Three Historical Novels I Read in February 2020

For me, the month of February can be summed up in three words. Best laid plans.

What actually happened

I thought I’d get a lot of reading done in February while being confined to my home with a fractured leg. I discovered it was hard to concentrate. I only completed three books in February. When given the opportunity to read 24/7, it loses its appeal – or at least it did for me. Added to my concentration problems was a hospitalization due to a pulmonary embolism. It was quite a month!

Since I didn’t get anything posted on my blog last Monday, I’ll try to get back on my weekly posting track now. I’ll try to finish writing “FixYourNovel #4 – Characterization, Part 2” for next Monday.


Moving on to today’s topic

Some readers look for a blog post the first Monday of the month about the books I read the previous month, so that’s what I’m doing today. If you’re a fan of historical fiction, you might like one or more of these three books.


The Last Train to London, by Meg Waite Clayton

As usual, I can’t remember how I heard about this historical novel. I’m glad I did, though.

The rescue of Jewish children from Nazi Germany
The Last Train to London, by Meg Waite Clayton

Meg Waite Clayton did extensive research and wrote this book over a 12-year period. She takes you to Germany in 1938. Through several real people, she weaves a suspenseful story of the Kindertransport effort through which 10,000 Jewish children were saved from certain death in Nazi Germany. Those 10,000 children were taken by train from Germany to The Netherlands and from there to England.

The references to closed borders and Hitler’s accusations about “the lying press” sent chills up and down my spine as an American. The parallels with the policies of the current United States president are striking and frightening to those of us who value our democracy.

There are gut-wrenching scenes of parents putting their children on trains with admonitions to make the most out of the museums and educational opportunities they’ll have in England. The children are entrusted to strangers with promises from their parents to somehow get to England and reunite with them.

No child under four or older than 17 years old was allowed to go. Each child was assigned a number. When they arrived in England, they were reviewed by prospective adoptive parents on Sundays.

As is stated in the “Author’s Note” at the end of the book, “Although fiction, this novel is based on the read Vienna Kindertransport effort led by Geertruida Wijsmuller-Meijer of Amsterdam, who had begun rescuing smaller groups of children as early as 1933. She was, to the children, Tante Truus.”

I regret to quote the following from near the end of the book:

“Efforts to effect similar transports to the United States, through the Wagner-Rogers Bill introduced into Congress in February of 1939, met anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic opposition. A June 2, 1939, memo seeking President Roosevelt’s support for the effort is marked in his handwriting ‘File no action. FDR.’”

I hope you get a chance to read this excellent historical novel.


The Cold, Cold Ground, by Adrian McKinty

The ophthalmologist who treated me for shingles in my right eye several years ago was an avid reader. During my frequent appointments, we often discussed our favorite novels and authors. He introduced me to the novels of Stuart Nevillle and Adrian McKinty. I finally got around to reading my first novel by Mr. McKinty last month.

Police suspense novel set in Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland
The Cold, Cold Ground, by Adrian McKinty

The Cold, Cold Ground was Mr. McKinty’s twelfth novel, but it introduced a new character, Sean Duffy, a Roman Catholic police officer in Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland. At least one of my immigrant ancestors came to America from Carrickfergus, so I was immediately drawn into the story. My ancestor was a Presbyterian, though, which has always intrigued me in light of “The Troubles” between Protestants and Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland. I just don’t understand Christians hating other Christians, but that a topic for another day.

Back to the novel… Duffy is often put in awkward situations since he is one of only a few Roman Catholic police officers in Carrickfergus.

In The Cold, Cold Ground, a serial killer is making a statement, and Duffy is determined to solve the case and see the murderer brought to justice. There have been two murders. No one else suspects a connection except for Duffy.

I look forward to reading other Adrian McKinty novels.


A Long Petal of the Sea, by Isabel Allende

I was really on a roll last month with good historical novels! I wish I had remembered more details from the Latin American history courses I took in college. Some of that information would have been a helpful backdrop while reading this novel about the Spanish civil war in the 1930s.

You may wonder what Latin America had to do with a late-1930s civil war in Spain. I wondered the same thing, so I was in for an education.

A Long Petal of the Sea, by Isabel Allende

Hundreds of thousands of Spanish citizens fled across the mountainous French border when General Franco and his Fascist followers overthrew the Spanish government.

In A Long Petal of the Sea, you follow a pregnant young widow, Roser, and her army doctor brother-in-law, Victor Dalmau, as they join 2,000 other refugees on the SS Winnipeg, a chartered ship to Chile. The voyage is chartered by poet Pablo Neruda. He described Chile as “the long petal of sea and wine and snow.” Hence, the name of the novel.

