4 Books I Read in February 2021

Thank you for your patience, if you’ve been eagerly awaiting an extra week to find out what I read last month. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, please read my blog post from last Monday, #OnThisDay: Articles of Confederation & Why They Had to Be Replaced.

Without further explanation, I’ll launch right into my impressions of four of the eight books I read in February.


The Last Year of the War, by Susan Meissner

The Last Year of the War, by Susan Meissner

I listened to this novel. It was mesmerizing. It is told from the point-of-view of an American woman, Elise, whose father immigrated from Germany. Due to lies a neighbor boy told about her father during World War II, she (as a teen) and her parents were scooped up and sent to a family internment camp in Texas. Her best friend there was an American teenage girl of Japanese descent.

I was immediately drawn into the story as the book starts with Elise as an older woman suffering from dementia. More than perhaps anything else I’ve read, the author put me inside the body of this woman who knew she was losing her memory but refused to give in to the disease. She even had a name for her memory-deficient self — Agnes.

Her coping skills were quite impressive. Elise got on a plane to track down her long-loss internment camp friend so they would reconnect before she completely lost her memory. I was right there with her on her physical journey, and then the book took me on a trip through their experiences in the internment camp.

I was unaware of this family internment camp in Crystal City, Texas. After giving the reader an idea of what life was like in the camp – where German- and Japanese-Americans were held captive until they could be sent to their ancestral countries in exchange for Americans who had been caught behind enemy lines when the war started, the novel takes you on Elise’s journey as she and her family spend the last year of the war living in Germany. It then follows Elise’s life after the war and ends by jumping back to the beginning of the book in Los Angeles in 2010 on her trip to look for her long-lost Japanese-American friend, Mariko Inoue.

It was a lovely story to listen to. It was well-written and I found myself pulling for Elise from the first page to the last page. I found myself listening to it at bedtime and struggling to stay awake long enough to listen to just one more chapter. If you’re an avid reader, you know what I mean.

If you want to know more about the Crystal City, Texas internment camp, Jan Jarboe Russell has written a nonfiction book about it, The Train to Crystal City: FDR’s Secret Prisoner Exchange Program and America’s Only Family Internment Camp During World War II.


Soroosh, by Laleh Chini

Soroosh, by Laleh Chini

Laleh Chini is a blogger I follow. Soroosh is Laleh’s new novel. In the beginning, Soroosh is a 10-year-old boy who has to become the man of the house and find a way to support his mother and younger siblings. Living in the port city of Abadan, Iran — home to an enormous refinery — Soroosh’s mother is between the proverbial rock and a hard place as she isn’t allowed to work or go into public places alone since she’s a woman in a Muslim country.

Soroosh takes his new role very seriously and starts brainstorming to figure out a way to earn money to support the family. He starts by purchasing handmade Persian rugs one at a time from a woman and sitting by the side of the street to sell them. He is industrious and a good salesperson.

Mid-way through the book, Soroosh is a young adult and has continued to work hard to provide for his s extended family. I don’t want to give the plot away, so I won’t give more story details. Always eager to step out of his comfort zone, Soroosh is constantly looking for a way to expand his business interests so he can help others – whether that is providing jobs or bringing in enough income that he and his wife can do charity work.

Although Soroosh and his family face many challenges and sad events, it is an uplifting story of what persons of strong faith can do when they work hard, remember their meager beginnings, and look for ways to give back to society.

Ms. Chini is an excellent storyteller, which comes through in this novel. She writes in a way that enables the reader to visualize the scenes she describes. Written in first-person, it reads like a memoir as it follows Soroosh for decades of his life. I’m impressed at Ms. Chini’s ability to write a novel in English, as it was a second language for her. She also brings in some history and historic sites as Soroosh travels for his business endeavors, as Iran has such a rich and long history.


Even As We Breathe, by Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle

Even As We Breathe, by Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle

I can’t remember how I heard about this book, but I’m so glad I did. It is the kind of novel that’s hard to put down. The characters are developed well and I really wanted both of the main characters to find happiness and what they were looking for.

