15 Books that Entertained, Educated, or Changed Me in 2018

Books can entertain, educate, or even change one’s thinking.

When I looked back over the list of the 56 books I read in 2018, I was amazed at the variety and the things I learned. I learned some history while I was entertained, and I hope I learned something about writing. Several of the books changed my thinking. You can’t ask a book to give you more than that.

The books that entertained, educated, or changed me or my thinking in 2018 are listed here in alphabetical order by author.

Fascism:  A Warning, by Madeleine Korbel Albright

The Taster, by V.S. Alexander

The Atomic City Girls, by Janet Beard

White Chrysanthemum, by Mary Lynn Bracht

Climbing Over Grit, by Laleh Chini and Abnoos Mosleh-Shirazi

Another Ocean to Cross, by Ann Griffin

Sea Prayer, by Khaled Hosseini

The Tattooist of Auschwitz, by Heather Morris

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

Fighting to Win:  Samurai Techniques For Your Work and Life, by David J. Rogers

The Broken Girls, by Simone St. James

Undaunted:  Surviving Jonestown, Summoning Courage, and Fighting Back, by Jackie Speier

The Death of Mrs. Westaway, by Ruth Ware

Educated:  A Memoir, by Tara Westover

Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate

Since my December 17, 2018 blog post

My December 17, 2018 blog post was more than a bit pessimistic. The title described my current dilemma:  https://janetswritingblog.com/2018/12/17/to-write-or-not-to-write/.

I have heard from a number of you since then. You have offered encouragement and helped prop me up. Knowing I have blog readers in quite a few countries from around the world in addition to those in the US who cared enough to take time to leave comments has boosted my morale and helped me to determine that I must continue to work on that historical novel I’ve worked on off and on for a decade.

Even if there are days I can only write for 15 minutes, then that’s what I’ll do in 2019. Slowly but surely, I will finish writing that book!

For those of you who read my blog from last Monday, https://janetswritingblog.com/2018/12/24/do-you-believe-in-miracles/, I hope you were moved by this real life story from 40 years ago.

Until my next blog post

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

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading At Home on the Kazakh Steppe:  A Peace Corps Memoir, by Janet Givens. I’m thoroughly enjoying it. You can check out her website at https://janetgivens.com/.

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 and I welcome your comments.

Let’s continue the conversation.

What are some of the books that educated you or changed your life or your thinking?

Happy New Year!

Janet

Reading and Writing in January 2018

January is over, so it’s time for me to “fess up” about how I spent the month. Perhaps a better way to say that is “what I accomplished.” In my January 8, 2018 blog post (2018 Reading, Writing, & Living Plans) I felt I needed to be accountable to my blog readers. In order to do that, I said I’d set monthly writing goals. For January, I set a modest goal of adding 2,000 to the scenic plot outline for my historical novel, The Spanish Coin.

My writing

For starters, I failed miserably on reaching my 2,000-word goal. What I did, though, was brainstorm about story location. I continue to wrestle with what direction to take in re-writing my historical novel manuscript. The working title remains The Spanish Coin.

Historical novel progress

In January I settled on a location for the story. At least, I hope I will not change from this latest locale. I did some 1700s research on the place and worked on the story’s timeline. Location plays an important role in historical fiction. The era for the novel is the 1760’s, which is a decade earlier than my original plan.

Spanish Coin location reveal

Curious about the story’s setting?  The Camden District of South Carolina. Choosing a location for the story has freed me to proceed with the outline.

Goal for February

I tend to write detailed outlines, so I’ll go out on a limb and set a goal of 6,000 words for February.

My reading

I got my concentration back and had fun reading in January. I read what I wanted to read instead of tying myself down to any particular reading challenge.

That said, I picked up the rules for the 2018 reading challenges for the public libraries in Harrisburg and Mint Hill (I couldn’t help myself!), but I don’t plan to let them dictate what I read. With 500+ books on my “want to read” list, though, I might meet those two challenges without really trying. Incidentally, even though I read seven books in January, my “want to read” list had a net gain of 39. I realize this is not sustainable. I would have to be a speed reader and live to be a centenarian to finish my ever-growing list.

52 Small Changes: One Year to a Happier, Healthier You, by Brett Blumenthal

The book title says it all. I took note of the suggested change for each week. This week seems like a good week to start, since I didn’t begin in January. This week’s small change:  Drink enough water to stay hydrated. I’m told I should drink approximately 80 ounces of water every day. Since I normally drink less than half that amount, this constitutes more than a “small” change for me.

The Rooster Bar, by John Grisham

This latest John Grisham novel took a little different tack from his earlier books in that The Rooster Bar is about a group of law school dropouts practicing law without licenses. I found it to be more humorous than other Grisham novels I’ve read, but it was still full of suspense.

