The 3.5 Books I Read in July 2019

Too many books, too little time! I got more reading done in July than I did in June, although a couple of the books I finished last month were actually started a month or more before. The best part was that I got to read 3.5 historical novels. Although not based in my favorite time period – America’s colonial and revolutionary eras – I was pleased with the novels, and even learned some things from the one I didn’t finish.

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, by Kim Michele Richardson

#HistoricalNovel set in #EasternKentucky during the #GreatDepression with #HorsebackLibrarians.
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, by Kim Michele Richardson

This historical novel taught me about two aspects of American history with which I was unfamiliar:

            1.    Due to an extremely rare genetic disease, Methemoglobinemia, some people in eastern Kentucky had blue skin; and

             2. Part of the WPA program during The Great Depression paid people (mostly women) to deliver library books and other reading material to isolated individuals in Kentucky.

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is a fictionalized story of one such “Book Woman.” Cussy had blue skin and was, therefore, an outcast. She loved her job of delivering reading materials to her regular patrons. She rode a mule to do her work.

Cussy faced many dangers at home and on her book route, and this novel takes you along with her as she continually shows courage in the face of extreme poverty and personal vulnerability as a blue-skinned woman.

The first third or half of the book got a little tedious, as it seemed like most of Cussy’s days were pretty much like all her other days with the occasion father-arranged male visitors who came her way. As I recall, to a man, she found her gentlemen (and I use the term loosely) callers to be disgusting. Her father was desperate to marry her off because he’s promised Cussy’s mother he would.

Spoiler alert:  Her father finally marries her off and it doesn’t begin or end well.

I’m glad I read the book because the story of those Kentucky WPA horseback and mule-riding librarians was something I hadn’t known about. I also didn’t know about Methemoglobinemia. I like books that teach me something. The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, by Kim Michele Richardson, is a prime example of how we can learn from good historical fiction.

Mr. Churchill’s Secretary, by Susan Elia MacNeal

Mr. Churchill’s Secretary, by Susan Elia MacNeal

Mr. Churchill’s Secretary is the first book in the Maggie Hope Mystery Series by Susan Elia MacNeal. I read the fifth book in the series, Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante three years ago. I enjoyed it and have had Ms. MacNeal’s other Maggie Hope novels on my To Be Read List ever since. I wanted to go back and begin with the first book in the series. Now I look forward to reading the second book in the series, Princess Elizabeth’s Spy.

You might recall that Mr. Churchill’s Secretary was one of the books I was reading when I wrote my June 17, 2019 blog post, https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/06/17/delving-deeper-into-dialects-and-accents-in-fiction/. I was trying to read too many books at the same time, and I didn’t finish this Susan Elia MacNeal novel until July. That’s not a reflection on the book. It’s merely proof that I try to read more books than I can finish in a reasonable length of time.

Mr. Churchill’s Secretary takes place in London in 1940. Graduating at the top of her class, Maggie is highly-qualified to be a spy for the British government; however, being female, at first she is relegated to being a typist at No. 10 Downing Street for Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

Part of the time Maggie Hope is assigned to decoding at Bletchley Park. Here’s a link to a great four-minute interview with Betty Webb and Joy Aylard who actually worked there during World War II:  https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p07dgj2k. The program was part of the BBC’s celebration of the 75th anniversary of D-Day. (I’m now getting a message saying I can’t watch the clip at my location, but maybe you can where you are. A friend in Belgium sent it to me on Facebook.) If the BBC link doesn’t work, perhaps you can still find it on https://www.facebook.com/JanetMorrisonWriter/. I posted the video there on July 29, 2019. While you’re there, I invite you to “like” my writer’s Facebook page.

The copy of Mr. Churchill’s Secretary that I read included several pages of author’s notes at the end. It was interesting to learn how Ms. MacNeal wove real people and fictional people into this cohesive story. She also gave some research facts she discovered and what inspired her to write the novel.

The Spies of Shilling Lane, by Jennifer Ryan

The Spies of Shilling Lane, by Jennifer Ryan

This is an engaging historical novel set in London during World War II. Many novels have been published over the last several years in conjunction with the 75th anniversaries of various events of that war. I’ve read a number of them, but The Spies of Shilling Lane, by Jennifer Ryan stands out in my mind.

You might be surprised at who the spies in the story are. You’ll be surprised when some very unlikely people find themselves spying on the British Nazis and Nazi sympathizers. Woven throughout is a story of the estrangement between an adult daughter and her mother. There are family secrets that are eventually revealed.

