’t otherwise read; however, the flip side is I don’t have time to read all the books I want to read.

The second half of June I got my reading juices going again, so today I will blog about the five books I read. (Don’t be too impressed; one of them was a small book of very easy reading.)

The Hellfire Club, by Jake Tapper

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The Hellfire Club, by Jake Tapper

Jake Tapper is a well-known journalist and anchor for CNN. The Hellfire Club is his debut novel. Although I thought the first half of the book got too bogged down in the details of Washington, DC politics in 1954, the second half of the novel exploded and kept me turning the pages to see what would happen next.

Mr. Tapper did a marvelous job of giving 11 pages of his sources at the end of the book. A sign of a good historical novel is proof of research. In this list of sources Mr. Tapper is quick to remind the reader that the book is a work of fiction.

I couldn’t help but draw parallels in my mind between the ugly underbelly of politics in Washington, DC in 1954 and the mess we find ourselves in today. I don’t know if there is currently a hellfire club in the nation’s capital, but there is an alarming reticence on the part of members of Congress to speak up against the current barrage of lies coming from a house on Pennsylvania Avenue.

All-in-all, the subject matter of The Hellfire Club was a good read for me considering my background in political science and history.

Note to Self:  Inspiring Words from Inspiring People, collected and introduced by Gayle King

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Note to Self: Inspiring Words from Inspiring People, collected & introduced by Gayle King

This is a delightful collection of letters from the “CBS This Morning” TV show’s “Note to Self” project. Twenty-six of those letters are included in the book. Most of the contributors are famous people, but some were unknown to me.

It’s a great book choice for those times when you just have a few minutes to read, or when you don’t have the energy to remember the threads of an ongoing story. You can read each of the 26 letters in just several minutes.

The idea behind the project and this book is to have the adult you write a letter to your younger self. Anyone can do this. Why don’t you give it a try?

Summer Hours at the Robbers Library, by Sue Halpern

SummerAtTheRobbersLibrary
Summer Hours at the Robbers Library, by Sue Halpern

Sue Halpern is a journalist and novelist. This was the first of her books that I’ve read.

The title piqued my interest, since I’m an avid supporter of libraries. It is a story about a collection of unrelated people in a small town in New Hampshire who form bonds tighter than some people do with their parents and siblings.

The friends they all have in common are Kit (the librarian) and Sunny, who has been ordered to do community service at the library over the summer. Sunny is the “no-schooled” daughter of two free spirits, and this plays heavily in the book. Others in the book are primarily a group of retired men who pass their time at the library before going the cafeteria at the hospital for lunch. As the story develops, most of the characters are surprised by how close they’ve become.

This is not a gripping story, but if you’re looking for something light to read, you might consider checking it out at your local public library. Curious about the reviews it has received, I found that it averages three stars because readers have either given it five stars or one or two stars. Few people actually give it a solid three-star rating.

That made me realize that sometimes I’ll pick a book that has a three-star rating without looking more closely to see how that rating was determined.

Flat Broke with Two Goats:  A Memoir of Appalachia, by Jennifer McGaha

FlatBrokeWithTwoGoats
Flat Broke with Two Goats: A Memoir of Appalachia, by Jennifer McGaha

At first I wasn’t sure I wanted to check out this book, but curiosity got the better of me. Once I started reading it, I wasn’t sure I would finish it. I like reading about strong, independent women – real or fictional. The author did not strike me as strong or independent early in this memoir, but I kept reading to see if she would become either.

I read the first five chapters. Jennifer and David lose their house to foreclosure and thousands of dollars in back taxes. Jennifer has no clue because David “handled” their finances. That’s when I started not liking the book.

Then Jennifer and David buy a 100-year-old mountain cabin. While Jennifer is back at the house packing some last minute things, a sheriff’s deputy arrives with a subpoena for David to appear in court. It turns out that David, unbeknownst to Jennifer (again), has borrowed thousands of dollars and failed to report the loan. That’s when I lost interest in the book. I also don’t particularly like books that portray Appalachia as a place on the back side of beyond.

