Four Other Books I Read in November 2019

After reading seven books (and parts of a couple others) in November, It soon became obvious that I needed to split the seven read books up between two blog posts. Last week’s blog, https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/12/02/i-stretched-my-reading-horizons-in-november/ was about three of the books I read last month. Today’s post covers the other four.


The Water Dancer, by Ta-Nehisi Coates

#HistoricalFiction #UndergroundRailroad
The Water Dancer, by Ta-Nehisi Coates

This historical novel combines history with a touch of fantasy. The main character, Hiram, is a slave who was fathered by a Virginia plantation’s white master. Early in the book, while Hiram is a young boy, the author tells much of Hiram’s story from the point-of-view of Hiram knowing his father’s white son is his half-brother. I found that to be an intriguing way to introduce Hiram and to explore his feelings and mindset. It made me stop and think about how that reality must have felt like for slaves who had to live in situations where that was true.

In The Water Dancer, Hiram has some supernatural powers that he inherited from his slave ancestors. Those powers come in handy in his later life when he is part of the workings of the Underground Railroad. Being the child of the white master, he has a unique opportunity to study under a white tutor – who just happens to be part of the Underground Railroad.

Before reading The Water Dancer, I thought slaves had to find their own way to safe houses on the Underground Railroad after escaping. In The Water Dancer, many slaves were actually chosen by workers and agents on the Underground Railroad to be helped to escape and travel north to freedom. People involved in the Underground Railroad in The Water Dancer forged identification papers and other documents to assist slaves.

I want to learn more about the workings of the Underground Railroad after reading The Water Dancer.


Heads You Win, by Jeffrey Archer

I don’t know why, but this is the first book I’ve read by Jeffrey Archer. It certainly won’t be the last! I enjoyed listening to Heads Your Win on CD while I muddled my way through a fibromyalgia flare.

#SovietUnion #HistoricalFiction
Heads You Win, by Jeffrey Archer

This novel got a little long for me, but I found the premise of the book clever and intriguing. It starts in 1968 Soviet Union. Alexander’s father is murdered for trying to organize a trade union. Alexander and his mother flee to the docks where they must decide whether to be smuggled onto a ship heading to America or one heading to England.

At this point, the plot splits into two scenarios. One assumes they get on the ship to America, and it follows Alexander’s business life in pizza parlors. Through a friend, he gets involved in the underworld of priceless art. The other scenario assumes Alexander (a.k.a., Sasha) and his mother get on the ship to England where Alexander gets involved in politics.

The story alternates between Alexander and Sasha and illustrates just how much in our lives can depend on “the luck of the draw.” Alexander and Sasha both wonder from time-to-time how their lives would have turned out differently if they’d chosen “the other crate” at the dock.

In checking reviews of Heads You Win, I discovered reactions all across the spectrum. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a book get reviews so evenly spread between one, two, three, four, and five stars.

Many reviews state that the ending of the book confused them. I’ll add myself to that category. Someone I thought was dead, apparently wasn’t. And then the very last sentence in the book is one many readers say they didn’t see coming.


The Family Upstairs, by Lisa Jewell

This was the first book I’ve read by Lisa Jewell. The Family Upstairs is a psychological thriller. It might have been easier for me to follow in written form, but I listened to it on CD. The repeated use of the “f-word” might have been easier to take in written form, too. I guess some people have a limited vocabulary and talk like that all the time. This appears to be the case with one of the characters.

#FamilySecrets #FamilyDynamics
The Family Upstairs, by Lisa Jewell

Twenty-five years ago, police found the parents dead in their home. All their children were missing except for their 10-month-old daughter who was found unscathed. The baby is adopted and her name becomes Libby Jones. She knows nothing of her biological family. Fast-forward 25 years and Libby receives a letter informing her that she has inherited the mansion in Chelsea that had belonged to her parents.

Libby learns who she was, and her long-lost siblings start coming out of the woodwork. This isn’t my type of book. I found it to be very strange.


Selected Poems, by Carl Sandburg

I borrowed this book from the public library early in the month and enjoyed reading ten pages of Carl Sandburg’s poetry each day until I finished it. There were poems I was familiar with along with many that I’d never read. I’d forgotten how raw Carl Sandburg’s poetry was.

Reading this collection of his poetry brought to my attention more than ever before just how far removed his retirement home in the mountains of North Carolina was from the rough and tumble life in Chicago that he wrote about so eloquently.


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading A Woman is No Man, by Etaf Rum.

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.

If you enjoy my blog posts, please share that on social media and with your real life friends. Don’t be shy about telling others about my blog!


Let’s continue the conversation

I’m always interested to know what you’re reading. What are you reading or what have you read recently that you’d recommend to others?

Janet

I stretched my reading horizons in November

The books I read in November took me to Auschwitz, Barcelona, Boston, Philadelphia, a plantation in Virginia, and a gulag in Siberia. Today I’ll write about three of the seven books I read in November. Four of the seven were written by authors that were new to me.


