What I Read in June 2019

My reading was sporadic again in June. Perhaps it’s the nice summer weather that’s pulling me outside and into other activities. I listened to one complete book, finished reading a book I’d started reading in May, and I read a short story by Ron Rash. I started several other books, but you’ll have to wait and hear about them in August (if I finish reading them in July.)

Here are my impressions of what I did read.

Iron House, by John Hart

Iron House, by John Hart

In my June 17, 2019 blog post, https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/06/17/delving-deeper-into-dialects-and-accents-in-fiction/, I wrote about listening to Iron House, by John Hart and being distracted by the exaggerated Southern accent used by the professional reader on the audio edition of the novel. Since then, I looked at a print edition of the book to see how the dialogue was written. As I expected, it was written properly – not like it was portrayed on the audio. I should have read the book and skipped the audio edition.

I reread much of the book in printed form and got a lot more out of it than I did when trying to listen to it. The story is set in North Carolina. Iron House is the name of a reformatory school for boys. The story is primarily about the lives of two boys who were sent to Iron House.

Enough background is included for the reader to get a feel for the dreadful place, but then follows the one who got away, how his years at Iron House damaged him and turned him into a killer. He wants to turn his life around, but he soon finds out how difficult it will be to rid himself of the lowlifes he has associated with.

It is not a pleasant read. So far, it is my least favorite of John Hart’s novels. I will continue to give everything he writes a try, though. This hasn’t turned me against his writing. I just won’t listen to any of his future books.

The First Conspiracy:  The Secret Plot to Kill George Washington, by Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch

The First Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill George Washington, by Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch

I read 70% of this nonfiction book in May, then had to get on the waitlist at the public library in order to finish reading it in June. I have a habit of trying to read too many books, so this happens more often than I’d like.

If you missed my comments about this book in my June 3, 2019 blog post, ­­­­https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/06/03/4-or-5-books-i-read-in-may-2019/ , I invite you to click on this link and read it if this true story interests you. I really liked this book. It filled in some gaps in my American history education.

Until I read this book, I had no idea there was a conspiracy within the ranks of the Continental Army to kill General Washington in the early summer of 1776! To tell you how far that conspiracy reached within the ranks of the army would give too much away. You’ll have to read it for yourself.

 “My Father Like a River,” a short story by Ron Rash

This short story by Ron Rash grabbed my attention from the opening line and held it to the end. In this story, Mr. Rash recalls a frightful day of fishing in the New River in Watauga County, North Carolina in 1962 with his father and brother.

Ron’s brother got caught up in the river’s currents. It is the story of how his father reacted and the example his father gave to his family in this horrifying event and throughout his life as he lost a good-paying management job and rebuilt a life for his family on a much lower income.

Since my last blog

I submitted two true stories for possible publication in future Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Writing fiction and writing real life are quite different. The writing I did last week proved to me that I prefer writing fiction. It will be months before I know if either of my submissions will be published, but you know I will announce the verdicts in my blog.

Until my next blog

I hope you have a good book to read. In addition to other books, I’m still reading ­­­­­­­­­­­­ Montauk, by Nicola Harrison.

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

Let’s continue the conversation

What are you reading? Would you recommend it?

While I still have your attention, please tell one other person about my blog either in person or via social media. Thank you!

Janet

4 or 5 Books I Read in May 2019

My reading was haphazard in May, to say the least. I read snippets of several books here and there. I read three books, listened to one book, and read 35% of another one before it had to go back to the public library. I’m having some issues with my computer, but here goes.

The First Conspiracy:  The Secret Plot to Kill George Washington, by Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch

The First Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill George Washington, by Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch

I love learning things, and it’s amazing how much I don’t know at my age. One thing I learned from this book seems so basic I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t know it. In my history studies I didn’t learn that the Continental Congress created the Continental Army in 1775. In my mind, I assumed the Continental Army was formed after the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

The First Conspiracy:  The Secret Plot to Kill George Washington, by Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch is almost a day-by-day telling of American Revolutionary history with focus on the little known facts of the things that happened in the shadows – behind the scenes. I minored in history in college, but I didn’t know about the conspiracy to kill George Washington as Commander of the Continental Army.

Most of what I knew about William Tryon was how he robbed the citizens of North Carolina blind to build “Tryon Palace” in New Bern, North Carolina while he served as the colony’s governor. I knew he left that position to take the more lucrative office of governor of the New York colony.

One thing I learned from The First Conspiracy was how Tryon was ruthless in his dealings with the rebels in New York and how he continued on that mission even after taking refuge in a British ship in New York Harbor.

An amusing part of the book was the description of the arrest and questioning of the four men who had decided to print paper currency in secret for the colonies. They hadn’t agreed on an alibi, so each one had a different explanation than the others and, of course, one denied having any knowledge of the printing press in the attic.

I’d read about 70% of the book before it had to be returned to the public library because another patron was waiting for it. I’ll check in out again later in order to read the rest of the story.

