Nominated for Fix Her Crown Award

Thank you, Laleh Chini, for nominating me for the Fix Your Crown Award on her wonderful blog, A Voice from Iran. Here’s the link to her blog: https://lalehchini.com. Here’s a link to the blog post in which she nominated me, in case you’d like to see what she’s all about: https://lalehchini.com/2020/03/21/nominated-for-fix-her-crown/.

Fix Her Crown Award
Fix Her Crown Award. http://www.cindygoesbeyond.com

The rules are simple:

Thank the person who nominated you and link to her blog.

Copy and paste these rules to your post and please include a link to the Fix Her Crown Award post: https://kimsdiytribe.com/fix-her-crown-award/.

Post three photos of just yourself and write a short caption beneath each about why you chose that photo.

Nominate seven women for the Fix Her Crown Award, women who lend a helping hand to the woman whose crown seems too heavy, who appreciate the sister who dares to be her own glorious self, who raise strong young women, who smile at the sister journeying alone and walk alongside her for a time, who stand with the sister whose crown has been knocked off her head time after time and women who shine as their own beautifully unique selves.

Link to the blogs of the seven nominees.

Here are three photos of me:

Silas and Janet were equally excited the day “their” vintage postcard book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, arrived in July, 2014.
Janet with Penny Padgett, owner of The Book Shelf in Tryon, North Carolina. Penny and The Book Shelf bookstore hold a special place in my heart. Penny was the first (and only) book store owner who invited me to have a book signing after my vintage postcard book was published. That was in happier days for Penny and for me. Sadly, she has had to sell off her inventory and close the bookstore this year after not being able to find a buyer for her business in the wonderful small mountain town of Tryon.
This is a photo of my first local history column in 2005 in the now defunct weekly newspaper, Harrisburg Horizons in Harrisburg, North Carolina. I wrote a different local history article every other week for more than six years. It was the most enjoyable “job” I’ve ever had. Maybe someday I’ll be able to publish all those newspaper columns in a book!

That’s enough about me. Here are the women, in random order, I nominate for the Fix Her Crown Award:

Kally: https://middleme.net/

Alison: https://piermanparis.com/

Janet: https://janetgivens.com/

Diane: https://indianeskitchen.com/home/

Terri: https://reclaiminghopecoaching.com/

Beverley: https://becomingtheoilandwine.com/

Jennifer: https://jennifertarheelreader.com/

This award nomination came as a complete surprise to me! Thank you again, Laleh Chini, for nominating me!

Until my blog post tomorrow

Everyone out there stay safe and well during this coronavirus 19 pandemic.

Janet

Three Historical Novels I Read in February 2020

For me, the month of February can be summed up in three words. Best laid plans.

What actually happened

I thought I’d get a lot of reading done in February while being confined to my home with a fractured leg. I discovered it was hard to concentrate. I only completed three books in February. When given the opportunity to read 24/7, it loses its appeal – or at least it did for me. Added to my concentration problems was a hospitalization due to a pulmonary embolism. It was quite a month!

Since I didn’t get anything posted on my blog last Monday, I’ll try to get back on my weekly posting track now. I’ll try to finish writing “FixYourNovel #4 – Characterization, Part 2” for next Monday.


Moving on to today’s topic

Some readers look for a blog post the first Monday of the month about the books I read the previous month, so that’s what I’m doing today. If you’re a fan of historical fiction, you might like one or more of these three books.


The Last Train to London, by Meg Waite Clayton

As usual, I can’t remember how I heard about this historical novel. I’m glad I did, though.

The rescue of Jewish children from Nazi Germany
The Last Train to London, by Meg Waite Clayton

Meg Waite Clayton did extensive research and wrote this book over a 12-year period. She takes you to Germany in 1938. Through several real people, she weaves a suspenseful story of the Kindertransport effort through which 10,000 Jewish children were saved from certain death in Nazi Germany. Those 10,000 children were taken by train from Germany to The Netherlands and from there to England.