I just got around to reading its reviews on https://www.goodreads.com and discovered that the book has received many one- and two-star ratings, so I’m in good company.

Look for Me, by Lisa Gardner

LookForMe
Look For Me, by Lisa Gardner

I started reading this book a couple of months ago but had to return it to the library before I had time to get very far into it. It is the second book I’ve read by Lisa Gardner. Look for Me is the latest book in her Detective D.D. Warren Series.

Look for Me is about a family that’s killed except for the 15-year-old daughter. She is missing. Did she escape? Was she kidnapped by the killer? Or is she the murderer?

The book delves into the foster child system in Massachusetts, as the Det. Warren works to try to find the missing teen and determine who murdered the girl’s family. When alcohol temporarily got the best of the mother a few years ago, Roxy and her younger siblings were placed in foster homes. The treatment they received in those homes and the gang activity they were exposed to at school enter into the investigation.

There are many twists and turns in this story, and you might be surprised when the murderer is revealed near the end of the book.

Look for Me did not hold my attention as much as the other novel I read by Lisa Gardner, Right Behind You from her FBI Profiler Series.

 

Since my last blog post

I’ve tried to lighten up on the demands I was making on myself. I returned a book to the library after only reading the first five chapters. That’s a big deal for someone who until recently thought she had to finish any book she started reading.

I’ve barely spent any time on Pinterest, and I’ve enjoyed the break.

I continue to declutter my life, letting go of lots of knitting, crocheting, and sundry handcraft instructions for projects that I no longer desire to make. Let’s face it. If the fashions from the 1960s-1980s come back in style, I really have no desire to learn how to make macrame plant hangers and belts or broomstick lace shawls.

Just for fun, I just searched for “macrame” on Google and the first image that came up was an $895 macrame dress that can be purchased at Saks Fifth Avenue. Perhaps I was too hasty in putting those instructions in the recycle bin! The odds of my making a macrame dress are less than slim to none, so I can only hope those instructions will get new lives as recycled paper.

I’ve done some additional research on several of the slaves who were members of Rocky River Presbyterian Church in Cabarrus County, North Carolina prior to and during the Civil War. More on that in a future blog post.

I also, in a roundabout way, got into the records of some local people who had to request a pardon from US President Andrew Johnson after the Civil War ended in 1865 and had to pledge their allegiance to the United States Government. More on that later, too. Interesting stuff with some surprising details.

The other day I revisited the 10-cents-per-item used book sale at the Harrisburg Branch of the Cabarrus County Public Library. I purchased several books I probably won’t ever read as well as a music CD that was apparently produced by First Union National Bank, which was my beloved bank until it was bought by Wachovia which was subsequently purchased by Wells Fargo. (Don’t get me started!) Anyway… This 10-cent CD is a fantastic collection of familiar works by Beethoven, Bach, Handel, Dubussy, Haydn, and Mozart.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read and some interesting research to do. Stay tuned. I can’t wait to see what I get to read and learn in July!

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

Visit your local public library this week. You never know what you can walk out of there with just by showing your free library card or what music CD you might get to buy for just 10 cents!

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

Janet

Reading in May 2018

This is the first Monday in June, so it’s time for me to tell you about the books I read in May. Perhaps one or more of them will catch your attention. If you’ve read any of them, I’d love to hear your comments. In fact, I’d love to hear your comments even if you haven’t read any of them.

An American Marriage, by Tayari Jones

An American Marriage
An American Marriage, by Tayari Jones

The first novel I read in May was An American Marriage, by Tayari Jones. Each chapter is written in the point-of-view of one character. The main characters are Roy, Celestial, and Andre. Roy ends up in prison in Louisiana after being convicted of a crime he did not commit. During his absence, his wife Celestial relies heavily on her lifelong friend, Andre. You can probably see where that leads, but I don’t want to give the plot away. This book is a study in commitment, love, friendship, betrayal, and how the things that happen to us in childhood leave profound marks on our feelings of self-worth. I kept turning the pages because I felt invested in each character and I wanted to know what the outcome of the various twists in the plot would be.

