Books Read in November 2021

It seems impossible that today could be the first Monday in December. That means I’m supposed to tell you about the books I read in November.

I happily spent more time working on my novel manuscript last month than reading, but I’ll fill you in on what I did read.

When Ghosts Come Home, by Wiley Cash

When Ghosts Come Home, by Wiley Cash

I’ve enjoyed everything else I’ve read by Wiley Cash. He’s a North Carolina author whose novels are set in North Carolina. They are places I’m familiar with and there’s something special about that. That said – and you may have guessed where I’m going with this – I didn’t like When Ghosts Come Home so much.

It’s set on Oak Island, North Carolina, and I could almost smell the saltwater air while reading the first half of the book. That’s all I can comment on, because I just didn’t have the interest or time to read the second half. I’m curious to know what was on that plane that crashed on page one, but the tremendous amount of backstory in the next chapters became a distraction.

Curious to know if I had the same reaction to the book as others, I read many online reviews. It turns out that many readers have given the novel five-star reviews, but a number have given it one- or two-star reviews for much the same reason I lost interest in the book. As of Saturday afternoon, 1,955 people had reviewed it on Goodreads.com, giving the book an average of 3.77 stars on a five-star scale.

I looked forward to reading this book, and got on the waitlist for it at the public library months ago. It makes me sad not to give it a glowing review. Since it’s received so many five-star reviews, maybe I need to put it on the back burner for a little while and give it another chance later.

The Silk Roads: A New History of the World, by Peter Frankopan

The New Silk Road: A New History of the World, by Peter Frankopan

I’m still making my way through this extraordinary book. Thank you, Chris Andrews, for recommending it to me.

World of Toil and Strife: Community Transformation in Backcountry South Carolina, 1750-1805, by Peter N. Moore

World of Toil and Strife: : Community Transformation in Backcountry South Carolina, 1750-1805, by Peter N. Moore

I’ve read this book before, but I’m getting even more out of it the second time around. It zeros in on the history of the location where my historical novel, The Doubloon (or, The Spanish Coin) is set in 1769. Bits of information in the book are enriching the story I’m writing and also giving me insight into the place in which some of my ancestors lived in the 1760s and 1770s.

If you have an interest in colonial American life in the far-inland portion of South Carolina along the North Carolina border, I believe you would enjoy this book.

The Judge’s List, by John Grisham

The Judge’s List, by John Grisham

John Grisham’s latest novel of legal suspense, The Judge’s List, was a welcome change of pace from the other books I was reading in November. I was on the public library waitlist for the book on CD for months and was able to check it out just a few days ago.

I found myself thinking I’d listen to just one more CD before bedtime but listening to a second or third one instead. It’s that kind of book. It’s Grisham at his best.

The story line is so convincing, it makes me wonder if a judge could actually get away with having such a double life. Also, what this judge is able to do on his computer gives me pause and makes me want to never get on the internet again!

Since my last blog post

I’ve tried to be more organized in reading other blogs. I try to read and comment on at least two or three blogs each weekday. I read more than three, but I try to leave thoughtful comments on at least two or three every day. It means a lot to me to receive comments on my blog, so I want to give some level of encouragement to other bloggers I enjoy following.

I worked on my novel. Making revisions isn’t as much fun as writing the first draft, but it has been easier than I anticipated. I’ve changed some characters’ names and made adjustments in the storyline based on recent research.

I spent some time on one of my hobbies – genealogy. My best “find” was a Revolutionary War Military Pay Voucher for one of my ancestors. Sewing has been another hobby of mine, but I’ve neglected it for several years. I literally blew the dust off my sewing machine cover last week and made a Christmas present for someone.

I also put some thought into the historical short stories I’ve written or plan to write. If I can get myself organized, I want to publish some of them in e-book form in 2022. I’ll keep you posted.

The colder, windy weather and seasonal allergies are keeping me indoors most of the time. I’m fortunate to have the option of staying inside where it’s warm.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have at least one good book to read. As in November, I have too many books vying for my attention and time to do them all justice. It’s a wonderful predicament to be in. I’m so blessed to live in a country where I have free access to a world of books through the public library system.

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog post today.  See you next week.

Janet

What Would Make You Happy?

On the heels of reading seven books in June, I took a step back in July and “only” read five books. I’d let the pressure of reading books so I could blog about them get too much of a hold on my life. That’s why I planned to not read as much in July. That didn’t work out very well, but I did start taking a closer look at the types of books I was reading and wanted or needed to read.

If you read my August blog posts, you know there wasn’t a fluffy beach read in the bunch. In fact, there wasn’t a novel in the five, and they were all about serious and sobering topics.

Photo credit: John Mark Smith on unsplash.com

September and October came along and most of my reading was dictated by the writing course I was taking. For two months, I read what I had to read or needed to read. It didn’t leave any time to read what I wanted to read, although I did start reading The Silk Roads: A New History of the World, by Peter Frankopan. It’s not a book that can be read quickly.

Reading is important for a writer; however, writing needs to be more of a focus for me now. I’ve procrastinated and let reading take too much of my time the last couple of years. I don’t regret reading any of the books I read, but I’ll never finish writing my novel at this rate!

What would make me happy?

About six weeks ago, I took time to discern what will make me happy. The things I came up with were (1) to work on my book; (2) to work on my genealogy; and (3) to get back to sewing and quilting. I haven’t sewn in going on two years now. I hope I can remember how to turn on the sewing machine. I have tubs of fabric that need to be turned into gifts or quilts and other household items.

The fourth item on my list is to get back to playing the mountain dulcimer. I should play it every day. I haven’t touched it in months. I hope my muscle memory kicks in when I take it out of its case today. I’m not very good at it. The reasons for that are (1) I’m not musically-talented and (2) I don’t put much time into it.

The Gifts of Imperfection, by Dr. Brene Brown

I recently reread The Gifts of Imperfection, by Brené Brown. It reminded me not to be so hard on myself and not to worry about what other people think of me. I listened to her book, Rising Strong, and it inspired me to be brave. That’s what finally prompted me to hire a professional editor to critique the first 50 pages of my novel. (See my July 12, 2021 blog post, 4 Other Books I Read in June 2021 and my July 26, 2021 blog post, How My First 50 Pages Stood up for Critique.)

Rising Strong, by Dr. Brene Brown

I’d been working on today’s blog post early in July, when I read Barbara Strickland’s July 11 blog post: Limit the Limits – Barbara Strickland – Author & Blogger (brstrickland.com. After reading an article in LinkedIn, Barbara blogged about a methodical way to figure out what your dreams are.

Her post sort of dovetailed with what I was writing four months ago that ended up being postponed until today. She looked at her list of dreams from a view of practicality. I didn’t have to consciously do that when I made my list because it’s not my nature to dream about doing or having things I can’t afford or don’t have the health to do.

