5 Books I Read in May 2021

I had more books from the public library in May than I could read, but I gave it my best shot. Some appealed to me more than others, of course. I’ll dive right into the five I finished reading. The other three, I’ll save for next Monday’s blog post.


The Good Sister, by Sally Hepworth

The Good Sister, by Sally Hepworth

I listened to this new novel by Australian author Sally Hepworth. I’ve liked all her books. (The Things We Keep, The Mother-in-Law, The Mother’s Promise, and The Family Next Door.)

Rose and Fern Castle are twins in The Good Sister. Fern works in a library and is tied to a predictable routine. Rose has always sort of looked out for her. When it becomes clear that Rose cannot have children, Fern takes it upon herself to find a man with whom she can have a baby for Rose. This is her chance to do something for Rose.

The man Fern chooses for this mission is somewhat odd in his own right, and their unorthodox lifestyle together is cause for some raised eyebrows in the neighborhood. There are twists and turns in this story and it soon becomes difficult to discern which one is “the good sister.” It depends on what is meant by “good sister.”


Fatal Scores, by Mark de Castrique

Fatal Scores, by Mark de Castrique

A member of the citizen volunteer organization River Watchers is discovered dead in the Pigeon River near Asheville, North Carolina, downstream from a paper mill. In the middle of investigating that death, private detectives Sam Blackman and Nakayla Robinson are recruited to investigate a death threat made against a visiting musician from Cincinnati.

At first, I wondered why Mr. de Castrique was taking me down the rabbit hole about the musician; however, there are some interesting turns of events through which certain characters are found to be acquaintances.

Fatal Scores is the eighth in Mr. de Castrique’s Sam Blackman series of novels. If you like a good mystery or books set in my native state of North Carolina, you’ll enjoy this book. It’s not necessary for you to have read the earlier books in the series, but they’re all entertaining.


A Million Reasons Why, by Jessica Strawser

A Million Reasons Why, by Jessica Strawser

Imagine you discover through a DNA analysis that you have a half-sibling through your father. Take it to the next step and ask your parents about it. Boom! Things don’t go well, to say the least.

In this age of DNA testing, this scenario isn’t so far-fetched. Jessica Strawser takes the idea and weaves a heart-wrenching novel in A Million Reasons Why.

Everyone in your family, including your husband, want you to just forget the whole thing. Take it another step and you find out your newfound half-sister needs a kidney.

I hope I’ve told you just enough that you’ll want to read the book. I’ve left out a lot of the twists and turns that will keep you turning the pages to see what happens next.

Like Fatal Scores, by Mark de Castrique, A Million Reasons Why primarily takes place in the mountains of western North Carolina – specifically in Brevard and Asheville.


Remember: The Science of Memory and the Art of Forgetting, by Lisa Genova

Remember, by Lisa Genova

If you read my blog posts regularly, you may recall that I drew extensively from Remember: The Science of Memory and the Art of Forgetting, by Lisa Genova in my May 24, 2021 post, What’s Your Earliest Memory? Here’s Mine.

I won’t repeat the examples I used in that post, but suffice it to say this is little book is packed with understandable details about how our brains work – how memories are formed, how they’re stored, how they can be forgotten when Alzheimer’s Disease sets in.

The book says that retrieval of a memory is made easier if we put it in context, that is, in association with time or place. “We see this phenomenon with prospective (what you plan to do), episodic (what happened), semantic (information you know), and muscle (how to do things) memories.”

One of the many things I did not mention in my May 24 blog post was how Dr. Genova writes about how to best learn something new. How I wish someone had told me this when I was in high school or college! I never did know how to truly study.

Dr. Genova says in her book that the best way to commit something to memory is to do over it repeatedly and quiz yourself about it. If you do that, it’s much more likely to stay with you than my technique which was usually cramming the night before an exam.

Dr. Genova gives reassurance that we all have instances where something is on “the tip of the tongue,” but we can’t quite retrieve it. She says that’s normal and no reason to panic

The book also addresses forgetting. Dr. Genova says, “An intelligent memory system not only remembers information but also actively forgets whatever is no longer useful.”

In the book’s appendix, Dr. Genova gives 16 specific things you can do to improve your memory. She also lists seven pages of suggested reading, in case you want to learn more than she covers in her book.

Truly, fascinating stuff.

Lisa Genova will be interviewed by AARP online tomorrow at 7:00pm Eastern Time. Here’s a link, if you’d like to register to watch and listen to this interview for free: https://local.aarp.org/vcc-event/aarp-presents-a-conversation-with-lisa-genova-lnn7nlnny5l.html. According to the website, a recording of the live interview will be available for viewing for two weeks after the event.


Sooley, by John Grisham

Sooley, by John Grisham

I’m a basketball fan, but even I had trouble getting into this latest book by John Grisham. In fact, I came close to giving up on it and returning it to the public library before I finished listening to the first of the nine compact discs. I’m not sure someone who isn’t a basketball fan will hang in there long enough to start caring about the main character: Sooley.

That said, I’m so glad I gave it another chance. I was soon completely captivated by the gripping story of Sooley’s personal history in war-torn South Sudan. Sooley plays on a basketball team in South Sudan, but his coach thinks he has great potential and a possible opportunity to play in the United States.

While on a basketball trip to America, Sooley’s hometown is destroyed. He desperately wants to go home and look for his family, but it’s too dangerous. One thing leads to another, and coach of HBC (Historically Black College) North Carolina Central University (NCCU) in Durham takes a chance on him.

I don’t want to spoil the book for you, so I won’t give any other details. Mr. Grisham is a master of suspense. Even though Sooley is not his typical novel in that it’s not a legal thriller, it will keep you turning pages (or putting the next CD in the player) because you can’t wait to find out what happens next to Sooley and what happens next to his family members who survived the original attack but are still in Africa.

Part of the book is blow-by-blow accounts of the action in NCCU games against such collegiate basketball giants as “that other school in Durham.” It reminded me of the old days when few basketball games were televised and one’s only choice to follow away games was to listen on the radio.

That comparison really came to life since I was listening to the book on CD. The writing is spot-on and the professional reader who did the CD version, Dion Graham, did a superb job. I felt like I was listening to an actual game.

If you aren’t a basketball fan, please give this novel a chance anyway. It would be a shame for you to miss this story just because you aren’t a sports fan.

Dion Graham does a superb job reading Sooley for the audio version. He not only brought the ballgame play-by-play to life; he brought each character alive through the dialogue.


Since my last blog post

Life here in North Carolina is getting back to a semblance of normal, since the COVID-19 pandemic is getting under control. Those of us who have been fully vaccinated are under no restrictions except we must abide by any safeguards in place when we visit a grocery store, pharmacy, or other business or public building with strict rules about face masks, etc.

We had a cookout at our church last Wednesday night and it was great to be able to sit at a table and eat hamburgers, hotdogs, and watermelon with friends I’d rarely seen in the last 16 months. I look forward to the day I’ll feel it’s safe to sit in a restaurant around strangers again. I’m not there yet.

Our home toaster oven broke. Something on the inside broke (I heard it) and after that the door wouldn’t close. It served us well for many years, and I used it almost every day. It was so simple. I didn’t appreciate it until it broke. It had knobs on it so you could set the temperature, timer, and function. Life was good. It was a simpler time.

In looking online for a replacement, I had the bright idea to purchase a little appliance that is a combination toaster oven/air fryer. Well, let me tell you – there is a learning curve to operating this electronic gizmo. I believe it has more options than I’m capable of using, but I’m trying something new in it each day. It’s sort of like learning a new language, so perhaps it’s making my brain grow. Perhaps by this time next year I won’t have to read the owner’s manual every time I use it.

I follow the delightful blog of Sally Cronin of Ireland. Her blog, “Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life” is always something fresh and entertaining. I especially liked something she quoted from fantasy author D. Wallace Peach in her blog post on May 31, 2021 (https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/2021/05/31/smorgasbord-blogger-daily-monday-31st-may-2021-bookreviews-d-wallace-peach-bookreviews-d-wallace-peach-planes-jim-borden-travel-pete-springer/,)

Ms. Peach had written that she and her husband named their deck “vacation” so they could “go on vacation” and read. Don’t you just love that? I think I’ll name our side porch “vacation,” so I can go on vacation this summer!


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read.

Look for the positives along your way this week. Try not to let the negatives get you down. Life is short.

If you don’t have a hobby, find one. Find something to do that will make your brain grow.

Janet

What’s Your Earliest Memory? Here’s Mine.

Allen Rizzi writes a blog that I follow. His post on March 30, 2021 (https://wordpress.com/post/janetswritingblog.com/17269) struck a chord with me and got me thinking. I made note of it so I could consider using the idea in one of my blog posts. I didn’t want to just duplicate the essence of Mr. Rizzi’s blog post, so I waited until I could put my own spin on it.

Mr. Rizzi asked his readers to share their earliest memories. The comments he received were surprising to me, for one woman remembered some details of a stay with her grandparents when she was nine months old. A man remembered his first ride in an airplane at the age of two.

I was amazed at both of those responses. I can’t remember anything from those early ages. I tried to think what my earliest memory was, but I was stumped for a few minutes.

My earliest memory

After pondering the question for a few minutes, I realized my earliest memory is of my Grandpa Morrison. He was the only one of my grandparents still living when I was born. He died when I was three years, five months, one week old.