The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafόn

This author was recommended to me by my cousin, Jerome Williams. Actually, he recommended celebrated Spanish novelist Señor Zafόn’s latest book, The Labyrinth of Spirits. It being the fourth and final book in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series, I thought it best that I read the first book in the series first – The Shadow of the Wind.

The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

When I read reviews of The Shadow of the Wind, I discovered people either raved about it or hated it. People who didn’t like it wrote scathing reviews. Author Kristin Hannah gave it five stars on Goodreads.com and author Diana Gabaldon gave it four stars on that same website. I tend to trust Jerome’s judgment and that of Ms. Hannah and Ms. Gabaldon, so I downloaded the MP3 edition of the book onto my tablet.

I was immediately drawn into the book with its beautiful description of books! In fact, it was the author’s wit and descriptive language are what I liked most about the book. The book continued more off-color language than books I usually read, but the language suited the characters. I mention this, in case you are overly-offended by such language. You might not want to read it, if that’s the case.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed listening to the book and laughed out loud on numerous occasions. I wish I had mastered Spanish in high school and college so I could read The Shadow of the Wind in its original language.

What is the book about? It’s a coming of age tale that begins with a ten-year-old boy, Daniel. His father, a bookseller, takes him to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. This secret “library” of endless shelves and twists and turns houses rare books – books that have been forgotten. Daniel is instructed to select a book to save. He chooses The Shadow of the Wind, by Julian Carax.

Daniel is obsessed with finding out everything he can about Julian Carax and, in particular, why his books weren’t well-known. This obsession leads Daniel into a string of dangers and a host of characters. It is believed his copy of The Shadow of the Wind is the last surviving copy of Julian Carax’s book because someone is methodically stealing and burning copies of the book. We eventually find out about the sad life of Julian Carax.


The Dutch House, by Ann Patchett

I started reading The Dutch House, by Ann Patchett and immediately liked it. Not far into it, the CD edition became available at the public library and I switched to listening to the novel. It was read by actor Tom Hanks. I should say, it was read to perfection by Tom Hanks.

The Dutch House, by Ann Patchett

The Dutch House is a novel about a dysfunctional family. The breaking point is when the mother leaves and doesn’t come back. There are two children. Maeve is the older of the two and is very protective of her younger brother, Danny. The story is told from Danny’s viewpoint from his childhood and well into his adulthood.

Things spiral downward when Maeve and Danny’s father remarries and brings his new wife and her two small daughters into The Dutch House. There are many layers to this novel as all the family dynamics are explored, as well as how the individuals who worked at the house played into the scenario.

The house in which Maeve and Danny lived as young children is called The Dutch House because it was built by a couple from the Netherlands. It is a grand house and it is as important in the story as any of the characters. The house is, in a way, the main character.

Although the overall plot is a sad and tragic tale, there are moments of humor which Tom Hanks presents as only he can. Reading the book is enjoyable, but I highly recommend the CD edition. That might be a first for me!


Cilka’s Journey, by Heather Morris

This historical novel left me in awe of the real-life Cilka as well as the author. You may recall that I read The Tattooist of Auschwitz, by Heather Morris, in October of last year. Here’s a link to the blog post in which I wrote about that historical novel:  https://janetswritingblog.com/2018/11/05/many-good-books-read-in-october/. That book really made an impression on me, so I jumped at the chance to read Ms. Morris’ new novel.

Cilka’s Journey, by Heather Morris

In Cilka’s Journey, the author expands on the life of a teenage girl being held at Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp in her earlier novel. Ms. Morris is a master of historical fiction and makes me wonder if I have what it takes to write in that genre.

Cilka spent three years in captivity at Auschwitz-Birkenau. At the end of World War II in Europe, [SPOILER ALERT:  instead of being set free by her Russian liberators she is charged with sleeping with the enemy (which was not by choice!) and is sentenced to 15 years in a gulag in Siberia!]

Cilka is a natural-born caregiver and learns the nursing profession while a prisoner. She lives a life of unbelievable loss, suffering, and abuse before being allowed to return to her native Czechoslovakia in the 1950s. (Czechoslovakia is, of course, now the Czech Republic.)

It is historical novels like this that remind me that I have lived a charmed and sheltered life compared to millions of other people in the world. I highly recommend Cilka’s Journey. I listened to it on CD. It was beautifully-read by Louise Brealey and contains lots of background information and an interview with the author at the end.

Lale Sokolov, the real-life Auschwitz survivor we learned about in The Tattooist of Auschwitz, said of Cilka, “She was the bravest person I ever met.”


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading Nothing More Dangerous, by Allen Eskens and listening to Talking to Strangers, by Malcolm Gladwell.

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

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

If you enjoy my blog posts, please share that on social media and with your real life friends. Don’t be shy about telling others about my blog!


Let’s continue the conversation

I’m always interested to know what you’re reading. Please tell me in a comment.

Janet

How to Visit Scotland, Aspen, Atlanta, Kentucky, Virginia, Syria, Turkey, and England in a Month by Never Leaving Home!

