Books Read in January 2022

I had the pleasure of reading a variety of books in January. Each one was interesting in its own way.

In my December 6, 2021 blog post, Books Read in November 2021, I made less-than-glowing remarks about Wiley Cash’s When Ghosts Come Home. I’m rectifying the situation today.

When Ghosts Come Home, by Wiley Cash

When Ghosts Come Home, by Wiley Cash

I owed it to myself and Wiley Cash to give this novel a second chance. I checked out the large print edition of the book from the public library in January and started reading it again. I’m so glad I did!

I think part of my problem in November was that I read the first chapter or two and didn’t get back to it for a week or so. Since the third chapter was about a new set of characters with no obvious connection to the characters in the first couple of chapters, the book sort of fell apart for me. I figured out the connection a little later, but by then I’d lost interest in the story.

Getting back to this novel in January was a real treat. I was able to give it enough attention in longer blocks of time to get into the storyline, make the connections, and care what happened to the characters.

I had to find out why Rodney Bellamy was at the airstrip that night. I had to find out what happened to Janelle’s kid brother, Jay. I had to know if Winston’s daughter, Colleen, was going to get her life back together after losing her baby. I had to find out how Winston, the county sheriff on the coast of North Carolina, got all the crimes and problems sorted out. I had to find out what part FBI Agent Tom Gross played in all this.

Determined to tie all the loose ends together, the end of the book kept me reading until 3:00 a.m. I’m back on track now with Wiley Cash and look forward to his next novel.

There is an element of racial tension woven throughout When Ghosts Come Home. The following is a very telling quote from the book. Ed Bellamy is referring to the white Marines he served alongside in Vietnam.

“But I knew something else my white buddies didn’t know: I knew what it meant to be hunted…. I still know what it means to be hunted. All these years later, we’re still being hunted.”

I’ve read all his earlier novels: A Land More Kind Than Home, The Dark Road to Mercy, and The Last Ballad.

I read A Land More Kind Than Home in 2015 before I started commenting other than mentioning the titles on my blog about the books I was reading.

In February 2016, I read The Dark Road to Mercy. Here’s the link to the blog post in which I commented on it: Some books I read in February

I commented on The Last Ballad in my blog post on November 6, 2017: Some Good New Books.


These Precious Days, by Ann Patchett

These Precious Days: Essays, by Ann Patchett

I was surprised when I looked back through my blog posts to find that this is the fifth Ann Patchett book I’ve read. I’ll give you the links to those earlier four blog posts in case you’d like to read what I had to say about her other books.

To refresh my memory and yours about the Ann Patchett books I’ve read, here are my nutshell descriptions and the links to the blog posts in which I wrote about them:

(1) The Getaway Car is a book in which Ms. Patchett humorously tells what she has learned about the craft and art of writing. What I read in February 2017

(2) State of Wonder is a novel set in Brazil. It involves a pharmaceutical firm in Minnesota and the jungle along the Amazon River. Some Great September Reads

(3) The Dutch House is about a dysfunctional family in which the mother leaves and never returns. There are many layers to this story and the house itself is as important as any character. I highly recommend you listen to the CD of this book which is read by Tom Hanks. I stretched my reading horizons in November

(4) Bel Canto is a novel based on the 1996 hostage situation at the home of an ambassador in Peru. Eight Books I Read in March 2020

(5) Commonwealth was a novel that didn’t grab my interest and I didn’t listen to all of it. It involved drunks at a christening party. I couldn’t identify with that. Books Read in May 2020

Ann Patchett is an essayist in addition to being a novelist. These formats take two different writing skills. She’s a master of both. I enjoyed listening to These Precious Days, which is a collection of essays. She reveals some of her past in an entertaining way and with humor. If you’re an Ann Patchett fan, you’ll love this book.

I connected with her on several levels in this book. We’re both writers, although she’s light years ahead of me. We both knit – or do so rarely and not as well as those knitting experts in Scotland. Neither of us have children to dote on or depend upon to help care for us in our dotage.