The day they arrive in Chile just happens to be the day World War II erupts in Europe – September 2, 1939. The novel spans decades and four generations as these refugees make the most of their new lives in Chile while always yearning to return to their beloved Spain.

Isabel Allende, the author, was born in Peru and grew up in Chile. Since she was the first author to donate an autographed book for the autographed books auction held by the Friends of the Harrisburg (NC) Library some years ago, Ms. Allende holds a special place in my heart.

The novel was beautifully-translated into English by Nick Caistor and Amanda Hopkinson.


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading a memoir, Inheritance:  A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love, by Dani Shapiro and listening to Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett.

Thank you for reading my blog post. You have many things vying for your attention and time, so I appreciate the fact that you took time to read my blog today. Please visit it every week to see what I’m up to.

Let’s continue the conversation

Have you read any good books lately? Share your thoughts with us.

Janet

The Other Three Books I Read in January 2019

One thing all bloggers are told they must do, if they hope to attract readers, is to include images in every post. I’ve worked hard to do this for the last several years. I did it last week when I included images of the books I wrote about; however, as I put the finishing touches on this post last night, I repeatedly got messages from WordPress.com saying “Given your current role, you can only link an image, you cannot upload.” Therefore, in today’s post I’ve included links to images of the books I’m writing about. I’m unsure how this will appear until the post goes online. I have no idea why this has happened.

Since I read 6.25 books in January, I decided to split my comments about them between my blog post on February 4, 2019 and today. I hope you’ll find what I have to say about three of the books I read last month worthwhile. These are discussed in no particular order.

The Banker’s Wife, by Cristina Alger

The Banker’s Wife, by Cristina Alger

The Banker’s Wife was a change of pace for me halfway through January after reading The Library Book. The Banker’s Wife, by Cristina Alger, is a financial thriller. In this novel, Ms. Alger takes us to Paris, Geneva, New York, the Dominican Republic, and the Cayman Islands. Primarily through the eyes of two strong female characters, we get a glimpse of the vicious and deadly world most of us never experience – Swiss bank accounts, the people who have them, the people who assist them, and those who are unfortunate to love someone in either of the other two categories.

If I had done more research about Cristina Alger’s books before reading this 2018 novel, I would have known that it is a sequel to her 2012 debut novel, The Darlings. Now, I want to read that book, although being a North Carolinian, “the Darlings” conjures up visuals in my mind’s eye of that ne’er-do-well Darlin’ family on The Andy Griffith Show of the 1960s. It’s difficult to associate wealth with that name. I’m sorry, it just is. I offer my apologies to all the people with the Darling surname.

The Banker’s Wife is Ms. Alger’s third novel. The book captured my attention early on and the fast-paced writing kept me turning pages to see what was going to happen next – and to find out which characters were dead and which one’s deaths were staged to cover up the real story.

If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? by Alan Alda

If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? by Alan Alda

This book held some nice surprises for me. I’ve been an Alan Alda fan since the days of the M*A*S*H television series. I became even more endeared to him when in answer to my request that he donate an autographed copy of a book he’d written for an autographed book fundraiser held a few years ago for the Friends of the Harrisburg Library in Harrisburg, North Carolina.

Mr. Alda graciously donated an autographed copy of the script for an episode of M*A*S*H that he wrote. It turned out to be the hit of the fundraiser and resulted in a bidding war between two individuals.

That said, I was drawn to the book by the title and the author’s name. I thought it might be helpful to me as a writer since the book is about communication. It was, but not in the ways I anticipated.

Here are a few of the impressions I took from the book:

                1.  Improvisation not only helps actors, it can help anyone get over their fear of talking in front of a large audience.

                2.  No matter what you’re trying to sell – whether it be a tangible product or an idea – the key is to focus on what the customer is thinking and what he or she needs. As a writer, I need to put myself in the mind of my reader. What does my reader need? What is my reader hoping to gain by reading my words?

                3.  Mr. Alda has concluded that the key to the great success of M*A*S*H was the fact that instead of disappearing into their separate trailers on the studio lot, they gathered their chairs in a circle and talked and laughed together as a group between “takes.” He said the connections    they made off camera carried over when they were in front of the camera. It made them all better actors and their genuine comradery came through to the audience.