The books I read in October took me on a virtual world tour!

I’m a newsaholic, and October was packed with “breaking news” here in the United States every day. It was a juggling act for me to keep up with the news, write my blog posts, and read as many books as I could. I hope my remarks about the books I read last month will pique your interest in one or more of the books or authors.

I had such a pleasant time reading books in October that I had to break my blog post into two posts. In case you missed it, here’s a link to last Monday’s post: https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/11/04/a-new-favorite-novel/.


One Mile Under, by Andrew Gross

One Mile Under, by Andrew Gross

This 2015 environmental thriller by Andrew Gross started with a mysterious death in Aspen, Colorado and morphed into the story of a rural/farm area where a fracking operation had moved in, promised the residents more money than they could make farming under the current drought conditions. Andrew Gross’ serial protagonist Ty Hauck is drawn into the murder mystery by his niece, Danielle.

I’ve given away enough of the story to maybe interest you in reading the book. Is there a connection between a rafter’s death on the river and the growing conflict between the residents and the fracking company? Water – clean water – becomes a valuable commodity pitting residents against the fracking company, citizens against citizens, and citizens against the local government.

Other books I’ve read by Andrew Gross include The One Man, see https://janetswritingblog.com/2016/12/06/what-i-read-in-november/; The Sabateur, see https://janetswritingblog.com/2017/10/09/more-great-september-reads/; and The Fifth Column, see https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/10/07/thrillers-and-a-dark-novel-i-read-last-month/.


Layover, by David Bell

Layover, by David Bell

Layover, by David Bell, is based on the premise that a businessman who travels by air a lot in his work strikes up a conversation with a woman who is also traveling through the Atlanta airport. In a couple of hours they become romantically involved – or, at least the man does.

That’s when things start deteriorating. He changes his flight and follows the woman to her destination. Of course, this has trouble written all over it. He can tell the woman is running away from something, but she won’t tell him what it is. Then, she disappears.

If I tell you the rest of the story, it will spoil the book for you. Suffice it to say a dead body is involved, and everyone isn’t who you think they are.


The Turn of the Key, by Ruth Ware                

The Turn of the Key is the third thriller I’ve read by Ruth Ware. The others were The Woman in Cabin 10, see https://janetswritingblog.com/2016/10/04/what-i-read-in-september/ , and The Death of Mrs. Westaway, https://janetswritingblog.com/2018/10/01/fiction-nonfiction-read-in-september-2018/ see.) She has written five novels.

The Turn of the Key, by Ruth Ware

In The Turn of the Key, a young woman in England quits her nursery school job in order to accept a position as a nanny to three children in a remote, isolated area in the Scottish Highlands. The description had me at “isolated area in the Scottish Highlands.” That’s all I needed to know.

Little does Rowan Caine know when she accepts the nanny job, she is entering a nightmare.

The book is written in the form of a letter that Rowan writes from prison to the lawyer she desperately wants to defend her in court. A child is dead, and Rowan is charged with murder.

This novel is unputdownable. It’s a tragic story on many levels and speaks to the dysfunction so prevalent in our society. There is nothing uplifting about this novel, so just know that ahead of time if you think you might want to read it. I’m not necessarily drawn to such novels, but I don’t avoid them either. I had to keep reading this one in order to find out which little girl was murdered and who murdered her. There was an additional twist to Rowan’s background that isn’t revealed until near the end. Maybe I’d slow, but I didn’t see it coming!


Burying the Bitter: A Boutique Series Short, by Tonya Rice

I “met” Tonya Rice online recently. We follow each other on Twitter and we follow one another’s blogs. Her blog about books, reading, and writing is “Front Porch, Sweet Tea, and a Pile of Books.” You might want to check in out. Here’s the link: https://tonyarice.wordpress.com/.

You might want to look for her short, Burying the Bitter: A Boutique Series Short on Amazon.com. It retails for $2.99 but, the last time I looked, it was available for free on Kindle. She also has a paperback book that includes this Burying the Bitter: A Boutique Series Short and other stories.

Ms. Rice’s other novels in the Boutique Series are Without Your Goodbye: A Novelette and Grand Opening: A Boutique Series #1 – A Novella, which I look forward to reading.

Burying the Bitter: A Boutique Series Short, by Tonya Rice

Ms. Rice’s Boutique Series stories and novels are set in her hometown of Richmond, Virginia. Burying the Bitter introduces us to Eveline, who grew up in Richmond and now lives in Atlanta. She is called home for Uncle Neville’s funeral. She and her female cousins are not enamored with this highly-thought of uncle because he molested them when they were young. Eden’s Jolie Boutique comes into play as that is where last minute clothing for the funeral must be purchased. An old love interest from high school days, Dodge Mallory, just happens to attend the funeral, and he and Eveline become reacquainted. I’m sure Dodge will show up again in Ms. Rice’s books and stories that follow this one.

