Some Good Summer Reading

The first Monday of August has suddenly arrived, so it’s time for me to tell you about the books I read in July. I read a variety of books, including fiction and nonfiction.

Under the Skin, by Vicki Lane

Under The Skin
Under the Skin, by Vicki Lane

I purchased this book a couple of years ago after reading Vicki Lane’s first four books in her Elizabeth Goodweather Appalachian Mysteries. If you follow my blog, you know I get my books almost exclusively from the public library. Library books keep piling up and causing me to postpone reading the books I own. I bought the paperback edition of Under the Skin at a wonderful independent bookstore in Asheville, NC. I dare you to go into Malaprop’s Bookstore & Cafe and leave without buying at least one book. It’s a great bookstore, but I digress.

When July came, I decided I was going to read Under the Skin, even if it meant returning a library book unread. In this book, Elizabeth Goodweather is visited by her sister who convinces her to attend séances at a nearby spa. The sister is hoping to make contact with her deceased husband. All sorts of problems pop up as it becomes clear that the sister is being stalked.

Chapters more or less alternate between this present-day tale and a story about two sisters at the same historic spa in the mountains of North Carolina in the 1880s. The present-day story held my interest more than the 19th century tale, but that’s just my personal observation.

You can read all about Vicki Lane’s books on her website, http://www.vickilanemysteries.com/ and you can follow her on https://www.goodreads.com/.

 My Beautiful Broken Shell, by Carol Hamblet Adams

My Beautiful Broken Shell
My Beautiful Broken Shell: Words of Hope to Refresh the Soul, by Carol Hamblet Adams

My Beautiful Broken Shell was recommended to me by my librarian sister. It is a small book about how most seashells get tossed about and broken, but so do we humans. The author encourages us to embrace our brokenness.

I’m broken in many ways and sometimes I’m more than a little rough around the edges.

Educated:  A Memoir, by Tara Westover

Educated
Educated: A Memoir, by Tara Westover

This is an entertaining memoir of a woman who was raised by strict Mormon parents in the middle of nowhere in Idaho. Her father is bipolar, and Ms. Westover does an excellent job of getting across to the reader just how unnerving being the child of a person with that malady can be. Tara’s mother reluctantly becomes a midwife at her husband’s insistence. The occupation gradually “grows on her” and she seems to like it.

I don’t want to give away too much of this true story. Suffice it to say that Tara goes from being “no-schooled” at home to attain amazing things in education.

Words We Carry:  Essays of Obsession and Self-Esteem, by D.G. Kaye

Words We Carry
Words We Carry: Essays of Obsession and Self-Esteem, by D.G. Kaye

I referred to this little book in my July 16, 2018 blog post, Words We Carry and White Privilege. That post probably left you with an overall good impression of the book. Although I liked the premise of the book, the latter part of the book came across to me as bordering on being Pollyanna while also being conflicting. The author writes about the importance of being your authentic self while recommending that you just put on some make up and act like everything is just fine.

Her parting message struck me as being akin put a smile on your face and a have positive outlook. That takes an enormous amount of energy for people with a chronic physical illness or depression.

Mysterious Tales of Coastal North Carolina, by Sherman Carmichael

Mysterious Tales of Coastal North Carolina
Mysterious Tales of Coastal North Carolina, by Sherman Carmichael

This is a newly-published book from The History Press. I found it in the New Books Section at the public library.

The 170-page book is a collection of ghost stories from the 200-mile coast of the state along with a number of true accounts of ships being torpedoed and sunk by German U-boats during World War II.

I was familiar with a few of the ghost stories but most were new to me. The author did a good job of including just enough historical background about most of the places and stories. Each of the stories is one to three pages, making this a book that’s easy to pick up when you only have a few minutes to read.

I think I’ll purchase a copy to take along with me on my next trip to the coast.

A Bigger Table:  Building Messy, Authentic, and Hopeful Spiritual Community, by John Pavlovitz

A Bigger Table
A Bigger Table: Building Messy, Authentic, and Hopeful Spiritual Community, by John Pavlovitz

Whether or not you agree with John Pavlovitz’s politics or his ideas for how to make church more responsive and Christ-like, I think you’ll find that his writing makes you think outside the box.