Perennial Seller: The Art of Making and Marketing Work that Lasts, by Ryan Holiday

I blogged about this book on January 22, 2018, so I direct you to that blog post if you missed it: (Works That Last.)

The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation’s Largest Home, by Denise Kiernan

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The Last Castle, by Denise Kiernan

I’ve been reading so many novels the last couple of years that I’d forgotten how long nonfiction book titles tend to be. Or maybe it’s just the three I read in January.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book about the Vanderbilt family and the Biltmore Estate. Living in North Carolina, I have toured the Biltmore House four times. The first time was on a sixth grade field trip. Motion sickness on the bus as it wound around the endless curves on old US-74 east of Asheville is my main memory from that day, but I digress.

My other visits to the Biltmore Estate have been very enjoyable. Reading this book made me want to plan another trip to Asheville and tour the mansion again. It is a delightful book.

Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate

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Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate

This novel was inspired by the shocking history of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society during the first half of the 20th century. It is a gripping story and is expertly written. It is not a happy read, but I highly recommend this book.

The King of Lies, by John Hart

This was the January book choice of the Rocky River Readers Book Club. The novel is set in Salisbury, North Carolina, so I was familiar with some of the streets and buildings referenced in the book. It’s fun sometimes to read a book set in a location you have visited.

I though Mr. Hart could have omitted some of the “woe is me” theme in the first third of the book. The narrator’s whining about the wealthy people in this small town got old after a while. If you’ll hang in there, though, you’ll probably get so involved in trying to identify the killer that you’ll get to the point you can’t put the book down. You’ll think several times that you’ve figured out the villain’s identity but, chances are, you haven’t.

Nightwoods, by Charles Frazier

This novel has been on my “to read” list for several years, so I felt a sense of accomplishment when I finally read it. It is set in the mountains in western North Carolina.

Nightwoods is a tale about a woman who unexpectedly “inherits” her deceased sister’s twin boy and girl. The children give their aunt/new mother a challenge every day – and then her late sister’s widowed husband/killer comes to try to get the large sum of money he thinks the children took with them. The children are wild and uncommunicative. Add to that the fact that the aunt has no idea why her ne’er do well ex-brother-in-law has suddenly shown an interest in his children and has come to hunt them down.

What about December?

I just remembered that I never did blog about the books I read in December. They were a mixed bag of novels:  The Quantum Spy, by David Ignatius; Hardcore Twenty-Four, by Janet Evanovich; and The Secret, Book and Scone Society, by Ellery Adams.

David Ignatius’s political thrillers never disappoint me. The Quantum Spy was no exception.

The last two Stephanie Plum novels by Janet Evanovich disappointed me. I used to eagerly await her annual next installment of these funny novels, but “Twenty-Three” and “Twenty-Four” were too predictable.

The Ellery Adams novel is an entertaining read about four women who want to form a friendship, but each one is required to reveal a secret about herself before they can truly trust one another.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life, by my fellow-blogger David J. Rogers; The Salt House, by Lisa Duffy, which was recommended by my friend Karen; Beartown, by Frekrik Backman, which is the February pick for The Apostrophe S Coffee Chat online book community; and The Woman in the Window, by A.J. Finn. That’s about one book too many for me to read at the same time, but they are different enough that I’m not getting the story lines confused.

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

If you subscribed to my mailing list last week, you renewed my faith in mankind. Thank you, Vicki, Colby, Katrina, and Glen!

In case you haven’t signed up for my mailing list, you have another opportunity to do so using the fill-in form below. I appreciate it!

Janet

Bookmarks Festival of Books and Authors

The 2017 Bookmarks Festival of Books and Authors in Winston-Salem, North Carolina on September 9, 2017 was fantastic! This free event included more than 45 authors. It was well-organized and supported by a large number of friendly and knowledgeable volunteers.

As is stated on the http://www.bookmarksnc.org website,

“Bookmarks is a literary arts organization that fosters a love of reading and writing in the community. Our programming connects readers and authors and includes:  an annual Festival of Books, an Authors in Schools program, and year-round events in our community gathering space and nonprofit independent bookstore.”

My sister and I have wanted to go to Bookmarks Festival of Books for years, but this was the first year it worked out for us to get there. The festival is held annually, usually on the second weekend in September. Make plans to attend Bookmarks next year!

We got to hear seven authors speak at Bookmarks! Seven authors in one day! Each one of them took questions from the audience after making their remarks.

Author events were going on throughout the day in six different venues within walking distance, so you could pick and choose which ones you wanted to attend.

Jamie Ford, author

Jamie Ford was the author we got to hear first. He was a very entertaining speaker. He regaled us with some of the comments teens have made on social media as they are required to read his novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet in the state of Washington.

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Author Jamie Ford @BookmarksNC. (Photo by Janet Morrison.)