A young Cherokee man, Cowney Sequoyah, and a young Cherokee woman, Essie Stamper, get jobs working at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, North Carolina, during World War II. The resort had been taken over by the US Government and housed foreign diplomats and their families.

Even As We Breathe is the story of the pull the Qualla Boundary has on Cowney and Essie. (The Qualla Boundary is the land trust in North Carolina that the descendants of the Cherokee people who hid out in the Great Smoky Mountains to avoid the Trail of Tears to Oklahoma in 1838 live on.) Even as they yearn to get away from Cherokee and the Qualla Boundary, they are drawn to it. The story shines a light on the white world’s prejudice against Cherokee Indians in the World War II era.

(Before you get upset that I use the term “Indian” instead of the politically-correct term “Native American,” when I did the research for my book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, I learned that, since the term Native American can be used to describe anyone born in America, the North American Indian Women’s Association recommends using the term American Indians. Therefore, I use the word Indian in this blog post and I used it in my vintage postcard book referenced herein.)

There are many, many layers to this story. Cowney’s club foot prevents his being able to serve in the US military during the war, which is a constant guilt he must deal with. There are family secrets that unfold throughout the book. His Uncle Bud plays heavily in Cowney’s life – and not in a good way.

The young daughter of one of the diplomats disappears. Through a series of bad decisions made by Cowney, Essie, and one of the US soldiers on duty at the Grove Park Inn – and the fact that Cowney is a Cherokee Indian and, thereby, is immediately suspect – things go badly for Cowney.

I hope I’ve given you enough information to make you want to read the book and not enough details to spoil it for you. Perhaps I especially enjoyed this book since I live in North Carolina and have visited Cherokee and Asheville many times, but I think you’ll like it, too.

The author, Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle is a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and holds degrees from Yale and the College of William and Mary.

Below is a postcard of the Grove Park Inn that I included in my vintage postcard book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, published by Arcadia Publishing. If you’re interested in learning more about the Great Smoky Mountains, Cherokee and the Qualla Boundary, and Asheville, my book is available on Amazon and from the publisher.

A portion of a linen vintage postcard of Grove Park Inn.

Since I was on the waitlist at the public library for The Last Year of the War and Even As We Breathe for quite some time, it was coincidental that I read them at the same time and both were set against the backdrop of internment during World War II. Another Cherokee connection was in Step into the Circle: Writers in Modern Appalachia, edited by Amy Greene and Trent Thomson, which I read in January. (See my February 8, 2021 blog post, 4 Other Books I Read in January 2021.) My favorite part of that book was the section about Cherokee translator Marie Junaluska.


Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, by Erik Larson

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, by Erik Larson

I can’t say enough about the way Erik Larson writes nonfiction books. He has a way of bringing history alive and holding me spellbound. Granted, I’m a bit of a history buff, but I think many of you would enjoy this book even if you don’t think you would.

The Lusitania was an ocean liner of the Cunard Cruise Line out of England. Ignoring the danger all British ships – military and otherwise – faced from German U-boats in 1915 (during World War I, of course), the Lusitania sailed out of New York City toward Liverpool, England, with more than 1,900 people on board.

Mr. Larson researched the backgrounds of the people who sailed on that voyage of the Lusitania and shares with us tidbits of their lives and why some were going to England. He weaves into the book the hot potato issue of the day: Were cruise ships fair game for German U-boats?

Germany maintained that they were fair game because they were probably carrying munitions as well as passengers.

Tension grows chapter-by-chapter as we alternate between seeing the war and enemy ships from the perspective of the captain of U-Boat 20 and from the perspective of passengers on and the captain of the Lusitania.

I found listening to Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania to be a painless way to learn details about its fateful voyage as well as more than I’d known before about German U-boats and torpedoes. The book goes beyond the sinking of the Lusitania as US President Woodrow Wilson hesitated to enter the war. In fact, it was two years after the sinking of the ocean liner before US troops arrived in England to help “the mother country” out of its dire situation.