Grandpa was unwell and pretty much bedridden by the time I was born. But he still had his cane. He spent his daytime hours in what is or was called a daybed. He kept his cane at easy reach. He didn’t shave every day.

My memories of him are specific: He delighted in taking the back of my tender little hand and rubbing it up his stubbled cheek to make me laugh. When I got within reach of his wooden cane, he delighted in tapping me lightly in the stomach to make me laugh.

Evaluating my earliest memory

I know what Grandpa looked like because I’ve seen photographs of him, but I have no recollection of what he looked like. Read that sentence again. Do you understand what I’m saying?

Taking it a step further, do you know why that sentence describes a distinct difference in memory? I didn’t understand the difference until I read Remember: The Science of Memory and the Art of Forgetting, by Lisa Genova last week.

Dr.Genova is a neuroscientist and an excellent writer. She has to be an excellent writer if someone like me can understand what she’s trying to get across. Seriously. Understanding the intricacies of science was never my forte.

In her book, Dr. Genova explains how our brains create memories and store memories. She explains various types of memories: episodic, semantic, working, and “muscle” memory. She explains how working memory is able to retain a small number of items and for only 15 to 30 seconds.

Photo credit: David Matos on Unsplash.com

It was interesting for me to read in Dr. Genova’s book that the average age for one’s earliest episodic memory as an adult is three years old, so my memory of my grandfather was right on time.

Dr. Genova explains how we’re able to remember the details of an evening on the beach such as the smell of salt air, the name of the song playing, what we ate, and a child getting stung by a jellyfish. We remember that collection of details in an episodic memory; however, another person who was present on that same beach that same night might not remember what song was playing but they might remember there were mosquitoes. That’s because we each pay attention to different details.

The reason I remember my grandfather rubbing my tiny hand up he stubbled cheek and poking me gently in the stomach with his cane is probably because he did it repeatedly. It’s not that I remember “that time” he did it. I remember it because that’s the way in his bedridden state he was able to interact with me and the way it made me feel created a memory in my brain.

Grandpa couldn’t hold me on his lap. He couldn’t push me in a swing. He couldn’t play hide-and-seek with me. He did the two things he knew he could do that made me giggle. Once he did them once, he remembered they made me giggle. With that memory, he probably did those two things every time I visited him thereafter. In a fascinating way, his memory to do those things also prompted my brain to remember them. His memory of what made me laugh in turn made my brain create a memory.

One last word about my memories of my grandfather.

One of the last chapters in Dr. Genova’s book is about Alzheimer’s Disease. One point she makes about Alzheimer’s patients is that they might not remember for five minutes what you said to them, but they will remember how you made them feel. She refers to this as emotional memory.

I hope I’m not making an incorrect connection here – because my point has nothing to do with Alzheimer’s Disease — but this made me think about my memories of Grandpa Morrison. I don’t recollect what he looked like. I only know what he looked like from seeing photographs; however, I remember how he made me feel – even though I was only three years old when he died.

Back to Allen Rizzi’s blog post and my original question

Even after reading Dr. Genova’s book, I still marvel that a nine-month-old baby could years later remember her stay with her grandparents or that a two-year-old could remember an airplane ride, but I don’t doubt them because the brain is a complex and wondrous thing.

Photo credit: Robina Weermeijer on Unsplash.com

The more I learn about the brain, the more I’m in awe of it. To paraphrase something I heard Dr. Francis Collins, leader of the Human Genome Project and current Director of the National Institutes of Health, say in a speech at Queens University of Charlotte a few years ago: The more I learn about the human body, the more I’m convinced that there is a God who created it.

Since my last blog post

I have finished reading or continue to read a number of books. I’ll share with you more about Remember: The Science of Memory and the Art of Forgetting, by Lisa Genova, in my blog post on June 7 or June 14 when I tell you about all the books I read in May.

Thank you, Allen Rizzi for inspiring me to write today’s blog post.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have at least one good book to read. In her book, Dr. Genova says that one way we can try to avoid getting Alzheimer’s Disease (unless we’re predisposed due to our DNA) is to read books like hers that teach us new things.

Celebrate life and look for the positives. Look for the wildflowers! My yard and the open meadow across the road from my house are full of them!

Note: June is Audiobook Appreciation Month. If you’ve never listened to a book, try it. You might like it!

Janet

4 Other Books I Read in April 2021

I read more books than usual last month. Today’s post is about the four books I read that were not historical fiction. If you missed my blog last Monday about the five historical novels I read in April, here’s the link to it: 5 Historical Novels I Read in April 2021.

Let’s jump right in!

Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo,” by Zora Neale Hurston

I’m not sure how this 2018 book escaped my attention for three years. I’m just glad I stumbled upon it recently.

Edited by Deborah G. Plant with a foreword by Alice Walker, Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo,” is author and cultural anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston’s account of her numerous conversations with a man who was on the last slave ship from Africa to the United States.

Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo,” by Zora Neale Hurston

Bringing slaves into the United States was made illegal in 1808; however, the trade was not completely stopped just by making a law. In 1859, two brothers originally from Maine and their business partner originally from Nova Scotia, illegally transported 130 African slaves from the coast of Nigeria to Mobile, Alabama on board a ship named Clotilde.  Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo,” is the story of a 19-year-old man who was on that last slave ship to come to the United States.

The man’s name was Kossola, but his American name was Cudgo Lewis. Zora Neale Hurston found out about him, and a benefactor made it financially possible for her to go to Alabama for an extended time in order to meet Kossola and form a relationship of trust with him in order to hear and record his life story.

Kossola’s story of life in Africa, his capture, and his Middle Passage transport to Alabama is bone chilling. The details of how he was captured by the army of the king of Dahomey aligns with the historical record of that ruthless African king and his blood thirsty army of women and men.

What an amazing gift Ms. Hurston left for us! We are fortunate that Kossola lived long enough that Ms. Hurston was able to visit him a number of times over a three-month period in 1927 and put his words on paper. Publishers wanted Ms. Hurston to “correct” Kossola’s words to proper English, but she stood her ground and insisted that his words by pronunciation be preserved in the book.

I couldn’t help but think about the blog post I wrote two weeks ago (Censorship and Reader Sensitivities) and how appropriate I think it was for history’s sake for Kossola’s words to be recorded exactly how he said them.

There is an extensive appendix in the book. Included in it are a couple of children’s games from Africa, parables that are original with Kossola (from his own life experience), and various Bible stories told in Kossola’s own words.

There is also an extensive Afterword in the book about Ms. Hurston’s research and some debate about her motives and accuracy.  It seems that Kossola had become known as the last surviving slave from the last slave ship to America and there were others who wished to interview him. It was Zora Neale Hurston who was most successful in gaining his trust and recording his story. Ms. Hurston is remembered for his illustrious career as a social scientist, but she was just getting started in 1927.

Just As I Am, by Cicely Tyson

I got on the waitlist for Cicely Tyson’s memoir the minute I heard about it. The book was on order by the public library, so I had to wait a while for it. In the meantime, Ms. Tyson died at the age of 96. I’d been a fan of hers since her performance in the movie, Sounder, in 1972. I was blown away by her portrayal of Miss Janie Pittman in the TV film, The Autobiography of Miss Janie Pittman.

Just As I Am, by Cicely Tyson

Just As I Am was an interesting read. I learned about Ms. Tyson’s childhood in East Harlem, New York, and how her parents doted on her. She was their middle child, but she was born with a heart murmur that caused the doctor to predict she wouldn’t live more than three months. No wonder they treated her like a princess.

But there was a dark side to Ms. Tyson’s childhood. Her father was a womanizer. Her mother was a strict disciplinarian. Her parents had violent fights and Ms. Tyson was often caught in the middle.

Ms. Tyson had a sixth sense. Even as a child, she knew some events that were going to happen in the future because she could smell it (as was the case of a fire) or sense it in another way. Her mother was also blessed with a sixth sense, so the fact that Cicely had the gift was no big deal.

Early in the book, Ms. Tyson wrote about racial discrimination and our common humanity. It really struck a chord with me because I was reading that chapter the morning after the Zoom meeting of a group I’m in during which we had discussed racial prejudice and our common humanity. I couldn’t wait to tell the others in the group about the first chapter in Just As I Am.

She writes about what a rude awakening it was for her one day when she witnessed her mother and a group of other Black women on the street in New York City being looked up and down and evaluated by white people seeking a domestic laborer. It hit her as being no different from the way slaves were treated on the auction block a century earlier, and it made an impact on her life that she never forgot.

The 1920s and 1930s were her childhood and youth decades. What an interesting era! Although the Roaring 20s became the Great Depression in the 1930s, most people of color in the United States didn’t enjoy the abundance of the Wall Street in the 20s. And they had always been at an economic disadvantage, so the Great Depression wasn’t too much worse than what they were already experiencing.

It was in 1934 that the Federal Housing Administration instituted the practice of redlining to prohibit people of color from purchasing homes in middle class and wealthy neighborhoods. On the other hand, that era produced Black writers like W.E.B. DuBois, Zora Neale Hurston, and Langston Hughes. It was the age of jazz and the Harlem Renaissance.

On the flipside were the Scottsboro Boys in Alabama and the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment from which the United States is stilling feeling ramifications and probably always will. That horrible experiment on Blacks today makes many people of color afraid to take the Covid-19 vaccine.