That said, Mr. Pavlovitz says a lot of things in his book, A Bigger Table:  Building Messy, Authentic, and Hopeful Spiritual Community, that I needed to hear and ponder. Much of what Mr. Pavlovitz said in this book brought to mind the recent capital campaign at Rocky River Presbyterian Church. That campaign was called “Growing God’s Table.”

We already had a sanctuary. We already had a building housing Sunday School rooms, offices, and an inadequate fellowship hall. What we needed was an expansion of our building that would incorporate more classrooms, an elevator to serve the old building as well as the expansion, and most of all — a much larger fellowship hall.

The new fellowship hall has made it possible for us to have monthly community free meals and other activities to which the public is invited. We’re growing God’s table at Rocky River Presbyterian Church, but we still have a long way to go. We are a work in progress. Mr. Pavlovitz’s book opened my eyes to even more possibilities.

Mr. Pavlovitz calls out Christians who are so busy “doing church” activities that they sometimes forget that forming relationships with people is the most important thing we should be doing. Sometimes we treat one another badly and sometimes we fail to treat strangers with the love and compassion demonstrated by Jesus Christ. We all need to make the table bigger. God’s table is big enough for everyone.

I purchased this ebook several months ago after following the author’s blog for quite some time. His blog, Stuff That Needs To Be Said (https://johnpavlovitz.com/,) is always thought-provoking.

Since my last blog post

I spent some time with long-time friends who were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary in Raleigh, NC. It was good to get away for several days, make some new friends, and reconnect with some people I hadn’t seen in a long time.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m trying to finish reading several books I started in July. You’ll find out in my September 3 blog post how that went.

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. I appreciate it! I welcome your comments

Have you read any good books lately?

Janet

If the Creek Don’t Rise, by Leah Weiss

As an aspiring novelist, I keep a writing notebook. In one section I write down the “hooks” from the novels I read. In the other section, I write down my favorite lines (and sometimes paragraphs) from the books I read.

As I learned from reading Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them, by Francine Prose, it’s okay for me to do this. In case you missed it, my April 9, 2018 blog post (“Reading Like a Writer”) is about that book.

If the Creek Don’t Rise, by Leah Weiss

Today’s blog post highlights a couple of my favorite lines from If the Creek Don’t Rise, by Leah Weiss.

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If the Creek Don’t Rise, by Leah Weiss

The context of the following quote is that many volunteers went to the Appalachian Mountains in the 1960s and 1970s on the heels of the federal government’s emphasis on poverty in Appalachia. In this quote Kate Shaw, the new teacher, is paying Birdie Rocas a huge compliment while reading from one of Birdie’s “Books of Truths” in which the uneducated, eccentric Birdie writes her thoughts and observations.

Here are a couple of lines I really like:

“Do you know the saying, ‘Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater?’” [Kate Shaw speaking.]

“The teacher in her don’t give me [Birdie Rocas] time to say so when she adds, ‘Well, you write about the baby while everyone else is writing about the bathwater.’” — from If the Creek Don’t Rise, by Leah Weiss

Since my last blog post

I’m excited to report that I’ve written more than 8,000 words in the rewrite of my historical fiction manuscript for The Spanish Coin! After getting bogged down in outlining and writing profiles for each of the novel’s characters, it was refreshing to get back to work on the rough draft.

After learning that the location of my fill-in format sign-up form for my sometime-in-the-future newsletter mailing list was causing confusion for readers wanting to leave comments on my blog posts, I tried to figure out how to move the mailing list form to a sidebar. The operative word there is “tried.” You know I’m not very computer savvy, so bear with me on this. I’m not a quitter.

To avoid confusion, I will not include the mailing list sign-up form in today’s blog post.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Hush, by John Hart. It’s a sequel to his 2009 Edgar Award winning novel, The Last Child.

I’m also reading Look for Me, by Lisa Gardner.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time, and I hope you and I will strive to write about the baby more than we write about the bathwater.

What are you reading?

Janet

Some Great September Reads

Just about the time I think I will cut back on my reading time so I can increase my writing time, a bunch of books become available to me and I’m compelled to keep reading. September was one of those months. I read seven novels and two nonfiction books.