A Higher Loyalty:  Truth, Lies, and Leadership, by B. James Comey, Jr.

A Higher Loyalty
A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership, by James Comey

After all the hype about A Higher Loyalty:  Truth, Lies, and Leadership, by former FBI Director B. James Comey, Jr., I thought perhaps I’d already heard all about the book. Of course, the part of the book that has gotten all the publicity is the last three chapters in which Mr. Comey tells about his encounters with Donald Trump after his election and after his inauguration as US President. There were few surprises in those chapters, thanks to the numerous quotes and discussions of that information in the media.

As a political science major with a history minor, I really enjoyed the whole book. Mr. Comey gives background of the FBI and explains how the Director of the FBI and the US President aren’t supposed to have much contact. That’s the way it has to be in order for the FBI to maintain its reputation as a non-partisan institution. He writes about the honor it is to serve in the agency, and he writes about some of the difficult decisions he had to make while in the directorship and during his earlier days as a prosecutor.

Less, by Andrew Sean Greer

Less by Greer
Less, by Andrew Sean Greer

The day after I read the literary winners of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize, I got on the waitlist at the public library for this year’s Fiction winner, Less, by Andrew Sean Greer. This novel is a tale about a gay American man as he approaches and then passes his 50th birthday. Arthur Less is a novelist. He travels around the world, bumbling his way through country after country. The book is entertaining, as it combines humor with the serious topic of love and how human beings seek it, find it, lose it, and perhaps find it again.

I made note of more than a few lines I liked in the book. I’ll share them in future blog posts.

She Rides Shotgun, by Jordan Harper

She Rides Shotgun
She Rides Shotgun, by Jordan Harper

I wanted to read this book because it won the 2018 Edgar Award for Best First Novel. After reading the opening description of a white supremacist gang in a prison in Chapter 0 (yes, Chapter 0), I wasn’t sure I could hang in there to keep reading. I continued to read, and I was soon invested in 11-year-old Polly.

Polly’s is kidnapped at school by the father she barely knows and is suddenly thrown into a life of crime. The book takes the reader along for a rollercoaster ride as Polly quickly becomes streetwise in order to survive.

Still I Rise:  The Persistence of Phenomenal Women, by Marlene Wagman-Geller

Still I Rise
Still I Rise: The Persistence of Phenomenal Women, by Marlene Wagman-Geller

I happened upon this book while perusing the shelves of new books at the public library. It’s a delightful and inspiring book about 25 phenomenal women who overcame all manner of adversity and made their mark on the world.

Among the 25 were such notables as Hattie McDonald who won an Academy Award in 1940 for her role in Gone With the Wind. She was the first person of color to win an Academy Award. If you don’t know her backstory, it’s well worth getting this book just to learn about her struggles.

Others included in the book include Irena Sendler, Susan B. Anthony, Fannie Hamer, Maya Angelou, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, Claudette Colvin, Patty Duke, Sonia Sotomayor, Jeannette Walls, Joanne Rowling, Laura Hillenbrand, Tammy Duckworth, and Lizzie Velazquez.

Divine Prey, by Chris Andrews

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Divine Prey, by Chris Andrews

I stepped way out of my comfort zone to read this debut novel by Chris Andrews. Fantasy novels just aren’t my go-to reading preference; however, I found myself getting interested in this epic tale about a princess who is being hunted down by the faspane. The story takes a definite turn for the worse when Princes Caroline is attacked by a werewolf. Healing stones come into play, but can she be saved?

Although not my favorite genre, Divine Prey is well-written and well-paced. The descriptions are vivid and Mr. Andrews shows how adept he is in weaving body language into the plot. Even if you aren’t a fan of the fantasy genre, you might want to give this book a chance. If you are a connoisseur of fantasy books, I think you’ll definitely want to read this one. It is Book One in Mr. Andrews’ Noramgaell Saga, so you’ll want to get in on the beginning of this intriguing story.