As you see, I could go on and on with examples of the backdrop of Ms. Tyson’s childhood, but perhaps you’d rather read the book for yourself.

Throughout the book, Ms. Tyson gives God credit for leading her. She speaks of an unflinching faith in God that sustained her from childhood until her last days. Events that others might have called coincidences, Ms. Tyson recognized as the hand of God working out her life’s journey. That’s how her modeling career came about, and that’s how her acting career fell into place without her even knowing that’s what she was meant to do.

This was an entertaining and enlightening read about a woman I have long appreciated as an actress without knowing anything about her background.

The Endless Sunset, by Laleh Chini

The Endless Sunset, by Laleh Chini

This most recent novel by Laleh Chini is about war and one young woman’s experience in Poland during World War II. It is written in person from that woman’s point-of-view. Hanna Przybylski reminisces about the lovely and peaceful city squares and bustling marketplaces in Warsaw of her growing-up years in the 1920s. Her mother was an artist. When her mother has a second child, a girl named Lena, when Hanna is 11 years old, they think their family and their lives are complete. The Great War was over and life is good.

Everything starts to unravel when Lena is a toddler and their mother dies. When the father remarries just three months after the mother’s death, Hanna’s life spirals downward. When Hanna is 16 years old, Germany started bombing Warsaw. World War II is beginning and will further disrupt Hanna’s life. What I’ve shared just covers the first 17% of the book.

What will become of Hanna and Lena? Will Hanna become responsible for more children than Lena? Will they flee Poland for a safer place? Will there be people to help them along the way? Will their father care what his daughters do? Did he and his second wife have children? Will Hanna survive World War II?

You’ll have to read The Endless Sunset to find out. The book is enriched by illustrations by Nihuel Navarro, whose website can be found at nihu.artstation.com.

Dictionary of Americanisms (1848), by John Russell Bartlett

I was expecting this book to take the form of a dictionary; however, the majority of it is narrative.

Dictionary of Americanisms, by John Russell Bartlett

Near the end of this book there is a short section about some words that were “charged upon us as Americanism” but they are actually derived from English provinces. Examples are expect for suspect, reckon for think, and guess for suppose. These “Americanisms” come from Kent and Derbyshire in England.

The book continues with some words that were apparently Americanisms when the book was written in 1848, but they don’t make sense to me today. Among them are clever for good natured; desk for pulpit; and improve for occupy, or employ.

The book pays its respects to the clergy for starting and continuing to use solemnize for to make serious. Other Americanisms the writer didn’t appreciate at all included transpire for happen, and temper in the sense of passion or irritation.

Jumping on “educated men, and particularly … the clergy,” the writer bemoans the evolution of some nouns into verbs such as to fellowship, to eventuate, to doxologize, to happify, and to donate.

The author would, no doubt, be horrified at the evolution of American English since 1848. This book is proof that American English is forever changing. The words in common usage in 1848 that grated on the nerves of the dictionary author, have for the most part fallen by the wayside today.

By far, my favorite “new” word after reading this dictionary is happify!

Since my last blog post

I continue to have good books to read – in fact, more than I have time to read. I’m also doing some scrapbooking.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have at least one good book to read. Try to get caught reading, since May is Get Caught Reading Month!

If you don’t have a hobby, find one. It will enrich your life.

Note: In addition to being “Get Caught Reading Month,” May is Short Story Month.

Note: This is Reading is Fun Week.

Janet

5 Historical Novels I Read in April 2021

April brought me a boatload of good historical novels! I’m not sure what next month holds, but it will be difficult for May to match what I got to read in April. If you know me, you know that historical fiction is my preference in literature. It’s a joy when so many good new historical novels are released (or reach the top of my waitlist at the public library) at the same time.


Simon the Fiddler by Paulette Jiles

You may recall that I read News of the World, by Paulette Jiles in October 2017 and blogged about it on November 6, 2017 in Some Good New Books. Also, I blogged about a favorite quote from that book on May 14, 2018 in The Lampasas County Asylum. Perhaps you’ve seen the movie that’s been made by the same name, News of the World, starring Tom Hanks. I haven’t seen it yet.

One of the things I like about Paulette Jiles’ writing is how she manages to sneak in bits of humor. Simon the Fiddler is by no means a comedy, yet Simon’s sense of humor comes through and makes him a very likeable fellow.

Simon the Fiddler, by Paulette Jiles

The story takes place at the end of the American Civil War. Simon has managed to escape being conscripted by the Confederate Army until a barroom brawl in Victoria, Texas in March 1865. His life of flitting around making somewhat of a living playing his fiddle is briefly interrupted by a stint in a Confederate regimental band.

After the war, Simon sets his sights on buying land in Texas, building a house, and settling down to create a family. Along the way he meets up with a variety of musicians and a beautiful young lady from Ireland whose life in America is so awful she wishes she’d never left her home country. She steals Simon’s heart.

Every time you think things can’t get worse for poor Simon, something worse happens. Such is the bedrock of fiction, and so goes this tale.

I invite you to come along for the ride with Simon, his companions, and the love of his life. Does he get what he’s been seeking all his life by the time you reach the last page of the book? You’ll have to read it for yourself to find out.

I enjoyed listening to Simon the Fiddler on CD. The professional reader is Grover Gardner.


Yellow Wife, by Sadeqa Johnson

Sadeqa Johnson was inspired to write this historical novel after learning about the life of Mary Lumpkin. Mary Lumpkin was a 12-year-old slave of Robert Lumpkin in Virginia. She bore him at least five children.

Ms. Johnson did extensive research into the lives of Robert Lumpkin and Mary Lumpkin and has woven a gripping novel that will keep you turning pages and yearning for something good to happen to Mary. The book contains many scenes of unthinkable beatings and the torture of slaves. Mr. Lumpkin owned a jail where slaves were sent for punishment, and Mr. Lumpkin delighted in inflicting that punishment. He absolutely delighted in it. I didn’t know that slave jails existed until I read this book.

Yellow Wife, by Sadeqa Johnson

Ms. Johnson put herself in the body of Mary Lumpkin and, thereby, puts the reader there, too. As much as is possible, Ms. Johnson helps us to put ourselves in the shoes of a slave woman who is at the mercy of her master and is put in an awkward position with her fellow slaves because she is seen as the favored one. All the while, her heart is broken because she can’t be with the man she truly loves and who truly loves her. For Mr. Lumpkin, Mary is a wife of convenience.

Yellow Wife is not a pleasant read, but it is based on a true story – one we as Americans should know about and not forget. It’s part of our history.


The Nature of Fragile Things, by Susan Meissner

I highly recommend this historical novel set in San Francisco in 1906 – the year of the Great San Francisco Earthquake.

Sophie lives in the north of Ireland and seeks a better life in America. She joins her brother in New York City, but he soon falls in love and moves to Canada. Sophie’s life as a single young female Irish immigrant in the big city leaves her desperate for a better life. She answers a mail-order bride ad and travels to San Francisco to marry a widower who has promised her a stable life and a ready-made family: a five-year-old daughter. Sophie’s dream has come true. She longs to be a mother, but she’s been told she can physically never have her own child.

From the beginning in San Francisco there are clues that her husband, Martin Hockings might not be all he’s cracked up to be on paper, but Sophie tries her best to adapt and be patient with him and his daughter, who won’t talk.

The Nature of Fragile Things, by Susan Meissner

From there, the book takes off in unexpected directions – and the earthquake hasn’t even occurred yet. Hold on for the ride as a pregnant stranger shows up at Sophie’s door one day asking for a Martin Hockings. Don’t jump to conclusions, though; it’s not what you’re thinking. Sophie’s life unravels quickly from this point. Her discoveries take her and Martin’s little girl through the harrowing earthquake and on a journey to Arizona see what they can find out about the girl’s dead mother.

I hope I haven’t told you too much. There are more secrets in this book than “all get out.”

(If the idiom, “all get out” leaves you scratching your head, please read my March 29, 2021 blog post for clarification: #Idiom: As All Get Out.)

If you are a fan of historical fiction, you’ll love The Nature of Fragile Things, by Susan Meissner!


The Lost Girls of Paris, by Pam Jenoff

I don’t know why it took me until now to read The Lost Girls of Paris, by Pam Jenoff. I added it to my To Be Read List after reading a good review of it on https://jennifertarheelreader.com/ way back in February 2019.

You might recall that I blogged about The Orphan’s Tale, by Pam Jenoff in my August 7, 2017 blog post, Late July Reading. I enjoyed that book, so that adds to the mystery of why I waited until last month to read The Lost Girls of Paris. Being historical fiction, Ms. Jenoff’s books are right down my alley.

The Lost Girls of Paris, by Pam Jenoff

The Lost Girls of Paris transports you to France in 1944. It’s about young women who volunteered to be radio operators behind enemy lines during World War II. Participants were carefully chosen and trained. They knew they were putting their lives on the line in the Allies’ attempt to defeat Nazi Germany.

A woman looks in an abandoned suitcase at Grand Central Station in New York City and discovers photographs of 12 women. She sets out on a mission to find the owner of the suitcase, and she wants to know something about the women in the photographs. Her research leads her to Washington, DC and on an on-the-ground search for the woman who trained and led the group.

There are twists, turns, courage, fear, loyalty, and betrayal in this novel that will keep you turning the pages.