Taking stock on this milestone year

I graduated from high school 50 years ago. There. I’ve said it. Do the math. Yes, I’m 68 years old.

Photo credit: Zoltan Tasi on unsplash.com

There’s something jolting about admitting I graduated from high school 50 years ago. I don’t know what it is about those anniversary years that end in a zero. I was not prompted to take stock of my life last year, 49 years after my graduation.

Our 50-year high school reunion was planned for last month but had to be postponed until sometime next year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

I was in a class of 191. At least 33 of my classmates have died. Talk about a sobering thought! More than one of those were special, lifelong friends of mine.

Assessing my blog topics

Once in a while, I need to take a step back and evaluate my life – how I’m spending my time, what I’m accomplishing, what I’m doing to benefit others, and what I’m doing to improve myself. This is one of those times, so please bear with me.

This is supposed to be my writing blog. My reading is important and integral to my writing; however, since the Covid-19 pandemic started, I haven’t written much about my journey as a writer until this summer when I decided to get the first 50 pages of my novel manuscript critiqued by an editor.

A blog is supposed to serve a purpose. It’s supposed to benefit the reader. I hope my continued journey as a writer will serve as fodder for my future blog posts and those posts will enlighten or entertain you in some way. Otherwise, you don’t have any reason to keep reading my blog.

No pressure there!

Photo credit: Daniel Thomas on unsplash.com

There are many things I enjoy about blogging. Over the years, I’ve developed friendly relationships with a few readers. They live all around the world. Many of them have opened my eyes to things I didn’t know. They’ve helped me understand different perspectives. They have enriched my life. I will never meet them except via the internet.

People in 20 countries visited my blog the last week in October. Since I started my blog, people in 144 countries and territories have looked at it. That is surprising, gratifying, and a bit scary.

I never know what’s going to strike a chord with readers. When I have a reader from China or some countries in Africa, it especially catches my attention and I feel a heightened sense of responsibility.

I appreciate your taking time to read my blog. I’ll try not to let you down.


Since my last blog post

Here in North Carolina, we raced right through autumn last week and jumped into winter. There was snow in the higher mountains in the state and our county had a freeze warning. It just doesn’t seem quite right to have a freeze warning before having a frost warning, but that’s life in North Carolina.

Photo credit: Janet Morrison

I’m still decluttering my home in hopes of making space for more creativity and less stress.


Until my next blog post

Have you assessed your life lately? What would make you happy? What’s missing in your life? What are you waiting for?

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

I hope you’re happy and have everything you need.

Janet

Some Odd Books Read in October 2021

The titles of the books I read in September are way off the beaten path. Since I’m writing a novel that includes a murder, I need to make sure I have certain details as accurate as possible.

Actually, I want to get all the details right, but my research and study in October concentrated on (1) the details about the dead body in the first chapter; (2) the ways in which the murderer tries to present himself as innocent; and (3) writing in deep point-of-view.

Hence, I read the books listed below. They aren’t exactly the kind of books one wants to curl up with on a lazy Sunday afternoon, but they were helpful (or, not-so-helpful) for what I needed them for.

Acting: The First Six Lessons, by Richard Boleslavsky

I checked this book out from the library in hopes that it would give pointers on how an actor “gets into character.” It did not.

In order to write a novel in deep point-of-view, I must get into character. I must write everything through the ears, eyes, and emotions of each of my point-of-view characters.

Badass Acting, by Tice Allison

I had the same hopes for this book. It failed to deliver.

Seven Pillars of Acting, by Sonya Cooke

I thought surely this acting book would include what I was looking for, but it didn’t.

I think I know what I’m doing in writing deep point-of-view. I just thought reading pointers on how an actor gets into character might be helpful. The best way to grasp this element of writing is to read the work of authors who do it well.

All these acting books might be helpful to someone learning the art of acting. They just didn’t cover what I was looking for.

Forensics for Dummies, by D.P. Lyle, M.D.

Forensics for Dummies, by D.P. Lyle, M.D.

This book contained a bit of technical information I needed to know about the timeline for the body in my novel.

Murder and Mayhem: A Doctor Answers Medical and Forensic Questions for Mystery Writers, by D.P.

Lyle, M.D.

Murder and Mayhem: A Doctor Answers Medical and Forensic Questions for Mystery Writers, by D.P. Lyle, M.D.

Like Forensics for Dummies, this book had bits and pieces of helpful information.

Forensics and Fiction: Clever, Intriguing, and Downright Odd Questions from Crime Writers, by D.P. Lyle,

M.D.

Forensics and Fiction: Clever, Intriguing, and Downright Odd Questions from Crime Writers, by D.P. Lyle, M.D.

You’ve maybe noticed a pattern here. Dr. D.P. Lyle is the leading expert in the field of forensics in writing books for writers and other laypersons.

What Every BODY is Saying, by Joe Navarro with Marvin Karlins, Ph.D.

I wanted to read this book to get pointers on how to tell if a person is lying. I wanted to incorporate “dead giveaways” in the words, body language, and behavior of the murderer in my novel. It was an interesting book. It gave some suggestions, but the bottom line was that you need to read more than one book to become an expert in spotting a lie.

What Every BODY is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed-Reading People, by Joe Navarro with Marvin Karlins, Ph.D.

Spy the Lie, by Philip Houston, Michael Floyd, and Susan Carnicero, with Don Tennant

This book is very much like What Every BODY is Saying, by Joe Navarro. It’s a little more indepth but gives the same admonitions that you need to do more than read a couple of books in order to become an expert at telling when someone is lying. I don’t need to be an expert, so I think I’ll end my research there.

Spy the Lie: Former CIA Officers Teach You How to Detect Deception, by Philip Houston, Michael Floyd, and Susan Carnicero, with Don Tennant.

I won’t give any examples from the book because you can’t take just one or two hints and make a definitive decision about whether a person is lying to you. I hope most of us rarely are lied to, so it’s not a huge problem for us. On second thought, if we watch certain TV networks, are on Facebook, or hear any political campaign ads, we’re lied to every day.

The Little Red Writing Book, by Brandon Royal

The Little Red Writing Book, by Brandon Royal

The most helpful part of this tiny book is the pages of often-made-mistakes in grammar. For instance, you’d think by now I’d know when to use “who” and when to use “whom,” but I always have to look it up when I’m writing. When I’m talking, I probably get it wrong every time. Now I have a cheat sheet.

Breathing Life into Your Characters: How to Give Your Characters Emotional & Psychological Depth, by Rachel Ballon, Ph.D.

You probably recognize the name of this book, since I’ve referred to it a number of times in my blog this summer and fall. I started reading and working my way through it early this summer.