After the funeral, Eveline confronts her mother about the sexual abuse she and her cousins suffered at the hands of Uncle Neville 20 years ago. How will her mother react?


The Beekeeper of Aleppo, by Christy Lefteri

The Beekeeper of Aleppo, by Christy Lefteri

I was intrigued by the title of this book when I first heard about it. It was an interesting book, and it held my attention. The Beekeeper of Aleppo follows and man and his wife who have to flee Aleppo, Syria after the man’s livelihood of beekeeping and selling honey is destroyed and his wife is blinded by the bomb blast or the trauma of the bomb blast that kills their son. She is an artist, so losing her eyesight signaled the end of her career.

The novel follows the couple as they struggle to get to Great Britain where they plan to seek asylum. They go through many life-threatening events and stay in countless refugee camps as they cross Turkey and Greece in their effort to get to England.

The author has first-hand experience in the region working with refugees, so she is able to write with authority about the experiences such people endure. The people in this book were just average everyday people whose lives were torn apart by war. What surprised me in the book was the fact that some of the refugees had cell phones and were able to email relatives occasionally.


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m listening to Heads You Win, by Jeffrey Archer after having several days that I didn’t get to read anything.

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

Have you read any of the books I talked about today? I’d love to know what you liked or didn’t like about them. What are you reading this week?

Janet

A New Favorite Novel?

A New Favorite Novel?

What a great time I had reading books in October! Many books are published in the fall of the year. I’d been on the waitlist for months for some of those books as well as others. Of course, they all became available at the same time. “Too many books, too little time” kicked in big time!

Today’s blog post is about what is possibly my new favorite book and one of the other books I read in October. My blog post next Monday will catch you up on the other books I read last month.

The Stationery Shop, by Marjan Kamali

I can’t say enough about this book! It just may be my new favorite novel. This is a story that will stay with me forever. It is a tragic story in many ways, but oh how lovely! I listened to it on CD. Mozhan Marno did a superb job reading it.

The Stationery Shop, by Marjan Kamali

This historical novel takes us back to 1953 in Tehran, Iran. There is a chance meeting between a young man and a young woman in a stationery shop where books are also sold. Since the young man’s mother has already selected the woman she wants her son to marry, she is none too happy when he announces his plans to marry this woman of lower economic status he met at the stationery shop.

Marjan Kamali includes just enough 20th century Iranian history to set the stage for this story of love, betrayal, and a never-ending love between two people. You will discover connections between different characters as you read. It is a rich book, beautifully written.

I’m eager now to read Marjan Kamali’s debut novel, Together Tea, and I can’t wait to see what she writes for us next!


The Ragged Edge of Night, by Olivia Hawker

This book was a big surprise. I read that Olivia Hawker had a new book, One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow, coming out on October 8. I’m on the waitlist at the library for it. One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow sounded interesting, so I looked to see what else she had written.

I listened to her first book, The Ragged Edge of Night, on CD. It was beautifully written, and I learned from the notes at the end of the book that it was based on a true story from Ms. Hawker’s husband’s family. It was beautifully read by Nick Sandys and the author, Olivia Hawker.

The Ragged Edge of Night, by Olivia Hawker

This book contained some of the most moving and beautiful prose of any novel I’ve read. The premise of the book is that Elisabeth Herter, a widow with three children, is looking for a man to help her with the responsibility of raising her three children. Along comes Anton Starzmann, a former Franciscan friar who has been stripped of his occupation and his school by the Nazis in 1942 Germany.

Elisabeth and Anton start corresponding. They meet in person and agree to marry. Anton cannot father children due to an injury, but that suits Elisabeth just fine. They will marry, be companions, and raise her children. These are desperate times.

That’s the plot, and it’s a beautiful story. What struck me about The Ragged Edge of Night was how Olivia Hawker wrote Anton’s gut-wrenching fear that Hitler and the Nazis were entrenched until the end of time so beautifully that I was brought to tears. Through her writing, Ms. Hawker put me in Hitler’s Germany. Even though I knew Hitler was brought down in the end, she put me in 1942 when I had no way of knowing that.

That’s what good historical fiction does. It puts you in the story and in the time and place, so you don’t know what the future holds.

I wish I could quote extensively from the book in order to give you the true flavor of the prose, but I’ll settle for the following few sentences from Anton’s point-of-view as he implores God to help him make sense of what is happening in Germany in 1942. This prose I found so beautiful is in chapter six. Here’s a chopped-up transcript from that chapter:

“The bells will ring, even after The Reich has fallen. Everything that is in me that is sensible, everything that is rational can’t believe it’s true. The Reich will never fall…. But when in moments of quiet, in my stillness of despair, I dare to ask what yet may be…. Christ Jesus, I always believed you were merciful, but this is a monstrous cruelty to make me dream of a time when evil may fall…. I cannot help but know it, against all sense, I believe somewhere beyond the ragged edge of night, light bleeds into this world.”