Once again, I find to write about all nine books makes a blog post that is longer than anyone wants to read. Therefore, I’ll write about five of the books today and the other four books next Monday. I tried to insert photos of each of the five books I wrote about today, but I had technical problems with all except one of them.

State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett

I was drawn to State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett because it is set in Brazil. One of my goals in 2017 was to read a book set on each of the seven continents.

The premise of the book is that a pharmaceutical firm in Minnesota has sent an employee, Anders Eckman, to Brazil to report back on a drug they are developing in the jungle there. Anders fails to report back and word is sent that he died of a fever.

The pharmaceutical company then sends a female employee, Marina Singh, to Brazil to learn what happened to Anders and to determine the status of the drug being developed.

Marina embarks on quite an adventure along the Amazon River and its surrounding jungle. There are numerous twists and turns in the story and I believe some of them will surprise you. I highly recommend the book. The description of the jungle and the river put the reader right there!

If the Creek Don’t Rise, by Leah Weiss

If the Creek Don’t Rise is Leah Weiss’s debut novel, and I hope it won’t be her only one. Set in the Appalachian Mountains in western North Carolina in the 1970s, it is the story of Sadie Blue, who gets pregnant as a teenager and marries the baby’s father, Roy Tupkin. Roy is a ne’er do well, if there ever was one, but his worst character flaw is that he is a wife beater.

Sadie’s story is told from the viewpoints of herself, and nine other people including the local preacher, the new one-room school teacher, and Sadie’s good-for-nothing husband.

I was in college at Appalachian State University in the early 1970s, so I found the time in which If the Creek Don’t Rise was set to be hard to believe. It felt more like the 1930s to me. As a college student in Boone I just wasn’t exposed to people living the way the book’s characters live.

However, Ms. Weiss did a wonderful job developing her characters! I can only hope to come close to her when I write my characters. It was truly a pleasure to read about these fictitious people and be able to picture them and hear them so vividly in my mind.

The plot kept me turning pages to see what would happen next to Sadie Blue and to see if Roy Tupkin would get his comeuppance.

The Silent Sister, by Diane Chamberlain

The Silent Sister is the second of Diane Chamberlain’s novels that I’ve read. I got to hear her speak and meet her last September at the One the Same Page book festival in West Jefferson, North Carolina.

The Silent Sister is about a family that held many secrets. Riley MacPherson grew up thinking that her older sister Lisa had committed suicide when Riley was just a toddler. Riley returns to New Bern, North Carolina to clean out her deceased father’s house. She finds evidence that Lisa might still be alive and sets out on a mission to find Lisa. Her search takes her all the way to California.

There are many twists, turns, and surprises in this 2014 novel, so I will say no more about the plot in case you haven’t read it yet. It will keep you guessing!

What We Lose, by Zinzi Clemmons

This debut novel by Zinzi Clemmons reads like a memoir. Written in the form of short vignettes, the book takes us on a journey of losses.

Though not morbid, at the root of the book is the death of Thandi’s South African mother. Her American father distances himself from Thandi after her mother’s death. He is able to move on to future happiness much more easily than Thandi.

The novel takes us through Thandi’s growing up years and her young adult years with her various friendship, marriage, and motherhood. All the while, she is haunted by memories of her mother. Thandi never fits in.

Same Kind of Different as Me, by Ron Hall and Denver Moore with Lynn Vincent

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Same Kind of Different as Me, by Ron Hall and Denver Moore, with Lynn Vincent

Ron Hall and Denver Moore with Lynn Vincent couldn’t have been less alike. Ron was a wealthy white art dealer. Denver was a homeless black man. At Ron’s wife’s insistence, he accompanied Debbie to serve a meal at the homeless shelter. Debbie kept trying to “break the ice” with Denver, to no avail. He wondered why this white woman was harassing him. Debbie told Ron that he had to make friends with Denver. It was a slow process, but Ron and Debbie finally broke through and Denver became a close friend.

This book will teach you some things you probably don’t know about being homeless unless you’ve been in that situation. Based on a true story, it will break your heart and make you cheer. It was the September book choice for Rocky River Readers Book Club.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’ve started off October with Love and Other Consolation Prizes, by Jamie Ford. If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time.