The references to closed borders and Hitler’s accusations about “the lying press” sent chills up and down my spine as an American. The parallels with the policies of the current United States president are striking and frightening to those of us who value our democracy.

There are gut-wrenching scenes of parents putting their children on trains with admonitions to make the most out of the museums and educational opportunities they’ll have in England. The children are entrusted to strangers with promises from their parents to somehow get to England and reunite with them.

No child under four or older than 17 years old was allowed to go. Each child was assigned a number. When they arrived in England, they were reviewed by prospective adoptive parents on Sundays.

As is stated in the “Author’s Note” at the end of the book, “Although fiction, this novel is based on the read Vienna Kindertransport effort led by Geertruida Wijsmuller-Meijer of Amsterdam, who had begun rescuing smaller groups of children as early as 1933. She was, to the children, Tante Truus.”

I regret to quote the following from near the end of the book:

“Efforts to effect similar transports to the United States, through the Wagner-Rogers Bill introduced into Congress in February of 1939, met anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic opposition. A June 2, 1939, memo seeking President Roosevelt’s support for the effort is marked in his handwriting ‘File no action. FDR.’”

I hope you get a chance to read this excellent historical novel.


The Cold, Cold Ground, by Adrian McKinty

The ophthalmologist who treated me for shingles in my right eye several years ago was an avid reader. During my frequent appointments, we often discussed our favorite novels and authors. He introduced me to the novels of Stuart Nevillle and Adrian McKinty. I finally got around to reading my first novel by Mr. McKinty last month.

Police suspense novel set in Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland
The Cold, Cold Ground, by Adrian McKinty

The Cold, Cold Ground was Mr. McKinty’s twelfth novel, but it introduced a new character, Sean Duffy, a Roman Catholic police officer in Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland. At least one of my immigrant ancestors came to America from Carrickfergus, so I was immediately drawn into the story. My ancestor was a Presbyterian, though, which has always intrigued me in light of “The Troubles” between Protestants and Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland. I just don’t understand Christians hating other Christians, but that a topic for another day.

Back to the novel… Duffy is often put in awkward situations since he is one of only a few Roman Catholic police officers in Carrickfergus.

In The Cold, Cold Ground, a serial killer is making a statement, and Duffy is determined to solve the case and see the murderer brought to justice. There have been two murders. No one else suspects a connection except for Duffy.

I look forward to reading other Adrian McKinty novels.


A Long Petal of the Sea, by Isabel Allende

I was really on a roll last month with good historical novels! I wish I had remembered more details from the Latin American history courses I took in college. Some of that information would have been a helpful backdrop while reading this novel about the Spanish civil war in the 1930s.

You may wonder what Latin America had to do with a late-1930s civil war in Spain. I wondered the same thing, so I was in for an education.

A Long Petal of the Sea, by Isabel Allende

Hundreds of thousands of Spanish citizens fled across the mountainous French border when General Franco and his Fascist followers overthrew the Spanish government.

In A Long Petal of the Sea, you follow a pregnant young widow, Roser, and her army doctor brother-in-law, Victor Dalmau, as they join 2,000 other refugees on the SS Winnipeg, a chartered ship to Chile. The voyage is chartered by poet Pablo Neruda. He described Chile as “the long petal of sea and wine and snow.” Hence, the name of the novel.

The day they arrive in Chile just happens to be the day World War II erupts in Europe – September 2, 1939. The novel spans decades and four generations as these refugees make the most of their new lives in Chile while always yearning to return to their beloved Spain.

Isabel Allende, the author, was born in Peru and grew up in Chile. Since she was the first author to donate an autographed book for the autographed books auction held by the Friends of the Harrisburg (NC) Library some years ago, Ms. Allende holds a special place in my heart.

The novel was beautifully-translated into English by Nick Caistor and Amanda Hopkinson.


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading a memoir, Inheritance:  A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love, by Dani Shapiro and listening to Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett.

