Books I Read in June 2018

A couple of weeks ago, it looked as if I would have no books to write about from my reading in June. As I blogged last week in Reading is not a contest!, reading is not a contest, but it was a competition of sorts I’d inflicted upon myself.

Every year I wanted to read more books than the one before. I was signing up for more annual reading challenges than I could easily complete. The good thing about reading challenges is that they prompt me to read books I wouldn’t otherwise read; however, the flip side is I don’t have time to read all the books I want to read.

The second half of June I got my reading juices going again, so today I will blog about the five books I read. (Don’t be too impressed; one of them was a small book of very easy reading.)

The Hellfire Club, by Jake Tapper

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The Hellfire Club, by Jake Tapper

Jake Tapper is a well-known journalist and anchor for CNN. The Hellfire Club is his debut novel. Although I thought the first half of the book got too bogged down in the details of Washington, DC politics in 1954, the second half of the novel exploded and kept me turning the pages to see what would happen next.

Mr. Tapper did a marvelous job of giving 11 pages of his sources at the end of the book. A sign of a good historical novel is proof of research. In this list of sources Mr. Tapper is quick to remind the reader that the book is a work of fiction.

I couldn’t help but draw parallels in my mind between the ugly underbelly of politics in Washington, DC in 1954 and the mess we find ourselves in today. I don’t know if there is currently a hellfire club in the nation’s capital, but there is an alarming reticence on the part of members of Congress to speak up against the current barrage of lies coming from a house on Pennsylvania Avenue.

All-in-all, the subject matter of The Hellfire Club was a good read for me considering my background in political science and history.

Note to Self:  Inspiring Words from Inspiring People, collected and introduced by Gayle King

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Note to Self: Inspiring Words from Inspiring People, collected & introduced by Gayle King

This is a delightful collection of letters from the “CBS This Morning” TV show’s “Note to Self” project. Twenty-six of those letters are included in the book. Most of the contributors are famous people, but some were unknown to me.

It’s a great book choice for those times when you just have a few minutes to read, or when you don’t have the energy to remember the threads of an ongoing story. You can read each of the 26 letters in just several minutes.

The idea behind the project and this book is to have the adult you write a letter to your younger self. Anyone can do this. Why don’t you give it a try?

Summer Hours at the Robbers Library, by Sue Halpern

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Summer Hours at the Robbers Library, by Sue Halpern

Sue Halpern is a journalist and novelist. This was the first of her books that I’ve read.

The title piqued my interest, since I’m an avid supporter of libraries. It is a story about a collection of unrelated people in a small town in New Hampshire who form bonds tighter than some people do with their parents and siblings.

The friends they all have in common are Kit (the librarian) and Sunny, who has been ordered to do community service at the library over the summer. Sunny is the “no-schooled” daughter of two free spirits, and this plays heavily in the book. Others in the book are primarily a group of retired men who pass their time at the library before going the cafeteria at the hospital for lunch. As the story develops, most of the characters are surprised by how close they’ve become.

This is not a gripping story, but if you’re looking for something light to read, you might consider checking it out at your local public library. Curious about the reviews it has received, I found that it averages three stars because readers have either given it five stars or one or two stars. Few people actually give it a solid three-star rating.

That made me realize that sometimes I’ll pick a book that has a three-star rating without looking more closely to see how that rating was determined.

Flat Broke with Two Goats:  A Memoir of Appalachia, by Jennifer McGaha

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Flat Broke with Two Goats: A Memoir of Appalachia, by Jennifer McGaha

At first I wasn’t sure I wanted to check out this book, but curiosity got the better of me. Once I started reading it, I wasn’t sure I would finish it. I like reading about strong, independent women – real or fictional. The author did not strike me as strong or independent early in this memoir, but I kept reading to see if she would become either.

I read the first five chapters. Jennifer and David lose their house to foreclosure and thousands of dollars in back taxes. Jennifer has no clue because David “handled” their finances. That’s when I started not liking the book.

Then Jennifer and David buy a 100-year-old mountain cabin. While Jennifer is back at the house packing some last minute things, a sheriff’s deputy arrives with a subpoena for David to appear in court. It turns out that David, unbeknownst to Jennifer (again), has borrowed thousands of dollars and failed to report the loan. That’s when I lost interest in the book. I also don’t particularly like books that portray Appalachia as a place on the back side of beyond.

I just got around to reading its reviews on https://www.goodreads.com and discovered that the book has received many one- and two-star ratings, so I’m in good company.