Breathing Life into Your Characters: How to Give Your Characters Emotional & Psychological Depth, by Rachel Ballon, Ph.D.

The online writing course I took for eight weeks pulled me away from it, but I did finish it in October. I highly recommend it to anyone writing their first novel.


Since my last blog post

I got my Moderna Covid-19 booster shot on Tuesday. I’m happy to still be fully-vaccinated. I just wish all the people I’d like to be around at church, etc. were vaccinated. That’s not going to happen, since the Covid-19 vaccine has been politicized in the United States. Although I still wore a mask, it was nice to get back to in-person worship yesterday after a long absence.


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. At the recommendation of one of my Australian blogger friends, Chris Andrews, I’m finally reading The Silk Roads: A New History of the World, by Peter Frankopan. It’s excellent and a nice change of pace after the books I read in October.

Note: November is National Novel Writing Month, National Family Literacy Month, National Memoir Writing Month.

Note: Today is National Family Literacy Day and Author’s Day.

Wherever you are, thank you for reading my blog. Have you read any odd books or good books lately?

Janet

Books Read & Analyzed in September 2021

I dedicated the month of September to read books about the art and craft of writing. It’s slower than reading novels – that’s for sure!

At least, that was my plan. I had it all mapped out, down to how many pages I’d read each day. Then, that online writing course I’m taking began on September 6, and my plans went out the window.

Studying historical novels and historical mystery novels dominated my reading time in September. Weekly online course assignments included analyzing various elements of novels in our chosen genre. My genre is historical fiction, with an element of mystery in my first novel – the manuscript I’m currently working on. At least, I hope this turns out to be my first novel.

Today’s blog post might appeal more to writers than readers but, since it’s definitely part of my journey as a writer, I feel compelled to share it with you.

I evaluated one book I’ve read and five books I haven’t read. I was looking for such things as scene length, chapter length, sensory detail, point-of-view, tense, noun and verb strength, microtension, high moment, amount of narrative, amount of dialogue, and the action-reaction-processing cycle.

Until taking this “8 Weeks to Writing a Commercially Successful” online course by C.S. Lakin, I’d never tried to analyze the elements of a novel. I just read for enjoyment. I look forward to reading for enjoyment again someday, for I find analyzing novels a bit of a drag.

Even though today’s blog post takes a much different approach than my usual first blog of a month about the books I read the previous month, I hope you’ll bear with me a few minutes. My remarks about each of the following books might pique your interest, even if you’re not interested in the elements considered in the writing of a novel.

The War Nurse, by Tracey Enerson Wood

The War Nurse, by Tracey Enerson Wood

Published this year, I found The War Nurse to be an excellent example of historical fiction for me to evaluate. I’d read Tracey Enerson Wood’s first novel, The Engineer’s Wife, and liked it. The War Nurse is full of rich prose. She uses strong verbs and vivid adjectives. Writing like that has to be learned. It is hard work. I want to write like that. I wish I’d had time to read the entire book instead of skimming through it to look for specific writing techniques and elements.

The Kitchen House, by Kathleen Grissom

The Kitchen House, by Kathleen Grissom

This book was published in 2010. I read it in 2017. (See what I said about it and other books in my February 3, 2017 blog post, What I read in January 2017.) It was a novel that stayed with me for a long time and it’s one that still clearly comes to mind when I think back on historical novels I’ve especially enjoyed. I checked it out of the library last month just so I could analyze it in relation to my class assignments.

Like in The War Nurse, I found an Author’s Note, Acknowledgments, Book Club Questions, and “A Conversation with Kathleen Grissom” at the end of The Kitchen House. I think these are items that fans of historical fiction like to see – and expect to see.

Historical fiction readers like for Author’s Notes to tell them which characters and events in a novel are real and which ones are a creation of the author’s skill. I find myself reading the Author’s Note at the back of novels before I read the actual novel.

The Historians, by Cecilia Ekbäck

The Historians, by Cecilia Ekback

This is a 2021-published historical mystery. I didn’t get to read much of the book. I made note of how the book was organized and some of the features it included, such as a map of the setting, a preface, and “Cast of Characters.” All these were in the front of the book before the story itself began.

I found the list of 44 characters intimidating. I would never be able to keep up with so many people. The 19 or so introductory pages included sections like “Lapland, January 1943,” “Stockholm, February 1, 1943,” and “Blackäsen Mountain, March 31, 1943.”

The book is 431 pages plus a four-page “Author’s Note and Historical Background,” and a list of nine “Sources” in the back of the book.

Scenes varied from two to eight-and-a-half pages. Some paragraphs were half a page long. The story is told in an unbroken pattern of “Laura” chapters, “Jens” chapters, and “Blackäsen Mountain” chapters and ends with “Lapland, June 1943.”

The settings in this book are a refreshing change from all the World War II novels of recent years that have almost exclusively been set in France, Poland, or Germany.

I regret I didn’t have time to actually read this book; however, I was overwhelmed by the pages and pages of introductory material. One would have to be keenly interested in the settings and time period in order to read those 19 pages before getting to the story.

It was an eye-opening exercise related to the writing course I’m taking to analyze the elements of this historical mystery. This was the first recently-published historical mystery I analyzed.

An Irish Hostage, by Charles Todd

An Irish Hostage, by Charles Todd

Charles Todd is the pen name for a mother-son writing duo. An Irish Hostage is the 12th novel in their Bess Crawford Mysteries. I haven’t read any of them. This is their 2021 novel, so I chose it to analyze.

Like The Historians, this is an historical mystery. Although I didn’t have time to read much of it, this novel appealed to me more than the other book. That’s just personal preference, and not a criticism of Cecilia Ekbäck’s book.

It’s written in first-person past tense and is set in Somerset, June 1919.

The opening narrative paragraphs set a pleasant tone with such phrases as, “the long windows open to a surprisingly mild spring evening, and a bit of a breeze pleasantly lifting the lilac curtains just a little.” But then the mood suddenly turns with, “The only thing that spoiled this charming scene were the expressions on our faces.”

Of course, the novel being categorized as “historical mystery,” the reader should already know the tide is going to turn.

I found the style of writing to be more to my liking than the “heavier” Ekbäck book. Chapters ranged in length from around four or five pages to about 20 pages.

There is a page of acknowledgments and a two-sentence “About the Author” page at the end of the book.

The House on Vesper Sands, by Paraic O’Donnell

The House on Vesper Sands, by Paraic O’Donnell

This is another 2021 historical mystery. It’s set in February through June of 1893. It begins with “I. Requiem Æternam” and the five succeeding sections also have Latin names. That technique in itself gives the reader a hint about the mood of the book.

The opening paragraph introduces Esther Tull feeling “the first gentleness of the snow.” In the second paragraph, Esther extends “a gloved hand to the railing…. The pain was returning, but it was not yet more than she could bear….”