Thank you for reading my blog post. You have many things vying for your attention and time, so I appreciate the fact that you took time to read my blog today. Please visit it every week to see what I’m up to.

Let’s continue the conversation

Have you read any good books lately? Share your thoughts with us.

Janet

Three More Books I Read in January 2020

Today’s blog post is a follow up to last Monday’s. I read six books in January and I’ve split them up between last week’s blog and today’s. I hope you’ll find a book among the six that piques your interest.


The Sins of the Father, by Jeffrey Archer

Book Two in Jeffrey Archer's Clifton Series, The Sins of the Father.

I only have myself to blame. Why I thought it was a good idea to read the second book in Jeffrey Archer’s Clifton Chronicles Series before reading the first book, Only Time Will Tell, is a mystery. The Sins of the Father ended with a cliff hanger that compels me to read the third book in the series, Best Kept Secret; however, I feel even more compelled to read Only Time Will Tell next.

The Sins of the Father is based on the premise that Harry Clifton assumes the identity of another sailor during World War II. He lands in an American jail for this offense. Meanwhile, Giles Barrington is assumed to be the heir to the Barrington estate. Harry’s love, Emma Barrington, gives birth to a son whose parentage is a mystery. Harry’s parentage is also in question. Who will inherit the Barrington estate? Will the real Harry Clifton please stand up? Not in The Sins of the Father. The case of which man is the lawful inheritor of the estate goes to court, but court is adjourned in the last sentence of The Sins of the Father, without a verdict declared.

This was an enjoyable read for me. Working through my to-be-read list, I’ll eventually get to Only Time Will Tell and then to the remaining five books in the Clifton Chronicles.

Let this be a lesson for me:  Always start reading a fiction series by reading the first book in the series!


Keeping Lucy, by T. Greenwood

I must admit that I didn’t finish reading Keeping Lucy. It held much promise. The scenario is a woman gives birth in 1969 to a Down’s Syndrome infant girl. While she is recovering from a hard delivery, her husband and father-in-law secretly have the days old infant moved to a institution that “cares” for such children.

That secret arrangement goes over with the mother like a lead balloon. I enjoyed the book to that point and was eager to see what happened. Unfortunately, I stopped liking the mother. For starters, she didn’t try to see her daughter for two years. What mother would let her husband dictate that?

Spoiler alert:  when the mother finally goes to see the two-year-old daughter without telling her husband, she finds the toddler is a victim of horrendous neglect. I won’t go into the gory details, but things were really bad. The mother checks Lucy out of the institution for a long weekend but vows she will never take her back to the facility.

I was trying to forgive the mother for not visiting her daughter for two years, but instead of taking Lucy to a pediatrician or an emergency room and reporting the abuse to the authorities, she tries a home remedy to purge Lucy of the parasites with which she is infected. This is a mother who is financially very comfortable. She doesn’t take the action I think any mother would take because Lucy isn’t on the family’s health insurance policy.

That’s when I had to close the book. I was disappointed. I liked an earlier novel by T. Greenwood, Where I Lost Her. I wrote favorably about it in my May 2, 2017 blog post, “What I Read in April.” (I can’t seem to make a clickable link to that post today.) Maybe I was just in a bad mood when I read the first 14 chapters of Keeping Lucy. I really wanted to like it.


Twisted Twenty-Six, by Janet Evanovich

Years ago, I enjoyed reading the first 15 to 20 books of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series. Either I’ve aged out or just become bored with Stephanie Plum’s escapades. The latest books in this series just haven’t made me chuckle, much less laugh out loud like her earlier books did. I’ll probably not read the 27th book in this series.


The Broker, by John Grisham

I’ve read only 18 of John Grisham’s novels, so I’m still playing catch-up. The Broker was published in 2005, so many of you read it a long time ago.

In this suspense novel, Joel Backman is “the broker.” He has ended up in prison for hacking into a spy satellite system the US didn’t know about. After six years of incarceration, the government decides he can do them more good on the outside than in prison.