From Chapter 6, The Ragged Edge of Night, by Olivia Hawker

I hope those six sentences I pulled out of a long prayer I transcribed from the CD entice you to read the book. Writers are advised to put the reader in the scene. This, to me, is a prime example of just that.

My only criticisms of the CD are (1) Every time the children in the story spoke, it was at full blast and (2) Some of the audio segments were longer than 30 minutes. The wide range of volume is an irritating and uncomfortable situation for people who are hearing-impaired. The excessively long audio segments present a problem on some CD players. More than once when I couldn’t listen to the end of a segment, I had to listen to the entire segment a second time in order to get to the end of it.


Since my last blog post

A fibromyalgia flare has knocked the props out from under me as we transition from summer into winter. (I think we often just skip right over fall here in North Carolina.) Eye pain has forced me to listen to books more than read them.

As you know, listening to books is not my reading format of choice. It’s going better than I expected, though. In fact, I believe listening to the CD recording of The Ragged Edge of Night possibly gave me a richer reading experience than I would have had if I’d read the words myself. That astounds me and gives me a new appreciation for audio books.

I want to read The Stationery Shop and The Ragged Edge of Night again. It’s rare that I find a book that I want to read a second time.


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m listening to Heads You Win, by Jeffrey Archer­­­­­­­­­­­­­­.

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

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog. Don’t be shy – share this blog post on social media.


Let’s continue the conversation

I’m always interested to know what my blog readers are reading. Please share that in the comments below or on my social media platforms.

Janet

Thrillers and a Dark Novel I Read Last Month

In my first blog post each month I usually write about the books I read the previous month. This month is no different. I’ve read and enjoyed many historical novels this year. My second favorite genre is thrillers. In September I got to read two newly released historical thrillers. I hope you’ll find at least one book in the following list that you’d like to read.

One Good Deed, by David Baldacci

2019 #thriller by #Baldacci
One Good Deed, by David Baldacci

I decided to read David Baldacci’s latest thriller, One Good Deed, because it’s been quite a while since I read one of his books. This was a good one for me to choose, because Baldacci introduces a new protagonist in this novel. Aloysius Archer is a World War II veteran and has just been released from prison after serving a term for a crime he did not comment.

Archer is a good-hearted man who, for various reasons, continues to make bad decisions throughout the book. His heart is always in the right place, though, so the reader forgives him for those poor choices and pulls for him to come out on top and not end up in prison again. He befriends a detective, Irving Shaw, who immediately sees the traits in Archer that would make him a good detective.

There are a few murders and a couple of people disappear along the way, but Archer never gives up on finding the truth – even when it means he must accept the fact that he is easily suckered in by a pretty face. It’s a real page-turner that I read in one weekend. Those of you who know it sometimes takes me two months to read a book will appreciate what a high compliment that is for One Good Deed.

Before I Let You Go, by Kelly Rimmer

Two sisters. One baby. An impossible choice.
Before I Let You Go, by Kelly Rimmer

I listened to Before I Let You Go, by Kelly Rimmer on CD. It was a dark story about how one sister dealt with her sister’s drug addiction. It is a timely subject, and the book demonstrates how very difficult tough love is.

For me, the book repeatedly brought to mind a case of drug addiction in my family and how one lethal overdose can leave a family in a dark pit that is perhaps impossible to climb out of. The subject matter wasn’t pleasant to read, but the bonds of family were well demonstrated.

The storyline of this novel includes the birth of an innocent baby. The infant has to go through painful withdrawal before it can become healthy enough to thrive.

Someone Knows, by Lisa Scottoline

A secret kept by #teens.
Someone Knows, by Lisa Scottoline

I really wanted to like this novel, but it was just too much work for me. The story is told from 10 points-of-view. I couldn’t keep that many main characters straight in my mind.

The plot line might appeal more to a young adult audience because it revolves around some mistakes made by a group of teens and the secret they have to live with.

The Fifth Column, by Andrew Gross

A #thriller about #NaziSympathizers in the US in #1939.
The Fifth Column, by Andrew Gross

The Fifth Column is Andrew Gross’ latest thriller. The name of the novel comes from “the fifth column” meaning a group inside a larger group that supports an outside group or country. In this instance, the Fifth Column was the Nazi-sympathizers in the United States as World War II raged in Europe.

Mr. Gross takes you back to February of 1939 when more than 20,000 Nazis and Nazi sympathizers in khaki uniforms and waving Nazi flags gathered for a rally at Madison Square Garden in New York City. I hadn’t known about that, so I learned something right off the bat from the book’s introduction.

This novel tells the story of America’s hesitancy to get involved in World War II. Memories of “The Great War”/”The War to End All Wars”/World War I were still fresh from just a decade before. Some saw President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” programs as socialism. The much-celebrated American pilot Charles Lindbergh voiced pro-Nazi opinions. Germany was bombing London and stories of the abuse and murder of Jews in Europe were spreading across the Atlantic. Jews in New York City were being harassed. Families could go to Nazi-sponsored camps in New Jersey and on Long Island where children were taught the Nazi salute and Nazi doctrine. It was a time when people increasingly didn’t know whom they could trust.