Janet

A Thriller, Hatteras in WWI, and Appalachian Memories

I had more to say about the six books I read in August than reasonably fit into last week’s blog post, so today’s post is about the three I didn’t get to last week. I’m a bit put off by long blog posts, and I doubt I’m alone in that. Without further ado, I offer my thoughts about the other books I read in August.

Here and Gone, by Haylen Beck

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Here and Gone, by Haylen Beck

If books have a demeanor, Running on Red Dog Road and Other Perils of an Appalachian Childhood, by Drema Hall Berkheimer is at one end of that spectrum, in many ways Here and Gone, by Haylen Beck is at the other end of that spectrum. While Ms. Berkheimer’s book was a relaxing read, Mr. Beck’s thriller grabbed me by the throat immediately and never let me relax.

I thought I’d done well to read Ms. Berkheimer’s memoir in three days, but I read Here and Gone in 48 hours.

Wow! What a book! I made the mistake of starting to read the book late one night. I read until my vision blurred to the point that I could literally read no more without getting some sleep.

Audra Kinney fled New York with her young son and daughter to avoid her children being taken away by Children’s Services. Her husband had tried to prove she was an unfit mother.

The book begins in Arizona where Audra thought things couldn’t get any worse when the Elder County Sheriff pulled her over and discovered a bag of marijuana in the trunk of her car. Audra and the reader could not imagine all that would transpire over the next four days. What a thriller!

By the way, I thought I had picked up a debut novel by Haylen Beck, but it turns out that is the pen name of Stuart Neville! You may recall that I wrote about one of Mr. Neville’s Northern Ireland thrillers, The Ghosts of Belfast in my January 3, 2017 blog post (What I read in December.)

According to the author bio on the back inside flap of the book jacket, Haylen Beck’s books are set in the United States whereas Stuart Neville’s books are set in Northern Ireland. That tells me there will be more Haylen Beck books in the future. I can’t wait!

Hatteras Light by Philip Gerard

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Hatteras Light: A Novel, by Philip Gerard

Hatteras Light, by Philip Gerard, took me to the beautiful Hatteras Lighthouse on the Outer Banks of North Carolina during the tense days of World War I when German U-boats and submarines trolled the Atlantic coast of the United States. This book was the August selection for the Rocky River Readers Book Club.

Hatteras Light follows the lives of the few residents of Hatteras Island in the early 1910s, particularly the people associated with the maintenance of the Hatteras Lighthouse and their efforts to rescue people in peril on the sea.

This was hard and lonely work. It took a special kind of person to acclimate to the demands of the job. The waters off Cape Hatteras are known worldwide as “the graveyard of the Atlantic” because the treacherous clashing of the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the warm Gulf Stream (from the Gulf of Mexico) cause constantly changing conditions that have resulted in the sinking of hundreds of ships.

The Germans had already torpedoed an oil tanker, the resulting blaze literally getting the attention of everyone on Hatteras Island. The US Navy was too busy protecting the more densely populated Mid-Atlantic coast to come to the aid of the keepers of the Hatteras Lighthouse who did double duty of going out to sea to try to rescue anyone in peril.

Tensions were coming to a head at a community meeting when Ham Fetterman said the following:

“ ‘ I have lived longer than ever I hoped or wanted,’ Fetterman said. ‘I have seen Yankees and pirates and bootleggers and a good deal worse. And now I’ve seen this, too. And I tell you:  this is different. This murderous lurking Teutonic bastard is hunting by the Light – our Light! He navigates by it, he ambushes by it, he kills by it…. With that Light, he is damn near invincible.’ ”

Fetterman was a true Hatterasman, meaning he was born and had lived on Hatteras Island all his life. He was someone others listened to because of his age and his experience as a Hatteras Islander.

Someone else in the meeting spoke up and suggested they rig up a false light like had been done at Nags Head years before. Then, Fetterman said their only choice was to turn off the Hatteras Lighthouse Light.

Did they? I suggest you read Hatteras Light, by Philip Gerard, to find out.

Running on Red Dog Road and Other Perils of an Appalachian Childhood, by Drema Hall Berkheimer

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Running on Red Dog Road, by Drema Hall Berkheimer

I need to start jotting down where or how I hear about a book I want to read. I can’t recall how I learned about this one, but I’m glad I did. I found it at the public library and devoured it in three days. It is just 200 pages, but I’m a slow reader. Any time I read a book in three days, take it as a compliment.