It is a book about friends and family and those ties that bind us and help us along through life’s ups and downs. It was one of those books that left me wanting more when it ended.


When We Cease to Understand the World, by Benjamin Labatut; translated from Spanish into English by Adrian Nathan West

When We Cease to Understand the World, by Benjamin Labatut

My cousin, Jerome Williams, recommended this book. I failed to have it on my to-be-read list, although it was shortlisted for the 2021 National Book Award for Translated Literature. The author, Benjamin Labatut, is Chilean.

This novel reads like a nonfiction book. In it, Señor Labatut writes about various scientists and mathematicians who have had to wrestle with the moral ramifications of their discoveries. In some cases, their discoveries were meant for good but have been used as weapons of mass destruction and untold suffering. Some of these men lost their minds or were mentally tormented by the ways in which their discoveries were used.

There are unexpected twists and turns as years and decades pass, and we’re left to wonder what great wonders and what horrific demented uses of those great wonders lie in the future.

Thanks for the recommendation, Jerome. You have good taste in literature.


The Silk Roads: A New History of the World, by Peter Frankopan

As I’ve mentioned before, this book isn’t a fast read. It’s a history book and it packs a tremendous amount of information and insight into its more than 600 pages. Trying to read the regular print edition was taxing on my eyes, so I got on the waitlist for the Kindle edition. I rose to the top of the list early in January and was eager to pick up where I’d left off in November.

Other books also reached the top of the library waitlists, though, and I was distracted. The Silk Road isn’t the kind of book you can read in snippets. I’ll keep reading it, probably throughout 2022.



Since my last blog post

I’ve been researching the Great Wagon Road and some of old trails associated with it. In case you’re interested in learning more about the Great Wagon Road, I recommend that you look at the PiedmontTrails.com website (https://piedmonttrails.com/) and look for Piedmont Trails on YouTube. Carol, who spearheads the Great Wagon Road Project, has lots of information that she freely shares. The Great Wagon Road Project is documenting the 800-mile wagon road that went from Pennsylvania to Augusta, Georgia in the 1700s and early 1800s.

I’m doing this research in conjunction with the historical novels I’m attempting to write. I had planned to start writing the rough draft of Book One with the working title The Heirloom, but there’s a technical issue with my computer regarding margins. I hesitate to start the rough draft until I can get my margins set at a reasonable setting. I’ve never had this problem before.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read and a hobby to enjoy.

Stay safe and well.

Janet

Eight Books I Read in March 2020

Looking back over the list of books I read in March makes me realize how March 1 seems like a lifetime ago. The world has changed so much since then. It’s difficult to even remember what “normal” was. What a blessing it was, though, for me to have books to help me through the last five weeks of this Coronavirus-19 pandemic.

As days and weeks passed, I found it progressively difficult to concentrate. How about you?

Inheritance:  A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love, by Dani Shapiro

This book caught my attention by having “genealogy” in the title. Genealogy is one of my hobbies.

Inheritance
Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love, by Dani Shapiro

As the title indicates, this book is a memoir. Dani Shapiro grew up thinking her father was her father and her mother was her mother, and her half-sister was her half-sister. A DNA test she took at the age of 54 rocked her world. Her biological father was someone other than the Daddy who had loved and raised her.

Although firmly believing or more accurately, knowing, she was Jewish, Ms. Shapiro had throughout her life defended that fact because her fair complexion and blue eyes made her look more Swedish than Jewish.

In this poignant memoir, Dani Shapiro takes you on a rollercoaster ride as she seeks answers to her questions of “Who?”, “Where?”, and “Why?” as she feels like her entire life has been a lie. The DNA test linked her to a man who had a 98% chance of being her first cousin.

Without spoiling the book for you, I’ll close by saying that Ms. Shapiro searched for her biological father’s identity, but she was beyond relieved when the 93-year-old sister of her father (the father who raised her) listened to her story and still embraced her as her niece.

Part III of the book reveals some surprising things about the Farris Institute in Philadelphia where Ms. Shapiro’s parents went for infertility treatments.

Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett

Having read State of Wonder and The Dutch House, by Ann Patchett, and knowing that her 2001 novel,Bel Canto, had received much acclaim, I was eager to check it off my to-be-read list.

Bel Canto
Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett

Based on the 1996 hostage situation at the home of an ambassador in Peru, Bel Canto is a novel with a host of characters. They’re in Peru for a birthday party honoring Katsumi Hosowaka, a prominent Japanese businessman who just happens to be a big fan of opera singer Roxane Coss. Ms. Coss was performing at the party.

Peruvian officials are trying their best to influence Hosowaka to build an electronics factory in their country. It turns out Hosowaka does not intend to build a factory there. He just wants to hear Roxane Coss sing.

The party and concert are going well for a while, but then armed terrorists burst into the banquet hall and demand to speak with the Peruvian president.

The president is home watching soap operas on TV and refuses to talk to the terrorists. Since the terrorists are already in big trouble, they have nothing to lose by staying at the party and holding the attendees hostage.

The story unfolds from there. The Red Cross negotiates the release of the women – except for Ms. Coss. One of her musicians dies from not having insulin.

As happens in many hostage situations, relationships develop between the terrorists – many of whom are teens or younger – and their captives. In fact, a romance develops between Hosowaka and Coss, as well as between Gen. Watanabe and Carmen, a young female terrorist.

A sense of normalcy develops as many of the hostages adjust surprisingly easily to their new daily reality which is radically different from their former lives. (Sounds a lot like our new normal, doesn’t it?)

Does the Peruvian government eventually take control of the situation? I won’t address that, in case you want to read the book.

Ann Patchett was awarded the Orange Prize for Fiction and the PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction for Bel Canto.

Call the Nurse: True Stories of a Country Nurse on a Scottish Isle, by Mary J. MacLeod

I was drawn to this book because it is set in the Scottish Hebrides. Though set on an unidentified island, the stories transported me back to Lewis and Harris, two islands that I visited in the Outer Hebrides in the 1990s.

Call the Nurse, by Mary J. MacLeod
Call the Nurse: True Stories of a Country Nurse on a Scottish Isle, by Mary J. MacLeod

The stories are humorous and sad. They reflect how in many ways people are the same all over the world, yet islanders are by nature and necessity a little different.

The book begins with Ms. MacLeod, her husband, and their two sons vacationing on the island and deciding to sell their home in England and move to the island. The house they managed to purchase (after being approved by the factor and members of this remote community) is beyond rustic.

The native islanders are slow to embrace incomers. Outsiders are eyed with suspicion. Ms. MacLeod gradually gains the confidence of the residents as she serves as nurse. This includes using psychology in some cases as she is thrown into some different situations..

I could picture these people and the stark landscape through Ms. MacLeod’s descriptive writing and my own travel experience.

It brought to mind a Gaelic term used on the Isle of Lewis which translates  to “white settlers” in English. It has nothing to do with races or the color of one’s skin. Any non-Isle of Lewis native who moves to the island is considered a “white settler.” At least, that’s the way it was in the 1990s.

Winter Garden, by Kristin Hannah

After enjoying The Nightingale and The Great Alone, by Kristin Hannah, I expected to like Winter Garden. It turned out not to be what I expected.

The premise of the novel is that the owner of a large orchard is dying. His two adult daughters, who have nothing in common except their parents, meet to try to make some decisions about the future of the family business. Neither of them have ever gotten along with their mother who now displays many signs of mental illness.

I listened to half of this book before throwing in the towel. I’m slightly curious about how things turned out, but not curious enough to listen to six or seven more hours of cussing and arguing. It just wasn’t what I expected from Kristin Hannah. It was published in 2010, a few years before Ms. Hannah found her true writing voice and talent in The Nightingale.

The Litigators, by John Grisham

After deciding to suspend all the physical books I had on request at the public library, due to the fear of bringing COVID-19 germs into the house (and before the public library here closed to the public on March 16, 2020, I  downloaded an MP3 version of The Litigators, by John Grisham. A John Grisham novel has never disappointed me.