The Fifth Column, by Andrew Gross rests on that background. It is a story brought to life by the author. The protagonist, Charlie Mossman, gets in over his head when he stands up for a Jewish bar owner when a group of Nazi thugs come into his establishment to make fun of him. Someone is killed and Charlie goes to prison.

When Charlie comes home from prison, his wife has created a new life for herself. Charlie soon becomes suspicious that his wife and young daughter’s neighbors in the apartment building are German spies. He goes to great lengths to find evidence to support his hunch.

The plot thickens after Charlie has a chance meeting with Noelle, a graduate student from France. Noelle says she knows people who can help Charlie. This seems too good to be true. Is it?

Although the plot unfolds in a predictable way, I enjoyed the book. The CD edition is read by Edoardo Ballerini. I continue to surprise myself by enjoying some audio books.

Since my last blog post

Yesterday afternoon I had the privilege of attending a birthday party for a man celebrating his 100th birthday. He is a mild-mannered man who fought in World War II and has been active in his church his entire life. He has inspired countless people to get involved in Habitat for Humanity by the example he has set for the last 40 years. It’s not often I am invited to a “Happy 100th Birthday” party! Happy 100th Birthday, Mr. William King McCachren, Sr.!

I continue to work my way through Chris Andrews’ writing “how-to” book, Character and Structure:  An Unholy Alliance. To read about that book, read my last blog post, https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/09/30/character-and-structure-by-chris-andrews/ and/or visit Mr. Andrews’ website, https://www.chrisandrews.me/.

Late in August, I purchased an online writing course by C.S. Lakin, “Emotional Mastery for Fiction Writers.” The link to that course sat on the back burner until several days ago. I think the course and Mr. Andrews’ book will dovetail nicely and help me to be a better fiction writer. I hope to finally start the C.S. Lakin course this week.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Stationery Shop, by Marjan Kamali and Layover, by David Bell.

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

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

Let’s continue the conversation

What are you reading? What have you read recently that you’d recommend to others?

Janet

#BringBackOurGirls

Do you remember back when we all used the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls on social media in 2014 after 276 school girls in Chibok, Nigeria were kidnapped by Boko Haram?

Do you know that 112 of those young women are still held by Boko Haram?

Today’s blog post is longer than usual, but please take a few minutes out of your busy day to sit quietly and read it.

Beneath the Tamarind Tree:  A Story of Courage, Family, and the Lost Girls of Boko Haram, by Isha Sesay

The story of the 276 Nigerian school girls abducted by Boko Haram in 2014.
The Beneath the Tamarind Tree: A Story of Courage, Family, and The Lost Schoolgirls of Boko Haram, by Isha Sesay

Beneath the Tamarind Tree:  A Story of Courage, Family, and the Lost Girls of Boko Haram is not a pleasant or easy book to read, but I feel compelled to read books like that in order to better understand the world around me. You will, no doubt, recognize the name of the author, Isha Sesay, as a veteran journalist on CNN.

To refresh your memory, on April 14, 2014, 276 teenage school girls were kidnapped from their Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, Nigeria by Boko Haram. Boko Haram is a militant Islamic group based in Nigeria. The group’s goal is to institute Sharia or Islamic law. Translated from the local Hausa dialect, Boko Haram means “Western education is forbidden.” Boko Haram adherents mainly live in the northern states in Nigeria.

In this book, Isha Sesay reconstructs the events surrounding that 2014 mass abduction, but also offers some brief historical backdrop which must be known in order to understand how and why such a thing happened.

Ms. Sesay explained the history as follows:  “Nigeria’s largely Muslim north and its predominantly Yoruba and Igbo Christian south” were combined to form the country of Nigeria by Great Britain in 1914. After numerous coups, it was decided after every two terms the presidency would alternate between the north and the south. However, political problems continued and Boko Haram was founded by Mohamed Yusuf in the early years of the 21st century. Unrest grew in 2014 when the two-term Christian president from the southern part of the country, Goodluck Jonathan, hinted that he was going to run for a third term.

With that political state of affairs in mind, let’s delve into the story of the abduction of 276 school girls on April 14, 2014. I don’t want to give too much away, in case you want to read Beneath the Tamarind Tree, so I’ll just hit some highlights from the book.

