Some Good New Books

I’ve read some very good books this year, and it’s been a pleasure to share my thoughts about them on my blog. Today’s blog post highlights the five novels I read in October. Four of them (Love and Other Consolation Prizes, by Jamie Ford; The Deep Dark Descending, by Allen Eskens; The Last Ballad, by Wiley Cash; and The Stolen Marriage, by Diane Chamberlain) were published in October. The other book, News of the World, by Paulette Jiles, was published in October of 2016.

 Love and Other Consolation Prizes, by Jamie Ford

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Love and Other Consolation Prizes, by Jamie Ford

I eagerly awaited the release of Jamie Ford’s latest novel, Love and Other Consolation Prizes, and it did not disappoint. After hearing Mr. Ford speak at the Bookmarks Festival of Books and Authors in Winston-Salem, North Carolina in September, I really looked forward to reading this book. My September 18, 2017 blog post, Bookmarks Festival of Books and Authors, was about that festival and the seven authors I got to hear speak.

Historical fiction is near and dear to my heart, so it’s no wonder that I enjoyed reading Love and Other Consolation Prizes. Mr. Ford took a reference to an actual shocking event at the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition held in Seattle, Washington and created a powerful story about the young boy named Ernest who was raffled off at the Exposition. Yes. You read that correctly. Something different was raffled off each day of the fair, and one day it was an orphaned child!

The Chinese slave trade around the turn of the 20th century and the thriving red light district of Seattle in the early 1900s provided the perfect backdrop for this book. Mr. Ford gives us chapters set in 1909-1911 and chapters set in 1962 around the World’s Fair in Seattle so we can follow the amazing fictional life of Ernest – a mixed race boy from China.

 The Deep Dark Descending, by Allen Eskens

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The Deep Dark Descending, by Allen Eskens

I became a fan of Allen Eskens’s writing when I read his first novel, The Things We Bury. I’ve now read all four of his novels. Here are the links to my blog posts that talked about his first three novels:  The Life We Bury, by Allen Eskens; What I read in January; My writer’s notebook; and What I Read in April  ­.

The Deep Dark Descending is a dark story of just how deeply a person can descend when his anger, bitterness, and desire for revenge become an obsession.

In this novel, Minneapolis homicide detective Max Rupert sets out to find and punish the person or persons who murdered his wife. The case had been ruled an accident, but Rupert could not accept that.

The Deep Dark Descending takes the reader to the frigid Minnesota-Canada border and a frozen lake. Put this novel on your winter reading list.

The Last Ballad, by Wiley Cash

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The Last Ballad, by Wiley Cash

The Last Ballad is author Wiley Cash’s newly-released novel. It is set in Gaston County, North Carolina and is based on the life of textile millworker Ella May Wiggins. Ms.Wiggins was murdered in Gastonia, North Carolina in 1929 during a riot that resulted from efforts to organize the millworkers into a union. Labor unions have never been popular in the state, and that was definitely the case in the textile industry in the early 20th century.

Although I grew up an hour from Gastonia, I had never heard about this incident. In fact, Wiley Cash is a native of Gastonia and he only recently learned of it.

The Last Ballad takes the reader into a world of poverty inhabited by both black and white millworkers in the 1920s. Ms. Wiggins was a white single mother who lived in an otherwise black neighborhood. She was instrumental in trying to get her black neighbors and co-workers the right to strike for better wages. The white workers didn’t have the right to strike either, but until Ms. Wiggins pushed the point, the possibility of black workers going on strike was unimaginable in that time and place.

This is a story of a woman’s courage as she fought for better working and living conditions for her children and her neighbors.

The Stolen Marriage, by Diane Chamberlain

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Diane Chamberlain Author Event The Stolen Marriage, by Diane Chamberlain

After having met Diane Chamberlain at the On the Same Page Book Festival in West Jefferson, North Carolina last year (Diane Chamberlain Author Event )and enjoying two of her other novels (Pretending to Dance A Novel’s First Line and The Secret Sister Books I’ve been reading), I got on the waitlist for The Stolen Marriage as soon as it was “on order” at the public library. The novel’s October 3, 2017 release date finally arrived!

I love it when I can read an expertly-written novel and learn something at the same time. Like Wiley Cash’s The Last Ballad, Diane Chamberlain’s The Stolen Marriage delivered in a big way. I regret that I cannot read The Stolen Marriage again for the first time. It was that good!

The Stolen Marriage was inspired by the true story of the citizens of Hickory, North Carolina building – and getting up and running – a hospital for polio patients in just 54 hours in 1944. Being a native of North Carolina, born in 1953, this is another piece of history that I didn’t know. It was an amazing feat in this small town in Catawba County, and it was covered by Life magazine. In historical literature, it is referred to as “The Miracle in Hickory.”

The fictional story Ms. Chamberlain created around this event is one of trust, love, and betrayal. There are numerous plot twists in this novel. It will keep you up at night turning pages.

 News of the World, by Paulette Jiles

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News of the World, by Paulette Jiles

The premise and title of News of the World, by Paulette Jiles, intrigued me when I read a blurb about it, so I borrowed it from the public library.