If you follow my blog, you know I’m generally not a fan of listening to a novel, but I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this one.

I can’t wait to see what Jennifer Ryan has in store for us in her next novel. Perhaps you’ve read her debut novel, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir. I also gave it five stars. If you want to see what I said about that book, here’s a link to my April 1, 2017 blog post, https://janetswritingblog.com/2017/04/01/the-authors-i-read-in-march/. ­­­­­­­­­­­­

The Irishman’s Daughter, by V.S. Alexander

#HistoricalNovel set in #Ireland during the #PotatoFamine
The Irishman’s Daughter, by V.S. Alexander

I’ve mentioned The Irishman’s Daughter, by V.S. Alexander in several of my blog posts including https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/04/08/three-other-books-i-read-in-march-2019/ on April 8, 2019. I’ve become a fan of V.S. Alexander’s historical novels. It’s just personal preference, but The Irishman’s Daughter didn’t hold my attention like Alexander’s first two novels, The Magdalen Girls (2017) and The Taster (2018.)

Alexander does a brilliant job of research and has a talent for sharing research without beating the reader over the head with info dumps.

The Irishman’s Daughter takes place in Ireland during The Great Potato Famine. The father in the story oversees an estate for an absentee landlord. He has two daughters. One dreams of marrying the rich landlord, who is oblivious to the poverty and starvation faced by his tenants. The other daughter is emotionally moved by the dire situation and tries to stretch their little bit of food with as many people as she possibly can. She longs to marry a local farmer.

I must admit that I did not finish reading this book. With other books vying for my attention, this one just didn’t grab me. I’ve read good things about the book, though, so I’ll give it another try when I get a chance.

V.S. Alexander’s next novel, The Traitor, is scheduled for publication on February 25, 2020. Although I didn’t like The Irishman’s Daughter as much as Alexander’s earlier books, I’ll get on the waitlist for The Traitor at the public library as soon as it’s ordered.

To see what I said about The Magdalen Girls and The Taster, please click on these two blog post links:  https://janetswritingblog.com/2017/04/01/the-authors-i-read-in-march/ and https://janetswritingblog.com/2018/03/05/reading-and-writing-in-february-2018/.

Since my last blog post

I finished the online “Building a Writer/Author Platform course taught by Karen Cioffi-Ventrice. Here’s a link to it and other courses, in case you’re interested: https://www.wow-womenonwriting.com/.

I had good feedback about last Monday’s blog post, https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/07/29/onthisday-uss-indianapolis/. Therefore, I’ll plan additional #OnThisDay blog posts in the future. Thank you to everyone who left comments or liked it here and on other social media networks.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Victory Garden, by Rhys Bowen and listening to Resistance Women, by Jennifer Chiaverini.

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

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

Let’s continue the conversation

What are you reading? Or what did you read in July that you’d recommend? Do you read historical fiction? If not, you’re missing a great reading and learning experience.

Janet

3.25 of the 6.25 Books I Read in January 2019

My reading in January brought an interesting mix of fiction and nonfiction. In fact, when I wrote the first draft of this blog post about the 6.25 books I read last month, it was too long for one post. You’re all busy people and you only have so much time to give to reading my blog. Therefore, I’ll write about 3.25 of the 6.25 books today and the other three books next Monday.

At Home on the Kazakh Steppe:  A Peace Corps Memoir, by Janet Givens

At Home on the Kazakh Steppe: A Peace Corps Memoir, by Janet Givens

I thoroughly enjoyed this book from start to finish! Janet Givens gives an informative and entertaining glimpse into the experiences she and her husband had while serving in the Peace Corps in Kazakhstan for two years. I learned a lot about Kazakhstan and the mores of its citizens. Ms. Givens had to learn most of the idiosyncrasies of the Kazahk people the hard way – by trial and error, but she took all her faux pas in stride.

Ms. Givens approached her stint with the Peace Corps with a sense of wonder and adventure. There were many trying days and awkward relationships but by the end of her second year in Kazahkstan, Ms. Givens hated to leave.

I highly recommend this memoir to anyone curious about the work of the Peace Corps or the countries in the former Soviet Bloc.

The Reckoning, by John Grisham

The Reckoning, by John Grisham

The Reckoning is not your typical John Grisham legal thriller. It includes the law and a man who choose to break it and it’s a thriller, but it is very different from Mr. Grisham’s usual offerings. The story opens with  Pete, a World War II hero back home in Mississippi in 1946.