  • 57 of the 276 girls escaped early on and managed to get back home
  • When Ms. Sesay arrived in Nigeria three weeks after the kidnappings, she was shocked to learn that Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan was spreading the word that the event was a hoax
  • When Jonathan’s successor, Muhammadu Buhari, was elected in 2015, Buhari said it was not a hoax. This gave everyone hope, but then when he was to meet with parents of the kidnapped girls and representatives from Bring Back Our Girls, he refused to meet with them. Eventually forced to meet with them, he took the opportunity to try to distract them with other issues and cast Bring Back Our Girls as the enemy of the government.
  • In October of 2016 – 2.5 years into the girls’ captivity – 21 of the girls were released to the Red Cross and lawyer Zannah Mustapha. Mustapha had taken it upon himself to broker a deal between the Nigerian government and Boko Haram. It is not known what concessions the government made that made the release of 20 girls (plus one as a “bonus) possible, but all along Boko Haram had demanded the release of some of their own who were imprisoned.
  • At the time of the release of the 21 girls, some 50 of the original 276 girls had succumbed to Boko Haram pressure and married Boko Haram men.
  • The 21 released girls were emaciated from more than 900 days of hunger and abuse. They had been uprooted numerous times by Boko Haram as the militants tried to hide them from anyone who was looking for them. One of the buildings they were housed in at one point was bombed by the Nigerian military.
  • On May 7, 2017, 82 more Chibok girls were released.
  • By January 4, 2018, 107 of the Chibok girls had escaped or been released
  • Boko Haram kidnapped 112 school girls and 1 boy from a school in Dapchi on February 19, 2018. All but one of those girls, a Christian who refused to convert to Islam, were released after a couple of week; however, that one girl was still being held by Boko Haram as of the writing of Beneath the Tamarind Tree, which was published July 9, 2019.
  • As of the writing of this book, more than 100 of the Chibok girls are still missing and assumed to still be held by Boko Haram.

I think the overriding thing I learned from reading this book – the thing I will most remember from this book – is the tremendous and abiding faith in God and Jesus Christ held by the vast majority of the Chibok school girls. It was their faith that sustained those who have escaped or been released.

In interviewing the 21 girls released in 2016, Ms. Sesay, a Muslim, was gobsmacked by the fact that the girls had forgiven their captors and even prayed for their captors. It was a reminder for me that Christianity, at its very core, is a religion of forgiveness. Forgiveness is, apparently, an idea that is foreign to other religions or at least some of them.

Update from Reuters new agency, since reading the book:  On June 12, 2019, 300 Boko Haram killed 24 people in an attack on an island in Lake Chad in Cameroon.

The Things We Cannot Say, by Kelly Rimmer

This is the first novel I’ve read by Kelly Rimmer, an Australian author. This book is a combination of today in the life of a woman whose son is on the autism spectrum and years ago when her grandmother was young and in love in Poland in the years just before World War II.

The grandmother is now confined to a nursing home and cannot verbalize her thoughts and desires. One of the interesting aspects of the story early on was how the grandmother was able to learn how to use the Augmentative and Alternative Communication (ACC) app on her great-grandson’s i-Pad to communicate her feelings, requests, and answers.

The grandmother’s early history is pretty much a mystery to her granddaughter, but there is something the grandmother persists in trying to communicate. It involves a man named Tomasz and what was so important about him. Will the granddaughter travel to Poland to look for this man in the country of her grandmother’s birth? I don’t want to give the rest of the story away, in case this sounds like a novel you’d like to read. Suffice it to say there are numerous twists, turns, and surprises in this novel.

Although it’s a book of fiction, the plot was inspired by the author’s grandmother’s story. She weaves a story of challenges, desperation, true friendship and devotion, and undying love. I highly recommend this book.

Since my last blog post

I’ve been reading!

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­One Good Deed, by David Baldacci and listening to Before I Let You Go, by Kelly Rimmer.

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.

I might take a break from blogging next week. If you don’t see a blog post from me on September 16, rest assured I’ll be back online on September 23.

Let’s continue the conversation

Were you aware that more than 100 of the Chibok school girls are still being held by Boko Haram a numbing almost five and one-half years after the April 14, 2014 mass abduction? If my rough calculations are correct, today is Day 1,974 of their captivity.

On Saturday, September 7, 2019, a Nigerian film, “Daughters of Chibok” debuted at the Venice Film Festival and was named Best Virtual Reality Story. The intent of the film is to show how the Chibok community has been affected by the 2014 kidnappings and to remind the world that 112 of the 276 school girls are still held by Boko Haram.

Please share #DaughtersOfChibok, #BringBackOurGirls, #ChibokGirls, and other appropriate social media hashtags to remind the world that this story is ongoing and 112 of the girls are still held by Boko Haram.

For more on that film and the stories it tells, go to http://saharareporters.com/2019/09/08/nigerian-film-chibok-girls-wins-us-award and https://www.cnn.com/2019/09/08/africa/vr-daughters-of-chibok-intl/index.html.

Janet

3.5 of the 5.5 Books I Read in August 2019

Did you have as much fun reading in August as I did? I read some entertaining historical fiction and a couple of books that were not pleasant to read but needed to be read. Today’s blog post is about three-and-a-half of the five-and-a-half books I read last month. I’ll blog about the other two next week.

Searching for Sylvie Lee, by Jean Kwok

I took a break from historical fiction to read Searching for Sylvie, by Jean Kwok. Otherwise, I’ve sort of been swimming in a sea of World War I and World War II novels.