Since my last blog post

I’ve had more books vying for my attention than I had time to read or listen to them. At the same time, I’m getting the first 50 pages of my manuscript for my historical novel The Doubloon (or perhaps The Spanish Coin) ready for a professional critique. It’s time to take the plunge!

Spring is in the air here in North Carolina. The daffodils are blooming. They’ve been the harbinger of spring my entire life. I can still remember running into the house clutching a fistful of daffodils and announcing to my mother, “The daffodils are blooming! The daffodils are blooming!” I suppose I’ve had Seasonal Affective Disorder all my life. They just didn’t have a name for it until recent years.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have one or more good books to read this week. Maybe one of the books I wrote about today will catch your eye.

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

I hope you stay safe and well. I’ll get my second Covid shot before my next blog post. I’m excited about that and the promise it brings. I’ll keep wearing a mask and maintain social distancing as long as necessary, though. I hope you can get vaccinated soon.

Janet

Some Good Summer Reading

The first Monday of August has suddenly arrived, so it’s time for me to tell you about the books I read in July. I read a variety of books, including fiction and nonfiction.

Under the Skin, by Vicki Lane

Under The Skin
Under the Skin, by Vicki Lane

I purchased this book a couple of years ago after reading Vicki Lane’s first four books in her Elizabeth Goodweather Appalachian Mysteries. If you follow my blog, you know I get my books almost exclusively from the public library. Library books keep piling up and causing me to postpone reading the books I own. I bought the paperback edition of Under the Skin at a wonderful independent bookstore in Asheville, NC. I dare you to go into Malaprop’s Bookstore & Cafe and leave without buying at least one book. It’s a great bookstore, but I digress.

When July came, I decided I was going to read Under the Skin, even if it meant returning a library book unread. In this book, Elizabeth Goodweather is visited by her sister who convinces her to attend séances at a nearby spa. The sister is hoping to make contact with her deceased husband. All sorts of problems pop up as it becomes clear that the sister is being stalked.

Chapters more or less alternate between this present-day tale and a story about two sisters at the same historic spa in the mountains of North Carolina in the 1880s. The present-day story held my interest more than the 19th century tale, but that’s just my personal observation.

You can read all about Vicki Lane’s books on her website, http://www.vickilanemysteries.com/ and you can follow her on https://www.goodreads.com/.

 My Beautiful Broken Shell, by Carol Hamblet Adams

My Beautiful Broken Shell
My Beautiful Broken Shell: Words of Hope to Refresh the Soul, by Carol Hamblet Adams

My Beautiful Broken Shell was recommended to me by my librarian sister. It is a small book about how most seashells get tossed about and broken, but so do we humans. The author encourages us to embrace our brokenness.

I’m broken in many ways and sometimes I’m more than a little rough around the edges.

Educated:  A Memoir, by Tara Westover

Educated
Educated: A Memoir, by Tara Westover

This is an entertaining memoir of a woman who was raised by strict Mormon parents in the middle of nowhere in Idaho. Her father is bipolar, and Ms. Westover does an excellent job of getting across to the reader just how unnerving being the child of a person with that malady can be. Tara’s mother reluctantly becomes a midwife at her husband’s insistence. The occupation gradually “grows on her” and she seems to like it.

I don’t want to give away too much of this true story. Suffice it to say that Tara goes from being “no-schooled” at home to attain amazing things in education.

Words We Carry:  Essays of Obsession and Self-Esteem, by D.G. Kaye

Words We Carry
Words We Carry: Essays of Obsession and Self-Esteem, by D.G. Kaye

I referred to this little book in my July 16, 2018 blog post, Words We Carry and White Privilege. That post probably left you with an overall good impression of the book. Although I liked the premise of the book, the latter part of the book came across to me as bordering on being Pollyanna while also being conflicting. The author writes about the importance of being your authentic self while recommending that you just put on some make up and act like everything is just fine.

Her parting message struck me as being akin put a smile on your face and a have positive outlook. That takes an enormous amount of energy for people with a chronic physical illness or depression.

Mysterious Tales of Coastal North Carolina, by Sherman Carmichael

Mysterious Tales of Coastal North Carolina
Mysterious Tales of Coastal North Carolina, by Sherman Carmichael

This is a newly-published book from The History Press. I found it in the New Books Section at the public library.