The author grew up in West Virginia and writes humorously but lovingly and respectfully about her childhood there in the 1940s. Although I grew up in the piedmont (not the mountains) of North Carolina in the 1950s, I could identify with many of the things she wrote.

I never had a grandmother, though, and Ms. Berkheimer writes a lot about the grandmother who pretty much raised her while her mother was off in New York helping to build airplanes for the World War II effort.

Ms. Berkheimer and I grew up in a simpler time than the one we’re living in now. Home-canned produce from the garden, lightning bugs, playing Red Rover, church being the center of one’s social life, and many old sayings used in the book – all these rang true with me and brought to mind fond memories of my childhood.

I loved her memory of church fans:

“Paper fans always stood ready in the wooden rack on the back of each pew, along with the hymnals. Each fan was the size of a small paper plate and had a flat stick attached as a handle. Sometimes you got a fan with a picture of Jesus on one side and Scripture verses on the other, while another time your fan might advertise a bank or a furniture store.” ~ Drema Hall Berkheimer

The church where I grew up always had those same fans, but the back side advertised one of the two funeral homes in the county. Hence, they were always referred to as “funeral home fans” at Rocky River Presbyterian.

If you’re looking for a book that harkens back to rural and small town American life a few decades ago, this is the book for you.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time.

Janet

“Not a rope . . . if drowning”

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Prayers the Devil Answers, A novel by Sharyn McCrumb

My blog post today takes a look at a line I like from a novel, Prayers the Devil Answers, by Sharyn McCrumb. Ms. McCrumb has mastered the art of capturing the independent spirit of the people of the southern Appalachian Mountains in the following sentence:

“Not a one of the folks from up there would ask for anything – not food if they were hungry, not a rope if they were drowning.”  From Prayers the Devil Answers, by Sharyn McCrumb.

How succinctly Ms. McCrumb gets to the core character of the people who live in those mountains and whose ancestors have lived there for up to 250 years! As a writer, I think anyone would be hard-pressed to state it any better.

What do you think?

Have a go at it. Try to write one sentence that sums up that southern Appalachian independent spirit.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I just finished reading The Things We Keep, by Sally Hepworth and Fredrik Backman’s novella, And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer.

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

Janet

An Excellent Historical Novel

I just finished reading an excellent historical novel. Cataloochee was Wayne Caldwell’s debut novel, and what an entertaining story it is! I read now as an aspiring novelist. Historical fiction is my first love, so I constantly try to identify and learn from what published authors do well. Reading Cataloochee on the heels of the 2014 publication of my vintage postcard book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, made the story all the more vivid for me.

I like the way Mr. Caldwell follows families through several generations. In fact, that is what I am working toward in my own writing. Mr. Caldwell’s descriptive writing put me in the setting. I can see the plants he refers to and I can smell the flowers and other scents he mentions. His careful use of colloquialisms is a model I hope to emulate in my debut novel that has the working title, The Spanish Coin.

Cataloochee is historical fiction at its best, and I look forward to reading Mr. Caldwell’s second novel, Requiem by Fire. It carries forward some of the Cataloochee families as Great Smoky Mountains National Park becomes a reality and changes their lives forever.

Being from North Carolina, I am familiar with many of the places mentioned in Cataloochee. One of my late uncles lived on Hemphill Road in the Jonathan Creek community, and another late uncle was a Methodist preacher at Cataloochee in 1928. Oh how I wish I had asked Uncle Grady and Aunt Clara questions about their time there! Aunt Clara wrote a book, Lingering Echoes of the Blue Ridge: A Charge to Keep about some of her and Uncle Grady’s experiences in his various pastorates in western North Carolina.

Reading Cataloochee prompted me to reread Aunt Clara’s book. She and Wayne Caldwell are good storytellers and their books paint a picture of life in the Appalachian Mountains. On my next trip to the Great Smoky Mountains, I hope to visit Cataloochee. According to Aunt Clara’s book, the church where Uncle Grady preached was still there a few years ago. Since it is on national park land, I trust it is still being cared for and protected.

It was not until I was two-thirds of the way through Cataloochee that I thought about Aunt Clara’s book. Making this family connection with the places in Cataloochee was serendipitous. I can’t stop smiling!