Pete wakes up one morning and decides that is the day. Just that: today is the day. Mr. Grisham pulled me into Pete’s life. Fairly early in the book, we see what Pete does that day that will change his and many other lives forever, but we don’t know why. We have a hunch, though.

The second part of the novel goes back to when Pete met his future life. We learn about the life they made together, but we primarily learn what Pete endured in the Pacific Theatre during the War. It’s not pretty, but it’s authentic. That part of the book at times reads almost like a history book, but Mr. Grisham writes in a way that makes it personal and real.

The third and final section of the book goes back to 1946 for Pete’s college-age son and daughter to pick up the pieces of their lives and try to make sense of what their father did. And that hunch we had in Part One proves not to be correct when the truth comes out in Part Three!

The Reckoning is different from Mr. Grisham’s usual legal thrillers, but I liked it.

The Boat People, by Sharon Bala

The Boat People, by Sharon Bala

Call me old-fashioned, but I’m put off by novels that don’t use quotation marks. It’s irritating, and I shudder to think that might be the wave of the future of publishing. Let’s save some ink and omit the quotation marks! I’d read good things about The Boat People, though, so I persevered.

The book held much promise in the opening chapters as we were introduced to several of the 503 Sri Lankan asylum seekers in a boat as it nears Canada. A father, Mr. Mahindan, and his six-year-old son are the focus of the book. Upon landing in Canada in 2009 they are separated from each other because all women and children are detained in a separate facility from the men. It was immaterial that Mr. Mahindan and his little boy only had each other.

The separation was gut-wrenching and traumatic for both of them. It hit me right in the gut and immediately brought to mind the even more severe and inhumane separation of women from men and children from adults on the US-Mexico border this winter. Just as Canadians couldn’t believe what was happening in their country in 2009, we Americans can’t believe what is happening now along our southern border. Don’t get me started!

I usually don’t mention on my blog the books that I don’t finish reading, but this one held such promise and I just couldn’t stay with it. If you read it, I’d like to hear your thoughts.

I read the first one-fourth of the book (hence, the title of today’s blog post) and just lost interest in the 2002 backstory for this 2009 event. The back-and-forth between the two years didn’t appeal to me. That, combined with the lack of quotation marks delineating dialogue, made me close the book and move on to ….

The Library Book, by Susan Orlean

The Library Book, by Susan Orlean

I read in advance reviews of The Library Book that the event that prompted Susan Orlean to write the book was the April 29, 1986 fire at the Central Los Angeles Public Library that destroyed 400,000 books. An additional 700,000 books were badly damaged. It was (and still is) the largest library fire in the history of the United States. I’m an avid reader and big supporter of public libraries, so I wondered how I could have missed hearing about this tragedy at the time it happened.

It turns out that most people never heard about it because it coincided with the nuclear accident at Chernobyl in Russia. For days and days after the April 25-26 disaster, the nuclear scare predominated the news.

The Library Book not only tells about the fire and the employees and volunteers cleaning up the mess left behind; it also delves into the cause of the fire, and the history of the Los Angeles County Public Library System. Many interesting tidbits about libraries in general are included in the book, and one can tell by the tone of the book and the words used that Ms. Orleans loves and reveres libraries.

The fire, the search for an arsonist, and some of the little known facts and quotes about libraries was interesting and worth the read; however, I got bogged down in the history of the library system in Los Angeles County and found myself skipping paragraphs and, eventually, skipping pages.

I picked back up somewhere along the way and enjoyed the rest of the book. The book reinforced the warm and fuzzy feelings I have about libraries.

Since my last blog post

I’ve done a lot of reading and worked on a short story and my novel’s outline.

I’ve also worked on an extra blog post for tomorrow after reading about Rae’s idea of starting a “Two for Tuesday” tag in her January 8, 2019 blog post, 2019 (https://educatednegra.blog/2019/01/08/two-for-tuesday-prompts/comment-page-1/#comment-1646. Please check in tomorrow to learn about two books that taught me something. #TwoForTuesday

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading Creating Character Arc:  The Masterful Author’s Guide to Uniting Story Structure, Plot, and Character Development, by K.M Weiland; and Red Notice:  A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice, by Bill Browder.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time and lots of time to read.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog. I appreciate it! I welcome your comments.

Let’s continue the conversation

If you’ve read any of the books I mentioned today, let me know what you thought about them. Did I “miss the boat” by not finishing The Boat People, by Sharon Bala?

See you tomorrow for a bonus #TwoForTuesday blog post!

Janet