The 170-page book is a collection of ghost stories from the 200-mile coast of the state along with a number of true accounts of ships being torpedoed and sunk by German U-boats during World War II.

I was familiar with a few of the ghost stories but most were new to me. The author did a good job of including just enough historical background about most of the places and stories. Each of the stories is one to three pages, making this a book that’s easy to pick up when you only have a few minutes to read.

I think I’ll purchase a copy to take along with me on my next trip to the coast.

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

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

Whether or not you agree with John Pavlovitz’s politics or his ideas for how to make church more responsive and Christ-like, I think you’ll find that his writing makes you think outside the box.

That said, Mr. Pavlovitz says a lot of things in his book, A Bigger Table:  Building Messy, Authentic, and Hopeful Spiritual Community, that I needed to hear and ponder. Much of what Mr. Pavlovitz said in this book brought to mind the recent capital campaign at Rocky River Presbyterian Church. That campaign was called “Growing God’s Table.”

We already had a sanctuary. We already had a building housing Sunday School rooms, offices, and an inadequate fellowship hall. What we needed was an expansion of our building that would incorporate more classrooms, an elevator to serve the old building as well as the expansion, and most of all — a much larger fellowship hall.

The new fellowship hall has made it possible for us to have monthly community free meals and other activities to which the public is invited. We’re growing God’s table at Rocky River Presbyterian Church, but we still have a long way to go. We are a work in progress. Mr. Pavlovitz’s book opened my eyes to even more possibilities.

Mr. Pavlovitz calls out Christians who are so busy “doing church” activities that they sometimes forget that forming relationships with people is the most important thing we should be doing. Sometimes we treat one another badly and sometimes we fail to treat strangers with the love and compassion demonstrated by Jesus Christ. We all need to make the table bigger. God’s table is big enough for everyone.

I purchased this ebook several months ago after following the author’s blog for quite some time. His blog, Stuff That Needs To Be Said (https://johnpavlovitz.com/,) is always thought-provoking.

Since my last blog post

I spent some time with long-time friends who were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary in Raleigh, NC. It was good to get away for several days, make some new friends, and reconnect with some people I hadn’t seen in a long time.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m trying to finish reading several books I started in July. You’ll find out in my September 3 blog post how that went.

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! I welcome your comments

Have you read any good books lately?

Janet

A Thriller, Hatteras in WWI, and Appalachian Memories

I had more to say about the six books I read in August than reasonably fit into last week’s blog post, so today’s post is about the three I didn’t get to last week. I’m a bit put off by long blog posts, and I doubt I’m alone in that. Without further ado, I offer my thoughts about the other books I read in August.

Here and Gone, by Haylen Beck

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Here and Gone, by Haylen Beck

If books have a demeanor, Running on Red Dog Road and Other Perils of an Appalachian Childhood, by Drema Hall Berkheimer is at one end of that spectrum, in many ways Here and Gone, by Haylen Beck is at the other end of that spectrum. While Ms. Berkheimer’s book was a relaxing read, Mr. Beck’s thriller grabbed me by the throat immediately and never let me relax.

I thought I’d done well to read Ms. Berkheimer’s memoir in three days, but I read Here and Gone in 48 hours.

Wow! What a book! I made the mistake of starting to read the book late one night. I read until my vision blurred to the point that I could literally read no more without getting some sleep.

Audra Kinney fled New York with her young son and daughter to avoid her children being taken away by Children’s Services. Her husband had tried to prove she was an unfit mother.

The book begins in Arizona where Audra thought things couldn’t get any worse when the Elder County Sheriff pulled her over and discovered a bag of marijuana in the trunk of her car. Audra and the reader could not imagine all that would transpire over the next four days. What a thriller!

By the way, I thought I had picked up a debut novel by Haylen Beck, but it turns out that is the pen name of Stuart Neville! You may recall that I wrote about one of Mr. Neville’s Northern Ireland thrillers, The Ghosts of Belfast in my January 3, 2017 blog post (What I read in December.)