Look for Me, by Lisa Gardner

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Look For Me, by Lisa Gardner

I started reading this book a couple of months ago but had to return it to the library before I had time to get very far into it. It is the second book I’ve read by Lisa Gardner. Look for Me is the latest book in her Detective D.D. Warren Series.

Look for Me is about a family that’s killed except for the 15-year-old daughter. She is missing. Did she escape? Was she kidnapped by the killer? Or is she the murderer?

The book delves into the foster child system in Massachusetts, as the Det. Warren works to try to find the missing teen and determine who murdered the girl’s family. When alcohol temporarily got the best of the mother a few years ago, Roxy and her younger siblings were placed in foster homes. The treatment they received in those homes and the gang activity they were exposed to at school enter into the investigation.

There are many twists and turns in this story, and you might be surprised when the murderer is revealed near the end of the book.

Look for Me did not hold my attention as much as the other novel I read by Lisa Gardner, Right Behind You from her FBI Profiler Series.

 

Since my last blog post

I’ve tried to lighten up on the demands I was making on myself. I returned a book to the library after only reading the first five chapters. That’s a big deal for someone who until recently thought she had to finish any book she started reading.

I’ve barely spent any time on Pinterest, and I’ve enjoyed the break.

I continue to declutter my life, letting go of lots of knitting, crocheting, and sundry handcraft instructions for projects that I no longer desire to make. Let’s face it. If the fashions from the 1960s-1980s come back in style, I really have no desire to learn how to make macrame plant hangers and belts or broomstick lace shawls.

Just for fun, I just searched for “macrame” on Google and the first image that came up was an $895 macrame dress that can be purchased at Saks Fifth Avenue. Perhaps I was too hasty in putting those instructions in the recycle bin! The odds of my making a macrame dress are less than slim to none, so I can only hope those instructions will get new lives as recycled paper.

I’ve done some additional research on several of the slaves who were members of Rocky River Presbyterian Church in Cabarrus County, North Carolina prior to and during the Civil War. More on that in a future blog post.

I also, in a roundabout way, got into the records of some local people who had to request a pardon from US President Andrew Johnson after the Civil War ended in 1865 and had to pledge their allegiance to the United States Government. More on that later, too. Interesting stuff with some surprising details.

The other day I revisited the 10-cents-per-item used book sale at the Harrisburg Branch of the Cabarrus County Public Library. I purchased several books I probably won’t ever read as well as a music CD that was apparently produced by First Union National Bank, which was my beloved bank until it was bought by Wachovia which was subsequently purchased by Wells Fargo. (Don’t get me started!) Anyway… This 10-cent CD is a fantastic collection of familiar works by Beethoven, Bach, Handel, Dubussy, Haydn, and Mozart.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read and some interesting research to do. Stay tuned. I can’t wait to see what I get to read and learn in July!

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

Visit your local public library this week. You never know what you can walk out of there with just by showing your free library card or what music CD you might get to buy for just 10 cents!

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!

Janet

Reading is not a contest!

I was in a bit of a reading slump the first half of June. There were many books on my “want to read” (WTR) list, but books I thought I wanted to read kept making their way to the top of the waitlist at the public library and I had to check them out within seven days or go back to the bottom of the waitlist.

Last week I tried to come to grips with the lunacy of this habit of mine. Library waitlists were dictating what I was reading, while many books languished on my WTR list.

Since I can’t afford to buy very many of the books I want to read, I rely on two public library systems to make those books available to me.

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Harrisburg Branch of Cabarrus County Public Library System

Don’t get me wrong. I am a card-carrying supporter of public libraries. I have nothing but respect and love for public libraries; however, I can’t indefinitely ignore books on my WTR list while reading the newest shiny book that rises to the top of the library waitlist. It’s not the fault of the library or the system. It is my fault. I have put the cart ahead of the horse.

Sometimes by the time I get to the top of the waitlist, I can’t remember why I wanted to read the book in the first place. Did I read a glowing review of it? Did another writer recommend it as a good example of character development?

There’s also the matter of my inability to stay awake to read as long as I’d like. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome has completely wrecked my circadian clock and my memory. I hope seeing a sleep specialist later this summer will result in some improvement in my sleep.

In an effort to find a piece of new advice to help me get on track with my WTR list, I read “Hot Reading Challenge Tips from Pros Who Read More Than 100 Books a Year.” The article was posted on June 21, 2018 on the www.Goodreads.com blog (https://www.goodreads.com/blog/show/1294?rto=x_gr_e_nl_general&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&utm_campaign=june212018&utm_content=Voracious.Readers&ref_=pe_3097180_285823010.) Great timing!

Apparently, a mid-year reading slump is not unusual. I took encouragement from that. It’s not just me.