The Broken Girls, by Simone St. James

The Broken Girls
The Broken Girls, by Simone St. James

The chapters in this novel alternate between 1950 and 2014 in Barrons, Vermont. In 1950 one of the girls at the Idlewild Hall boarding school for troubled teenage girls disappeared. Her disappearance remains unsolved decades after the school was closed and the property abandoned.

In 2014, journalist Fiona Sheridan can’t forget that in 1994 the body of her murdered sister was found near the school. When it’s announced that Idlewild Hall is going to be restored, a body is discovered in the bottom of a well on the property. Could it be the remains of the 15-year-old missing girl from 1950?

This book will keep you turning the pages as there are multiple mysteries being unraveled, including the murder of Fiona’s sister. It is the June book selection for the online Apostrophe S Book Club, which prompted me to read it. I’m glad I did.

Here’s a little aside about Simone St. James, the author of The Broken Girls. Kudos to Ms. St. James!  I have more than 200 books on my “want to read” list on Goodreads.com. As soon as I added The Broken Girls to my list, I received a thank you note from her! Of all those “want to read” books, Ms. St. James was the first author to acknowledge that I had added one of her books to my list. As busy as authors are, it really impressed me that she took the time to write me.

Since my last blog post

Drumroll! As of May 30, I had 1,500 blog followers! Thank you, each and every one of you!

Since my last blog post two weeks ago, I have enjoyed reading, doing jigsaw puzzles, getting out to walk when it wasn’t raining here in North Carolina, and brushing up on my new skill of making infographics (I’m so new at this, I’m not even sure that’s the correct term!) to post on Pinterest and a few to post on Twitter and Facebook. I’m concentrating on sharing quotes from my vintage postcard book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, as it will mark the fourth anniversary of its publication in August and I wanted to give sales a boost as the spring/summer/fall tourist season commenced.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m finally reading Under the Skin, by Vicki Lane. It’s the fifth of her Elizabeth Goodweather Appalachian Mysteries.

Under The Skin
Under the Skin, by Vicki Lane

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

What are you reading?

Janet

Reading in April 2018

My first blog post of the month is usually about the books I read the previous month and sometimes a little about my writing. In recent months I’ve read so many books on occasion I’ve had to split the post in half. This is not the case today.

The Last Child, by John Hart

Knowing that John Hart’s sequel to The Last Child was being released, I got on the waitlist for the sequel at the public library and then hurriedly read The Last Child. It was awarded the Edgar Award in 2010 for Best Novel.

The Last Child was a good read. Mr. Hart made me really like the troubled 13-year-old boy, Johnny Merrimon, and the police detective, Clyde Hunt, who took a personal interest in Johnny and tried to guide him and keep him on the straight and narrow.

Johnny’s twin sister disappears and he takes it upon himself to find her. Everyone else thinks she’s dead, but Johnny is on a mission to find her when a second local girl disappears. Mr. Hart’s gift for descriptive writing puts the reader smack dab in the rural North Carolina setting of this book.

The Hush, by John Hart

I liked The Last Child. I liked the characters and I appreciated and enjoyed Mr. Hart’s writing style and talent. I couldn’t wait to get The Hush to see what happened to Johnny, Jack (Johnny’s friend), Detective Hunt, and Johnny’s mother ten years after The Last Child. I actually read 1bout 60 pages the first night I had it, but I struggled through the rest of the book.

It is my policy not to comment on books I read that I don’t like. I’m not a book reviewer. I just like to share books that I have enjoyed reading. The Hush, by John Hart just didn’t appeal to me. Since I’d enjoyed The Last Child and subsequently read its sequel, The Hush, I felt compelled to comment on it as well.

The writing was great, but mystical, paranormal stories just aren’t my cup of tea. I kept thinking the plot would move beyond the swamp which had bizarre effects on everyone who ventured into it, but it just got deeper into the weirdness. I read until the very end, but it was more work than pleasure. Again, I’m just not a fan of that type of book. Don’t judge it by me. You might like it.