Interesting wording there. The inclusion of the word “yet,” adds a level of intrigue for the reader. Every word matters in a novel – or should.

This novel is mostly narrative, with scenes averaging six or seven pages. There’s an Afterword and Acknowledgments on page 401.

Murder on Black Swan Lane, by Andrea Penrose

Murder on Black Swan Lane, by Andrea Penrose

When I searched for best-selling historical mysteries, I noticed Andrea Penrose’s name coming up repeatedly in the top 50 or top 100. I borrowed her 2017 novel, Murder on Black Swan Lane from the library. It’s set in Regency London, which appears to be Ms. Penrose’s favorite era and location.

I’m not a fan of prologues, but hers was just four pages and I wanted to get a feel for her writing style. Her rich language using strong verbs and spot-on adjectives drew me in. For example, the prologue opened with, “A flicker of weak light skittered over the stone floor, followed by the soft scrapes of steps and the whispered whoosh, whoosh of mist-dampened wool.”

The book’s 27 chapters range from nine to 16 pages in length, based on the seven I counted. They’re followed by a two-page “Author’s Note” and then the prologue and first chapter of her book, Murder at Half Moon Gate.

The biography on the inside of the back cover reveals that “Andrea Penrose is a pseudonym for an author who has also written as Cara Elliott for Grand Central and Andrea Pickens for NAL.” Perhaps you’ve read one of her books under those other names. I haven’t.

I look forward to reading or at least perusing more of Andrea Penrose’s books. The rich language skills she has are something I’d like to emulate.

Since my last blog post

I completed the fourth week of my eight-week writing course, and have been busy editing my novel manuscript. Trying to work in all I’ve learned in the last month isn’t easy. I’m into the third chapter now. There will be many more revisions in my future. I enjoy the process of fiddling with words.

I’ve also worked on the notes from my local history research. I still hope to get those notes in book form eventually.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I just finished reading Making Good Habits, Breaking Bad Habits, by Joyce Meyer. It was a nice diversion from all the books and scenes I analyzed for my class.

Making Good Habits, Breaking Bad Habits, by Joyce Meyer

Now that the deer have devoured the leaves on the hydrangeas and other plants and shrubs in our yard, this week they started eating the azaleas. Now they’ve gone too far!

It’s officially autumn in North Carolina. There are spots of leaf color here and there here in the southern piedmont. Many leaves seem to just be dying and falling off. Of course, it won’t be peak fall leaf season here for several weeks. There’s a hint of fall in the air at night and in the mornings, but our daytime temperatures are still mainly in the low- to mid-80s.

It’s warmer than it was last week when I mentioned being cold. None of my southern hemisphere readers took the bait last week when I volunteered to go down under and visit for a few months. I guess they’re enjoying spring now. I will be, too, in six months!

Janet

Books Read in August 2021 (a.k.a. What to Do When You Can’t Afford Writing Courses)

I could be the poster child for how hard it is to learn the art and craft of fiction writing. It requires not only reading good fiction to see how certain things are done well but also lots of study and practice.

My first blog every month is traditionally about some of the books I read the month before. Usually, I’ve read five or more novels and I’m eager to write about them; however, in August I concentrated on reading books about the art and craft of writing fiction.

Not being able to afford to take the best writing courses in August, I prioritized the books I needed to read to bone up on such things as characterization and emotion in fiction. Between the books I had purchased through the years (most of them used books or inexpensive e-books) and the books I could borrow from the public library, I identified 18 books and two workbooks I wanted to work through before I attempt to finish polishing the historical novel I’m writing.

In August, I read the following books about the art and craft of writing:

Making It in Historical Fiction, by Libbie Hawker;

Writing Deep Point of View, by Rayne Hall;

Writing the Intimate Character: Create Unique, Compelling Characters Through Mastery of Point of View, by Jordan Rosenfeld; and

The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life, by Noah Lukeman (pertinent chapters);

Breathing Life into Your Characters, by Rachel Ballon, Ph.D.

Also, I’m about 50% through Breathing Life into Your Characters: How to Give Your Characters Emotional & Psychological Depth, by Rachel Ballon, Ph.D. I’m working through a few pages each day and doing the many writing exercises provided. It has helped me immensely in rewriting and expanding my characters’ biographical sketches.

Online Sources

There are also many free resources online. There are bloggers with much more writing experience than I who give wonderful tips and advice. There are free online interviews with authors. Check the websites of independent bookstores for scheduled author events. Some are in person, but most seem to still be virtual.

I hope virtual author events will continue after the pandemic. They’re a wonderful way for readers and aspiring writers to get to hear authors. Many of us wouldn’t get to hear them otherwise. At least one good thing has come out of the pandemic!

Once in a while an excellent opportunity comes along that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. Such was the six-hour “Writing from the Heart” free webinar I got to watch several weeks ago. (See my August 9, 2021 blog post, 2 Environment- and History-Related Books to find out some of the topics covered by that webinar.)

Online course: “8 Weeks to Writing a Commercially Successful Novel”

In light of the critique the first 50 pages of my novel manuscript received in July (See my July 26, 2021 blog post, How My First 50 Pages Stood up for Critique), I needed to take C.S. Lakin’s online writing course, “8 Weeks to Writing a Commercially Successful Novel.” I must have read the course description a dozen times, but I couldn’t afford to take it.

Then, out of the blue, on August 4, Ms. Lakin offered a $200 discount on the course. That discount made all the difference in the world. I registered for the course, which starts today!

I’m excited about the skills I will learn in the next eight weeks. I’ll keep you posted. Today’s lesson is about high moment and character change.

Since my last blog post

In addition to the writing books I listed above, in August I read Seven Things That Steal Your Joy: Overcoming the Obstacles to Your Happiness, by Joyce Meyer. It not only helped me with my personal life, it gave insight into the inner conflicts some of my characters struggle with.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have one or more good books to read. Thanks to my cousin, Jerome Williams, I’m reading Maisie Dobbs, by Jacqueline Winspear.

There are many sources of conflict and concern in our world. Let’s all try to find something to be thankful for and joyful about every day.

Janet

Things I Learned from How the Word is Passed – Part II

Last week’s blog post, Things I Learned from How the Word is Passed – Part I  covered some of the things I learned about Monticello Plantation and the Whitney Plantation from How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America, by Clint Smith. Today I share with you some of the things I learned about Angola Prison, Blandford Cemetery, and New York City from the book.

There was just too much information in this book to give it appropriate time in one or two blog posts, so I’ll wrap this up next Monday. Needless to say, I highly recommend the book. I’m just hitting the high points in my blog posts.


