Books Read in May 2020

To have had 31 days, the month of May passed leaving me feeling like I didn’t read very much. Actually, I read a lot. There were several books I started but didn’t finish. That’s what left me feeling as if I didn’t read much. There are always more books to be read than I have time to read. What a fortunate situation!

The books I chose to read in May were all over the place. Three of them turned out not to be what I expected, which is always disappointing.

A Conspiracy of Bones, by Kathy Reichs

This is Kathy Reichs’ latest novel and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Set in Mecklenburg and Lincoln counties in North Carolina and Lake Wylie, South Carolina, the book features Reichs’ well-known protagonist, forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan.

A Conspiracy of Bones, by Kathy Reichs

Temperance is at odds with the new Mecklenburg County medical examiner. Against the medical examiner’s wishes and orders, Temperance pursues the case of a body found in Lincoln County. There are gory details about the state of the body, but the story line concentrates on who killed the man and why.

In the process of solving the crime, Temperance faces bodily harm and attempts on her life. She has a knack for going where she shouldn’t go and getting into all sorts of situations. Fairly early on, Temperance suspects the larger case involves child pornography. Is she correct, or is this a red herring Ms. Reichs included just to throw us off track?

Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese

After listening to this book for three hours and having 21 more hours remaining – and reading a synopsis of it – I decided I couldn’t concentrate long enough to listen to the rest of it. The synopsis revealed a plot that sounded better suited for a series of books. I just couldn’t finish it.

Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese

The prose was vivid, explicit, beautiful, and at times humorous. During the Covid-19 pandemic, it was just another book I couldn’t concentrate enough to see it through.

Big Lies in a Small Town, by Diane Chamberlain

After Cutting for Stone, this book was a delight. It is the eighth book I’ve read by Diane Chamberlain. I’m tempted to say it’s my favorite of the eight, but that might just be because I just finished it.

Big Lies in a Small Town, by Diane Chamberlain

Set in Edenton, North Carolina in 1940 and 2018, it is a story of racial discrimination, rape, child neglect, trust, jealousy, revenge, and love.

Ms. Chamberlain weaves an intriguing tale of a woman coming from “up North” to paint a large mural on the wall of the post office in Edenton. There is backlash because a local male artist had applied for the job. When a local black high school student is invited by the artist to assist her in the project, tongues in the small town wagged.

Decades later, an artist who is serving a prison term for a crime her boyfriend committed is chosen to get early parole if she will restore the mural. This leads to the discovery of several bizarre aspects of the mural. The restoring artist sets out to find out what became of the original artist and why she included the strange items and images in the mural. Add to this the suspense of an almost impossible deadline for the restoration and opening of an art museum, and you have the ingredients for a beautifully written mystery.

Writing Vivid Plots:  Professional Techniques for Fiction Authors (Writer’s Craft Book 20), by Rayne Hall

This book probably won’t interest you unless you are learning the craft of fiction writing. If you are a student of fiction writing, though, I recommend the book.

Writing Vivid Plots helped me in two specific ways. It explained the important differences in plotting a serial and a series. It also had a short chapter about the difference in plotting a novel and plotting a short story.

By the way, a serial is a story broken into different installments that should be read in order. A series is a group of books having the same characters but which usually stand on their own and can be read in any order.

Long Bright River, by Liz Moore

As often happens lately, I can’t remember what prompted me to get on the waitlist for this book at the public library. I don’t know what I was expecting, but this wasn’t it. How it had been described to me must have left something out. A true representation of the book wouldn’t have led me to want to read it.

Long Bright River, by Liz Moore

This is Liz Moore’s fourth novel and the first of hers I’ve read. The book is well-written. In fact, listening to it held my attention. What I wasn’t prepared for, though, was the way the book left me feeling hopeless against the drug abuse problem in our world.

Michaela “Mickey” Fitzpatrick is a Philadelphia police officer. She tires of all the murders in her district. It seems that most of prostitutes. Every time another murder call comes in, she holds her breath for fear that this time it was her sister, Kacey. Their childhoods weren’t happy. There was little love in the family. The two sisters, once so very close, went their separate ways.

The overriding story is that of family drama, but it’s all wrapped up in the opioid crisis. I never lost interest in the book, as I wanted to know what happened to Kacey. Also, there was Mickey’s son, Thomas. Or was he her son? In the end there was some hope that Kacey would stay clean and never start using drugs again, but it left me with scant hope.

This novel left me rather depressed about the outlook for Kacey, Mickey, and the two children they had between them in the end. In that respect, the book is probably a true reflection of family life when a member is addicted to drugs. It’s also a true reflection of how every member of a family is affected when one member is abusing drugs – and what an empty feeling is left when that person dies as a result of their addiction.

I’m glad I listened to the book. After I finished listening to it, I read a review in which the writer talked about how confusing it was to try to read a book with no quotation marks. Ditto that for me. I wouldn’t have stuck with a physical copy of the book.

Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett

Having read State of Wonder, The Dutch House, and Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, I looked forward to reading Commonwealth, her novel published in 2016. Commonwealth never drew me in. I was listening to it, which I think probably made it more difficult for me to keep all the characters straight.

Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett

I couldn’t identify with any of the characters, so I never felt invested in the story. It started in California at a christening party where every one got drunk. This is not my life experience, so right off the bat I couldn’t identify with these people. Then, it jumped 50 years later with all the same family members, including a raft of cousins.

The book just didn’t appeal to me. I listened to it for three and a half hours but wasn’t motivated to listen to another seven hours.

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, by Lisa See

It amazes me how time passes. If someone had asked me when I started reading The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, by Lisa See, but had to return it to the public library before I got even halfway through it, I would have guessed, “Sometime last year.” The joke is on me, though, for when I looked back through my blog posts to see if I referenced reading part of this book, I was stunned to find that it was exactly three years ago! In my blog post on June 2, 2017, I commented that the book had fascinated me “in how it shed light on some of the superstitions held by the Chinese.” Here’s the link to that post: https://janetswritingblog.com/2017/06/02/you-need-to-read-these-books/.

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, by Lisa See

I also wrote in that blog post: “The novel follows a young Chinese girl who is painfully aware from birth that she is not valued because she is female. Her family has to walk for hours to pick tea leaves for a meager amount of income. It is a difficult life. Her mother is the local midwife and she tells her daughter that she must follow in her footsteps in that occupation. There is a ray of hope, though, because her school teacher tells her that she can leave the harsh mountain environment and make something of herself. I look forward to checking the book out again in order to see how her life turns out!”

Three years later, I checked out the MP3 edition of the book and listened to it on my tablet. There is so much more to the book than my first impressions. I can’t believe it took me three years to return to it. Although the early part of the book was familiar to me, I listened to it from start to finish.

This is a rich story that follows Li-Yan throughout her life. She is intellectually gifted, but life places many stumbling blocks in her path. She falls in love and has a child – a girl. Having a child out of wedlock in China in 1995 was taboo, and out of shame Li-Yan puts her baby in a cardboard box along with a tea cake and leaves the box near an orphanage.

Li-Yan’s life continues to be full of strife, but she never stops loving her baby and wondering where she is and what her life is like. Learning that she was adopted by an American couple and raised in the United States, she could only hope she had a good life.

The novel also follows the life of Li-Yan’s baby, now named Haley. Through an interesting turn of events, Haley becomes interested in tea, which leads her back to her homeland.

My description of The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane is woefully inadequate. The novel is described on Lisa See’s website, http://www.lisasee.com/books-new/the-tea-girl-of-hummingbird-lane/, as “A powerful story about two women separated by circumstance, culture, and distance, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane is an unforgettable portrait of a little known region and its people and a celebration of the bonds of family.”

Since my last blog post

Civil unrest has erupted in cities all over the United States in response to last Monday’s death of Mr. George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis, Minnesota police officer who used excessive force against Mr. Floyd which resulted in Mr. Floyd’s death. I am sad, and I am angry. I believe that most law enforcement officers are good people, but there is a growing problem in America of white police officers using excessive force against people of dark skin. It is indicative of a deep-seated racial prejudice.

The events of this past week and conversations I’ve had with other bloggers and friends on Facebook have been eye-opening. I know that some of my Facebook friends – many of whom I have known since first grade – are prejudiced. They have shown their true colors since Donald Trump was elected president in 2016, and it has surprised and saddened me to learn these things about the people I thought I knew. I have come to realize that the America that I was taught as a young student to see as “a melting pot” is not a melting pot at all. It never was. It is a myth that has been perpetuated for more than 200 years.

America is at a crossroads. We each have a choice to make. Are we going to bury our heads in the sand and pretend we are fine and everyone around us is fine? Or are we going to stand up for the abused? When we see injustice, are we going to turn our heads and keep silent? If so, nothing will ever change. Until those of us with lighter skin recognize that we have benefited and profited from our white privilege, nothing will change. Until we speak up against injustice, nothing will change.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read.

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

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog post today.

Stay safe. Stay well. Wear a face mask as a show of respect for others.

Let’s continue the conversation OR Our call to action

Examine your life, as I will continue to examine mine. Ask yourself if you truly see others as your equal. Examine your beliefs and look for the myths among them. After taking an honest inventory of your “philosophy of life,” take action. Register to vote. Write letters to your elected officials – local, state, and national – and tell them where you stand. Tell them the changes you want to see. Tell them what bothers you about the status quo. Perhaps more importantly, even during this Covid-19 pandemic, reach out to people who don’t look like you. Find common ground from which you can begin an honest conversation.