The out-going US president grants Backman a pardon hours before leaving office. Backman is whisked out of the country, where he is to live out his life in something similar to the Witness Protection Program. Notice I said “similar.”

Spoiler alert: In truth, the whole thing is a CIA setup. The bad guys track Backman down. They are supposed to kill him.


Since my last blog post

I’ve spent the last two weeks either in bed or in a chair with my leg in an immobilizer. I’ve tried reading other blogs on my tablet and leaving a few comments, but our internet service isn’t the best. Sometimes it works better than other times. It’s frustrating after being used to using the desktop computer. That’s where I am for a few minutes, so I can finish writing this post and get it scheduled to go out.


Until my next blog post

I’ll have more x-rays and see what the orthopedic doctor has to say about my fractured leg. I’m not in pain, which is an encouraging blessing. I’m growing weary of the immobilizer and not being able to put any weight on that leg. I need some patience, and I need it NOW!

I have a good caregiver, and for the foreseeable future I don’t have to cook or wash dishes. There’s the silver lining! My planned blog posts the next two weeks is about characterization in fiction. I’ve worked on these posts off and on for a while. If I can get the material pulled together and edited to my satisfaction, that’s what I’ll post on February 17 and 24. If that doesn’t pan out, I’ll try to come up with something else that won’t bore you to tears.

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading Diane Chamberlain’s new novel, Big Lies in a Small Town.

If you’re an artist or writer, I hope you have quality work time this week.

Thank you for reading my blog. You have many demands on your time, so I appreciate your taking a few minutes to read my blog. If you like what you see, please share my blog with your friends.

Janet

Three Books I Read in January 2020

The first Monday of the month seems to come around faster and faster, and it’s time for me to blog about the books I read the previous month. As usually happens, I have to divide the books I read the month before into two blog posts. No one wants to read a 2,000-word blog post.

I read approximately 6.5 books in January. Today’s blog post is about three of them. I’ll write about the other 3.5 books next Monday.

The Devil in the White City:  Murder, Magic and Madness and the Fair that Changed America, by Erik Larson

This book pleasantly surprised me. From the title, I wasn’t sure I’d like the book, but it’s an excellent piece of creative nonfiction.

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America, by Erik Larson

I didn’t know the history of the World’s Fair:  Columbian Exposition except that it was held in Chicago to mark the 400th anniversary of the “discovery” of America by Christopher Columbus’s.

Chicago was a rough-and-tumble place at that time, known primarily for the slaughterhouses located there. The city was in competition with Washington, DC as the site of the fair.

When Chicago was selected, the depth of the bedrock immediately became a source of concern for the fair’s planners, architects, and construction engineers. The weight of the fair’s proposed buildings and the poor soil were difficult to overcome with the construction equipment of the day. I found that aspect of the book to be fascinating.

The fair was planned, built, and held with a backdrop of mysterious disappearances and murders in Chicago. As the title suggests, that comes into play. The murderer is a physician.

The mandate the Chicago fair had was to “out-Eiffel Eiffel.” The grand Eiffel Tower was built as part of the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris, so the Chicago fair authorities were under a lot of pressure to construct something more amazing at their fair. That turned out to be the Ferris wheel, although that first Ferris wheel was made up of “cars” that could hold 20 passengers. The construction details about the Ferris wheel were interesting to me. Being the daughter of a structural steel draftsman, I grew up being exposed to discussions and an appreciation of such things.

Mingled in with the details of the construction and operation of the fair itself are tidbits of the personal lives of the people involved such as landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead, who was also working on the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina at the same time.

Reference is also made to some of the new inventions that were introduced to the public at the Chicago fair, including zippers, Juicy Fruit chewing gum, Cracker Jacks snack, moving pictures, the vertical file, shredded wheat cereal, and Aunt Jemima’s pancake mix in a box.