Angola Prison

The Louisiana State Penitentiary is known by many as Angola Prison. The author was accompanied to the prison by a Black man, Norris, who spent almost 30 years imprisoned there for a crime he didn’t commit. He wants to show people the connection between Whitney Plantation and Angola Prison.

Norris said if we want to end mass incarceration, we must get at the history of it, the reason it still exists, and what that looks like.

Photo credit: Karsten Winegeart on unsplash.com

After the Civil War there was a change in policy in Louisiana not to require unanimous jury convictions. It was meant to funnel Blacks into the convict leasing system. Convict leasing partly replaced the labor force lost when slavery ended. The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution allows involuntary servitude as a punishment for crimes committed. Under the convict leasing program, prisoners (mostly Black) could be rented out to individuals and companies. Railroads, plantations, and businesses took advantage of the program. Due to the program, most Angola inmates leased out lived no more than six years because the leasing assignments were often gruesome.

The book goes into more detail about how the laws governing juries changed over the decades, not always to the good.

The author (and I) found it interesting that the tour of Angola Prison begins in the gift shop. A gift shop at a state penitentiary. Such things as shot glasses, sunglasses, and T-shirts with the name of the prison on them are sold.

There is no mention in the prison museum that the place used to be a plantation.

I visited the prison’s website last week and was struck by how it is presented as a tourist destination. I don’t know about you, but when I go on a vacation it never occurs to me to work an operational prison tour or prison rodeo – I’m not making that up! – into my agenda.


Blandford Cemetery

Blandford Cemetery is in Petersburg, Virginia. It started as the cemetery for Blandford Anglican Church. It was deconsecrated in 1806 when the congregation decided to move to a more central location. After the Civil War a group of southern women were distressed over how their dead soldiers weren’t being honored like the Union soldiers. There was a 15-year effort to dig up Confederate dead and send them home for reburial, but 30,000 of the 32,200 could not be identified and they remain at Blandford.

Historical marker at Blandford Church and Cemetery, Petersburg, Virginia

The City of Petersburg gave the Ladies Memorial Association the abandoned church as a focal point for the cemetery. They commissioned Tiffany Studios to design stained-glass windows but couldn’t afford the usual $1,700 per window price. They couldn’t afford the $300 per window discounted price, so they went to the Confederate and border states and told them to raise the money. Saints are depicted in 11 of the 13 windows. There are state seals and inscriptions tying the Confederate dead to such things as “the Army of Heaven” in the case of South Carolina.

Before leaving Blandford, the author had an opportunity to talk to the woman in charge there. She seemed uncomfortable fielding his questions and appeared to be uncomfortable that a stack of flyers advertising a Memorial Day event hosted by the Sons of Confederate Veterans that was easily visible on the counter.

This chapter also included some facts and theories about Robert E. Lee.

The author closes the chapter by wondering if we’re all “just patchworks of the stories we’ve been told. What would it take – what does it take – for you to confront a false history even if it means shattering the stories you have been told throughout your life? Even if it means having to fundamentally reexamine who you are and who your family has been? Just because something is difficult to accept doesn’t mean you should refuse to accept it. Just because someone tells you a story doesn’t make that story true.”

To me, that is the unspoken theme of the book.


New York City

Like me, you might have wondered why there is a chapter about New York City in How the Word is Passed.

This chapter is a real eye-opener! As with all the other chapters, I learned more from this chapter than I can possibly include in this blog post.

The author went to the National Museum of the American Indian for a walking tour about slavery and the Underground Railroad. The guide began by telling participants that many things she was going to tell them would make them uncomfortable but that would be all right. We learn by having our beliefs and our misinformation questioned. (I loved this woman already and I wasn’t even there!)

The tour included lots of general facts about slavery. The guide explained that slavery in the United States was different from slavery throughout world history. Historically, people were enslaved after taken prisoners of war or in payment of a debt. These enslavements were usually for a limited time and rarely involved the descendants of the enslaved. Slavery in the U.S. was based on racism and the widely-held belief in Europe that Africans were genetically inferior or subhuman. Skin pigmentation was the defining factor

Owning land and things was a European concept. The Dutch brought the first African slaves to the U.S. (present-day New York City). Eventually, some of the slaves were freed and given land. They weren’t gifted land due to the benevolence of the Dutch, though. The Dutch wanted Blacks to serve as a buffer between them and the Indians.

The British took over New York City in 1664. “According to historian David Brion Davis, around 40 percent of households in British Manhattan owned enslaved people. The practice of keeping female slaves in town to care for homes and white children and sending male slaves outside the city for agricultural work resulted in the slaves not having many children. In turn, this made the transatlantic slave trade more necessary for economic purposes.

In 1712, there was a slave uprising in New York. In it, 25 to 50 slaves killed nine white people. The result? “More than seventy Black people were arrested, forty-three brought to trial, and twenty-three executed – some hanged and others burned at the stake.”

Just before the American Revolution, there were 3,000 slaves in New York City and another 20,000 within 50 miles of Manhattan.

The second largest slave market in the United States was on present-day Wall Street between Pearl and Water Streets in Manhattan, New York City. Did you know that? I certainly didn’t! (The largest slave market in the country was at Charleston, South Carolina.)

Photo credit: https://readtheplaque.com/plaque/new-york-s-municipal-slave-market

Thinking about the banks he could see from the site of the slave market, Mr. Smith delved a little deeper. He discovered the predecessors of several of the largest banks in the United States had accepted slaves as collateral for debts.

The author’s tour guide said, “ʻOne of the biggest lies we are still telling in this century – and I know because I’m trying to combat it – [is that] during the Civil War we were the good guys, right? New York City was good. Everybody else in the South, they were bad.’”

I think that’s a good place for me to stop sharing what Mr. Smith had to say about New York City, although I could go on about such things as the Underground Railroad, a huge slave and free Black cemetery that’s been built over, and the predominately Black village that was destroyed so Central Park could be built.


Since my last blog post

I continue to work on biographical sketches of the characters in my novel. I’ve taken a couple of days off from my writing project this week. I tend to get too serious about my self-inflicted to-do lists. I’m trying to lighten up on myself.

Friday night I worked on genealogy, one of my favorite hobbies. I found lots of interesting information on Ancestry.com. Now, all (Ha ha!) I have to do is make sure I can duplicate the research these other people have done before I add it to my family tree. The problem with genealogy is with every new generation you discover, you want to add another one. This hobby is never finished.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read.

My blog post next Monday with be about Galveston Island, Goree Island, and the Epilogue in How the Word is Passed, by Clint Smith.

Janet

Things I Learned from How the Word is Passed – Part I

My skill doesn’t lie in reviewing books. Most of the books I read, however, do make me think. Many of them prompt me to question the way I’ve seen the world all my life. To my mind, that’s a sign of a great book.