By the way, Pam Jenoff has a new historical novel on the way: The Woman with the Blue Star is scheduled for release on May 4, 2021. I’m on the waitlist for it at the public library.


The Lost Apothecary, by Sarah Penner

I listened to The Lost Apothecary, by Sarah Penner on CD. I usually don’t enjoy novels that take two different timelines, but this one really held my interest. A secret apothecary in London in 1791 caters to women who need an herbal way to get rid of the oppressive men in their lives. An innocent mistake made by a 12-year-old girl who takes a serious interest in learning the apothecary trade turns the 18th century story on it’s head and threatens to be the end of the hidden business.

The Lost Apothecary, by Sarah Penner

In comes a present-day young woman, Caroline, from the United States. She has a variety of personal issues to sort out and, early in her visit to London finds an intriguing medicine bottle on the bank of the Thames. This launches Caroline on a mission to find out all she can about the apothecary whose stamp in on the bottle.

The novel is well-researched and is sure to be of interest to anyone with a curiosity about herbal remedies and herbal poisons used in secret in 18th century England.


Since my last blog post

I’ve been dealing with an allergic reaction to poison oak. It hasn’t been fun, but the prednisone injection is helping. I’d forgotten just how intense the itching sensation is once one is exposed to the innocent-looking plant.


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book or two to read this week. Maybe you’ll get to read one of the three books I wrote about today. Next Monday I’ll blog about the other books I read in April.

Make time to relax and enjoy a hobby.

Stay safe and well – and please wear a mask when necessary.

Note: May is Get Caught Reading Month! Have you been caught yet?

Janet

6 Books I Read in March 2021

I didn’t think March could match February in the books I got to read, but I was wrong. Good books just keep being published, and I’m having a wonderful time reading them.


The Four Winds, by Kristin Hannah

The Four Winds, by Kristin Hannah

What a wonderful historical novel! In my opinion, The Four Winds is even better than Ms. Hannah’s 2015 novel, The Nightingale.

The Four Winds plunges the reader into the Dust Bowl and The Great Depression and never lets go. It’s been decades since I read The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck, but The Four Winds put me in the dust, grit, and terror of that time even more than the Steinbeck classic. Maybe that has something to do with my age when I read each book, but somehow The Four Winds made a stronger impact on me.

This novel follows Elsa, a young woman starved for love. She throws caution to the wind, for once in her life, and it turns out to have dire consequences. I don’t want to give the story away, so I’ll just say it follows Elsa through the Dust Bowl in Texas and a desperate journey to California in hopes of a better and a healthier life. The book illustrates the difficult lives of migrant workers and how promises and dangers of unionization in the 1930s. There are strong secondary characters in the book.

I blogged about The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah in my June 2, 2017 blog post, You Need to Read These Books! and The Great Alone, by Kristin Hannah in my March 26, 2018 blog post, Some March Reading, in case you want to know what I thought about them.


Daylight, by David Baldacci

Does Atlee Pine find her sister?
Daylight, by David Baldacci

If you’ve been following David Baldacci’s Atlee Pine series, you’ll love this book. This novel reveals many details about Atlee’s parents and childhood. She continues to search for her twin sister, Mercy, who was abducted from their bedroom when they were six years old. Her journey takes her into some very dark places and danger lurks at every turn.

Will Atlee find Mercy in Daylight? You need to read it for yourself to find out! This is Baldacci at his best.


52 Small Changes for the Mind, by Brett Blumenthal

52 Small Changes for the Mind, by Brett Blumenthal

This is a self-help book that probably should be read a week at a time over 52 weeks, but I had checked it out from the library. I read it over several days and took notes so I can slowly absorb the points it makes that I can benefit from. Many of the recommendations are things I’m already doing, but several really stepped on my toes and got my attention.

Here are a few examples from the book:

Week 9 – “Kick indecision.” Don’t waste time trying to make the perfect choice.

Week 14 – “Silence your inner critic.”

Week 15 – “Go beyond your comfort zone.”

Week 27 – “Minimize screen time.” (I thought this just applied to teens and young adults who spend too much time on their cell phones, but this segment made me realize that I’m guilty of spending too much time on the computer and using my tablet.

Week 39 – Recognize your fears and confront them.

Week 49 – “Deal with [your] demons.”

There are helpful tools and resources at the back of the book.


Soul of a Woman, by Isabel Allende

The Soul of a Woman, by Isabel Allende

This turned out to be a surprisingly short book. I checked it out as an MP3 from the public library and listened to the entire book in an afternoon.

Ms. Allende begins the book with some experiences from her childhood and life in several countries, but the bulk of the book is about the status of women throughout the world.

She addresses all manner of abuses women endure at the hands of men and sometimes at the hands of other women. She writes about how tradition perpetuates the practice of female mutilation in parts of the world, how women are invisible in some regions due to Islamic law and practice, and how female babies are not valued and are sometimes killed in some cultures and countries simply due to their gender. She addresses human trafficking. She writes about how women the world over must struggle for every inch of progress they make in the business world.

Ms. Allende established The Isabel Allende Foundation in 1996 to pay homage to her daughter, Paula, who died at the age of 29 in 1992. The foundation works for the empowerment of girls and women through nonprofits in Chile and the San Francisco Bay Area. To read more about the foundation, go to https://isabelallende.org.


In the Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larson

In the Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larson

I think I’ve read all of Erik Larson’s books now, until Thunderstruck is released later this year. Yes, I’m on the waitlist for it at the public library.

My earlier attempt to read In the Garden of Beasts didn’t work out. I just couldn’t get into the book. Although the premise of this book should be equally as gripping as his other books, even the second time around it didn’t hold my interest quite as well as Isaac’s Storm (Three Books Read in December 2020) or Dead Wake: The Last Crossing the Lusitania (4 Books I Read in February 2021.)

In the Garden of Beasts is the story of William Edward Dodd, US Ambassador to Berlin from 1933 until 1937, during the rise of Adoph Hitler. His mid-20s daughter, Martha – who is estranged from her husband — accompanies him and becomes quite a liability as she soaks in the nightlife of the city and forms a romantic relationship with a Russian.

Dodd was a professor, a thrifty, unassuming man – much the opposite of his daughter. He was the butt of jokes among his peers in Berlin because he insisted on driving his old car and wearing the clothes he’d worn as a professor back in the Midwest. Martha inherited none of her father’s personality traits.

This is a nonfiction book, meticulously researched, as are all of Erik Larson’s books. I learned a lot from the book. It was interesting to get a glimpse of the rising of the Third Reich from the perspective of an American living in Berlin.

 


The Train to Crystal City: FDR’s Secret Prisoner Exchange Program and America’s Only

Family Internment Camp During World War II, by Jan Jarboe Russell

FDR's Secret Prisoner Exchange Program and America's Only Family Internment Camp During World War II
The Train to Crystal City, by Jan Jarboe Russell

You may recall that in my February 8, 2021 blog post, 4 Books I Read in February 2021, one the books I wrote about was the novel The Last Year of the War, by Susan Meissner.

As soon as news broke that Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor, the lives of all Japanese immigrants and Americans of Japanese descent were at risk. The FBI started arresting the men for no reason other than their ancestry.

I learned a lot from this book. One thing I hadn’t known about was the Asian Exclusion Act, passed in 1924, which made it illegal for Japanese immigrants to become US citizens.

Here’s a quote from pages 28-29 of the book about the steps President Franklin D. Roosevelt took to create a vehicle through which a hostage exchange program could be put into place in the event the United States entered World War II:

“On September 1, 1939, the day German tanks, infantry, and cavalry invaded Poland with 1.5 million troops, Roosevelt created a highly secretive division within the Department of State called the Special Division. He ordered this division to identify American civilians… who were currently in Japan and Germany and who would be in danger when the United States joined the war…. More than 100,000 American civilians were in harm’s way. A few months later, Roosevelt authorized the Special War Problems Division to find Japanese and Germans in America and in Latin America who could be used as hostages in exchange for the more valuable of the Americans…. In 1940, [FBI Director J. Edgar] Hoover installed the first group of FBI agents in Latin America. Based on the FBI reports, Roosevelt was convinced that Germans and Japanese in Latin America were a direct threat to hemispheric security.”

In addition, FDR formed an agreement with Peru that paved the way for 1,800 Japanese Peruvians with no ties to the U.S. to be brought to internment camps in Texas and other states. Pressure was put on other Latin American countries to do the same. All except Argentina, Mexico, and Brazil complied and deported Germans. Those three nations had internment camps of their own.

The men held in the internment camps were given an ultimatum. If they wanted to be reunited with their families — and these reunions had to take place inside the camp at Crystal City, Texas – they had to sign papers stating that they would relocate to their ancestral home country after the war. Imagine living for decades in the United States and then having to relocate to Germany or Japan as soon as World War II was over. Families were forced to make unimaginable choices in order to stay together.

I could go on and on, but perhaps I’ve given you enough detail that you will want to read the book for yourself. It was a real eye opener for me!


Until my next blog post

How is D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything and Read) Month going for you? I hope you have one or more good books to read this month.

Spend some time enjoying a hobby this week.

Keep wearing a mask, even if you’ve been vaccinated against Covid-19, so we can get back to doing all the things we like to do – like seeing relatives we haven’t seen in almost 18 months.