Goodreads.com asked four of their avid readers (persons who read more than 100 books-a-year) to give advice to the rest of us. My takeaways from reading this blog post boil down to this:

  • You don’t have to finish reading a book you aren’t enjoying
  • Read what really appeals to you, not what you think you “should” read
  • Reread your favorite book. It might get your reading juices going again.

I already knew I don’t have to finish reading a book I’m not enjoying; however, old habits are slow to die. I am a work in progress. If I’m going to blog about a book I’ve read, it helps if I’ve read the whole book.

In my January 8, 2018 blog post, 2018 Reading, Writing, & Living Plans, I stated that I would take a new approach this year. With nearly 500 books on my WTR list, I said I would concentrate on reading the books on that list.

As of yesterday, my WTR list had grown to 578 in spite of the fact that I’d read 32 books in the first 25 weeks of 2018. I read 63 books in 2017, so I’m on track to equal or surpass that number in 2018. WHOA! I can’t believe I just typed that. I can’t believe I even had that thought.

Reading is not a contest!

Note to self:  Reading isn’t a contest. The person who reads the most books doesn’t “win.”

Reading whatever I want to read is a gift I received by being born in and living in a democracy. Having the ability to read at all is a gift from God and my ancestors who valued books and education.

The numbers I’ve been keeping track of are an artificial measuring stick I inflicted on myself.

My first blog post each month is about the books I read in the previous month. That was my decision, but that in itself puts pressure on me to read, read, read. When June 15 arrived and I had not finished reading one single book during the month, I started feeling the pressure of finishing several books before June 30 so I’d have something to blog about on July 2. Why am I doing this to myself?

Indeed, why?

I’ll continue to read books on my WTR list. As I check those off the list, I’m sure I’ll keep adding books to the list. That’s just the way it is when you’re an avid reader. I’ll try to stop obsessing about the numbers, though!

Incidentally, my next blog post will be about the books I read in June. Those monthly blog posts are among my most popular. I plan to continue that schedule. I just hope I will not feel guilty if I only read one or two books in any given month instead of the four or five I’ve striven for over the past several years.

Thus far in June, I’ve read three books and approximately half of three others. Saturday night, June 30 will, no doubt, find me trying to finish reading the last of those three books so I can blog about the six books I read in June.

I’m a book-a-holic in need of an intervention.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time. I’ve done some thinking about my novel, The Spanish Coin (working title), but I haven’t actually added to the word count lately.

I think I need to spend more time writing and less time reading!

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!

Janet

Reading and Writing in January 2018

January is over, so it’s time for me to “fess up” about how I spent the month. Perhaps a better way to say that is “what I accomplished.” In my January 8, 2018 blog post (2018 Reading, Writing, & Living Plans) I felt I needed to be accountable to my blog readers. In order to do that, I said I’d set monthly writing goals. For January, I set a modest goal of adding 2,000 to the scenic plot outline for my historical novel, The Spanish Coin.

My writing

For starters, I failed miserably on reaching my 2,000-word goal. What I did, though, was brainstorm about story location. I continue to wrestle with what direction to take in re-writing my historical novel manuscript. The working title remains The Spanish Coin.

Historical novel progress

In January I settled on a location for the story. At least, I hope I will not change from this latest locale. I did some 1700s research on the place and worked on the story’s timeline. Location plays an important role in historical fiction. The era for the novel is the 1760’s, which is a decade earlier than my original plan.

Spanish Coin location reveal

Curious about the story’s setting?  The Camden District of South Carolina. Choosing a location for the story has freed me to proceed with the outline.

Goal for February

I tend to write detailed outlines, so I’ll go out on a limb and set a goal of 6,000 words for February.

My reading

I got my concentration back and had fun reading in January. I read what I wanted to read instead of tying myself down to any particular reading challenge.

That said, I picked up the rules for the 2018 reading challenges for the public libraries in Harrisburg and Mint Hill (I couldn’t help myself!), but I don’t plan to let them dictate what I read. With 500+ books on my “want to read” list, though, I might meet those two challenges without really trying. Incidentally, even though I read seven books in January, my “want to read” list had a net gain of 39. I realize this is not sustainable. I would have to be a speed reader and live to be a centenarian to finish my ever-growing list.

52 Small Changes: One Year to a Happier, Healthier You, by Brett Blumenthal

The book title says it all. I took note of the suggested change for each week. This week seems like a good week to start, since I didn’t begin in January. This week’s small change:  Drink enough water to stay hydrated. I’m told I should drink approximately 80 ounces of water every day. Since I normally drink less than half that amount, this constitutes more than a “small” change for me.