John Grisham's novel, The Litigators
The Litigators, by John Grisham

The Litigators is an entertaining novel about two bumbling attorneys who create the “boutique” law firm of Finley & Figg in Chicago. Published in 2011, this legal thriller is hilarious! It was perfect timing for me to read it during these uncertain COVID-19 times.

Finley & Figg think they’ll hit the big time and make a boatload of money handling a class action lawsuit against a cholesterol reduction drug manufacturer.

The Litigators was Grisham’s 25th published novel. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, he indicated that editors had deleted the humor he’d written in his earlier books. To read that October 28, 2011 newspaper interview, go to https://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2011/10/28/john-grisham-gets-the-last-laugh-on-the-law/.

Long Road to Mercy, by David Baldacci

I read A Minute to Midnight, by David Baldacci in January and wrote about it in my February 3 blog post, https://janetswritingblog.com/2020/02/03/three-books-i-read-in-january-2020/ A Minute to Midnight is Baldacci’s latest book and the second in his Atlee Pine series. I enjoyed A Minute to Midnight and was eager to read Long Road to Mercy in order to get more backstory about Atlee Pine.

Long Road to Mercy, by David Baldacci

The name of the book comes from a traumatic event in Atlee Pine’s childhood when someone broke into the bedroom of Atlee and her sister, Mercy, in the middle of the night and kidnapped and murdered Mercy. Atlee works for the FBI in a small office in Arizona. She has dedicated her life to tracking down Mercy’s killer in order to find out why he did it and why he took Mercy and not Atlee.

It’s great to see a female protagonist in a legal thriller!

The Immoral Majority: Why Evangelicals Chose Political Power over Christian Values, by Ben Howe

I read this book because I wanted to know the answer to that question. I’ll write about it in my blog post next week.

Leapfrog: How to Hold a Civil Conversation in an Uncivil Era, by Janet Givens, M.A.

This is an enlightening book that guides the reader through a systematic way to prepare for and have a conversation with someone with whom he or she disagrees. It’s aimed at those difficult conversations that we don’t know how to have with our friends and relatives whose political views, for instance, are in total conflict with your own views.

It was serendipitous that I read the Ben Howe book referenced above and the Janet Givens book in the same month.

Tune in to my blog post next week to read my thoughts on these two books.

Since my last blog

I continue to make one faux pas after another on my Android tablet. On Wednesday, I put an advertisement for my blog on my church’s Facebook page by mistake. That was embarrassing. It took me a while to figure out how to delete the post.

No doubt, no one at my church was surprised at my Wednesday mistake. A couple of weeks ago I tuned into Facebook Live for the first time. I inadvertently broadcast a live view of my lap and the inside cover of my tablet for 11 seconds. I did eventually figure out how to delete that. A little bit of computer knowledge is a dangerous thing!

On the positive side, I got involved with the Masks for Front Line Heroes Facebook group – a local group that started here in the Harrisburg, North Carolina community. I can’t sew right now, but I raided my stash of 100% cotton fabric and sewing supplies to donate to the people who are making masks for local medical personnel to use when their N95 masks run out. It gave me a good feeling to know I was making a tangible contribution to the fight against the Coronavirus-19 pandemic!

Until my next blog post

I hope you are safe, well, and able to practice social distancing. It looks like we’re in for some rough weeks and months ahead here in the United States.

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m listening to Sycamore Row, by John Grisham. I’m taking the opportunity the pandemic has provided to work on my lengthy to-be-read list.

If you’re a writer or other artist, I hope you’re being creative.

Please stay at home if your job allows that. Follow the rules, if not for yourself, do it for the rest of us. You can do this. I’ve been confined indoors at my house since January 27 except for doctor’s appointments and that February 26 return to the hospital. After being confined for 10 weeks, my advice to others is, “Make the best of it. We’re all in this together.”

Stay safe!

Janet