I promised myself to lighten up on my reading in July. In a way, I did. I didn’t read as many books as I usually do in a month’s time. I didn’t lighten up on the content of what I read. The books I read in July were all “heavy” in topic and were not the kind of books you want to read while on vacation at the beach or in the mountains. At least, I don’t. Since I wasn’t going anywhere in July, these books suited me just fine.

Three of the books I read in July had to do with race. I read a book about the caste system in America, and I read a book about the Confederate monuments and how they’ve brought out the worst in some of us. (See my August 2, 2021 blog post, _2 Books about Racial Injustice.)

I read a book about how various venues present either an honest or a skewed image of the history of Black Americans and how many white Americans treated or interacted with them. All three books were thought-provoking to say the least.

How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America, by Clint Smith

What a book! I found myself taking copious notes, which slowed down my reading considerably. There were so many little gems of insight in the book, I couldn’t stop taking notes.

The author allotted individual chapters to how the story of slavery is told at Monticello Plantation, the Whitney Plantation, Angola Prison, Blandford Cemetery, Galveston Island, New York City, and Gorée Island.

How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America, by Clint Smith

Before starting to read the book, I didn’t know how it was organized. The way each chapter was written about how the story of slavery is told at these various locations was powerful.

Today’s blog post will cover some of the things I learned about Monticello Plantation and the Whitney Plantation. I’ll save Angola Prison, Blandford Cemetery, and New York City for my next blog post. Galveston Island, Goree Island, and the Epilogue will highlighted in my August 29, 2021 blog post.

Monticello Plantation

Tours available and displays at Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello, have changed dramatically since the house and grounds were opened for tours in 1923. In the beginning, the tour guides were Black men dressed as house slaves. They had to play a role. Today, tour guides do their own research, plan their remarks, and shadow other guides. There are several tours. One is about slavery on the plantation.

The author was struck by the fact that his tour guide referred to Jefferson’s slaves as “human beings.” To say Jefferson gifted his children and grandchildren with human beings doesn’t sound as palatable to our ears as saying he gifted them with slaves. The tour guide went out of his way to impress upon visitors that the slaves were human beings.

Although Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence (“all men are created equal”), he owned 400 or so slaves over his lifetime and even until death. He wrote eloquently about equality but, as a politician, could not speak out against slavery. When it got down to it, Jefferson didn’t consider his slaves as being human beings.

That leads us to the matter of his relationship with Sally Hemings. There is now a Sally Hemings Exhibit at Monticello. It has received a range of reactions from visitors. I suppose I knew this at one time but I’d forgotten that Sally Hemings and Jefferson’s wife, Martha, were half-sisters.

The Whitney Plantation

I hadn’t heard of the Whitney Plantation in Wallace, Louisiana, an hour west of New Orleans. It’s off the beaten path and not the kind of place one just happens upon and decides to visit. How is the story of slavery told (or, the word passed) at Whitney Plantation? In a rather shocking way.

There are 55 ceramic dark heads of black men on metal stakes.

In 1804, slaves in Haiti rebelled and defeated the French. They founded the first “Black-led republic in the world.” After this defeat, Napoleon Bonaparte sold the Louisiana Territory to the United States (while Thomas Jefferson was president) for $15 million (= four cents per acre.) If not for the success of the revolt in Haiti, Napoleon probably wouldn’t have sold Louisiana to the United States!

In 1811, there was a slave uprising in Louisiana. Within 48 hours the armed (knives, machetes, muskets) rebellion was put down. It had been led by a mixed-race slave driver, Charles Deslondes. He was captured and to say they made an example of him would be a gross understatement. To quote from the book, “His hands were chopped off, the bones of his legs were shattered with bullets, and he was burned over a bale of hay. Many of the rebels were slaughtered on-site, their heads cut off and posted on stakes that lined the levee, a warning to other enslaved people that this was the price to pay for rebellion.”

How is it that I’ve never heard or read about this?

John Cummings purchased Whitney Plantation in 1999 and invested almost $10 million in it over the next 20 years. He donated it in 2019. It is now a non-profit.

There is high poverty in the area, which is 90% Black. The area is known as “Cancer Alley” due to the high incidence of cancer caused by the petroleum plants nearby. As quoted in the book, Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II said of the area, “ʻThe same land that held people captive through slavery is now holding people captive through this environmental injustice and devastation.”

At Whitney, they utilize the late-1930s Federal Writers’ Project to help them tell the stories of slaves using their own words. According to the book, “The voices and stories of enslaved people are the foundation of how visitors experience the Whitney.” The author’s point about this was that through the Federal Writers’ Project, former slaves got to tell their stories in their own words. The author theorizes that by allowing such former slaves as Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman to tell their stories, they consciously not only denied most average or common slaves (the ones who did not escape) the chance to tell their stories but also thereby made sure those slaves who did not escape would be looked down upon as not trying “hard enough.”

This is part of the insidiousness of white supremacy – to shine a light on the exceptions and place “blame on those who cannot, in the most brutal circumstances, attain superhuman heights. It does this instead of blaming the system, the people who built it, the people who maintained it.”

There is a Wall of Honor at Whitney with the names, country of origin, and date or year of slaves at the plantation.

Sexual violence is also addressed at Whitney. The rape of female slaves by white owners was about power. The owners knew the female slaves were powerless to refuse their advances. To really understand slavery, the sexual violence against women must be included in the equation.

The trade in slaves’ bodies is also addressed in this chapter. Medical schools like Harvard, and the Universities of Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia often bought Black corpses on the black market for research.

Did you know all this about Whitney Plantation? I didn’t. And to think, I considered skipping that chapter because I’d never heard of that plantation!

Since my last blog post

I had a rollercoaster week with my novel. In studying point-of-view, I wrestled with which one to use. In my draft of the novel, I was apparently head jumping as I changed the story’s point-of-view character occasionally at scene or chapter breaks. I thought that was acceptable, but not when you’re writing in third person intimate.

I considered rewriting the book in first-person, but that would be a real challenge for several reasons. I spent hours studying various points-of-view and the rules governing each. I find these rules maddening. I took a walk to clear my brain overload because I thought some fresh air and exercise would result in mental clarity. Then, I took a second walk. Sometimes this works, but sometimes it doesn’t. I went back through my manuscript scene-by-scene and determined how every scene could be changed into Sarah’s point-of-view or which parts could be modified to be part of the trial. I concluded third person intimate is still going to work best for this novel.

In the process of digging deeper into point-of-view, I stumbled upon several articles and YouTube videos about the Rashomon Effect. I realized I’m already using it in my trial scenes, and now I know what it’s called.