Note: National Library Week in the USA started yesterday. Support your local public library!

Janet

4 Other Books I Read in February 2021

Last week I blogged about four of the books I read last month. Today, I write about the other four books I read in February.


The Unwilling, by John Hart

The Unwilling, by John Hart

John Hart being a southern piedmont North Carolina writer, I looked forward to his new novel, The Unwilling. It did not disappoint. I listened to it on CD. It is a slice of American history when we were divided over the Vietnam War.

It is a riveting story about three brothers. Two were in the military and served in Vietnam. One didn’t survive the war, and the other one came home with problems for the rest of his life. Their youngest brother, Gibby, is the main character. At 18 years old, he is struggling to find his way in life. His mother is over-protective, and his father is a police detective in Charlotte. His parents want him to stay away from the middle brother, Jason, but Gibby can’t help but idolize him and is drawn to hang out with him. This leads to untold trouble.

The seedy, corruptive underbelly of the prison systems comes into play in a gruesome way. This novel is not for the squeamish, but the story really drew me in, and I couldn’t stop listening to it because I wanted to know what was going to happen next to Gibby and Jason. If you like a coming-of-age story wrapped in a police thriller, set in the winding down years of the Vietnam War, with some troubled family dynamics and prison time thrown in, this should be your next read.

Mr. Hart’s inspiration for this novel was Hugh Thompson, the US Army helicopter pilot credited with stopped the My Lai Massacre on March 16, 1968. It is not a war story per se but is the story of what a soldier sees and does that follows him or her home — the things those who have not been there cannot imagine; but more than that, it is a story of a small city in which the evil one fears isn’t always faraway but sometimes just up the street.


Southern Writers on Writing, edited by Susan Cushman

Southern Writers on Writing, edited by Susan Cushman

This delightful book is a collection of 26 essays by Southern writers, each giving their unique take on writing and how The South influences their writing.

One of my favorite essays in the book is “Southern Fiction: A Tool to Stretch the Soul and Soften the Heart,” by author Julie Cantrell.

Ms. Cantrell hails from Louisiana and writes vividly in her essay about the extremes of life in her home state. I love what she writes about Southern fiction about halfway down page 53 in the book:

“In literature, the South works as a lure by tapping all the senses. When we set a story here, we not only deliver a cast of colorful characters, we share their sinful secrets while serving a mouth-watering meal. We draw readers in with soul-stirring music and landscapes that would make anyone want to disappear beneath the mossy oaks. The South offers a fantasy, a place where time slows and anxieties melt like the ice in a glass of sugar cane rum.”

On page 54, Ms. Cantrell writes: “Many in life say the earth is our mother. If that’s the case, then the South is the lap into which we all crawl to hear her story…. The South is nothing less than a sanctuary for story. It is the porch swing, the rocking chair, the barstool, the back pew. It is everything that made me and shaped me and saved me. As a southern writer, I aim only to invite my readers to enter this sacred space.”

And then I read “The Burden of Southern Literature,” by Katherine Clark. She concisely explained how Southern literature came to be – how the South was looked down on after the Civil War and why would anyone want to read about such a place? Southern writers were weighed down by the region’s history. Writers like William Faulkner struggled to “strike a chord with a national audience.” Then, Faulkner and other southern writers learned to embrace the South and their southern-ness.

Ms. Clark writes on page 56, “Now, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, the writer in the South is not plagued by the burden of southern history, but by the burden of southern literature. Our literary tradition is revered all over the world and has produced many of the best writers to come out of our country. Southern literature is the strongest tradition in American literature, and one of the greatest gifts that American culture has given the world.”

What the southern writer is left with today is the burden not so much of the history of the South, but the wealth of literature that has come out of the South. To paraphrase Ms. Clark, it is inspiring and intimidating. I can vouch for that!

I also liked what Ms. Clark writes about not wallowing in what she calls, “southern-ness.” Here’s a little of what she writes on the topic:

“Whereas 100 years ago, writers had to learn to embrace the differences of the South, nowadays the tendency can be to positively wallow in the eccentricities and grotesqueries of the southern experience, usually of an earlier era. We shouldn’t be wallowing in southern-ness, and we don’t need to embrace it either, because that’s been done. That’s a given now, thanks to our great literary ancestors. Our job today is not to stick to the foundation they laid for us, but to use it as a springboard launching us in the new and different directions demanded by a changing culture.”

River Jordan, another author contributing to Southern Writers on Writing, writes the following about how she can tell when she’s reading the work of a southern writer and when she’s reading the work of New York writer: “…when I read a writer from say New York I think, oh, they are so smart. I could swear I actually hear their brain ticking. But when I read a southern writer I can feel their heart beating. That’s how I know it’s southern. By the heartbeat.”

Ms. Jordan also writes the following about the danger of southern writing disappearing as our lifestyles change: “When the porches all finally disappear, when the backyard steps are replaced with the kind of yards manicured to perfection, then the days of real southern writers will shift and slip away. Assimilation will be complete and southern will be no more.”

I hope she’s wrong, but I worry about the assimilation. I worry as I hear aspects of southern accents disappearing. I worry when I notice that my great-nieces in metro Atlanta sound much less southern than I do.

Speaking of southern accents, the next contributor in Southern Writers on Writing is Lee Smith. I love to hear her talk. Her contribution to the book is from her book, Dimestore: A Writer’s Life, which I thoroughly enjoyed reading five or six years ago. Ms. Smith is southern through-and-through, and her writing oozes “southern.”

About writing, Ms. Smith writes, “Whether we are writing fiction or nonfiction, journaling or writing for publication, writing itself is an inherently therapeutic activity. Simply to line up words one after another upon a page is to create some order where it did not exist, to give a recognizable shape to the chaos of our lives.”


30 Short Stories, by Laleh Chini

30 Short Stories, by Laleh Chini

My blogger friend, Laleh Chini, just keeps writing books. You may recall in last week’s blog post (4 Books I Read in February 2021) I told you about her new novel, Soroosh. Also, I’ve blogged about her book Climbing Over Grit in my November 5, 2018 blog post, Many Good Books Read in October!

Laleh is a fantastic storyteller. 30 Short Stories is her new picture book. I don’t often read picture books now, but I just had to purchase and read Laleh’s. Although written for children, this book can be enjoyed by people of all ages. Each of the 30 stories teaches a life lesson. My favorite was the last story in the book, “Racism.” In it, Laleh relates a story of how as a Muslim from Iran she experienced racism in a store in Canada, where she has lived for decades. It’s heartbreaking.

In the spirit of cultural acceptance and respecting and valuing people, no matter their ethnicity or religion, I recommend this book to everyone who is open to seeing that people are just people. We need to take a step back and stop making snap judgments about people just because they are of a different culture than ours.


Greenlights, by Matthew McConaughey

Greenlights, by Matthew McConaughey

From TV interviews, I know that actor Matthew McConaughey is a good storyteller. Wanting to hear his book in his own voice, I got on the waitlist for the CD edition of Greenlights at the public library as soon as it showed up on the online catalog.

I must admit that listening to Greenlights on CD was probably not the best way to read the book. Mr. McConaughey is an enthusiastic storyteller, and he relates many very entertaining stories in Greenlights; however, as a good storyteller is prone to do, Mr. McConaughey varies the volume of his voice greatly as he spins a yarn. This can create discomfort while listening to the book on CD.

I read a review on Goodreads.com that gave the book a very high rating and recommended listening to it instead of reading it but with the caveat that it should be listened to in a quiet environment. That’s good advice. I would also say you shouldn’t attempt to listen to it with headphones or earbuds. Also, trying to listen to it in one room while someone is trying to sleep in the next room is not a good idea. Just sayin’.

I also admit that I have moderate hearing loss, but I don’t think that was the root of the problem I had in listening to Greenlights. If I set the volume to a comfortable level for the shouting, I could not hear much of the rest of the book. This meant I couldn’t hear the near-whisper parts at all. I had to constantly adjust the volume, so the CD edition of the book was a great disappointment.

Early on, the book talks about Mr. McConaughey’s home life as a child and teen. His parents had a volatile relationship, which couldn’t help but have a profound effect on him. He relates some very funny experiences he had as an exchange student in Australia. In fact, that was my favorite part of the book. He tells interesting and humorous stories about his world travels and how he more or less fell into the occupation of actor.

The overriding theme of the book is that we should learn from all life’s experiences. Don’t let the obstacles in life keep you down. Learn from them and keep going.

If you’re a Matthew McConaughey fan, you’ll enjoy reading the book. Listening to it? Maybe not so much.


Since my last blog post

I’m still reading good books and working on my historical novel manuscript for a partial critique by a professional editor.

I got my second Moderna Covid 19 shot on Saturday. I’m grateful that I live in a country where such things are available, and I’m grateful to all the people who worked to develop and distribute the vaccine. I had some unpleasantness for about 48 hours after the shot, but it surely beats contracting a bad case of Covid-19.

On Wednesday night, I enjoyed participating in the third virtual gathering of a group discussing Janet Givens’ book, LEAPFROG: How to have a civil conversation during an uncivil era. We had an interesting conversation about racial prejudice and our common humanity. I mentioned Ms. Givens’ book in my blog posts on January 18, 2021 ( Fictional Characters Can Take on Lives of Their Own), on December 14, 2020 (Favorite Books Read in 2020), and on April 13, 2020 (LEAPFROG and The Immoral Majority.)