The Family Next Door, by Sally Hepworth

The Family Next Door is the third of Sally Hepworth’s novels I’ve read. In case you missed them, here are the links to the blog posts in which I commented on The Mother’s Promise and The Things We KeepWhat I Read in April (posted May 2, 2017) and You Must Read (Some of) These Books! (posted July 3, 2017).

The Family Next Door by Sally Hepworth
The Family Next Door, by Sally Hepworth

Ms. Hepworth is from Australia and all her novels are set there. The Family Next Door is set in a neighborhood in Melbourne in which it is assumed every house will be bought and lived in by a young couple with children. When Isabelle, a single woman, moves in next door to Essie, she and all her neighbors speculate that Isabelle is a lesbian.

Since I am a single woman, this struck a nerve with me. Married people often assume that all single people are homosexuals. Another false assumption that many married women make – and which was demonstrated in this novel – is that all single women who are not lesbians are a threat to them because we want their husbands. This is also a myth.

Perhaps you can see why I was drawn into this book and had to keep reading to see how Isabelle’s life unfolded and what was going to happen to Essie and each of her neighbors. It turned out that each couple in the neighborhood harbored secrets. There wasn’t a perfect marriage in the bunch. I won’t spoil the book for you by telling you Isabelle’s story. I’ll just say there are some unexpected twists in the story.

Sally Hepworth’s 2019 novel is titled The Mother-in-Law. I’ve never had one of those, but you can be sure I’ll be on the waitlist for it at the public library as soon as it’s on order.

 

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading Divine Prey Noramgaell Saga Book 1), by Chris Andrews. Chris writes fantasy, which is another genre out of my comfort zone; however, Chris has been so generous with his writing advice that I really want to read his book. It’s his debut novel. If you’re a fan of fantasy, please look for it. Like Sally Hepworth, Chris lives in Australia. His book and several collections of his short stories are available from Amazon.

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

Feel free to share my blog posts on Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, or with your friends via email.

Thank you for reading my blog! What book are you reading? Do you ever read something out of your comfort zone? If so, how did it make you feel? Perhaps you discovered a new favorite genre you didn’t expect. Or perhaps it turned you off to all reading for a while. Share you experience below in the comments section.

Janet

“Reading Like a Writer”

In my last two blog posts I’ve written about the books I read in March. Last Monday’s post was nearing 2,000 words, so I decided to save my comments about Reading Like a Writer:  A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them, by Francine Prose, for today. I’ll just hit some of the highlights.

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Reading Like a Writer, by Francine Prose

Chapter One:  Close Reading

I read and took copious notes from the first four chapters of this book and perused the rest of it. As an aspiring author, I loved how the first chapter confirmed that I read like a writer. It’s called “close reading,” and it means reading every word for the pleasure of getting every phrase – being conscious of such things as style, sentence formation, and how the author creates characters.

Based on what Francine Prose wrote, I no longer need to apologize for reading slowly. I’m trying to hone my craft by reading published writers.

Chapter Two:  Words

In the second chapter of Reading Like a Writer, the author recommends that you read slowly enough to read every word. She compares the language a writer uses to the way a composer uses notes and a painter uses paint.

To paraphrase Ms. Prose, reading to appreciate the writing is akin to not only admiring a beautiful painting from afar but also close up so you can see the brushstrokes.

I also appreciated Ms. Prose’s thoughts on the advice often given to writers, which is “Show, don’t tell.” Ms. Prose says this much-repeated advice confuses novice writers. I can vouch for that.

In editing my earlier manuscript for The Spanish Coin (before I started the complete rewrite), I took the “show, don’t tell” advice to the extreme. I was ruthless in cutting narrative, thinking I could best “show” through dialogue. It was all part of the learning process. Ms. Prose’s take on this is that showing is best done through “the energetic and specific use of language.”