On Tuesday evening I watched and listened to an interview with author James Tate Hill. Mr. Hill lost his vision as a teen. In addition to his just-released memoir, Blind Man’s Bluff, Mr.Hill has written a novel, Academy Gothic, which was awarded the Nilsen Literary Prize for a First Novel. It always gives my writing a boost to hear an author speak or be interviewed. This interview was online and was hosted by Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, NC.

I’m slowly working my way through Breathing Life into Your Characters: How to Give Your Characters Emotional and Psychological Depth, by Rachel Ballon. I purchased it years ago and should have read it and taken it to heart then. I’m glad I rediscovered it. It’s really putting me through the paces and will help my writing on many levels. It has a 4.5 out of 5 stars rating on Amazon. I don’t know why it doesn’t have a 5 out of 5.

Until my next blog post

If you can get your hands on a copy of How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America, by Clint Smith this week, please do so. I can’t imagine you will regret reading it.

I hope you have How the Word is Passed or another good book to read.

Janet

2 Books about Racial Injustice

There was a common theme in two books I read in July. They weren’t books I read for pleasure. They were books I read because I knew I should read them. I needed to open my eyes.

I needed to remove those rose-colored glasses through which one sees old southern plantations like “Tara” of Gone With the Wind fame, where white slave owners and slaves were all just one big happy family. The only bad guys in most of those stories were the occasional evil-minded heavy-handed overseer.

That’s the fiction we’ve grown up reading. It’s the fiction we’ve grown up watching on TV and on the big silver screens in movie theaters. But it’s fiction.

There’s nothing particularly wrong in settling down to read Gone With the Wind, but it isn’t a history book. It’s fiction. Too often we let fiction color our perceptions of how things were “in the good old days.” They weren’t “good old days” for everyone.

It’s like watching reruns of The Andy Griffith Show or Father Knows Best and yearning for life to return to how it was in the 1950s and 1960s. But life wasn’t good for everyone in those decades. If you were in the white majority then in the United States, you probably have pretty good memories of those decades. If you are a person of color who grew up or were an adult in that era, your memories are probably tainted by incidents and even everyday occurrences that were meant to “keep you in your place.”

Two of the books I read in July were No Common Ground: Confederate Monuments and the Ongoing Fight for Racial Justice, by Karen L. Cox and Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, by Isabel Wilkerson. Racial injustice is the common thread the two books share. They weren’t pleasant reading, but they were enlightening and enriching reading. I highly recommend both.


No Common Ground: Confederate Monuments and the Ongoing Fight for Racial Justice, by Karen L. Cox

Karen L. Cox is a history professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. During the shut-down days of the Covid-19 pandemic, I heard her interviewed online. I immediately got on the waitlist at the library for her latest book, No Common Ground: Confederate Monuments and the Ongoing Fight for Racial Justice. Due to that same pandemic, the library was very slow to receive the book order. Nevertheless, it was well worth the wait.

No Common Ground: Confederate Monuments and the Ongoing Fight for Racial Justice, by Karen L. Cox

Written by a history professor, the 178-page text is indexed and thoroughly annotated with source notes and references. There is an extensive bibliography.

As the opening words of the inside fold of the book jacket states, “When it comes to Confederate monuments, there is no common ground. Polarizing debates over their meaning have intensified into legislative maneuvering to preserve the statues, legal battles to remove them, and rowdy crowds taking matters into their own hands. These conflicts have raged for well over a century—but they’ve never been as intense as they are today.”

The day I started reading No Common Ground, July 9, 2021, was the day a video clip on the news on TV shows a crane removing a statue of Robert E. Lee sitting on his horse, Traveler, from its place in Richmond, Virginia. It was noted that a statue of “Stonewall” Jackson would come down next.

We’ve seen many such news reports over the last couple of years as more and more people are realizing that these statues that many of us thought of as just part of the landscape and markers of our history were, in fact, very offensive to our fellow citizens of color.

Dr. Cox’s book examines the history of Confederate monuments and the mindset of the generations of southerners who erected them. Her book brings that history forward to the points of disagreement those statues represent today.

The book explains how Ladies Memorial Associations sprang up throughout the former Confederate states immediately after the Civil War. They were groups of white southern women who led the way in raising awareness and money to bring home the bodies of many Confederate soldiers who had died on battlefields far from home. Theirs was seen as “holy work.”

Those organizations morphed into the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) in 1894. It was the UDC that is responsible for the majority of Confederate monuments. The organization’s main purpose was educating children about their revisionist version of the history of the Confederate States of America, and erecting ever-taller, ever-larger monuments in public places such as county courthouse lawns ran a close second.

As Jim Crow laws gained authority in the 1890s and the lynching of black citizens became more common, the UDC dedicated more and more monuments. Fiery speeches and big celebrations accompanied those dedication ceremonies and they drew huge crowds.

Robert E. Lee thought the constructing of great Confederate monuments was “antithetical to a peaceful reconciliation” after the Civil War, but some southerners were undeterred. Lee died in 1870, and as soon as Reconstruction ended in 1877 state legislatures got involved in building statues of Lee.

A 109-foot tall $36,474 (an estimated $945,000 in today’s dollars) monument to Lee was unveiled in 1884 in New Orleans at the World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition. Not to be outdone, the city of Richmond unveiled its massive statue of Lee sitting atop his horse, Traveler, in 1890.

The Confederate monument building really came into its own around 1895 and continued until World War II, only interrupted during that time by the World War I years. Between 1900 and 1940, more than 550 Confederate monuments were erected.

No Common Ground doesn’t end there, but I’ll stop there. I wanted to share some of the things I learned about the history of the Confederate monuments that have been much in the news in the last several years as there’s been a push to tear them down. If you’ve paid attention, you already know about those recent events.

I read No Common Ground because I wanted to know the history of the Confederate monuments. The more I learn, the more I know there’s really no place for them in our world today. They were built more out of hate than honor. They were built as tangible symbols of white supremacy, and such symbols should not be tolerated today.

I hope I’ve shared enough from the book to make you want to read it. When you know better, you (should) do better.


Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, by Isabel Wilkerson

If you are serious about figuring out what’s at the root of our discontents in today’s society in the United States, read this book.

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, by Isabel Wilkerson

I’d never thought about our having a caste system in the United States. That was something they had in India, but not here! But the more I got into Isabel Wilkerson’s book, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, the more I thought she made a very good point. We don’t call it a caste system, and we don’t like to talk about having a class system, but I believe Ms. Wilkerson is correct in her deductions after her extensive research.

This is a hard pill for most of us to swallow. We like to think of America as being a beacon of liberty and individual freedoms. Compared to many other nations, it is; however, follow Ms. Wilkerson as she methodically lays out her thesis and you will, possibly, also conclude that we have our own brand of a caste system here. It’s not as rigid and blatant as the caste system in India, but it is written on our souls.