Mr. Ford also talked about his new novel, Love and Other Consolation Prizes, and the true story that inspired it. He had arranged to autograph and have for sale copies of this new book even though the official release date wasn’t until September 12.

The book sales tent

After Jamie Ford’s presentation, we had time to visit the Bookmarks large book sales tent to purchase books by the authors participating in the festival.

Authors Kathleen Grissom, Lisa Wingate, & Patti Callahan Henry

I was especially excited about the opportunity to hear Kathleen Grissom speak. I wrote about her novels, The Kitchen House and Glory Over Everything in earlier blog posts –  What I read in October and What I read in January 2017.

Ms. Grissom, Lisa Wingate, and Patti Callahan Henry had a panel discussion about Southern Fiction. Although none of them were born in The South, that’s the genre they have written. When we arrived at their venue, it was almost standing room only.

We strained to hear the authors’ remarks and their answers to questions from the audience, but we enjoyed the bits and pieces of the panel discussion that we could hear. They each talked about some of their books and their works in progress. Be on the lookout for future novels by each of them!

Kathleen Grissom, Lisa Wingate, & Patti Callahan Henry – book signing

We split up to take advantage of the book signing by these three writers of Southern Fiction. Patti Callahan Henry was signing copies of her latest novel, The Bookshop at Water’s End. Marie was excited to meet Lisa Wingate and get her to autograph a copy of her new novel, Before We Were Yours, and I was thrilled to meet Kathleen Grissom and get her to autograph a copy of The Kitchen House.

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Janet getting Kathleen Grissom’s autograph @BookmarksNC. Author Patti Callahan Henry is seated to Ms. Grissom’s right, and author Lisa Wingate is seated to Ms. Henry’s right. (Photo by Marie Morrison.)

Lunch

A variety of food trucks were on hand to offer several options for lunch or snacks. My burger was delicious, but holding onto the Styrofoam tray it was served in was more than a challenge in the beautiful but blustery day.

Margaret Maron’s book signing

After lunch, we went to the Forsyth County Public Library booth for Margaret Maron’s book signing. She was very gracious. When she saw me taking a picture of Marie at her table, she asked if we were sisters and insisted that I come get in the picture, too. Marie is a big fan of Ms. Maron’s Deborah Knott series of mystery novels, so it was a thrill for her to get to meet the author.

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Author Margaret Maron @BookmarksNC. (Photo by Janet Morrison.)

It was a thrill for me, too! I’ve read Bootlegger’s Daughter, the first book in the Deborah Knott series, which means I have 19 more in the series to read.

Bookmarks – an independent bookstore

After getting Margaret Maron’s autograph, we visited the literary arts nonprofit and independent Bookmarks bookstore. It is located at 634 West Fourth Street #110 in Winston-Salem, so please make an effort to support it the next time you’re in that city.

Beverly Tatum and Marc Lamont Hill

Beverly Tatum and Marc Lamont Hill spoke about “The Race Divide: Then and Now” for an hour in the afternoon. This event was very well attended and enlightening. Those of us who are white have much to learn about “white privilege” and all it entails. The more I learn, the more I realize I have not really appreciated or understood in the past. I strive to be more cognizant of it and to do better.

Dr. Tatum and Dr. Hill’s remarks and discussion centered around race relations in the United States in the 1990s as compared to race relations in 2017. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the publication of Dr. Tatum’s nonfiction book, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?: And Other Conversations About Race.

A new edition of this book has been published this year to include some updates and to cast more light on the fact that although Brown v Board of Education was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1954, little real racial integration takes place today in the lives of most Americans. Schools are racially-integrated, but churches, neighborhoods, and friendships are still very much one race or the other.

Margaret Maron, author

Hearing Margaret Maron speak late in the afternoon was a highlight among many highlights of the day, especially after meeting her and seeing how gracious and friendly she was when Marie got her to autograph Long Upon the Land: A Deborah Knott Mystery. Those of you who are Margaret Maron fans will be sad to learn that she does not plan to write any more novels. She said she might write some short stories. Her new novel, Take Out, marks the end of her nine-book Sigrid series.

Ms. Maron was an entertaining speaker. She talked about living in Johnston County, North Carolina and enjoying how her Deborah Knott series allowed her to travel around the state as Judge Knott was assigned to court cases in various locations.

Diana Gabaldon, ending keynote speaker

Unfortunately, I was unable to return to Winston-Salem on September 10 for Diana Gabaldon’s keynote address. I’m a big fan of her Outlander book series, so it would have been a wonderful to have heard her speak. Perhaps she’ll participate in the Bookmarks Festival of Books again in the future.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Light Between Oceans, by M.L. Stedman. Published in 2012, this was Ms. Stedman’s first novel. I’m also enjoying getting back into some quilting.

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

Janet