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m listening to In the Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larson, and I’m reading Cicely Tyson’s memoir, Just As I Am. Other library books are piling up and calling my name. What a wonderful “problem” to have!

I hope you have some time for creativity and hobbies this week.

Wear a mask and get vaccinated as soon as that’s possible for your age and location so we can rediscover “normal.”

Janet

4 Books I Read in February 2021

Thank you for your patience, if you’ve been eagerly awaiting an extra week to find out what I read last month. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, please read my blog post from last Monday, #OnThisDay: Articles of Confederation & Why They Had to Be Replaced.

Without further explanation, I’ll launch right into my impressions of four of the eight books I read in February.


The Last Year of the War, by Susan Meissner

The Last Year of the War, by Susan Meissner

I listened to this novel. It was mesmerizing. It is told from the point-of-view of an American woman, Elise, whose father immigrated from Germany. Due to lies a neighbor boy told about her father during World War II, she (as a teen) and her parents were scooped up and sent to a family internment camp in Texas. Her best friend there was an American teenage girl of Japanese descent.

I was immediately drawn into the story as the book starts with Elise as an older woman suffering from dementia. More than perhaps anything else I’ve read, the author put me inside the body of this woman who knew she was losing her memory but refused to give in to the disease. She even had a name for her memory-deficient self — Agnes.

Her coping skills were quite impressive. Elise got on a plane to track down her long-loss internment camp friend so they would reconnect before she completely lost her memory. I was right there with her on her physical journey, and then the book took me on a trip through their experiences in the internment camp.

I was unaware of this family internment camp in Crystal City, Texas. After giving the reader an idea of what life was like in the camp – where German- and Japanese-Americans were held captive until they could be sent to their ancestral countries in exchange for Americans who had been caught behind enemy lines when the war started, the novel takes you on Elise’s journey as she and her family spend the last year of the war living in Germany. It then follows Elise’s life after the war and ends by jumping back to the beginning of the book in Los Angeles in 2010 on her trip to look for her long-lost Japanese-American friend, Mariko Inoue.

It was a lovely story to listen to. It was well-written and I found myself pulling for Elise from the first page to the last page. I found myself listening to it at bedtime and struggling to stay awake long enough to listen to just one more chapter. If you’re an avid reader, you know what I mean.

If you want to know more about the Crystal City, Texas internment camp, Jan Jarboe Russell has written a nonfiction book about it, The Train to Crystal City: FDR’s Secret Prisoner Exchange Program and America’s Only Family Internment Camp During World War II.


Soroosh, by Laleh Chini

Soroosh, by Laleh Chini

Laleh Chini is a blogger I follow. Soroosh is Laleh’s new novel. In the beginning, Soroosh is a 10-year-old boy who has to become the man of the house and find a way to support his mother and younger siblings. Living in the port city of Abadan, Iran — home to an enormous refinery — Soroosh’s mother is between the proverbial rock and a hard place as she isn’t allowed to work or go into public places alone since she’s a woman in a Muslim country.

Soroosh takes his new role very seriously and starts brainstorming to figure out a way to earn money to support the family. He starts by purchasing handmade Persian rugs one at a time from a woman and sitting by the side of the street to sell them. He is industrious and a good salesperson.

Mid-way through the book, Soroosh is a young adult and has continued to work hard to provide for his s extended family. I don’t want to give the plot away, so I won’t give more story details. Always eager to step out of his comfort zone, Soroosh is constantly looking for a way to expand his business interests so he can help others – whether that is providing jobs or bringing in enough income that he and his wife can do charity work.

Although Soroosh and his family face many challenges and sad events, it is an uplifting story of what persons of strong faith can do when they work hard, remember their meager beginnings, and look for ways to give back to society.

Ms. Chini is an excellent storyteller, which comes through in this novel. She writes in a way that enables the reader to visualize the scenes she describes. Written in first-person, it reads like a memoir as it follows Soroosh for decades of his life. I’m impressed at Ms. Chini’s ability to write a novel in English, as it was a second language for her. She also brings in some history and historic sites as Soroosh travels for his business endeavors, as Iran has such a rich and long history.


Even As We Breathe, by Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle

Even As We Breathe, by Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle

I can’t remember how I heard about this book, but I’m so glad I did. It is the kind of novel that’s hard to put down. The characters are developed well and I really wanted both of the main characters to find happiness and what they were looking for.

A young Cherokee man, Cowney Sequoyah, and a young Cherokee woman, Essie Stamper, get jobs working at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, North Carolina, during World War II. The resort had been taken over by the US Government and housed foreign diplomats and their families.

Even As We Breathe is the story of the pull the Qualla Boundary has on Cowney and Essie. (The Qualla Boundary is the land trust in North Carolina that the descendants of the Cherokee people who hid out in the Great Smoky Mountains to avoid the Trail of Tears to Oklahoma in 1838 live on.) Even as they yearn to get away from Cherokee and the Qualla Boundary, they are drawn to it. The story shines a light on the white world’s prejudice against Cherokee Indians in the World War II era.

(Before you get upset that I use the term “Indian” instead of the politically-correct term “Native American,” when I did the research for my book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, I learned that, since the term Native American can be used to describe anyone born in America, the North American Indian Women’s Association recommends using the term American Indians. Therefore, I use the word Indian in this blog post and I used it in my vintage postcard book referenced herein.)

There are many, many layers to this story. Cowney’s club foot prevents his being able to serve in the US military during the war, which is a constant guilt he must deal with. There are family secrets that unfold throughout the book. His Uncle Bud plays heavily in Cowney’s life – and not in a good way.

The young daughter of one of the diplomats disappears. Through a series of bad decisions made by Cowney, Essie, and one of the US soldiers on duty at the Grove Park Inn – and the fact that Cowney is a Cherokee Indian and, thereby, is immediately suspect – things go badly for Cowney.

I hope I’ve given you enough information to make you want to read the book and not enough details to spoil it for you. Perhaps I especially enjoyed this book since I live in North Carolina and have visited Cherokee and Asheville many times, but I think you’ll like it, too.

The author, Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle is a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and holds degrees from Yale and the College of William and Mary.

Below is a postcard of the Grove Park Inn that I included in my vintage postcard book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, published by Arcadia Publishing. If you’re interested in learning more about the Great Smoky Mountains, Cherokee and the Qualla Boundary, and Asheville, my book is available on Amazon and from the publisher.

A portion of a linen vintage postcard of Grove Park Inn.

Since I was on the waitlist at the public library for The Last Year of the War and Even As We Breathe for quite some time, it was coincidental that I read them at the same time and both were set against the backdrop of internment during World War II. Another Cherokee connection was in Step into the Circle: Writers in Modern Appalachia, edited by Amy Greene and Trent Thomson, which I read in January. (See my February 8, 2021 blog post, 4 Other Books I Read in January 2021.) My favorite part of that book was the section about Cherokee translator Marie Junaluska.


Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, by Erik Larson

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, by Erik Larson

I can’t say enough about the way Erik Larson writes nonfiction books. He has a way of bringing history alive and holding me spellbound. Granted, I’m a bit of a history buff, but I think many of you would enjoy this book even if you don’t think you would.

The Lusitania was an ocean liner of the Cunard Cruise Line out of England. Ignoring the danger all British ships – military and otherwise – faced from German U-boats in 1915 (during World War I, of course), the Lusitania sailed out of New York City toward Liverpool, England, with more than 1,900 people on board.

Mr. Larson researched the backgrounds of the people who sailed on that voyage of the Lusitania and shares with us tidbits of their lives and why some were going to England. He weaves into the book the hot potato issue of the day: Were cruise ships fair game for German U-boats?

Germany maintained that they were fair game because they were probably carrying munitions as well as passengers.

Tension grows chapter-by-chapter as we alternate between seeing the war and enemy ships from the perspective of the captain of U-Boat 20 and from the perspective of passengers on and the captain of the Lusitania.

I found listening to Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania to be a painless way to learn details about its fateful voyage as well as more than I’d known before about German U-boats and torpedoes. The book goes beyond the sinking of the Lusitania as US President Woodrow Wilson hesitated to enter the war. In fact, it was two years after the sinking of the ocean liner before US troops arrived in England to help “the mother country” out of its dire situation.

Since my last blog post

I’ve had more books vying for my attention than I had time to read or listen to them. At the same time, I’m getting the first 50 pages of my manuscript for my historical novel The Doubloon (or perhaps The Spanish Coin) ready for a professional critique. It’s time to take the plunge!

Spring is in the air here in North Carolina. The daffodils are blooming. They’ve been the harbinger of spring my entire life. I can still remember running into the house clutching a fistful of daffodils and announcing to my mother, “The daffodils are blooming! The daffodils are blooming!” I suppose I’ve had Seasonal Affective Disorder all my life. They just didn’t have a name for it until recent years.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have one or more good books to read this week. Maybe one of the books I wrote about today will catch your eye.

If you’re a writer or other artist, I hope you have productive creative time.

I hope you stay safe and well. I’ll get my second Covid shot before my next blog post. I’m excited about that and the promise it brings. I’ll keep wearing a mask and maintain social distancing as long as necessary, though. I hope you can get vaccinated soon.