The Waxhaws, by Louise Pettus, assisted by Nancy Crockett

The Waxhaws, by Louise Pettus with Nancy Crockett

I wish I’d known in 1983 to purchase a copy of this book when it was published. Now, if you can find a copy to buy, it will likely cost you more than $150. I was delighted to find a circulating library copy in May, and I devoured the content.

This book, more than anything else I’ve read, helped me get a feel for life in The Waxhaws just south of the North Carolina-South Carolina border in colonial times. I hope I’m able to communicate that sense of place and time in my historical novel, The Doubloon, which primarily takes place in that Carolina backcountry settlement in 1769-70.

Anyone interested in day-to-day life in colonial America owes Louise Pettus and Nancy Crockett a debt of gratitude for all the South Carolina history they preserved and shared with each other and their readers.

The Mother-in-Law, by Sally Hepworth  

The Mother-in-Law, by Sally Hepworth

I’ve become a fan of Sally Hepworth’s novels, so I got on the wait list for her latest book as soon as it showed up on the “on order” list on the public library’s online catalog. I’ve read all her novels except The Secrets of Midwives.

This novel will keep you guessing “who dunnit.” Everyone seems to have issues with the mother-in-law. Her daughter-in-law tells this story. She has issues with her mother-in-law. So does her husband, his sister, his sister’s husband. It seems like most people who come in contact with the mother-in-law have a hard time dealing with her quirks and aloofness.

There is a totally different side the mother-in-law shows the people she helps through her volunteerism, though. It’s difficult for her family members to understand this part of her life because it seems out-of-character.

As the reader begins to learn the mother-in-law’s backstory, he or she will understand what made her the way she is or was. She’s found dead in her home. Who killed her? You might be surprised.

The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women, edited by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman in association with NPR (National Public Radio)

I listened to this book. It contains “This I Believe” essays written by people from all walks of life. Some are or were famous, others I had not heard of. Among those whose essays are in this current audio collection are Helen Keller, John McCain, Oscar Hammerstein II, William O. Douglas, Albert Einstein, Leonard Bernstein, Martha Graham, John Updike, Carl Sandburg, Jackie Robinson, Eleanor Roosevelt, Gloria Steinem, Colin Powell, Helen Hays, and Bill Gates.

The Afterword by Dan Gediman gives the history of This I Believe. The original book contained 100 essays and was done by legendary journalist Edward R. Murrow. The first of the essays was broadcast on radio on Easter Sunday in 1949.

In a nutshell, the This I Believe essays are supposed to be about “the guiding beliefs by which they live their lives.” They are short, being about five minutes long.

One of the goals of the This I Believe organization is “to facilitate a higher standard of public discourse.”

If you wish to know more about this international organization, visit

https://thisibelieve.org/.

Stony the Road:   Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow, by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and The Rise of Jim Crow, by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

I learned a lot from this book. I knew I would. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is an icon when it comes to history. I only had time to read the first two chapters of Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow, before it disappeared from my Kindle and went back to the public library. (Don’t worry. I immediately got back on the wait list for it so I can continue reading it.)

Look for my blog post next Monday about the important lesson I learned as a writer while reading Stony the Road. It wasn’t a lack of interest that caused me to read only two chapters. It was a case of “too many books, so little time” and the fact that I dedicated most of my time to writing instead of reading in May.

Since my last blog post

Since last Monday’s blog post, we jumped right over spring and went into summer. Last week it was 95 degrees on five days and 94 on the other two. According to the calendar, summer begins in three weeks. We have gone from too much rain to no rain in about three weeks. I’d rather have heat and drought than flooding or tornadoes like they’re having in the central part of the US, so I’m not complaining.

I got some good feedback about last Monday’s blog post. Thank you, Jules Horne and all the others who took the time to comment on here and on my Facebook pages.

Until my next blog post

A couple of weeks ago I read that a blogger should use second person point-of-view instead of first person. There are too many rules. I’ll try to do better in the future.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time and your projects are moving right along.

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

Let’s continue the conversation

Have you read any of these books? If so, please share your thoughts below. What are you reading?

Janet

Three Other Books I Read in March 2019

I had so much I wanted to say about the books I read last month, I had to divide my thoughts between two blog posts. Last Monday I wrote about three of the books I read in March [https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/04/01/this-is-not-an-april-fools-day-joke/], so today I write about the other three books.

Jacksonland:  President Andrew Jackson, Cherokee Chief John Ross, and A Great American Land Grab, by Steve Inskeep

Jacksonland, by Steve Inskeep

I can’t remember how I became aware of this book, and I don’t remember what I expected it to be. What it turned out to be was a real eye opener! I consider myself a bit of a student of history, but I had never read the details of how Andrew Jackson speculated on land and grabbed it up by the tens of thousands of acres as a result of the inside track he enjoyed.