This is a tale of a fictional character known as Captain Kidd who traveled around Texas in the 1800s getting paid to have public readings of articles from various newspapers. Many people were illiterate and newspapers were rare in the region.

Captain Kidd agrees to return Johanna, a young white girl, to her family in southwest Texas. Years earlier, Johanna had been kidnapped by the Kiowa tribe of Native Americans. Being raised by the Native Americans, Johanna had no recollection of the habits and mores of her white family.

Johanna and Captain Kidd had a shaky and unpredictable relationship as Kidd tried his best to fulfill his promise to return Johanna to her family. Their journey across Texas is filled with misunderstandings, attacks by outsiders, challenging traveling conditions, and additional attempts to kidnap Johanna. The two of them gradually learn how to communicate and co-exist.

News of the World is the second novel I’ve read recently that did not use quotation marks in dialogue. I guess I’m just old-fashioned, but I don’t like this practice. When I have to stop and think or reread something in a novel to figure out what’s narration and what’s dialogue or who’s talking, it pulls me out of the story and reminds me I’m reading. I’m sure dropping all the quotation marks saved the publisher some money, but I hope this doesn’t become common practice.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I seem to have trouble “getting into” a book at the moment. I’m more in the mood to write than to read, so I’m taking advantage of that. The last several days I’ve worked on the timeline and outline for my historical novel I’m calling The Spanish Coin. I’ll keep you posted.

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

Janet

 

N is for Newspaper Column

Today is the 14th day of the 2017 A to Z Blog Challenge, so the featured letter is “N.” I wrote a local history column for a weekly newspaper, Harrisburg Horizons, in Harrisburg, North Carolina for six and a half years.

My freelance “job” with the newspaper took me in many unexpected directions. One of my first columns (July 12, 2006) was titled, “Native American Projectile Points.” The following is a slightly revised version of that column. Some of the wording has been changed and all the photographs have been added to this blog post.

Do you think Harrisburg’s history began with the earliest European settlers, or even with the coming of the railroad in the 1850s? Today, I invite you to join me on a journey into prehistoric Harrisburg in the southern piedmont section of North Carolina.

Schiele Museum, Gastonia, NC

I recently made an appointment to take my collection of Indian arrowheads to Dr. Alan May, staff archaeologist at the Schiele Museum in Gastonia, NC. The first thing I learned was that I didn’t have a collection of Indian arrowheads!  The proper term is “projectile point,” which includes spear points and arrowheads.

I proudly opened the box containing my small collection. Dr. May examined each piece. I held my breath and waited for him to gasp upon spying a rare and valuable piece. He did not gasp.

My collection turned out to be mundane and of no particular interest to an archaeologist; however, the insight Dr. May shared that day gave me much to think about and opened a window on prehistoric Harrisburg.

I expected Dr. May to tell me that my projectile points dated back to the 1600s or possibly a little earlier than that. I expected him to tell me that the points were typical of the Catawba or perhaps even the Cherokee. That’s not what he said.

Middle Archaic – Morrow Mountain

Two of my projectile points are called “Morrow Mountain” pieces. They are from the Middle Archaic period which ended around 3000 B.C. (or B.C.E., if you prefer.)

Base of a projectile, Morrow Mtn., Middle Archaic
Base of projectile, Middle Archaic, Morrow Mountain.
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Middle Archaic (2,000 to 3,000 B.C.E.) Morrow Mountain Projectile Point

Middle Archaic Guilford

Two other pieces are of the “Guilford” style and also date to the Middle Archaic period when Native Americans hunted bison in North Carolina.

Broken example of Middle Archaic - Guilford
Broken example of Middle Archaic – Guilford projectile point.
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Middle Archaic, Guilford projectile point.

Late Archaic

Several of the projectile points in my collection are “Savannah River Stemmed “ points from the Late Archaic period, 1000 to 3000 B.C. This period was cooler than Middle Archaic. Deer, rabbits, and raccoons were hunted for food.

Late Archaic. Flagstone or field stone argilite, probably like what's coming out of the quarry nearby.
Late Archaic. Flagstone or field stone, probably like rock that is currently being mined from a nearby quarry.
Late Archaic. Thin bioface straight-sided projectile broken in use or when re-sharpened. Good material.
Thin biface straight-sided Late Archaic projectile point. Broken either by use or when re-sharpened.

Ancient Tool:  Anvil

I was certain that Dr. May would identify one of the smooth rocks I took him as an early Native American tool. He said it was just a rock that had been smoothed by water. Another rock, which hadn’t seemed as interesting to me, turned out to be an anvil.

This is an anvil. Notice the slight depression in roughness in middle on one side.
This is a stone anvil.

Some rocks I took to the museum were magnetic, which wasn’t a surprise; our red clay soil is rich in iron. One piece that appeared to be a rock was identified as slag hammered by a blacksmith. That made sense, because my father told me that there used to be a blacksmith’s shop in what is now my front yard.

Gold?