According to the author bio on the back inside flap of the book jacket, Haylen Beck’s books are set in the United States whereas Stuart Neville’s books are set in Northern Ireland. That tells me there will be more Haylen Beck books in the future. I can’t wait!

Hatteras Light by Philip Gerard

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Hatteras Light: A Novel, by Philip Gerard

Hatteras Light, by Philip Gerard, took me to the beautiful Hatteras Lighthouse on the Outer Banks of North Carolina during the tense days of World War I when German U-boats and submarines trolled the Atlantic coast of the United States. This book was the August selection for the Rocky River Readers Book Club.

Hatteras Light follows the lives of the few residents of Hatteras Island in the early 1910s, particularly the people associated with the maintenance of the Hatteras Lighthouse and their efforts to rescue people in peril on the sea.

This was hard and lonely work. It took a special kind of person to acclimate to the demands of the job. The waters off Cape Hatteras are known worldwide as “the graveyard of the Atlantic” because the treacherous clashing of the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the warm Gulf Stream (from the Gulf of Mexico) cause constantly changing conditions that have resulted in the sinking of hundreds of ships.

The Germans had already torpedoed an oil tanker, the resulting blaze literally getting the attention of everyone on Hatteras Island. The US Navy was too busy protecting the more densely populated Mid-Atlantic coast to come to the aid of the keepers of the Hatteras Lighthouse who did double duty of going out to sea to try to rescue anyone in peril.

Tensions were coming to a head at a community meeting when Ham Fetterman said the following:

“ ‘ I have lived longer than ever I hoped or wanted,’ Fetterman said. ‘I have seen Yankees and pirates and bootleggers and a good deal worse. And now I’ve seen this, too. And I tell you:  this is different. This murderous lurking Teutonic bastard is hunting by the Light – our Light! He navigates by it, he ambushes by it, he kills by it…. With that Light, he is damn near invincible.’ ”

Fetterman was a true Hatterasman, meaning he was born and had lived on Hatteras Island all his life. He was someone others listened to because of his age and his experience as a Hatteras Islander.

Someone else in the meeting spoke up and suggested they rig up a false light like had been done at Nags Head years before. Then, Fetterman said their only choice was to turn off the Hatteras Lighthouse Light.

Did they? I suggest you read Hatteras Light, by Philip Gerard, to find out.

Running on Red Dog Road and Other Perils of an Appalachian Childhood, by Drema Hall Berkheimer

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Running on Red Dog Road, by Drema Hall Berkheimer

I need to start jotting down where or how I hear about a book I want to read. I can’t recall how I learned about this one, but I’m glad I did. I found it at the public library and devoured it in three days. It is just 200 pages, but I’m a slow reader. Any time I read a book in three days, take it as a compliment.

The author grew up in West Virginia and writes humorously but lovingly and respectfully about her childhood there in the 1940s. Although I grew up in the piedmont (not the mountains) of North Carolina in the 1950s, I could identify with many of the things she wrote.

I never had a grandmother, though, and Ms. Berkheimer writes a lot about the grandmother who pretty much raised her while her mother was off in New York helping to build airplanes for the World War II effort.

Ms. Berkheimer and I grew up in a simpler time than the one we’re living in now. Home-canned produce from the garden, lightning bugs, playing Red Rover, church being the center of one’s social life, and many old sayings used in the book – all these rang true with me and brought to mind fond memories of my childhood.

I loved her memory of church fans:

“Paper fans always stood ready in the wooden rack on the back of each pew, along with the hymnals. Each fan was the size of a small paper plate and had a flat stick attached as a handle. Sometimes you got a fan with a picture of Jesus on one side and Scripture verses on the other, while another time your fan might advertise a bank or a furniture store.” ~ Drema Hall Berkheimer

The church where I grew up always had those same fans, but the back side advertised one of the two funeral homes in the county. Hence, they were always referred to as “funeral home fans” at Rocky River Presbyterian.

If you’re looking for a book that harkens back to rural and small town American life a few decades ago, this is the book for you.

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.

Janet