Janet

4 Other Books I Read in January 2021

My custom is to share with you my thoughts about the books I read during one calendar month in my first blog of the following month. Last Monday’s post, My thoughts on Stones from the River, by Ursula Hegi, was about the novel Stones from the River, by Ursula Hegi. In today’s post, I’ll tell you what I thought about the other four books I read in January. It’s a nice mix of fiction and nonfiction books.

After the attempted coup at the US Capitol on January 6, it was difficult to concentrate. My reading suffered, but my writing time suffered even more. I was surprised at the end of the month to discover I’d read five books.

I ran into some problems while trying to insert images of the books I’m blogging about today. Ironically, (or not?) the message I got when I tried to copy the publisher’s image of The Spy and the Traitor said “for security reasons” I was not allowed to use it. I had to laugh. I could download it to my computer, but I couldn’t insert it in today’s blog post. It’s recommended that all blog posts have images, so I’m disappointed to present a post today that has no illustrations.


The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War, by Ben MacIntyre

On a scale of one-to-five stars, I give this nonfiction book six stars. The research that backs up this detailed account of the life of double-agent Oleg Gordievsky is stunning. The book reads like a spy novel but is all the more riveting because the reader knows it is true.

I learned about this book when I saw a list of the top five books of 2020 that Bill Gates recommended. This one sounded intriguing, and it didn’t disappoint.

Oleg Gordievsky started out as a KGB agent. Fascinated by the West, though, he read and learned all he could about Great Britain. He also read works of such Soviet dissidents as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, even though reading those works or having them in your possession was against the law in the Soviet Union. Gordievsky’s world opened up when he landed an assignment in England. It is there that he became a double agent and became the crown jewel in Great Britain’s MI6 spy network.

I learned how close we came to nuclear war in 1983 when the Soviet Union misinterpreted a NATO war game with the code name ABLE ARCHER 83. The book says on page 181, “Both Reagan and Thatcher understood the Cold War in terms of a Communist threat to peaceful Western democracy; thanks to Gordievsky, they were now aware that Soviet anxiety might represent a greater danger to the world than Soviet aggression.”

It is not common for an individual spy to have a profound impact on world history, but Oleg Gordievsky falls into that category. As the book says of Gordievsky on page 183, “…he opened up the inner workings of the KGB at a pivotal juncture in history, revealing not just what Soviet intelligence was doing (and not doing), but what the Kremlin was thinking and planning, and in so doing transformed the way the West thought about the Soviet Union. He risked his life to betray his country, and made the world a little safer.”

The story is far from over at that point, and the book takes the reader on an edge-of-your-seat nail-biting ride. Will Gordievsky be outed? Will Great Britain succeed in smuggling him out of the Soviet Union? What happens to his wife and daughters? Who turns out to be an American double agent? Is that spy still alive and, if so, where is he? Is Gordievsky still alive and, if so,  where is he?

All these questions and more are answered in the book, but I don’t want to spoil the fun for you. I highly recommend The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War, by Ben MacIntyre. I listened to the book on CD while keeping a print copy in front of me. That made it easier for me to keep up with the unpronounceable Russian names.


My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, by Fredrik Backman

Told from the point-of-view of seven-year-old Elsa, this is another somewhat quirky novel from Fredrik Backman. I think it was clever for Mr. Backman to give us a novel told from a child’s viewpoint. It was an interesting read, but not one of my favorite novels.

I listened to this book on CD. My favorite part of the book turned out to be the first disc, as it included Elsa’s feisty grandmother before she died. It was funny. Elsa’s grandmother wasn’t a typical grandmother or a typical old woman. She delighted in upsetting the powers that be. She thrilled at dragging Elsa into her various escapades.

Since both of my grandmothers died before I was born, I had trouble identifying with Elsa. I don’t have a firm grasp of the personalities of either of my grandmothers; however, since they were farm wives and were born in the second half of the 19th century, they probably didn’t resemble Elsa’s grandmother in any way, shape, or form.

Of course, the reason for this novel was not to entertain the reader with the antics of an old lady. It was to show the ramifications of a life lived as this woman lived it. This woman lived her entire life insulting people, but somewhere deep down inside she wanted to apologize. The burden of making those apologies fell on her granddaughter.


Step into the Circle: Writers in Modern Appalachia, edited by Amy Greene and Trent Thomson

This is a book of profiles about nine writers of present-day Appalachia written by writers of present-day Appalachia. It is beautifully illustrated with photographs of the writers and the mountains from which they came. The writers highlighted are Wendell Berry, Crystal Wilkinson, Ron Rash, Adriana Trigiani, Silas House, George Ella Lyon, Frank X. Walker, Marie Junaluska, and Lee Smith.

Some of these writers were familiar to me, while others were not. I was glad to learn about each of them; however, the book did not live up to its promise as far as I was concerned. At least one of the “profiles” turned out to be more about the profiler than the writer being profiled. Therefore, the book ended on a sour note for me. Nevertheless, it’s worth checking out of the public library and giving it your attention.

The book addresses the influence of an author’s geographic upbringing and the importance of writing the truth that one knows. The importance of Appalachian writers to write the truth in order to dispel the myths about the people of Appalachia is an overriding theme.

The most interesting profile for me was that of Marie Junaluska, a Cherokee language teacher and translator.


The Fix, by David Baldacci

I’m attempting to whittle away at the 300 books on my To Be Read list (TBR.) I thought it might be a good idea to try to read one book from my TBR each month. But then I did the math and discovered that, at that rate, it will take me 25 years to read those 300 books. That doesn’t sound doable because I would be 103 years old by then. Also, I tend to add more than one book to my TBR each month, so the list is literally never-ending.

The Fix has been on my TBR for several years. It is the third in David Baldacci’s Amos Decker series. Labeled a thriller, I found The Fix to be more of a spy mystery. It did not keep me on the edge of my chair anxious to see what happened next. Perhaps it just wasn’t the right time for me to read this book, since I had trouble concentrating all month.

I’ve listened to many novels in the last year or two, which is quite a change for me. A lot depends on the professional recording reader. In addition to that, something that jumped out at me in listening to The Fix was how the “he said/she said” tags can distract. When reading a print book, our eyes often leap over those tags. In listening to The Fix, I was very distracted by them. There were several readers – male and female. When I female voice read a line, it was terribly jarring to have the male reader follow it by saying, “she said.” It reminded me that I was listening to a book – and that’s not a good thing. I’m not sure what the remedy is for this, but it continually took me out of the story in this novel.


National Grammar Day in the USA

No, that’s not the name of a book. Today is National Grammar Day in the United States It gives me an opportunity to share with you something I learned recently from a blog post.

I took courage from reading Melissa Donovan’s December 15, 2020 blog post. She opened my eyes to the difference between grammar rules and grammar guidelines. Here’s a link to her blog post: Grammar Guidelines Versus Grammar Rules | Writing Forward.

If grammar grabs your attention, please take time to read Ms. Donovan’s blog post. Like me, you might be surprised to learn that some things you think are grammar rules are just guidelines. You must follow the rules, but you don’t have to follow the guidelines. I wish someone had told me that years ago.

I have stressed over some guidelines because I thought they were rules. One of my favorites is that you should never end a sentence with a preposition. It turns out that rule of earlier centuries is now a guideline. Hurrah! I’ve twisted myself into a pretzel on occasion trying not to break that guideline because I thought it was a rule. What I’ve ended up with are awkward sentences. From now on, I’ll end sentences with a preposition when it makes better sense to do so.

And, by the way, you probably noticed that I used the numeral “4” in my blog post title today instead of “four.” I was taught to write out numbers one through nine in a written document – and always when it is the first word in a title or sentence — and to use numerals for 10 and higher.

I learned recently though, that when writing the title of a blog post, I should always use numerals because they make a bigger impact. They help my SEO (Search Engine Optimization). In those mysterious algorithms of cyberspace, they help my blog posts move up and get seen. They grab a person’s attention. That’s what “they” say.

Bear with me, folks. I’m in my 60s (or sixties?) and I’m trying to learn new things and adapt to the world of technology. When I was born, black and white television, black and white photography, and manual typewriters were cutting edge. And Caribbean was pronounced Ca-rah-be-in.


Since my last blog post

I’ve continued to read and I have some excellent books to share with you in March when I blog about the books I read in February. I have been entertained and educated by these books, and the month is just one-week old. I’ve read two historical novels this week that I can’t wait to tell you about.

I tried my hand at a new recipe for no-knead whole wheat sandwich bread. It held much promise in the beginning, but it turned out the size of half-of-a-sandwich bread. It tastes okay, but looks pitiful. I was disappointed but had to laugh.

We came within a few miles of having snow on Saturday night but only got rain. That’s the way it often is in the piedmont of North Carolina.


Until my next blog post

I hope you have at least one good book to read this week – one that will not only entertain you but also educate you. Our learning should never end.

Wear a mask and get the Covid-19 vaccination as soon as it’s your turn and you can get an appointment.

Stay safe, and be respectful of others’ desire to stay safe and well.

Janet

My thoughts on Stones from the River, by Ursula Hegi

I finished reading Stones from the River, by Ursula Hegi a few days ago. It made such an impression on me that I decided to write about it today and share my thoughts on the other books I read in January in next Monday’s blog post.