If you want some tips about how to have that difficult conversation, I recommend LEAPFROG: How to hold a civil conversation in an uncivil era, by Janet Givens. I wrote about this book in my blog post on April 13, 2020, https://janetswritingblog.com/2020/04/13/leapfrog-and-the-immoral-majority/.

LEAPFROG: How to hold a civil conversation in an uncivil era, by Janet Givens, M.A.

Janet

My Historical Short Stories

Upon completion of a fiction writing course I took in 2001 through the continuing education department of Queens University of Charlotte, I was afforded the opportunity to join the Queens Writers Group. The group thrived under the guidance of Queens University writing instructor Judith H. Simpson.

Before Judy’s death and the subsequent disbanding of the Queens Writers Group, I got to write historical short stories that were published in two books:  Inheriting Scotland, edited by Theresa Reilly Alsop in 2002 and Tales For a Long Winter’s Night, edited by Judith H. Simpson in 2003. Both books were self-published in paperback and printed on-demand.

Look for "The Tailor's Shears" in this book of short stories
Inheriting Scotland, edited by Theresa Reilly Alsop

Inheriting Scotland

For a story to be considered for inclusion in Inheriting Scotland, I had to choose an item that had been hidden away in Lochar Castle in Scotland centuries ago and write a short story around that item’s history when it is discovered in the 21st century. The item I selected was the tailor’s shears. My story, “The Tailor’s Shears,” is set in 1703 and begins on page 177.  Inheriting Scotland is available in paperback and Kindle edition from Amazon.com.

Tales for a Long Winter’s Night

Imagine my surprise when Judy told me that she had selected my story, “Slip-Sliding Away!” to be the lead story in Tales for a Long Winter’s Night! She praised the strength of my story and gave my writing ego a boost. My story is set in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina in the year 1771.

I got the idea for “Slip-Sliding Away” from an oral history story about the funeral of President Andrew Jackson’s father. In my story, why did Daniel die? And why was his funeral so funny? This book is available in paperback from Amazon.com, and my story begins on page 3.

The short story about which I'm proudest.
Tales for a Long Winter’s Night, edited by Judith H. Simpson

It was a thrill to see something I’d written in print for the first time! I had fun writing the two stories and have toyed with the idea of writing several more historical short stories for self-publication in book form. I hold the rights to both stories, so I can publish them as I wish.


What’s next for me?

My semi-confinement due to my fractured leg and subsequent pulmonary embolism seemed like the perfect opportunity for me to pursue the idea of writing a collection of short stories. On February 29 I started working on a couple of short stories. I plan to write several stories set in America in the 18th and 19th centuries.

It’s not been easy to get my creative juices running during this new normal in which we find ourselves. Slowly, though, I’ve gotten back into doing the historical research necessary for the writing of historical fiction. Although I take creative license in imagining some relationships and all conversations, I try to make the setting and the people as true to life as I can based on my research.

Most recently, I’ve enjoyed reading and rereading some documents and various books that offer background information for the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence. Signed by 27 men of some standing in old Mecklenburg County, North Carolina (made up of the present counties of Cabarrus, Union, and Mecklenburg) on May 20, 1775, it predates the national Declaration of Independence by more than a year.

I’ve written a rough draft of a story set in May 1775 in Mecklenburg County from the perspective of a couple who feared that war with Great Britain was inevitable.

You’ll be the first to know when I’m ready to self-publish a collection of my stories! I think it will be a good way to “get my name out there” before I finish editing my historical novel. Self-publication will be a learning experience for me and one that I will gladly share on my blog. Stay tuned!

Since my last blog post

In addition to researching and writing a short story, I’ve been for physical therapy twice. It’s strange to put on a mask and enter a place of business where the receptionist and therapist are wearing masks and to try to make small talk when there’s nothing happening except the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s slowly sinking in that things will never go back to the way they were in 2019.

Restaurants in North Carolina are still open only for take-out or delivery. Banks are open on reduced hours. Essential businesses like grocery stores and pharmacies remain open for pick-up and delivery. As of May 8 at 5:00 pm, a few stores opened in the state, but there are restrictions on how many people can be inside a store at any time. As of Friday, we in North Carolina entered “Phase One” of reopening for business. Gatherings of more than 10 people are prohibited.

Each of the 50 states in the US have their own rules and regulations for reopening businesses and getting people back to work. It is a confusing hodge-podge of conflicting and restrictions. I don’t think anyone knows just how bad this pandemic is and will continue to be for years to come until a vaccine is developed and made available worldwide.

Until my next blog post

Be creative. Be careful. Stay safe. Stay well.

I hope you have a good book to read. Last night I finished listening to Big Lies in a Small Town, by Diane Chamberlain.

Let’s continue the conversation

Do you like to read short stories? Would you consider purchasing a book of my short stories? (Don’t worry. I won’t hold you to it!)

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