The main things I knew about Andrew Jackson were:

  • He was born near the North Carolina – South Carolina border, so both states claim him as theirs;
  • His father died just days before he was born;
  • He was delivered by his Aunt Sarah Hutchinson Lessley, who just happened to be my 5th-great-grandmother;
  • He became famous for his service in the Battle of New Orleans;
  • He was the 7th President of the United States of America;
  • His image appears on the United States $20 bill; and
  • He is blamed for the Cherokee “Trail of Tears” as he forced them off their ancestral lands in western North Carolina and northern Georgia and into a grim and often fatal march to the Oklahoma Territory.

The more I learn about Andrew Jackson, the more I wonder why North and South Carolina fight over him. Let’s just let Tennessee have him, since that’s where he chose to build his estate called The Hermitage. The more I learn about him, the more I wish my ggggg-grandmother had delivered a president of better character. I don’t blame her, though. Her sister, Jean Jackson was in need of a midwife.

What I learned by reading Jacksonland:  President Andrew Jackson, Cherokee Chief John Ross, and A Great American Land Grab, by Steve Inskeep was that President Jackson not only forced the Native Americans off their lands throughout the Southeast, but afterwards he personally gained financially from purchasing thousands of acres of those lands. So did his friends and his wife’s nephew. That’s just the half of it.

Ignorance is bliss. I almost wish I hadn’t read the book.

No, I’m glad I did. I wish I’d known about all this thievery and fraud earlier. It’s amazing the details that are not included or are just mentioned in passing in history textbooks!

The Island of Sea Women, by Lisa See

The Island of Sea Women, by Lisa See

I listened to this historical novel on CD. It is based on the women who live(d) on the island of Jeju off the coast of Korea. The book covers nearly 100 years of life and changes on the island, from the 1930s, through Japanese colonialism, through World War II and the Korean War, to the 21st century.

On Jeju, women learn from a young age how to dive deep into the ocean to harvest certain fish and other sea life. They can hold their breath longer than any other people in the world. They are known as haenyeo. The women do this dangerous work, and their husbands raise their children.

This is a story of friendship and betrayal against a back drop of war and military occupation. I was mesmerized by The Island of Sea Women, by Lisa See.

Due to spending so much time deep in the water, the haenyeo have hearing loss. For this reason, the older women speak loudly. It took me a while to get accustomed to the varying volume of this book on CD, as the narrator went above and beyond the call of duty in demonstrating how much louder the women spoke compared to the other characters. For that reason, it’s not the best choice if you like to listen to a book at bedtime or with ear buds. You, too, could suffer hearing loss!

Jackie Tales:  The Magic of Creating Stories and the Art of Telling Them, by Jackie Torrence

Jackie Tales, by Jackie Torrence

You might recall that I referenced this book in my March 12, 2019 blog post, “Two For Tuesday:  Two Books Written by Women of Color” (https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/03/12/twofortuesday-two-books-written-by-women-of-color/.)

I also referenced The Importance of Pot Liquor, by Jackie Torrence in my blog post on February 19, 2019: “ Two for Tuesday:  Two Books that Remind Me of Someone.” Here’s the link to that post: https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/02/19/two-for-tuesday-two-books-that-remind-me-of-someone/ .

Jackie Torrence was a master storyteller and a reference librarian in High Point, North Carolina. This book includes 16 folk tales along with Ms. Torrence’s stage directions and sidebar comments for each story. I’d never in my life considered being a storyteller until I read this book. I don’t know that this is something I’ll pursue, but the book is so inspiring that it made me entertain the idea!

Even if you just want to be able to read stories to your children or grandchildren with more enthusiasm, facial expression, and use of your hands in a demonstrable way, you can benefit from this book. An alternative title for the book could have been, “The Many Faces of Jackie Torrence” because there are numerous up-close photographs of her extraordinarily expressive face as she told the stories.

In Jackie Tales:  The Magic of Creating Stories and the Art of Telling Them, Ms. Torrence explains what makes a good Jack Tale and what makes a good story. She writes about adjusting stories depending upon the age of her audience and how to (and how not to) hold children’s attention.

If you have an appreciation for the art of storytelling, you will enjoy this book. Look for a copy in used bookstore and online at used bookstores or consortiums such as Advanced Book Exchange.

I read one story each night before going to bed, and I hated to see the book end. It’s one I’ll definitely reread and enjoy just as much the second and third times.

Since my last blog post

I had the pleasure of attending Anna Jean Mayhew’s reading and book signing at Park Road Books in Charlotte on Thursday night. What an enjoyable evening it was as she read from and talked about her latest historical novel, Tomorrow’s Bread. More on that in my blog post on Monday, April 15.

I’ve had a net gain of 8,325 words to my The Doubloon manuscript, bringing my current word count to 30,325. I get to start on Chapter 8 today. I can’t wait!