The rock I hoped he would say held flecks of gold, held flecks of worthless pyrite instead. I can see why it’s called “fool’s gold.”

pyrite and flecks of gold and lead. Dr. Alan May at Schiele thought this was a neat piece.
Lead with pyrite and flecks of gold. Dr. May thought this was an interesting piece.

Dr. May recommended that I send a detailed report about my collection to the Office of State Archaeology in Raleigh. The State has a form called “North Carolina Amateur Archaeological Site Form.” Dr. May said they will pinpoint my yard on a map and keep a record of my findings.

My visit with Dr. May brought surprises, both good ones and disappointing ones. I came home knowing that 5,000 years ago as the Egyptians developed hieroglyphic writing and the darkness was first lighted by candles, Native Americans were hunting deer and bison in my yard. Wow!

That was the end of my July 12, 2006 newspaper column. For now, it’s the end of the story. When I read the column last night for the first time in many years, I realized that I never followed through with Dr. May’s recommendation that I send a detailed report to the Office of State Archaeology in Raleigh. I’ve added that report to my “to-do” list, but writing must still come first.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. (I’m reading a nonfiction book, In Order to Live:  A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom, by Yeonmi Park with Maryanne Vollers. It was published in 2015, but I’m finding it particularly interesting as I read it during rising tension between North Korea and the United States. I highly recommend it!)

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

Janet

Some books I read in February

On February 21 I posted a blog about some of the books I read in January. I think in the future I will blog about the books I’ve read in a given month at the end of that month or first couple of days in the following month. I have good intentions, but you know what they say about those!

“Exploring North Carolina” is one of my favorite shows on UNC-TV. The host, Tom Earnhardt, never fails to educate and entertain as he explores the varied and rich geography, geology, flora, and fauna of the state. Although the vast majority of my books come from the public library, Mr. Earnhardt’s book, Crossroads of the Natural World: Exploring North Carolina with Tom Earnhardt was a book I knew I wanted to own. It’s the kind of book from which one can learn something new every time it is read. As if I needed any encouragement to visit every nook and cranny of North Carolina, this book makes me wish I could spend all my time doing just that.

Now that Sue Grafton is nearing the end of the alphabet, I decided to start reading her books. I read A is for Alibi in January and plan to continue reading my way through her popular alpha series. I couldn’t help but notice how telephone communications have changed since A is for Alibi was published in 1982. It almost places the book in the historical fiction genre.

Another case that falls into the “so many books, so little time” category is John Grisham and his books. I finally got around to reading Gray Mountain. (Yes, Sycamore Row is still on my “want to read” list — which is growing far faster than I’ll ever be able to keep up with.) I thoroughly enjoyed Gray Mountain. I love the way Mr. Grisham gets his points across regarding social justice issues without beating us over the head. In Gray Mountain, he puts a human face on how surface mining has scarred so much of our nation’s coal-producing region.

I was delighted to win a copy of The Third Reconstruction: Moral Mondays, Fusion Politics, and the Rise of a New Justice Movement, by the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II with Johnathan Wilson Hartgrove. I participated in the Moral Mondays Movement in North Carolina in the summer of 2014, so I was eager to read Dr. Barber’s book. Even though I pride myself for staying informed about local, state, and national politics, Dr. Barber’s book opened my eyes to some historical connections that I had not made. This book shines a light on dirty politics in North Carolina but gives strong hope that this current grassroots movement will persist.

The Dark Road to Mercy, a novel by my fellow North Carolinian Wiley Cash, is primarily set in Gastonia, North Carolina and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. It is the sad tale of two young sisters abandoned by their father and then left in a children’s home when their mother died. Long lost Dad shows up and wants his daughters. Thus begins a tale that will keep you wondering what’s going to happen next and what the final outcome will be. If you want to read what inspired Mr. Cash’s book, read his author page on Amazon.com. I’ll be on the lookout for his next book.

David Baldacci’s The Guilty was the next book I read in February. Mr. Baldacci did not fail to give the numerous twists and turns for which he is known. This whodunit is a true page turner. As a Southerner, I think the accents were at times overdone, and I was surprised he made the mistake of having a character ask another character, “What do y’all want” when obviously speaking to one lone individual. Also, I’ve never heard a Southerner use the term, “Yous.” On a positive note, he did spell “y’all” correctly, which is something some Southerners don’t do. The deeper I got into the fascinating story, the less I noticed the vernacular. Not sure how I’d feel, though, if I were from Mississippi.

Perhaps I am just sensitive about the accents because use of accents and brogues in dialogue is something I’m struggling with in my fiction writing. I’m dealing with Carolina backcountry settlers from Scotland, Ireland, and France and slaves from Africa in my historical novel manuscript titled The Spanish Coin. Since I’m a novice writer, who am I to criticize someone like David Baldacci? I’m striving to strike a balance between giving characters authentic voices and overdoing vernacular to the point that it distracts the reader from the story. It is a writing skill I must master.

Now I’m afraid this post is too long. Do I need to blog about what I’m reading more often than monthly?