                4.  Much of Mr. Alda’s book is about empathy and the importance of empathy in communications. The book offers several things a person can do to increase their empathy for others. Mr. Alda says that true communication cannot take place between two people unless each one       makes an effort to understand the other person and why they think the way they do. I couldn’t help but think of how polarized Americans are politically today. There really is a lack of understanding – or empathy – between The Right and The Left, between Republicans and Democrats. This doesn’t bode well for the 2020 election.

                5.  As a writer, start with what your reader knows. Don’t insult the reader by including basic information.

Now You See Me, by Sharon J. Bolton

Now You See Me, by Sharon J. Bolton

Published in 2011, Now You See Me was the first in Sharon J. Bolton’s Lacey Flint series. Flint is a detective in London. The story opens with her seeing a woman dying while leaning on Flint’s car. This thriller grabbed my attention from the beginning and kept me turning pages well into the night. It’s rare that I read a quarter of a novel in one sitting, but that’s what I did with Now You See Me.

Detective Flint is forced almost immediately to try to discern who she can trust within the Metropolitan Police Department. Is she seen as a crime scene witness, or is she viewed as a murder suspect? She’s very convincing as a witness.

As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that the killer is patterning his actions after Jack the Ripper. (Spoiler alert:  this gets more gruesome than I’m used to reading, but I had to know what happened next.)

What about Flint’s fellow police officer, Joesbury. There’s definitely something weird about him. Is he the killer?

No. Someone else is caught… sort of.

I thought the book came to a good stopping point just shy of halfway through. In fact, I thought I might not keep reading. This seems like the end of the story. I could move on to another book.

But I read a few more pages.  Wow! What a turn of events! I’m glad I kept reading!

Since my last blog post

I continue to do a lot of reading about writing and about blogging in an effort to get better at writing fiction and blogging. I made good progress writing a short story I’m calling “From Scotland to America, 1762,” writing 1,400 words Saturday afternoon.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading Before and Again, by Barbara Delinsky; Button Man, by Andrew Gross; and A Week in Winter, by Maeve Binchy.

I rarely listen to a book because I find it irritating to listen to someone talk on and on and on; however, since I’m having a bout with vertigo, I decided to give the Maeve Binchy audio book a try and I’m really enjoying it. It probably has something to do with the lovely accent of the reader, Rosalyn Landor. It’s nice to just shut my eyes and listen.

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

Janet

Author Event by A.J. Hartley

It was my privilege on March 14, 2017, to hear author Dr. A.J. Hartley speak at the annual meeting of the Friends of the Harrisburg (NC) Library. Dr. Hartley is a man of many talents. He is the distinguished professor of Shakespeare in the Department of Theatre at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, which is just several miles up the road from Harrisburg.

Author Dr. A.J. Hartley, speaking at the annual meeting of the Friends of the Harrisburg Library, March 14, 2017

Dr. Hartley’s background

Dr. Hartley has published more than 20 books, ranging from academic to mysteries, thrillers, historical fiction, and fantasies for adults, young adults, and middle grades. He credits the book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis, as being his passport out of his economically-depressed hometown of Preston, England. He read the book when he was 10 years old, and reading subsequently opened up the world to him.

His thoughts on Shakespeare

In his very entertaining and educational presentation at the library on Tuesday night, Dr. Hartley pointed out something about William Shakespeare that I had never considered before. Shakespeare lived and wrote at a time when live theatre was a big thing in London, a town then of approximately 100,000. Going to the theatre was a common activity for all spectrums of the population. Therefore, Shakespeare had to write in a way that would appeal to everyone from the illiterate to the highly educated, from the poorest to the richest in society.

His writing routine

Dr. Hartley welcomed questions from the audience. I noticed that the teens in attendance asked some of the most interesting and probing questions.  He spends a lot of time walking his dog six miles-a-day, and that is when he does most of his writing. When he gets home, he types what he “wrote” in his head while he was walking. He used to just wing it, or in the lingo of writers, he was a pantser. That means he wrote without an outline. He now writes short outlines. Every writer has to find what works for them.

My takeaways

As a writer, the main points I came away with were the following:

  1. “If you’re wondering if you’re a writer, try quitting. If you can, you’re not.” – A.J. Hartley
  2. “Words are free.” – A.J. Hartley
  3. Dr. Hartley wrote fiction for 20 years before his first novel was published. I don’t know whether to take encouragement from that or not. He started at a much earlier age than I did!

Dr. Hartley’s website

If you’re interested in reading any of Dr. Hartley’s books, check with your local public library and also online. His website is ajhartley.net.

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. Never pass up an opportunity to hear an author speak!

Janet

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