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I started reading The Irishman’s Daughter, by V.S. Alexander yesterday afternoon. After reading Mr. Alexander’s earlier novels, The Magdalen Girls in 2017 and The Taster last year, I was eager to read his recently-released novel, The Irishman’s Daughter. He writes extraordinary historical fiction.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time and your projects are moving right along.

Look for my #TwoForTuesday blog post tomorrow: ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­“Two Books with Flowery Language.”  Thank you for providing the writing prompt, Rae, in “Rae’s Reads and Reviews” blog. Here’s a link to her April 1, 2019 blog post in which she listed all the #TwoForTuesday prompts for the month of April: https://educatednegra.blog/2019/04/01/april-two-for-tuesday-prompts/.

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

Let’s continue the conversation

Have you read any of the three books I talked about today? If so, please share your thoughts with me. Have I piqued your interest in reading any of these books?

What are you reading, and would you recommend it?

Janet

This is not an April Fool’s Day Joke

This is not an April Fool’s Day joke. I read six books in March. Six. I set the bar high for myself by reading ten books in February, but I could only manage to read six in March. Today’s blog post is about three of those books. All three are newly-released historical novels.

Tomorrow’s Bread, by Anna Jean Mayhew

I eagerly awaited this second novel by Anna Jean Mayhew, and it was well worth the wait! Tomorrow’s Bread was released on Tuesday.

Tomorrow’s Bread, by Anna Jean Mayhew

I love the main characters! Ms. Mayhew weaves the stories of several families together in Tomorrow’s Bread. She puts names and faces on the destructive aspect of Urban Renewal, which was a program funded by the U.S. Government in the 1960s to remove “blight” from inner cities

Although I was only eight years old in 1961 when the removal of the Brooklyn neighborhood in Charlotte, North Carolina began, I remember the segregated era on the cusp of the Civil Rights Movement.

I know the main streets referenced in Tomorrow’s Bread. I have traveled them all my life and, as a young adult, was employed in several offices that were built as a result of Urban Renewal. I remember separate water fountains for “white” and “colored” in department stores and the so-called “separate but equal” segregated schools.

I remember riding on racially-segregated Charlotte city buses. I clearly remember the time my mother and I got on a bus for me to go to the doctor. All the seats for whites were taken and I didn’t understand why we couldn’t sit in the back of the bus where there were vacant seats. The reverse must have been equally confusing for little black children.

In 1961 I was too young to understand segregation or Urban Renewal and, being white, I didn’t have to understand it.

Tomorrow’s Bread, by Anna Jean Mayhew, is a must read for anyone living in the Charlotte area – especially the young people and those new to the area. To understand some events of today, it’s beneficial to know the history of the city.

Although only someone who lived in the Brooklyn section of Charlotte’s inner city could state this with authority, but as an outsider, I think Ms. Mayhew captured the essence of a place and time not so long ago in our history – yet a place that is gone forever.

Tomorrow’s Bread made me stop and think – like I never had before – about the people who were displaced by Urban Renewal as real flesh and blood individuals. They went from living in a sustainable neighborhood with grocery stores, a doctor, a library, and a church all in walking distance to having to look for affordable housing in neighborhoods that offered none of those things. Loraylee, Hawk, Rev. Eben Polk, Bibi, Uncle Ray, and Jonny No Age will stay with me for a long time.

Thank you, Anna Jean, for writing this novel and for prompting me to give serious thought to a time and federal program in the 1960s that – in the name of giving people a better life – demolished their homes, businesses, and churches and split up families that had been neighbors and friends for generations. It’s not a pleasant read, but it’s a story built around fictional characters you will love and pull for.

Now, I want to know what happened to Loraylee, Hawk, and Archie. Is there a third book in the works, Anna Jean?

Girls on the Line, by Aimie K. Runyan

This is a historical novel about “the hello girls” – the women who served as military switchboard operators in France and Germany during World War I. The service these women provided was an integral part of the Allies’ ability to defeat Germany in the War. It was something I was not aware of, although I’ve studied history and minored in history in college. It just goes to show how women’s contributions have often been ignored or minimized.

Girls on the Line, by Aimie K. Runyan

I listened to this audio book and found myself listening to “just one more chapter” (and then a couple more) before going to bed at night. I hated to see the book end. It followed Ruby, an experienced telephone switchboard operator, and the six women she supervised in France. Ruby’s brother had been killed in the War and joining the US Army Signal Corps was her way of honoring his memory.

The book tells how the military switchboard operators had to go through rigorous training and had to memorize new codes daily in order to do their jobs. They worked long hours and were always under stress as it was their duty to make sure they correctly and efficiently connected phone calls between generals and other officers.

These women were denied military benefits by the US Army until 1979 – 60 years after their service. Sadly, only 28 of the 228 US Army female switchboard operators lived to see that day.

The story line of the book includes Ruby’s being torn between her less-than-exciting fiancé and the Army medic she met and fell in love with in France. Some of the dialogue between Ruby and Andrew, her new love, is a little sappy but other than that I thoroughly enjoyed the book.