I enjoy following the blogs of book reviewers. Their reviews often pique my interest in books I might have otherwise overlooked. From a review, I can be fairly sure a particular book is or isn’t for me. My fellow blogger, Stella Maud Maurer (https://stellamaudmaurer.wordpress.com/,) wrote about author Ursula Hegi a couple of months ago. It was that blog post that nudged me to read Stones from the River.

I don’t consider myself a book reviewer. I just enjoy sharing my impressions of the books I read. I don’t abide by the rules that book reviewers adhere to. (And if you think I shouldn’t have ended that sentence with a preposition, I’m excited to tell you that I recently learned that “rule” is now just a “guideline.” Look for more on that in a future blog post.)

Stones from the River, by Ursula Hegi

Stones from the River, by Ursula Hegi

After reading Stella’s blog post, I wanted to read something by Ursula Hegi. I decided to start with the first novel in her Borgdorf Cycle series, Stones from the River. It wasn’t long before I was captivated by her prose.

Oh, to be able to write descriptions like Ms. Hegi does! She deftly weaves phrases of description into sentences in a way that you hardly notice. I admit, I was reading the book as a writer and not as a reader. The writing really isn’t supposed to pull the reader out of the story, but I just couldn’t help myself.

Trudi, the main character, is a little person. Her mother had what sounds like post-partem depression after Trudi’s birth. Her father, Leo, never gave up on bringing his wife and their daughter into a loving relationship. As a young girl in the late 1910s in Germany, Trudi yearns to grow tall. Her childhood isn’t an easy one, not only because she is different but because her mother is different, too. Her mother’s depression spirals out of control and she takes to hiding under the house, sometimes taking Trudi with her.

And then there’s the neighbor boy, Georg, whose mother wants him to be a girl. She dresses him like a girl and doesn’t cut his hair. Trudi starts to realize that she’s different, her mother’s different, and Georg is also different.

Through it all, Trudi has a priceless sense of humor that comes through especially in her dealings with her friend, Ingrid. Ingrid is tall and beautiful. Trudi would give anything to look like Ingrid; however, Ingrid thinks Trudi is the lucky one.

Trudi works in her father’s “pay library.” 1933 brings Hitler’s orders to destroy all books written by the great authors and thinkers of the day. She and her father hide some of his prized books under rental books in boxes. After all, what better place to hide books than in a library?

One day, Trudi discovers a woman and her little boy hiding under the house that she and her father still share along with the pay-library. They start hiding Jews in their cellar.

Due to her small stature, Trudi never expected to find romantic love. That yearning for love and a family of her own is a thread throughout the novel. I’ll just leave it at that and not spoil the story for you if you wish to read it.

This is a story of the unpredictability of life. It’s a story of thinking you know someone, but then realizing you don’t really know them. The constant backdrop was Nazi Germany. Step-by-step, day-by-day, year-by-year life became more precarious not only for the Jews but for everyone living in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s. Every word and action was suspect, and you never knew who was listening and watching.

What struck me, though, about this novel was the parallels I saw between Germany in the 1930s until the end of World War II and the United States in 2020 and 2021. If I’d read it when it was published in 1994, it wouldn’t have affected me like it did as I read it in December 2020 and January 2021. Over and over, sentences and paragraphs jumped out at me as if to say, “Wake up, America!”

It’s almost as if Ursula Hegi wrote pointed phrases and sentences in Stones from the River to serve as a cautionary tale for Americans living in the last five years.

The following sentence from Stones from the River stopped me in my tracks, since it rang so true for the United States in 2020: “She fought him by reminding herself what her father had said to Emil Hesping – that they lived in a country where believing had taken the place of knowing.” It seemed in 2020 and still today that nearly half of Americans believed what they were being told by the right-wing media and the Trump Administration instead of believing what they should have known to be true – what they saw and heard with their own eyes and ears. I’m not sure how that gets corrected, but I pray it will be.

There were several other quotes from the book that caught my attention. These three, in light of January 6, 2021: (1) “…breaking of windows….”  (2) “Maybe now, she thought, now in the blaze of fire, they surely would have to see. But it was as if they’d come to take the horrible for granted, mistaking it for the ordinary.” And (3) “Their allegiance to one powerful leader now became their excuse: since they had not made decisions but merely obeyed orders, they were not to blame.”

And this quote from the book parallels the fear some members of Congress now live with because they know that some other members of Congress wish them dead: “‘The Jews in this country,’ she corrected him one Saturday afternoon when he followed her into the garden, lecturing her, ‘are Germans and far more decent than those – those friends of yours who terrorize them –.’”

Since my last blog post

I almost finished the research necessary for the writing of one of my historical short stories. A little more research is needed in order to fill in some blanks. The story morphed into an essay. I had a lot of fun writing the 2,800-word piece on Saturday. The point-of-view “character” is a house. No more clues. I hope before the year is out, I’ll get to turn my stories and essays into a book. You’ll learn it here first, so don’t miss any of my blog posts!

Until my next blog post

Note: Tomorrow through February 8 is “Read an E-Book Week”.  If you’ve been wanting to take the plunge and try reading a book on your electronic device, this is the perfect week to do it. Don’t be an “I only read printed books” snob.

Note: Next Saturday, February 6 is “Take Your Child to the Library Day”. If your local public library is open and you feel safe to take your child there, perhaps you can do so. But if the Covid-19 pandemic has closed your library to in-person service – or you don’t feel safe going there yet – take next Saturday as an opportunity to explore the online resources your local public library system offers. Get your child excited about using the library online now and in-person as soon as that is safe. It will be a gift that keeps on giving for the rest of their lives.

I hope you have a good book to read (in print or on an electronic device) or a good one to write.

Wear a mask and get the Covid-19 vaccination as soon as it’s your turn and you can get an appointment.

Stay safe, and be respectful of others’ desire to stay safe and well.

Janet

Other Books Read in December 2020

I saved two books I read in December for today’s blog post, not wanting to make last week’s post too long. One is a new novel and the other was from my to-be-read (TBR) list. I continue to add more books to my TBR than I check off. That’s just the way it is. My TBR hovers around 300, give or take 10-20 books. I need to ignore the number. Stressing over it isn’t beneficial.

The following two books transported me to England and Mississippi in December without leaving the Covid-19-free safety of my home.

Then She Was Gone, by Lisa Jewell

The first book I read by British author Lisa Jewell was The Family Upstairs in November 2019. I didn’t particularly enjoy listening to that book because one of the characters had a limited vocabulary. By that, I’m referring to the fact that the character used “the f-word” to such excess that I found it distracting. (Here’s the link to my blog post about the books I read in November 2019: Four Other Books I Read in November 2019.) Nevertheless, I decided to give Lisa Jewell another chance, so I listened to her new novel, And Then She Was Gone. I’m glad I did.

Then She Was Gone, by Lisa Jewell

Then She Was Gone is a cleverly-developed psychological thriller. A little girl disappears shortly after her tutor is let go. The little girl’s mother never gives up hope of finding her daughter. Many years later she is introduced to a young girl. She is the spitting image of her missing daughter. I was hooked by this story early on, and I wanted to see it through to the end. The longer I listened to this book, the more I was eager to see what would happen next.

Having a female predator made this novel different from the norm. We just don’t expect a woman to fill that role in real life or in fiction. Did the tutor have something to do with the little girl’s disappearance? If so, why did she do it? There are some surprises in the end that made me wish I had time to reread the book from the beginning to look for bits of foreshadowing I possibly missed the first time.

The Appeal, by John Grisham

This novel by John Grisham has been on my TBR for years. I finally got around to reading it. Actually, I listened to it. Michael Beck does such a good job recording John Grisham’s books, I’ve come to prefer to listen to his novels instead of reading the printed word.

The Appeal deals with a number of trials and appeals. The main one is an appeal filed after a jury in Mississippi finds a chemical company guilty of causing a cluster of cancer cases. The owner of the company decides to “purchase” a seat on the Mississippi State Supreme Court.

This book shines a bright light on the problems that can be created by making judgeships elected positions. When a judge is put in the position of needing to raise money for his or her campaign, it opens the door for all kinds of corruption. Mr. Grisham usually has a point he wants to get across, and I believe that was the one that stood out in The Appeal.

There is also a moral dilemma revealed near the end of the book.

Since my last blog post

Since my last blog post, insurrectionists and domestic terrorists stormed the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. I’m so angry and stunned that I’m still searching for words to attempt to describe how I feel. I’ve tried very hard the last four years not to make comments about politics in my blog posts; however, what happened last Wednesday, January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC was done at the direction and encouragement of Donald J. Trump, Sr., the sitting president of the United States of America.

It was a failed coup. There is no punishment for Trump and his enablers that is equal to their crimes.

The United States Capitol Photo credit: Ajay Parthasarathy on unsplash.com

I can almost forgive the people who voted for Trump in 2016. With time, maybe I’ll be able to completely forgive them. For the people who voted for him again in November 2020, you knew exactly what you were voting for and you got it on January 6. Unfortunately, we all got it on January 6—and we didn’t deserve it. As a Christian, I’m supposed to forgive you. Let’s just say I’m a work in progress. May God have mercy on my soul. May God have mercy on you.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read or a good one to write – or both.

Make time to do something you’re really passionate about. For me, that’s writing.

Wear a mask, and get the Covid-19 vaccination as soon as you’re eligible. That’s still a few weeks or months away for me.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog post today.

Janet