Searching for Sylvie Lee, by Jean Kwok

Searching for Sylvie takes you on a rollercoaster ride through the secrets held within a family. The title comes from the main plot line of one sister leaving the United States to go to The Netherlands to look for her missing sister. One of them was raised in America by her biological parents. The other one is raised in The Netherlands by a loving grandmother and spiteful aunt.

Several characters are introduced who knew one of both of the sisters. Lots of surprises are revealed as the story unfolds and the sister who grew up in America is determined to find her lost sister who was last seen in The Netherlands.

My hat’s off to the author, Jean Kwok, for keeping all the saucers spinning on sticks until all is revealed in the end. (Those of you who grew up watching “The Ed Sullivan Show” on TV on Sunday nights will get my analogy.)

The Victory Garden, by Rhys Bowen

After reading The Tuscan Child, by Rhys Bowen last year, I was eager to read her next standalone novel, The Victory Garden. This British author, who now lives in the United States, has written a great many books. She has written books in four different series and won numerous awards.

I haven’t read any of her serial books, but I really enjoyed The Tuscan Child (see my March 26, 2018 blog, ­­­https://janetswritingblog.com/2018/03/26/some-march-reading/) and The Victory Garden.

#HistoricalNovel The Victory Garden, by Rhys Bowen
The Victory Garden, by Rhys Bowen

A historical mystery set in England during World War I, The Victory Garden takes us into the lives of several young women from various economic backgrounds who join the Women’s Land Army. I wasn’t familiar with it, so I was immediately delighted to learn something new. With virtually all the young men off fighting the war, England was in dire need of able-bodied women to voluntarily join the Women’s Land Army and work on farms. Otherwise, there would be no food.

The book follows several of those young women but focuses on Emily Bryce, who was from an upper class family. Her parents were embarrassed for her to work on farms, but she turned 21 and was determined to do her part for the war effort and find her own way in the world.

Along the way, Emily makes some surprising friendships. You will cheer for her and grieve with her. You won’t soon forget her.

Oh – another thing I learned was how class-conscious the British were in the 1910s.

The Nickel Boys, by Colson Whitehead

This is Colson Whitehead’s second novel. I enjoyed reading his debut novel, The Underground Railroad, a couple of years ago. Here’s a link to my March 3, 2017 blog post, https://janetswritingblog.com/2017/03/03/what-i-read-in-february-2017/, if you want to read what I had to say about that book.

Mr. Whitehead’s inspiration for writing The Nickel Boys was the infamous Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida. A The Tampa Bay Times’ investigative reporter blew the lid off that school horrible history in the early 2010s.

#HistoricalFiction The Nickel Boys, by Colson Whitehead
The Nickel Boys, by Colson Whitehead

The Nickel Boys is divided into three parts. The first part is about the life of an African American teen named Elwood before he got sent to the reform school for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Elwood worked and studied hard and was on the verge of going to college when his life turned upside down.

The second part of the book gives the somewhat gory details of Elwood’s life at the Nickel Academy. Turner is his best friend there. The white boys were segregated from the black boys. None of the boys were treated well, but the black boys caught the brunt of the beatings, torture, and “disappearances.”

The third part jumps ahead to life after reform school with some backstory of things that happened there. A lot of Part Three seemed disjointed to me but made more sense the longer I read.

Perhaps I was just on horrible reform school details overload by the time I got to Part Three, but it just didn’t hold my attention like the first two parts did. I persevered, though, and the last pages were good. I’m glad I finished reading it. I don’t want to give too much away, but Part Three includes the details of an escape Elwood and Turner made. It did not go well for one of them.

There was a reform (or “training”) school for boys about ten miles from where I lived as a child. It was run by the State of North Carolina, and some of the employees, house parents, and teachers at the school were people I saw every Sunday at church. I couldn’t help but think about the Stonewall Jackson Training School as I read The Nickel.

I hope to goodness it wasn’t operated like The Nickel – or the reform school the book is based on. Many of the boys at Jackson Training School were orphans and not juvenile delinquents. They learned farming, woodworking, and other trades that enabled them to get jobs when they completed their time there.

Resistance Women, by Jennifer Chiaverini

Resistance Women, by Jennifer Chiaverini, is a historical novel set in 1930s Germany.

#HistoricalNovel Resistance Women, by Jennifer Chiaverini
Resistance Women, by Jennifer Chiaverini

I listened to half of Resistance Women but didn’t feel motivated to listen to the second half. I have a hunch there would have been a different outcome if I’d been reading the physical book. I wanted to like this book.

The main things I took away from Resistance Women were the numerous examples of the insidious way Adolph Hitler took over Germany in the 1930s. Each one sent off an alarm bell in my head for parallels in the United States of America today.

If not for any other reason, for that alone it was well-worth the ten hours I devoted to listening to the first half of the novel. I’ll give it another chance in printed form.

Since my last blog post

I’ve been reading!

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I look forward to reading more good books this month.

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

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

Let’s continue the conversation

What have you read recently that you’d recommend to the rest of us?

Janet