The Glovemaker, by Ann Weisgarber

I had the pleasure of hearing Ann Weisgarber speak several years ago at Main Street Books in Davidson, North Carolina. Her novel, The Promise, had just been released. I purchased a copy, but time got away and too many library books kept coming into my house. Long story, short:  I haven’t read The Promise yet. In fact, The Glovemaker is the first of Ms. Weisgarber’s novels that I’ve read. I want to read all of them.

The Glovemaker, by Ann Weisgarber

Having visited Capitol Reef National Park in Utah, I could really picture in my mind the setting for “The Glovemaker.”, Fruita, (formerly, Junction) Utah is a stark place As I recall from my visit there in 2002, there’s nothing there today but an orchard, an old schoolhouse, and a picnic table – along with sheer rock cliffs, interesting rock formations, dry creek beds, and no trees to speak of aside from the orchard.

I learned some things about Mormons that I hadn’t known before — that there was an underground railroad-type network that assisted Latter Day Saints to a place of safety when they were being tracked down for prosecution for polygamy. I love it when I learn something about history when reading a novel!

The book paints a picture of the hard life the early settlers in that part of Utah had in the 1880s. My heart broke for Deborah Tyler and her brother-in-law, Nels. Deborah watches each day for her husband’s return from his traveling wheelwright work in southern Utah, but the weeks turn into months. Nels loves Deborah but cannot have her because she is married.

There is suspense when a stranger appears at Deborah’s door seeking directions to the safe place and when the US Marshal comes looking for that stranger. Deborah and Nels are forced to lie and keep secrets due to the conflict between Mormons and non-Mormons and the law.

There is also tension among the eight households in Junction due to the secrets being kept and due to differences of opinion about polygamy and other The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints doctrines and practices. Add to that the bitterly cold weather and snow and you have a recipe for good historical fiction.

Since my last blog post

The word count for my The Doubloon manuscript stands just shy of 22,000. That’s a net gain of nearly 8,000 words since last Monday.  I had a good writing week last week.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read.

If you’re a writer, I have you have quality writing time and your projects are moving right along.

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

Let’s continue the conversation

Have you read any of the books I talked about today? If so, please share your thoughts with me. Have I piqued your interest in reading any of these books?

What are you reading, and would you recommend it?

Janet

The Other Five Books I Read in February

Last Monday I blogged about five of the ten books I read last month. Today I’m sharing my thoughts about the other five books I read in February. Four of them are nonfiction. Any month I get to read ten books is a good month!

George Washington’s Secret Six:  The Spy Ring that Saved the American Revolution, by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger

George Washington’s Secret Six, by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger

I really liked this book! I was intrigued by the title. Although I always liked studying American history and minored in history in college, this book was full of information I’d either forgotten or never knew.

I’m going to show my ignorance here. The chapter about Benedict Arnold was especially enlightening. We all (I hope!) learned in elementary school that he was a traitor during the American Revolution. I realized when I started reading the chapter about him that that’s all I knew about him. I didn’t know what he did to betray America. If you don’t know the story, I suggest you read this book or do other research on your own. You might be surprised what you learn. Or, maybe I’m the only one who didn’t learn this bit of history.

It saddened me to learn that one of the six American spies was a woman whose name is lost to history. She is only remembered today as Number 355. Each of the spies had a three digit number, just like James Bond of 007 fame! Number 355 was found out by the British and taken prisoner on a ship in New York harbor. It isn’t known if she survived her ordeal as a prisoner of war.

Why are the contributions made by women swept under the rug and not mentioned in history books? I know the answer. I’m just throwing the question out in frustration for you to ponder.

In the Woods, by Tana French

In the Woods, by Tana French

I kept seeing publicity for and reviews for Tana French’s new book, The Witch Elm, and I realized I’d never read any of her books. Instead of starting with her latest, I decided to read In the Woods, which is the first book in her Dublin Murder Squad Series. It was published in 2007, and is set in the Dublin, Ireland area in 1984 and 2004.

The book begins in 1984 with the disappearance of two children and the survival of one of their companions. Then the story shifts to 2004 to Detective Bob Ryan, who sees too many similarities between his experience as that survivor and the mystery of a missing 12-year-old girl.

Bob Ryan keeps his past a secret as he and fellow-detective Cassie Maddox try to solve the girl’s disappearance. Ryan hopes in the process they will also solve the mystery of his own experience as a young boy.

That said, I did not finish reading In the Woods. The premise held such promise, but one-third of the way into the book I lost interest in the conversations the characters had that did not seem to move the story along. I wanted to like the book and read the rest of the series. But alas, there were too many other books calling my name.

Building a Story Brand:  Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen by Donald Miller

This book caught my attention because it had “Story Brand” in the title, but I almost didn’t read it since it had “Customers” in the subtitle.  Everywhere the book said, “customer,” I mentally substituted “reader.” That worked pretty well in most cases.