Chapter Three:  Sentences

If I had known I would someday want to be a writer, I would have paid more attention in the 8th grade when we had to diagram sentences. I wasn’t very good at it, and I really didn’t see the point.

I hadn’t thought about sentence diagramming in years until I got to the third chapter of Ms. Prose’s book. She wrote about the value of diagramming sentences, and what she said makes sense to me now.

She lamented the fact that students are no longer taught to diagram sentences. Her explanation that sentence diagramming provides for the accounting of every word and provides a way “to keep track of which phrase is modifying which noun” gave me a way of understanding the value of the exercise that I could not have appreciated as an eighth grader.

I probably couldn’t diagram a complex sentence today if my life depended on it, but Ms. Prose might just be onto something when she insinuates that having that skill would help a writer.

This weekend I happened upon an article from the Huffington Post about diagramming sentences. Here’s the link, if you wish to take a look:  https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/01/diagram-sentence-grammar_n_5908462.html.

A word of warning, though, for those of you of “a certain age.” Reading the Huffington Post article, I soon felt like I’d entered a time warp. I don’t think our sentences had “complements” when I was in the 8th grade.

Chapter Four:  Paragraphs

In the fourth chapter of the book, Ms. Prose quotes master short story writer, Isaac Babel:

“’The breaking up into paragraphs and the punctuation have to be done properly but only for the effect on the reader. A set of dead rules is no good. A new paragraph is a wonderful thing. It lets you quietly change the rhythm, and it can be like a flash of lightning that shows the same landscape from a different aspect.’” – Isaac Babel

In all the various English courses I have taken, I don’t recall any teacher or professor ever saying to break for a new paragraph “only for the effect on the reader.” I’m still letting that sink in. It’s refreshing and freeing to think about it. It is for the writer to determine which rules are dead as far as her editor is concerned.

Chapter Seven:  Dialogue

Characters in a novel should “say what they mean, get to the point, avoid circumlocution and digression.”

Chapter Eight:  Details

Another interesting observation Ms. Prose makes is about details and the truth. She observes that details persuade that the truth is being told.

She points out that a piece of clothing can speak volumes about a character’s circumstances.

Chapter Eleven:  Reading for Courage

Continuing to fly in the face of common advice given to writers of fiction, Ms. Prose suggests that the trend in modern fiction that characters in a novel must be nice in order for the reader to identify with them is possibly not true.

She also says it’s not necessarily true that every loose end in a work of fiction needs to be tied up neatly by the end.

What a relief to read those last two theories! My characters don’t have to be nice in order for the reader to identify with them, and all the loose ends don’t have to be tied up at the end of the novel? This is in opposition to what I learned in fiction writing class back in 2001.

“Words,” by Dr. R. Brown McAlister

Chapter Two in Ms. Prose’s book brought to mind the title of the remarks made by one of the two guest speakers at my high school graduation. Dr. R. Brown McAllister, a beloved icon in Cabarrus County Schools at the time, had retired after many decades of teaching and working as a school administrator, and he had a dry but keen sense of humor. The printed program for the graduation ceremony listed “Words,” by Dr. R. Brown McAllister.

In his deadpan way, Dr. McAllister went to the podium and said something like, “I was asked to talk about words, so here I am.” That was in 1971 and I still don’t know to this day if he was asked to talk about words or to say a few words.

The more I attempt to be a writer and the more I read, the more I appreciate words.

Since my last blog post

I have made a social media plan and made an effort to do more on Twitter (@janetmorrisonbk), my writing-related boards on Pinterest (https://www.pinterest.com/janet5049), and my Janet Morrison, Writer page on Facebook. Implementing the plan will be a challenge but I’m told I must get my name out there if I hope to sell any copies of The Spanish Coin if and when it gets written and published.

I did not get much reading done last week, but I’m trying to learn that I can’t do everything I want to do. I can’t even do everything I need to do.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’ve just started reading Every Note Played, by Lisa Genova.

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Every Note Played, by Lisa Genova

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

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Janet