A Minute to Midnight, by David Baldacci

A Minute to Midnight is David Baldacci’s latest novel and the second book in his Atlee Pine thriller series. I’ve only read five of Mr. Baldacci’s books, so I’ve missed a lot of his work. I missed the first book in this series, Long Road to Mercy. I’ll definitely read it before the third book in the series is published.

A Minute to Midnight, by David Baldacci

Atlee Pine is an FBI Special Agent. In A Minute to Midnight, she returns to her small hometown in Georgia to try to find answers to some nagging questions about her family. In the process of finding out some startling information about her parents, she is drawn into the investigation of several local murders. Who is the murderer? Are these murders – which are rare in this small town – somehow connected to Pine’s presence in the community?

Mr. Baldacci takes us on an eerie journey as he ties in the morbid history of the infamous Andersonville prisoner-of-war prison of American Civil War days. The prison’s cemetery plays a part in this novel, as that is where the murderer likes to leave his victims.


The Lies We Told, by Diane Chamberlain

In this novel, Diane Chamberlain takes us into a devastating hurricane on the North Carolina coast. There is massive flooding in the southeastern portion of the state, and we’re soon caught up in the lives of two sisters who just happen to be doctors. Each sister tries to do her part to help in the aftermath of the hurricane. Their duties take them to different directions and a breakdown of telephone communications results of their not being able to communicate for two long weeks.

The Lies We Told, by Diane Chamberlain

The sisters have a history of secrets that date back to the day their parents were murdered. One sister desperately wants children, while the other one is wrapped up in her career and doesn’t let herself have dreams of a family of her own.

There is a helicopter crash and one of the sisters cannot be located at the crash scene. She’s found by a local citizen and taken to his home for recovery. There are undertones of trouble within that home, though. Tensions rise because the small rural community is cut off from the mainland by the flooding, and the wife’s baby is due at any time.

I got a little weary of the part of the book that gave details of rescue efforts, but I’m glad a stuck with it. The ending was worth the wait.


Since my last blog post

Since my blog post last Monday, I had a freak accident and broke my right tibia. Therefore, you won’t see me as much on social media as usual.


Until my next blog post

I’ll be seeing an orthopedic surgeon to see what the plan of treatment will be for the next months. I hope I’ll get to blog about the other books I read in January next Monday.

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m listening to The Cold, Cold Ground, by Adrian McKinty, a novel set in Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland.

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

Thank you for reading my blog post. You have many things vying for your attention and time, so I appreciate the fact that you took time to read my blog today.

Janet

The Other Books I Read in December 2019

Today’s blog post is a follow-up to last Monday’s post, https://janetswritingblog.com/2020/01/06/three-books-i-read-in-december-2019/. I hope within the six books I read in December, I’ve sparked an interest in you to read at least one of them. Reading is one of the joys of my life, and I enjoy sharing the books I read with my blog readers.


A Woman is No Man, by Etaf Rum

A Woman is No Man, by Etaf Rum

Maybe it’s just me, but I found the jumping back and forth from one decade to another confusing.

I hope all Arab families aren’t like this one with the emotional and physical abuse of women being carried on from each generation to the next. The book left me feeling like all Arab men beat their wives and no Arab men want their wives or daughters to be educated or think for themselves. In that respect, it was a very depressing book.

In an interview at the end of the book, Ms. Rum talks about her fear that the book will further the stereotype of Arab men as wife beaters, but she felt compelled to write from her own experience. My brain tells me that all Arab families aren’t like the one she described in her book, but it could easily leave that impression. I don’t want to stereotype Arabs or any other group of people, so I’ll try to take the book at face value as just an example. No ethnic group has a monopoly on domestic abuse.

Aside from the jumping back and forth in time, the writing was excellent and it held my attention once I got into my mind the year in which each chapter took place. The beginning of each chapter pulled me out of the story and I had to stop reading and mentally adjust to the generation being written about. Since nothing changed from one generation to the next, though, I suppose the year and generation didn’t matter.

All that said, though, I do recommend the book.