I was unable to download an image of the book for my blog post today.

Here are a few takeaways from the book:

“The fact is, pretty websites don’t sell things. Words sell things.”

“The reality is we aren’t just in a race to get our products to market; we’re also in a race to communicate why our customers need those products in their lives.” (In other words, my challenge is not only getting my novel published, I must also get across to potential readers why they will benefit from reading my book.)

“The first mistake brands make is they fail to focus on the aspects of their offer that will help people survive and thrive.” (In other words, how will reading my novel help the reader thrive? Oh my!)

“The second mistake brands make is they cause their customers to burn too many calories in an effort to understand their offer.” (In other words, I need to be able to “pitch” my novel is as few words as possible.)

“In a story, audiences must always know who the hero is, what the hero wants, who the hero has to defeat to get what they want, what tragic thing will happen if the hero doesn’t win, and what wonderful thing will happen if they do.” (I knew that about stories, but I didn’t know the same was true in retail.)

“If you confuse, you lose.” (Just because I know what I’m trying to say or write doesn’t mean anyone else understands it.)

Becoming, by Michele Obama

Becoming, by Michelle Obama

This was a book that I listened to. It was read by Michelle Robinson Obama, and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to her talk about her growing up years, college years, working so hard to excel in law school, meeting Barack Obama, working in a big law firm and coming to the realization that she was not going to be fulfilled by practicing law, finding a new career path, the struggles of trying so long to have children before Malia and Sasha finally came along, being under a microscope while living in the White House, and how much it hurt when people told lies about her husband and herself.

I know some people do not like Michelle Obama, and I don’t understand why. They might have a better opinion about her if they read – or better yet, listened to – Becoming. I enjoyed every bit of it!

Red Notice:  A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice, by Bill Browder

Red Notice, by Bill Browder

This book was recommended by one of my loyal blog readers, Alison. (She has a keen sense of humor and often reveals it in her blog, “A Pierman Sister” — https://piermanparis.com/.)

Many of the details of how venture investing works were beyond my interest or understanding, but I couldn’t seem to stop reading it.

This is the story of the author’s experience in the world of high finance in eastern Russia. What I know about high finance could easily fit on the head of a pin. I’ve never really needed to know the details of high finance. I don’t move in those circles. Nevertheless, the book is intriguing and sheds some timely light on current USA-Russia interactions.

Red Notice gives insightful background about how Russia transitioned from communism to capitalism and why capitalism doesn’t work in Russia the same way it works in America. There is a different mindset in Russia after decades of communist rule and thought.

I’ll share a few quotes from this political thriller:

“It bears mentioning that in Russia there is no respect for the individual and his or her rights. People can be sacrificed for the needs of the state, used as shields, trading chips, or even simple fodder. If necessary, anyone can disappear.”

“The moral is simple:  when it comes to money, Russians will gladly – gleefully, even – sacrifice their own success to screw their neighbor.”

“The major downside to what I was doing was that I was seriously disrespecting a Russian oligarch in public, and in Russia that had often led to lethal results in the past. The imagination is a horrible thing when it’s preoccupied with exactly how someone might try to kill you.”

Seizing an opportunity that was too good to pass up, Mr. Browder founded what was to become the largest investment fund in Russia after the demise of the Soviet Union. Quoting from Goodreads.com:  “But when he exposed the corrupt oligarchs who were robbing the companies in which he was investing, Vladimir Putin turned on him and, in 2005, had him expelled from Russia.”

Mr. Browder’s offices in Moscow were raided in 2007. His attorney was arrested and eventually murdered by prison guards in 2009. Mr. Browder wrote this book in an effort to bring justice for his deceased lawyer and to expose what takes place in Russian business dealings right up to Vladimir Putin.

This book should give us pause.

Since my last blog post

Two days this past week, no one from the United States has looked at my blog. What’s with that?

Carolyn W. and her team at WordPress.com continued to work on the problem I was having with the “like” buttons on other people’s blogs. They didn’t stop until they’d figured out that it was a browser issue. Now instead of using Firefox, I must use Chrome. Kuddos to WordPress.com’s support chat for getting to the bottom of this!

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’ll finish reading The Glovemaker, by Ann Weisgarber today. I’ve enjoyed it. It is set in what is now Capitol Reef National Park in Utah – a place I had the pleasure of visiting in 2002.

If you’re a writer, I have you have quality writing time and your projects are moving right along.

Look for my #TwoForTuesday blog post tomorrow:  Two Books Written by Women of Color. Thank you for providing the writing prompt, Rae, in “Rae’s Reads and Reviews” blog.

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

Let’s continue the conversation

Have you read any of the five books I talked about today? If so, please share your thoughts with me. Have I piqued your interest in reading any of these books?

What are you reading, and would you recommend it?