The Rooster Bar, by John Grisham

This latest John Grisham novel took a little different tack from his earlier books in that The Rooster Bar is about a group of law school dropouts practicing law without licenses. I found it to be more humorous than other Grisham novels I’ve read, but it was still full of suspense.

Perennial Seller: The Art of Making and Marketing Work that Lasts, by Ryan Holiday

I blogged about this book on January 22, 2018, so I direct you to that blog post if you missed it: (Works That Last.)

The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation’s Largest Home, by Denise Kiernan

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The Last Castle, by Denise Kiernan

I’ve been reading so many novels the last couple of years that I’d forgotten how long nonfiction book titles tend to be. Or maybe it’s just the three I read in January.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book about the Vanderbilt family and the Biltmore Estate. Living in North Carolina, I have toured the Biltmore House four times. The first time was on a sixth grade field trip. Motion sickness on the bus as it wound around the endless curves on old US-74 east of Asheville is my main memory from that day, but I digress.

My other visits to the Biltmore Estate have been very enjoyable. Reading this book made me want to plan another trip to Asheville and tour the mansion again. It is a delightful book.

Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate

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Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate

This novel was inspired by the shocking history of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society during the first half of the 20th century. It is a gripping story and is expertly written. It is not a happy read, but I highly recommend this book.

The King of Lies, by John Hart

This was the January book choice of the Rocky River Readers Book Club. The novel is set in Salisbury, North Carolina, so I was familiar with some of the streets and buildings referenced in the book. It’s fun sometimes to read a book set in a location you have visited.

I though Mr. Hart could have omitted some of the “woe is me” theme in the first third of the book. The narrator’s whining about the wealthy people in this small town got old after a while. If you’ll hang in there, though, you’ll probably get so involved in trying to identify the killer that you’ll get to the point you can’t put the book down. You’ll think several times that you’ve figured out the villain’s identity but, chances are, you haven’t.

Nightwoods, by Charles Frazier

This novel has been on my “to read” list for several years, so I felt a sense of accomplishment when I finally read it. It is set in the mountains in western North Carolina.

Nightwoods is a tale about a woman who unexpectedly “inherits” her deceased sister’s twin boy and girl. The children give their aunt/new mother a challenge every day – and then her late sister’s widowed husband/killer comes to try to get the large sum of money he thinks the children took with them. The children are wild and uncommunicative. Add to that the fact that the aunt has no idea why her ne’er do well ex-brother-in-law has suddenly shown an interest in his children and has come to hunt them down.

What about December?

I just remembered that I never did blog about the books I read in December. They were a mixed bag of novels:  The Quantum Spy, by David Ignatius; Hardcore Twenty-Four, by Janet Evanovich; and The Secret, Book and Scone Society, by Ellery Adams.

David Ignatius’s political thrillers never disappoint me. The Quantum Spy was no exception.

The last two Stephanie Plum novels by Janet Evanovich disappointed me. I used to eagerly await her annual next installment of these funny novels, but “Twenty-Three” and “Twenty-Four” were too predictable.

The Ellery Adams novel is an entertaining read about four women who want to form a friendship, but each one is required to reveal a secret about herself before they can truly trust one another.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life, by my fellow-blogger David J. Rogers; The Salt House, by Lisa Duffy, which was recommended by my friend Karen; Beartown, by Frekrik Backman, which is the February pick for The Apostrophe S Coffee Chat online book community; and The Woman in the Window, by A.J. Finn. That’s about one book too many for me to read at the same time, but they are different enough that I’m not getting the story lines confused.

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

If you subscribed to my mailing list last week, you renewed my faith in mankind. Thank you, Vicki, Colby, Katrina, and Glen!

In case you haven’t signed up for my mailing list, you have another opportunity to do so using the fill-in form below. I appreciate it!

Janet

Free classes at public library

I have taken advantage of two free classes at the Harrisburg Branch of the Cabarrus County Public Library System recently. You can’t beat FREE!

I took a PowerPoint class because I think that skill will eventually come in handy with my writing. When I speak at a library or bookstore, it would be nice to be able to have a PowerPoint presentation to offer for the event.

The Skype class a couple of weeks ago was informative. It’s something I’d like to be able to do with far-flung friends and relatives, and it is a tool that might be advantageous in my writing. I can see that a literary agent might want to communicate via Skype. Many authors offer to “meet” with book clubs using Skype.

Last year I took a free Microsoft Excel class at the public library and almost immediately put that new skill to use by creating a tri-fold brochure about my books.

The public library is much more than a repository for books! If you haven’t visited your local public library lately, you need to “check it out!”