Beneath a Scarlet Sky

Beneath a Scarlet Sky, by Mark Sullivan

Like The Baker’s Secret, I’ve been meaning to read Beneath a Scarlet Sky for more than a year. I was initially drawn to the book by it’s brilliant red cover. I know they say to never judge a book by its cover, but in this case the book did not disappoint.

Based on the lives of real individuals who lived in Italy during World War II, this story gradually drew me in. Once I was “in,” I was “all in.” It is a story of espionage and reminds us that people who are spies aren’t necessarily ones we would readily assume were in that line of work. It is a story of people getting caught up in espionage even against their wills or life plans. It is a story of loyalty among friends and family, and the secrets that had to be kept for the greater good.

This was a book I hated to finish. Fortunately, the author included details at the end of the book that inform us of what happened to each of the characters after the war ended. I really appreciated how the author tied of all the loose ends, since these were real people.

If you’re looking for a World War II-era book to read that delves into the day in and day out lives of regular people, this is the book for you.


When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi

When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi

Aside from The Guardians and A Woman is No Man, all the books I read in December were ones that had been on my to-be-read list for quite a while. When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi, received a lot of good publicity when it was published in 2016. I didn’t read it then, but it was one of those book titles that nagged at me.

After bouncing around in several areas of study, Kalanithi is drawn to the field of medicine and neurosurgery in particular. He determines that there is more to medical science than facts. He discovers that relationships matter and that there is an important human aspect to medicine.

When Breath Becomes Air is a memoir written by Paul Kalanithi, a neurosurgeon who was diagnosed with cancer in the prime of his life and career. It is a gripping story of his feelings and physical hurdles as he battled stage IV metastatic lung cancer. The book was published after his death.

Although not an entirely upbeat book, it is a touching story of love, dedication, and the human spirit striving to overcome the worst of circumstances.


Since my last blog post

I read a blog post that offered advice about how to have a successful blog. (Success in blogging seems to be having thousands of readers and followers.) As I’ve read many times before, this post said I need to find my niche and blog only about that. It said I shouldn’t blog about this and that. Since I’m not an expert on any subject, though, for the foreseeable future I’ll continue to write about the books I read, history, and the things I learn about the art and craft of writing.

Thank you for sticking with me in spite of the fact that I don’t have a “successful” blog. If I hit on a topic occasionally that a few people find interesting, I’ll consider that my blog is successful. I’ve never been one to go along with the crowd.


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I just finished reading A Minute to Midnight, by David Baldacci, and have started listening to The Devil in the White City:  Murder, Magic and Madness and the Fair that Changed America, by Erik Larson. The introduction was intriguing. It will be interesting to see how I like the book. That probably depends upon how graphic the murder and madness are!

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

Thank you for reading my blog post. You have many things vying for your attention and your time, so I truly appreciate the fact that you took time to read my blog today.


Let’s continue the conversation

I’m always eager to know what you are reading. Feel free to share the titles of the books you’ve been reading and your thoughts about them.

Janet

Three Books I Read in December 2019

Once again, last month I read a good number of books and decided to split them up between my blog post today and my post next Monday.


Think you can't be fooled by a lair? Think again!
Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know, by Malcolm Gladwell

Talking to Strangers:  What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know, by Malcolm Gladwell

Mr. Gladwell’s book says most of us default to thinking strangers are truthful until they prove us wrong, but we are not good at discerning a lie. This can lead to disaster; however, if the majority of people assumed everyone is dishonest, that will have even worse outcomes. It’s an interesting thing to consider.

After reading a pre-publication excerpt from the book, I got on the waitlist for it at the public library. I was intrigued by the idea.

In the book’s introduction, Mr. Gladwell relates the tragic story of Sandra Bland, a young African American woman pulled over by a police officer in Texas in 2015 for not signaling a lane change. Things rapidly escalated and Ms. Bland committed suicide in her jail cell three days later.