Janet

#TwoForTuesday: Two Books with Strong Female Leads

In honor of Women’s History Month, Rae of Rae’s Reads and Reviews blog chose four women-related #TwoForTuesday blog post prompts for March. Here’s a link to her list, in case you’d like to participate: https://educatednegra.blog/2019/03/03/two-for-tuesday-march-prompts/comment-page-1/#comment-2084.

I enjoyed participating in February so I look forward to blogging the four Tuesdays in March using these prompts.

It was tempting to list two books that readily came to mind, but I decided to give today’s prompt some deeper thought. I reviewed the list of books I’ve read and the two I chose to write about might not be selected by anyone else doing Rae’s #TwoForTuesday challenge.

Climbing Over Grit, by Marzeeh Laleh Chini and Abnoos Mosleh-Shirazi

Climbing Over Grit, by Marzeeh Laleh Chini and Abnoos Mosleh-Shirazi

Few books I read in 2018 left an impression on me like Climbing Over Grit, by Laleh Chini and her son. It left me wondering how any women raised in Iran have the strength, resolve, and grit to overcome the oppression that men inflict on females there.

Quoting from my November 5, 2018 blog post, “Many Good Books Read in October!” (https://janetswritingblog.com/2018/11/05/many-good-books-read-in-october/): 

“I have been following Laleh Chini’s blog, “A Voice from Iran” for quite a while, but I had somehow missed knowing that she was writing a book. When she announced that her book, Climbing Over Grit, was available on preorder, I immediately ordered it. Laleh has a gift for storytelling, so I knew her book would be good.

“Little did I know that Laleh’s book was based on some experiences within her own family! The book is written in first-person point-of-view, but I still didn’t catch on that it was written in her mother’s voice until I came to a page well into the book that said something like, “The second daughter was named Laleh.” I gasped out loud! It was then that I couldn’t put the book down. I finished reading it at 4:30 in the morning.

“I still cringe to think about some of Laleh’s family members being subjected to arranged child marriage and the abuse that often goes along with that practice.

“Fortunately for her readers, Laleh got out of Iran at the age of 16 and came to the United States. She now resides in Canada. The photographs and Iranian folktales she shares in her blog have helped me get a picture of an Iran I didn’t know existed.

“Climbing Over Grit is not a pleasant read, but I highly recommend it to anyone wanting to know more about the child bride culture of Iran. Her blog can be found at https://avoicefromiran.wordpress.com/.”

The Taster, by V.S. Alexander

The Taster, by V.S. Alexander

I’m sure somewhere in my study of history I knew that tasters had to sample Adolph Hitler’s food before he ate it, but it wasn’t something I’d given a lot of thought to until I read The Taster, by V.S. Alexander. What The Taster shines a bright light on is the fact that Hitler’s tasters were all women because in his warped mind women were replaceable.

I’ve read The Magdalene Girls and The Taster, by V.S. Alexander and I am impatiently waiting to rise to the top of the waitlist at the library for The Irishman’s Daughter. Alexander is fast becoming one of my favorite historical fiction writers.

I read The Taster a year ago and shared my thoughts about the book in my March 5, 2018 blog post “Reading and Writing in February 2018,” (https://janetswritingblog.com/2018/03/05/reading-and-writing-in-february-2018/.) Feel free to read that entire blog post, if you missed it the first time. The following is a quote from that post:

“The Taster is the story of a young woman in need of a job and living in Hitler’s Germany. The job she got was not a job she wanted. She was selected to be a food and drink taster for Adolph Hitler. Hitler was mortified of being poisoned, so all his food and drink had to be tasted in advance by a replaceable woman. If a taster died, she could be replaced. Hitler, of course, did not see himself as replaceable.”

The life of a food taster for Hitler was beyond stressful, as we can only imagine. The tasters didn’t know from one meal, snack, or reception to the next if that would be their last bit of food or drink.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. As mentioned in my blog post yesterday, https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/03/04/five-of-the-ten-books-i-read-in-february-2019/, I’m reading three good ones:  The Glovemaker, by Ann Weisgarber; Jacksonland, by Steve Instep; and Girls on the Line, by Aimie K. Runyan.

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

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

Let’s continue the conversation

Have you read Climbing Over Grit or The Taster?

What are two books you would name for having strong female leads?

Janet

Five of the Ten Books I Read in February 2019

Wow! Where do I start? Although it was the shortest month of the year, February was jam-packed with good books. I read a variety of fiction, nonfiction, memoir, and “how-to” books.

Truth be known, I started reading several of the books in January and finished them in February. Each one probably warranted its own blog post, but I’ve condensed my thoughts into two blog posts – today’s and the one on March 11.

Here’s what I thought of each book, in no particular order:


Before and Again, by Barbara Delinsky

Before and Again, by Barbara Delinsky

I enjoyed this novel by Barbara Delinsky about a woman, Mackenzie Cooper, who runs a red light and causes an accident in which her five-year-old daughter is killed. The event results in a divorce and an estrangement between Mackenzie and her mother.