Those of us who are Caucasian don’t want to be told we’re racist. Even the most “woke” and antiracists among us, though, must admit that we have enjoyed countless privileges that were and continue to be afforded us simply due to the light hues of our skin and the texture of our hair.

I shuddered as I read parts of Ms. Wilkerson’s book. She related stories of terror, abuse, torment, and murder that have occurred throughout our nation’s history – but were not included in those written histories. The shameful acts of discrimination and physical violence against people of color in the United States continue today. It is incumbent upon all of us to speak out against it.

Once you know injustices are happening, you simply can’t turn a blind eye. It’s easy to use the excuse, “What can one person do?” We must move beyond the excuses and find ways to fight injustice.

As many state legislatures in the United States are enacting laws to make it harder for people to vote, it is our obligation to make it known to lawmakers and our fellow citizens that this isn’t right.

Be an informed citizen. The state legislators who are pushing laws of voter suppression don’t advertise it. They usually work quietly and, literally, under the cover of darkness. Before you know it, it’s done. It’s the law.

They use that favorite lie that there is rampant voter fraud. The truth is that there is rampant voter suppression. Creating US Congressional districts “with surgical precision” as was done in North Carolina needs to be held up to the light. The only case of fraud perpetrated in the 2018 election in North Carolina was perpetrated by a candidate’s campaign – and that candidate was a member of the political party that cries first and loudest about voter fraud.

What will you say when your grandchildren ask you what you did to stop racial injustice?

Since my last blog post

I’ve received many supportive and conversation-starting comments about last Monday’s blog post. I appreciate the interest that post created and every comment.

I’ve studied setting in fiction writing – setting in general and rural pioneer setting in particular. I’m making my way through C.S. Lakin’s book, Layer Your Novel.

Until my next blog post

I plan to continue to study setting and scene construction.

I hope you have a good book to read. If you can get your hands on a copy of Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, by Isabel Wilkerson, I highly recommend it.

Janet

4 Other Books I Read in June 2021

My blog post last Monday was about three historical novels I read in June, so today’s post is about the other four novels I read last month. I was amazed at how many good books I got to read or listen to.


The Plot, by Jean Hanff Korelitz

The Plot, by Jean Hanff Korelitz

As an aspiring novelist, I really enjoyed this book. The premise of The Plot is that a wannabe writer teaches writing one summer at a failing college in Vermont. One of his students is a real pain in the neck but a good writer.

The student shared with the instructor his idea for a novel. The instructor thought it was a brilliant idea. When the instructor found out the student had died and supposedly left no living relatives, the instructor writes a novel based on the student’s plot. He becomes famous and is much sought after. Just as his second novel is to be released, though, he receives a scary message: “You’re a thief.”

I think I’ll stop there and let you read the book to find out what happens. Is the writing instructor really a thief? And are the messages coming from his student’s long-lost niece or someone else? The ending surprised me.


The Warsaw Orphan, by Kelly Rimmer

The Warsaw Orphan, by Kelly Rimmer

After liking Kelly Rimmer’s earlier historical novels, The Things We Cannot Say (See my September 9, 2019 blog post: #BringBackOurGirls) and Before I Let Her Go (See my October 7, 2019 blog post: Thrillers and a Dark Novel I Read Last Month) I got on the waitlist at the public library for her new novel, The Warsaw Orphan, as soon as it showed up on the library’s catalog as having been order. I was able to check out the book on CD a couple of weeks ago, and it did not disappoint.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading novels set in World War II Europe. This story grabbed my attention immediately and never lagged. Sometimes plots lag in the middle of a book, but not this one.

As you might surmise from the title, this novel is set in Warsaw, Poland beginning in the spring of 1942. Elzbieta Rabinek is a teen girl who grows more and more afraid of the German police patrolling the city streets and ever more aware of and concerned for the Jews who were confined in the ghetto behind the city wall.

You’ll find that Elzbieta is not necessarily who she passes as, and this is the case for more than one major character in the book. She befriends a young man who lives in the ghetto while she volunteers with a nurse who is secretly smuggling children out of the ghetto. There is danger, terror, and courage at every turn. This book will keep you turning the pages or wanting to listen to “just one more CD” before you turn the light off at night.


The Woman with the Blue Star, by Pam Jenoff

The Woman with the Blue Star, by Pam Jenoff

I’ll start by saying this novel is not a pleasant read, but it’s an important historical novel. It opened my eyes to the horrors of the Jews who escaped capture by the Nazis by hiding in the sewers. This is unimaginable to me, but it is true.

The book brings out the stench and filth in which these people lived for more than a year. In that respect, the sewer itself becomes a character in the book. The protagonist, Sadie, is a teen girl who looks up through a sewer grate one day and sees a girl, Ella, about her age. Sadie and Ella make eye contact and Ella returns to the grate to look down into the sewer to talk to Sadie. Ella’s family is not Jewish and they enjoy a comfortable life. Both girls must keep their friendship secret.

The Jews hiding in the sewer are at the mercy of a young man who brings them scraps of food. It is barely enough to keep them alive. To compound the situation, Sadie’s mother is pregnant.

This story is filled with suspense. The ending was bittersweet, but I loved the epilogue.

I’ve read and enjoyed two of Pam Jenoff’s other novels, The Orphan’s Tale (See my August 7, 2017 blog post, Late July Reading) and The Lost Girls of Paris (See my May 3, 2021 blog post, 5 Historical Novels I Read in April 2021.)


Local Woman Missing, by Mary Kubica

Local Woman Missing, by Mary Kubica

I’d heard and read good things about this novel and looked forward to listening to it. I had trouble keeping up with whose point-of-view I was hearing, though, so I returned the book on CD to the public library.

Reading the printed book might be easier, when I get a chance to do that. I think the problem was mine and not the writer’s. With Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, I sometimes have concentration difficulties.

One thing in the book made me laugh out loud. You may recall that on March 29, 2021, my blog post title was #Idiom: As All Get Out. Several of you responded to let me know you’d never heard that expression before, while others said that you had but not in a long time. I was absolutely delighted that one of the characters in Local Woman Missing used “as all get out” several times.

I’ll probably give this book another chance when I can read it on my Kindle and adjust the font size.

Since my last blog post

I’ve worked on my historical novel manuscript. It feels great to be back on it! I’ve arranged for a professional editor to evaluate the first 50 pages of my 303-page manuscript. I’ll let you know what she has to say about it in a future blog post.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have at least one good book to read. I’m reading several.

I hope you’ve been able to get your Covid-19 vaccination, if you’re health allows you to take it. Variants of the virus will continue to develop until a greater percentage of us receive the vaccine. How fortunate we are to live in the 21st century when such vaccines are possible!

Enjoy your week, whatever you’re doing.

Janet