The book includes an interesting example from Russian folklore. It seems there is a yurodivy or “Holy Fool” in Russian folklore who is a misfit, an outcast, sometimes seen as mentally-ill, but this person “has access to the truth.” Because he isn’t part of proper society, he tells the truth. He calls people out for lying. He is the modern-day whistleblower.

In Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” the child is the “Holy Fool” who blurts out, “Look at the King! He’s not wearing anything at all!” Everyone else sees that the emperor’s magical costume is nothing at all, but the king has been convinced it is a real outfit and everyone but the child is afraid to call the king out – or perhaps many of them have been hoodwinked just like the king.

We need “Holy Fools,” but we can’t all be “Holy Fools.” They see liars everywhere. If everyone operated that way, commerce and interpersonal relationships would cease.

I can’t succinctly summarize this book. Mr. Gladwell gives numerous examples to illustrate how we are fooled every day by strangers. We think we are too smart to be tricked by a liar, but we are all susceptible to it.

He gives many examples where intelligence agencies, diplomats, and governments have been tricked by strangers to an unbelievable extent. Examples include “The Queen of Cuba,” Bernie Madoff, the Jerry Sandusky case at Penn State University, an episode of the TV series “Friends,” the Amanda Knox case in Italy, the case of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain being completely fooled by the personality of Adolph Hitler, and several other such large-scale examples. Mr. Gladwell goes into great detail about each of the cases he cites in his book.

The average person’s response to these examples is, “That would never happen to me!” and “How in the world did they get fooled?” Before we jump to such a conclusion, though, we need to keep in mind that we, too, can be fooled by strangers (and by people we think we know well.)

Talking to Strangers:  What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know, by Malcolm Gladwell, is food for thought. It is a very interesting book.


The Guardians, by John Grisham

People convicted of crimes they didn't commit
The Guardians, by John Grisham

This much-anticipated latest legal thriller by John Grisham did not disappoint. The name of the novel comes from a loosely-organized organization that works to get out of prison individuals who were wrongly convicted of a crime. The protagonist is a lawyer who got involved in The Guardians after he became disenchanted with the judicial system.

The overriding theme of innocent people being railroaded by the judicial system and spending decades in prison or given the death penalty should make us all stop and think.

In this book, Mr. Grisham takes us to death row and even to a condemned prisoner’s last meal, when we know the prisoner is not guilty of the crime of which he was convicted. The book follows several such cases.


The Baker’s Secret, by Stephen P. Kiernan

The Baker’s Secret, by Stephen P. Kiernan

This novel had been on my to-be-read list for a long time. I’m glad I finally got around to listening to it. It’s a captivating story of Emma, a young French woman who is ordered to become the German kommandant’s baker during World War II and what she did to fool the kommandant and to help keep her fellow citizens alive during the German occupation of France.

The story of Emma is beautifully told as D-Day approaches. She lives in Normandy and has given up on the Allies ever coming to France’s rescue. I especially enjoyed the way the author describes D-Day and the days that followed through Emma’s eyes.

More so than most any other novel I’ve read, The Baker’s Secret brings to life the everyday lives and struggles faced by the regular people in the countries that were under foreign occupation and attack during World War II. Something this book brings out is the very real hunger experienced by the citizens of France during the war.

Cassandra Campbell does a great job reading the book for the CD edition.


Since my last blog post

The holiday season is nearing an end and it’s time to start a new year. I’m trying to be optimistic about 2020, but the events of the last several days makes that more difficult than it was just a week ago. I am, of course, referring to US-Iranian relations.


Until my next blog post

As I stated in my December 30, 2019 blog post, I will continue to seek a higher level of peace and contentment in 2020. I wish that for you, also.

I hope you have a good book to read. I’ve just started A Minute to Midnight, by David Baldacci.

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

Thank you for reading my blog post. You have many things vying for your attention and your time, so I truly appreciate the fact that you took time to read my blog.


Let’s continue the conversation

What are you reading? Have you read an especially powerful or enjoyable book recently?

I look forward to your feedback.

Janet

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