In an effort to leave her sad past behind and start a new life, Mackenzie moves from Massachusetts to Devon, Vermont and adopts a new name. Things go well for her until her ex-husband shows up in the small town where Mackenzie lives. It turns out that Mackenzie isn’t the only resident of Devon living with a secret.

I gave this story of forgiveness four stars on Goodreads.com. I was surprised to see many two-star ratings for it on that site. With an average rating of 3.5 stars out of 5, from the reviews, it appears people either really like it or don’t.

Creating Character Arc:  The Masterful Author’s Guide to Uniting Story Structure, Plot, and Character Development, by K.M Weiland

Creating Character Arcs, by K.M. Weiland

This book is an invaluable resource for anyone writing fiction. It helped me focus on the protagonist in the novel I’m writing and organize her journey step-by-step throughout her story. The questions Ms. Weiland included in her book helped me to know my main character better, which enables me to write with more confidence than I had before.

If you’re learning to write fiction, I highly recommend Creating Character Arc:  The Masterful Author’s Guide to Uniting Story Structure, Plot, and Character Development, by K.M Weiland. Or perhaps you are a fan of fiction and you’re curious about the structure of a good novel. Then, I think you’ll find this “how-to” book interesting.

A Week in Winter, by Maeve Binchy

A Week in Winter, by Maeve Binchy

This book was a bit of a surprise for me. A Week in Winter, by Maeve Binchy was the January selection for the Rocky River Readers Book Club. Since it’s not historical fiction, suspense, or a mystery, I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did. That’s one of the good things about being in a book club. Sometimes members are exposed to a book genre they wouldn’t usually select for themselves.

Although I rarely listen to an audio book, an episode of vertigo prompted me to borrow the book on CD from the public library. The accent of professional reader, Rosalyn Landor, was delightful and helped to keep the setting in Ireland clearly in mind. The fact that I enjoyed listening to a novel was a bonus.

The author, Maeve Binchy, was a master of characterization. Each character has such a unique backstory or quirk, you’ll have no trouble keeping them straight in your head. In A Week in Winter, each of the ten chapters tells the backstory of a different guest or pair of guests at The Stone House on the west coast of Ireland. Ms. Binchy weaves their stories together perfectly as she brings them all together as guests at the inn the first week the old house was open for business.

The Midwife’s Confession, by Diane Chamberlain

The Midwife’s Confession, by Diane Chamberlain

After enjoying listening to the Maeve Binchy book, I decided to give the audio version of The Midwife’s Confession, by Diane Chamberlain a try. Ms.Chamberlain weaves quite a complicated story and cast of characters together in this novel set in Wilmington, Chapel Hill, and Robeson County, North Carolina.

One of three close friends commits suicide, leaving the other two women trying to find clues as to why Nicole felt that taking her own life was the only option she had. Layer by layer they peel back the parts of Nicole’s past they knew nothing about.

There was a horrible accident with a baby Nicole delivered as a midwife. What choice did Nicole make after the accident that changed the course of not on her life but also the lives of other families?

Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens

Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens

The prose in this book is beautiful. Delia Owens writes about the fauna of the marshlands of the North Carolina coast from a place of scientific expertise. This is her debut novel, but she has co-authored three nonfiction books about nature in Africa. She worked in Africa as a wildlife scientist but now lives in Idaho.

As an aspiring novelist, I’ve been cautioned about using dialect in my writing. A little bit of it can help put the reader in the location and time of the story; however, using it too much makes the reading more difficult and slow and also pulls the reader out of the story. Where the Crawdads Sing is a perfect example of this mistake.

I loved the descriptions of the wildlife native to the marshes of coastal North Carolina. Ms. Owens painted such a pictures with words that I could have visualized the marshes even if I’d never seen coastal Carolina marshlands.

I loved the story in Where the Crawdads Sing. I was interested in the main character, Kya, from the beginning. It was a real “page turner” due to the life Kya lived and the strong character she was. I devoured the book in 48 hours; however, the dialect was over the top. There was just too much Southern and African-American dialect. The dialect repeatedly slowed me down and pulled me out of the story.

If not for the excessive dialect and the Confederate battle flag being in the county courtroom in 1970, I would have given it six stars out of a possible five.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading/listening to The Glovemaker, by Ann Weisgarber; Jacksonland, by Steve Instep; and Girls on the Line, by Aimie K. Runyan.

If you’re a writer, I have you have productive writing time and your projects are moving right along.

Look for my #TwoForTuesday blog post tomorrow:  Two Books with a Strong Female Lead. I’m pleased to participate again this month in the “Rae’s Reads and Reviews” blog #TwoForTuesday challenge. Here’s a link to Rae’s March list, in case you want to participate: https://educatednegra.blog/2019/03/03/two-for-tuesday-march-prompts/comment-page-1/#comment-2084.

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

Let’s continue the conversation

Have you read any of the five books I talked about today? If so, please share your thoughts with me. Have I piqued your interest in reading any of these books?

Janet